The 10 Most Beautiful Old Towns in Indonesia

The old town of Jakarta
The old town of Jakarta | © A-C K/ Flickr
Edira Putri

A slice of Europe in Sumatra, the Paris of Java and an 18th century metropolis – these beautiful Indonesian old towns will transport you back in time.

Indonesia’s long and winding history has left behind a number of invaluable heritage sites. These charming, historical ‘old towns’ bear witness to the stories and events that helped shape the nation. Discover the most beautiful old towns scattered across the archipelago.

1. Kota Tua Jakarta

Museum, Park, Building

The Fatahillah Museum in Kota Tua, Jakarta
© siska maria eviline / Flickr
Located on Jakarta’s northern coastline, the Jakarta Old Town (or Kota Tua Jakarta), was once a bustling business district. The Sunda Kelapa harbour was a crucial hub for the intercontinental spice trade orchestrated by the Dutch East India Company, which also built its headquarters in the vicinity. In the early 1600s, the Dutch devised an ambitious urban plan for the neighbourhood – building fortresses, public squares, churches and other landmarks. Some of these buildings still stand today, repurposed as museums and heritage sites. The old city hall is now Jakarta History Museum, while the former Court of Justice is now the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum.

2. Semarang Old Town


© Crisco 1492 / WikiCommons

This small neighbourhood in Central Java was a colonial trade centre and military hub during the 1700s. Nicknamed ‘Little Amsterdam’, the buildings here channel the European architecture of the time – characterised by elegant whitewashed and brick facades, big entryways and colourful stained glass. Some unmissable highlights include the old ‘thousand door’ office building, Lawang Sewu, and the Blenduk Church with its iconic dome.

4. Surabaya Old Town


© Everyone Sinks Starco / Flickr

Located in East Java, Surabaya was once a busy port town serving as a trade centre and transit hub for enterprising traders making their way across the archipelago. European voyagers, and later the Japanese, had at one time or another set up camp in this city, leaving architectural trails behind. Some of them are still functioning buildings, including what is now Hotel Majapahit and Kepanjen Cathedral. High tea at Hotel Majapahit is still one of the most popular activities for those who want to experience Surabaya’s past life.

5. Malioboro Street


© Adhi Anindyajati / Flickr
While Yogyakarta may be more renowned for its ancient Javanese temples, the city has its own beautiful old town. Buildings and landmarks from the colonial era are scattered across the city, but Kotabaru and Malioboro are especially dense with charming architecture. Fort Vredeburg, built in 1776, was strategically placed to ‘monitor’ activities in the nearby sultanate palace complex, and now serves as a museum of the nation’s pre-independence struggles. Many other landmarks in the area – the market, shops, banks, post office, and others – are also housed in former colonial premises.

6. Palembang Old Town


Palembang Grand Mosque
© fitri agung / Flickr

Palembang is the capital city of South Sumatra and the oldest city in the entire Indonesian archipelago. As an important fixture of the ancient trade route between China, India and later, European countries, this city is imprinted with a wide range of different cultural influences. Many important landmarks were established along the great Musi river and around the Ampera Bridge, many of which are still used today. The current mayor’s office for example, was originally built as a water tower during Dutch rule, while a former resident office has been repurposed as a municipal museum. Kambang Iwak lake is still surrounded by old European-style residences and churches.

7. Medan Old Town

Building, Natural Feature

Grand Mosque of Medan
© Ilya Yakubovich / Flickr

Medan is Indonesia’s largest city outside Java, with a dynamism and diversity typical of an urban sprawl. Even with modern advancements, the city has still managed to preserve its old colonial buildings, most of which are concentrated around Ahmad Yani Street. Medan’s architecture is relatively newer than those in other cities, mostly built around the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eclecticism and Art Deco influences, are evident. Aside from the old city hall, post office and other former colonial administrative buildings, the Grand Mosque and Maimun Palace of the Deli Sultanate were initially designed by a Dutch architect – presenting a unique fusion of European architecture and local design elements.

8. Salatiga Old Town


The beautiful Salatiga highland town
© Tanti Ruwani / Flickr

Due to its cool weather and gorgeous highland geography, Salatiga was once a cherished holiday destination for wealthy officials from Yogyakarta and Semarang. Most of the colonial heritage buildings are residences, villas and churches, reflecting the unique individual tastes of their former owners. The oldest buildings date as far back as the 1700s, many of which still adorn the main streets of modern Salatiga: Diponegoro Street, Sudirman Street and Hasanuddin Street. Other ‘newer’ buildings from the 19th century reflect a different architectural style, influenced by European trends such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

9. Solo Old Town


Solo palace complex
© andy jett / Flickr

Solo was a prominent centre of governance in Indonesia for a long time, from the reign of the ancient empires, sultanates, and up until colonial rule. Through different eras and sovereignties, the communities have been assimilated with different cultural influences. The sultanate palace complex, for instance, has hints of European or Dutch design elements in its architecture. A lineup of colonial buildings can also be observed along the areas around Slamet Riyadi Street, including the iconic Omah Lowo and Loji Gandrung.

10. Kediri Old Town


This humble town in Central Java used to be the metropolis of the prominent Kediri Kingdom, as well as the trade and production centre for sugar and cigarettes. Dhoho Street was (and still is) a lively shopping district with old colonial buildings lining its sides. Many of the buildings have been modified, but signs of a time gone by still reverberate through their worn-out corners and structures. Not far from the street lies the iconic ‘red church’, which houses a rare 1867 copy of the Bible in Dutch.

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