More than just traffic and street food, Jakarta has a wealth of enriching cultural experiences on offer. Whether it’s learning to make traditional batik clothing or taking a boat ride, here are the top 10 cultural experiences in Indonesia’s capital.
Jakarta is often represented as a bustling metropolis, with towering skyscrapers lining up the jam-packed streets. But beyond the honks of the traffic and shiny buildings, travellers will discover a profound city that actively embraces its diverse culture. From heritage sites to epic boat rides, discover the most insightful cultural experiences in Indonesia’s capital.
Jakarta’s diversity extends well to the bustling art scene. Different inspirations and stories are depicted through various artworks, media, and style. From classic to contemporary, public museums to private galleries, the best artworks in Jakarta serve as blueprints of the nation’s culture and history. If you’re interested in Indonesia’s history of art, visit the National Gallery and be awed by 1,700 impressive artworks from different eras. Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN) is the newest and popular addition to the scene, showcasing contemporary arts from Indonesia and around the world.
Aside from its historical significance as the cradle of Jakarta, Sunda Kelapa harbour is definitely a charming sight to see. Traditional boats are lined up neatly in the old harbour, beautiful colours painted over the sides of the vessel. While most people are there for the perfect Instagram post in front of the gorgeous boats, you can take it up a notch by getting on board. Negotiate a price with the boatman and ask him to take you around in the ornate traditional boat. The coast is also an excellent spot to catch sunrise and sunset.
Religion is one of the most prominent and fascinating dimensions of life in Indonesia. The country acknowledges six main religions, and that translates to a vibrant assortment of mosques, churches, and temples all over the capital. The iconic Istiqlal Mosque sits just across the neo-gothic cathedral, while another colonial church is just around the corner. Various temples with beautiful oriental buildings can be found around the Chinatown.
Once one of the most prominent neighbourhoods during colonial era, Jakarta’s Kota Tua (Old Town) is a slice of history in the bustling metropolitan. The area is packed with old government buildings and trade centers kept alive as museums and heritage sites. From riding a colourful bicycle through Fatahillah Square to taking pictures inside the quirky Rumah Akar, you can conveniently explore the Old Town’s highlights just by strolling around the area.
You may not be stranger to batik, the ornate, exquisite traditional fabric from Indonesia. But the nation’s diverse culture has many other fascinating ethnic textiles worth discovering. The Textile Museum in Jakarta showcases more than 1,900 pieces of fabric, from the traditional woven cloth to contemporary textiles. The museum also shows the tools, and has a garden filled with plants used for dyeing the fabric traditionally. Go beyond observing and get a hands-on experience by joining the batik-making workshop arranged by the museum.
Long before the tall buildings, modern establishments, and metropolis lifestyle, the indigenous Betawi culture was thriving in Jakarta. Now, it’s almost impossible to see a traditional Betawi house in Jakarta’s urban neighbourhoods, and you can stay in the city for months without tasting one if its heritage foods or seeing one of the traditional performances. Fortunately, the culture is preserved well in Setu Babakan. Here, you can go back in time and sample Betawi’s non-alcoholic “beer” while watching the performance of traditional music bands.
This is your best chance to see Indonesia’s different cultures in just a day. Serving as the miniature of the sprawling archipelago, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah has dedicated areas for every major province or culture in Indonesia. Each area highlights everything you need to know about the culture: traditional houses, customs, attires, and more. You can also explore different science and nature museums, watch documentaries in an iconic cinema, and take a ride on a cable car that goes across the compound.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, East Jakarta City, Jakarta, Indonesia, +62 21 87792078
Since 1968, Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) has been a busy hub for local artists. Throughout the years, even through political turmoil and episodes of history, TIM has only been refined in its roles and programs. Now, the compound has modern theatres, exhibition areas, a library, bookstores, and more. Shows and performances follow a dynamic schedule, but something interesting and cultural is always going on here, from orchestra to musicals, theaters to exhibitions.
When you get hearty meals from heritage recipes in a space that reflects culture and history, eating is more than just something to do to fill the stomach. It becomes a delightful cultural experience that immerses you deeper into local life. Whether you want those recipes on a fine dining setting in Menteng or prefer a more low-key rendition from street food, like the one in Sabang Street, Jakarta has it all.
Considered Indonesia’s oldest museum, the National Museum was established to house more than 142,000 collections that tell stories about the nation in every aspect of history. From agriculture to art, this museum has everything including primitive tools, traditional crafts, ancient inscriptions, and more, dating back to the pre-historic era. Also one of the biggest museums in Southeast Asia, the building itself shows an architectural feat reflected through its grand European classical style.