Jakarta city guide: How to spend a weekend in Indonesia’s vibrant, diverse capital

Why go now? 

A direct flight between London and Jakarta on Garuda Indonesia has made south-east Asia’s most culturally-diverse capital accessible from the UK as never before. Some 10 million people live here, but almost all have roots elsewhere, resulting in an exuberant blend of Javanese, Balinese, Chinese, European and numerous other cultures. Jakarta is the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, but Hinduism, Christianity, and Confucianism also thrive. Tolerance rules, exemplified by lively restaurants serving spicy meals washed down with cold beer, and an on-the-pulse clubbing scene that pounds until the wee hours.

Gridlocked traffic is a frustration, but seeking out pockets of history and culture amid the maelstrom is part of Jakarta’s allure. Sunda Kelapa docks and the old town of Batavia are reminders of Dutch colonial times, while the hip hotels and glass skyscrapers of Menteng spin you back to the 21st century.

Day one

Take a view

The high-speed lift which whizzes up 56-storey Jakarta Skye Tower (1) (ismaya.com/skye) in 10 dizzying seconds feels like a fairground ride. On a clear day (or night) the views are dazzling. There is an open-air terrace and restaurant, but you can go for coffee or a cocktail depending on the time of day.

Take a hike

During three centuries of colonial rule, Batavia on the southern fringe of Jakarta Bay, also now known variously as Kota or ‘Old Jakarta’, was the commercial hub of Dutch Indonesia. Get a taste of this era with its trappings of imperial power by starting in the Taman Fatahillah square (2) flanked by stately structures such as the Jakarta History Musuem (3) in the old Stag Huis (town hall), built by the Dutch in 1710. 

Follow the Kasar Besar Canal (4) bordered by crumbling European-style mansions, up to the photogenic 16th-century wooden Kota Intan drawbridge (5). Continue down the canal to the Bahari Maritime Museum (6) in an old Dutch East India Company warehouse. 

Then climb the Syahbandar Watchtower for commanding views over the port. 

Lunch on the run

The northern edge of Kota district spills into a warren of cobbled alleys where burning incense wafts from Taoist temples and markets buzz with busy food stalls. This is “Glodok”, traditionally the enclave of the Chinese community and the place to graze a bewildering array of street treats. You’ll find crispy roast duck wings on wooden skewers and steamed dumplings stuffed with ground beef…

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