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What’s the best one day itinerary for visiting Jakarta?

(Since I am an avid traveller, I will put some efforts on this one, I hope this answer might be useful to lots of people in the future)

One day will never be enough. You should spend at least a week to explore Jakarta. Ignore the bad traffic and you will see one of Asia’s most vibrant cities. Jakarta is nicknamed “Big Durian” because you are either love it or hate it, never it between. And I hope you happen to be a lover.

“It’s one of the world’s greatest megalopolises, Jakarta is a dynamic city of daunting extremes that is developing at a pace that throws up some challenges and surreal juxtapositions on every street corner.” – Lonely Planet

If you only have one day here, let it be Sunday. Because the traffic is much tamer and the city is overloaded with attractions. But you have to run very fast since you only have one day.

Having spent twelve years travelling across the globe, here is the one day itinerary I can suggest for the whole Jakarta experience.

06.00 – Car Free Day
Wake up early and do not miss this one. Our activities today will start at six because every Sunday there will be a Car Free Day. It’s the moment where Jakartans flock the streets early morning and the main roads are used as public exhibition space. This is the best moment to feel dynamic atmosphere of Jakarta life. Here you can find numerous of attractions, starting from cultural shows, dancing exhibitions, thousands of side-walk vendors, kid’s bicycling and skateboarding skills show-off, animal lovers club, to clowns having football competition in the middle of the street. I have visited all South East Asian countries, and I can testify that this is South East Asia most entertaining scene in Sunday morning.

It is easy to spend two or three hours here just because the attractions are so numerous. You can walk through Jalan Sudirman six kilometer to the South where the primary street is oveloaded with sightseeing attractions. However, the crowds are mostly highly-concentrated at Bundaran HI (Hotel Indonesia Roundabouts) area.

08.00 – The Kota Tua
At eight, take Trans Jakarta bus from any nearest bus shelter in Sudirman to the North until you arrive at Kota Tua (Old City). Kota Tua is a large complex encompassing Fatahillah Square, where you can see numbers of Dutch colonial heritages. It has lots of sightseeing attractions as energetic as the ones you see on the south earlier. Here you can interact with multidudes of street artists doing lots quirky things, like posing as statue, wearing ghost costume a la cosplayer, and mime shows. While you are here, you can also get some breakfasts since there are lines of street hawker foods available on this complex.

The main building of Kota Tua is the Stadhuis of Batavia, a 300-year-old colonial building standing right next to Fatahillah Square. It is now being utilized as Museum Sejarah Jakarta, which is a bit dusty and I do not really recommended. Take a walk along the river and snap a picture of Toko Merah (literally means “Red Shop”), a quite photogenic historical building known for it’s very dark history.

You can also pay a visit to the Petak Sembilan nearby, a timeless market on the heart of Jakarta’s Chinatown. Find some cheap meatballs and some cheap stuffs while navigating through confusing narrow alleys. Still inside the Chinatown area, lies Jakarta’s oldest temple built four hundred years ago that is still very well-preserved, named Jin De Yuan Temple, which might interests some history freaks.

09.00 – Sunda Kelapa
Take a walk further to the North (don’t worry we will be back to Kota Tua later, but we have something more interesting to see). You should discover an evergreen 1600-year-old harbour of Sunda Kelapa, which also was regarded as one of the most important port in Asia at that time. It is still active until today and, well, it is not just a port.

It harbours hundreds of Phinisi, the legendary ship of Bugis people (if you have heard the phrase “Beware of Bogeyman”, this is about them). Follow this itinerary and come here in the morning, you should be able to see Fish Auctions being held in traditional way and hundreds of fishermen are gathering around this port to trade their catch.

Not far from the port, lies Maritime Museum (Museum Bahari) that showcases a lot of Indonesian vessels and fishing ornaments especially from the spice trade era. This museum has very nice collections of Indonesia’s long and colourful history as a leading maritime nation.

Close to the museum, there is also Menara Syahbandar, an old watch tower built on remains of bastion Culemborg, acted as a signal box and observation post. As well as historical Kota Intan Bridge, an exotic bridge constructed on 1628 by the Dutch government to connect two banks of Kali Besar. Take a quick snap at both before leaving the scene.

10.30 – Museums of Kota Tua
Now walk back to Kota Tua. The first museum you should visit is Museum Bank Indonesia, it is one of the finest museum in South East Asia that has recently won the Trip Advisor 2014 Traveler’s Choice Awards. The much celebrated museum has beautiful presentation of it’s collections which are worth observing. Next to the museum, there is Museum Bank Mandiri, it is a mock-up of the central bank in colonial era and resides inside some culturally-preserved colonial buildings occupying a complex of 11,200 square feet.

If you still have time before noon, you can walk across the Fatahillah Square and take a look at Wayang Museum and Ceramics and Fine Arts Museum. Museum Wayang usually has a traditional puppet show every Sunday morning, it is often crowded and you need to ask them first for the schedule so you can arrange your time accordingly.

Visiting all those museums should be done in less than two hours, which is I believe will not be enough (but hey, you said you only have one day). And just before noon, grab a lunch at exotic Cafe Batavia. It is recommended to have a seat next to a window upstairs, where you can observe ever-busy Fatahillah Square from above.

12.30 – National Museum

Sorry we cannot catch a breath. How about another museum? Get another Trans Jakarta bus from Kota bus shelter and head to the south and stop at Monas bus shelter. Monas is right in front of your nose, but it will be better to visit a museum first, National Museum, in front of Monas. National Museum is a must-visit museum in Jakarta which is often celebrated as the museum with the richest and most complete collections in South East Asia. It has the 61,600 historical artifacts from the Islamic kingdoms in Aceh to the remote indigenous tribes in remote Papua.

Adjacent to the four-storey museum, there is a new building exhibiting the works by contemporary artists you might be interested in.

But if you plan to go extra mile, you can take a walk about two kilometer to the West (I suggest you just take a taxi and ask the driver to wait). There is a niche museum called Museum Prasasti. As you walk through the quiet museum gate, you will be greeted by spooky praying angel statuette staring at you with empty looks. Under her feet, a marble inscription reads ‘Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows my sorrow’. But the words are now mostly faded and almost unreadable.

Museum Prasasti is one of Jakarta’s most interesting museum, as it exhibits tombstones. Yes. Museum Prasasti has interesting collections of tombstones, including the ones of Soe Hok Gie (Indonesian activist), Olivia Raffles (wife of Thomas Stamford Raffles, governor of Singapore), and A.V. Michiels (Dutch high-ranking general). After some quick tours, ask the taxi to bring you back to Monas complex.

14.00 – National Monument

Back to the National Museum and make a quick cross the street towards Monas (National Monument). Ride elevator to the top of a monument that looks like a giant phallus. Here you can see the whole downtown of Jakarta from above, including some very important landmarks.

If you are not running out of energy yet, you can head to Masjid Istiqlal near Monas complex, it is the largest mosque in South East Asia, and the English-speaking guide is available there. Stop on Gereja Katedral, right in front of the mosque, a lovely church with European-style architecture adjacent to the mosque that is commonly interpreted as symbol to depict Indonesia’s religious harmony.

On your way to Masjid Istiqlal, you can pay a short visit to Presidential Palace. It has a public tour just like the one at White House. But keep in mind that you should dress appropriately and sandals are not allowed. Around the Monas complex, there are some interesting spots, such as the stunningly majestic Arjuna Wijaya, statue depicting Wayang hero riding a chariot pulled by more than half-dozen horses. And for you history geek, there is a historical building named Toko Tio Tek Hong nearby.

Another point of interest is right in front of Gambir Train Station, there is Galeri Nasional Indonesia (Indonesia National Gallery) which has some permanent and temporary exhibits from artists across Indonesia. The exhibitions are free of charge, so it won’t hurt if you pay five or ten minutes visit to it. And next to it there is Gereja Immanuel, a classical Lutheran church with long and interesting history which might interests you.

Keep in mind that some guided tours are not available after 3.00 PM.

17.00 – Pasar Baru

Now is shopping time! Horray! In a walking distance from Masjid Istiqlal, there is an old market named Pasar Baru (which is, ironically, means “New Market”). Here you can blend with locals, hunting for cheap stuffs, and snacks some street foods. Inside Pasar Baru, there is Toko Kompak, famous store that has run by a Chinese family for three hundred years.

Alternatively, if you feel tired of walking already, you may also take City Tour Bus from bus shelter in front of National Museum. The bus will drop you at Pasar Baru. But I cannot guarantee the bus schedule.

Some visitors prefer Tanah Abang to Pasar Baru. Tanah Abang is South East Asia’s biggest traditional market which is also located close to Monas complex. Even though it is insanely huge and crowded, I suggest to avoid that one because it seldom offers pleasant shopping experience. Except if you are really know what you are looking for.

18.30 – Grand Indonesia

I hope you don’t take a bath, because we ain’t have time for that. Catch another Trans Jakarta to the South and alight at Tosari ICBC bus shelter. Take a short walk to Grand Indonesia, a really massive shopping mall occupying an area of 6.9 million square feet, one of the grandest in South East Asia, comparable to Siam Paragon in Bangkok and Berjaya Square in Kuala Lumpur.

Enter the mall, directly head to the eighth floor. Here you can visit Galeri Indonesia Kaya, a nice gallery with a bunch of multimedia presentations of Indonesia cultural aspects built on Microsoft Kinect and Pixelsense technologies. Here you can learn about rich cultures of the archipelago via multimedia presentations, listening to traditional songs, playing simulation of Indonesian musical instruments, posing in virtual Indonesian traditional costumes, and even watch occasional cultural shows being held inside the small but sophisticated auditorium.

After roaming around this mall, usually Malaysians can spend a whole day, you might want to head to the food court on the third floor. The Food Louvre is an extensive food court offering wide-range of culinary delights, it can get a bit crowded on the evening. Head straight to Kafe Betawi, for Jakarta’s authentic cuisine. But if you want more memorable (but pricey) closure, you can go to the 56-th floor or BCA Tower (accessible from Grand Indonesia) where you can enjoy the marvelous rooftop-dining at Skye Bar & Restaurants as well as spend the evening with a view over city’s skyline from 230 meter above the ground.

There is also an infinity pool where you can swim while enjoying Jakarta’s night cityscapes while having a drink or two.

Alternatively, you can head to Taman Anggrek and Central Park. Just take a taxi to save some hassle. Taman Anggrek is super-massive mall that was the biggest in South East Asia when it was opened in 1996. The mall building is easily noticable from distance since it showcases the world’s largest LED illuminated facade. But beware of the traffic.

You might be interested to see it in action below.

Well, people say that Jakarta without mall is no Jakarta. So visiting some of them might give you the feels.

22.00 – Jakarta’s Nightlife

If you are not dead yet, let us close our day on high-note. It is not widely known that Jakarta has the wildest nightlife in South East Asia. Probably because Jakarta is never advertised as so, unlike Bangkok.

To prove this, you can stop at Immigrant (across Grand Indonesia) and feel one of the most happening nightclub in Jakarta. Another option will be Exodus (near Ambassador Mall), which is an awesome club and not too crowded. Further to the south, alight at Gelora Bung Karno bus shelter for Colosseums or Empirica in SCBD area, a relatively new and more alive than ever, or X2, a massive club located above Plaza Senayan.

Or if you want some calmer nightlife, you may be interested to try Social House, Loewy, or Domain, especially for those who just want to spend the night. Lucy In The Sky in SCBD area is also an amazing place to chill and meet some new friends.

I know this is more than you can chew in one day, ignore some parts you don’t like and customize your own itinerary.

Well, at least now you know how to spend your one day in Jakarta. And, yes, you need to do things really fast.

Keep in mind that this one day itinerary only covers Jakarta city’s core, I intentionally do this to minimize the traffic hassle.

It is still not covering Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Ancol Theme Parks, Ciputra Artpreneur Gallery, Batik Painting Lessons at Textile Museum, Komunitas Salihara, Jakarta Golf Courses, Mangrove Forest of Angke, Setu Babakan Traditional Village, Tortoise Conservation Range, Onrust Island, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jalan Surabaya Flea Market, Kite Museum, and many other destinations outside the downtown area.

And do I need to mention Pulau Seribu, Puncak Highlands, Kebun Raya Bogor, and Taman Safari just outside the city?
In short, there are simply too many things to see in Jakarta.

Like I said, one day will never be enough.