Indonesia’s buzzing capital is more than a stopover en route to Bali – its elegant restaurants, colonial architecture and trendy nightspots are just some of the reasons to linger

At first glance, Jakarta can seem big, brash and overbearing. On any given weekday, the city nicknamed the ‘Big Durian’ seethes with more than 15 million people, all fighting for space amid the skyscrapers, shopping malls and highways jammed with traffic. But beneath the chaos is a city of many surprises, from the wide, tree-lined boulevards and canalside, colonial-era buildings of the old Kota area, to the steamy streets of Chinatown and glitzy bars and nightclubs of the business district.

Shopping hits

Jakarta’s Plaza Senayan shopping mall Ask any Jakartan how they spend a typical weekend and shopping will no doubt be part of the answer. Given the city’s paucity of sidewalks, and its sweltering climate, retail experiences generally revolve around air-conditioned shopping malls. One of the most popular is Grand Indonesia, opposite Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta in the heart of town. The mall delights with Gucci, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana boutiques. For a local flavour, stop by Alun Alun in the west wing – 4,000sq m of Indonesian arts, antiques and handicrafts. More home-grown talent is on display at Plaza Senayan, where you’ll find flagship stores from prominent Indonesian designers such as Ghea, Biyan and Sebastian Gunawan. The boutiques that line the streets of Kemang, a vibrant enclave in the south of Jakarta, are among the best for high-end homeware. Highlights include the warehouse-like Moie, crammed with lacquered tables, chestnut dressers and handwoven pillows, and Toimoi for quirky furniture and pop art.


Top views

National Monument Fourteen years in the making, the National Monument is not the prettiest structure in Jakarta, but it’s probably the most recognisable – the 132-metre-high edifice comes topped with a sculpted flame gilded with 35kg of gold leaf. Although queues to visit the observation deck at the top of the tower can be daunting, the view is worth it – an endless sea of mosques, skyscrapers, colonial buildings and snaking roads. To begin to understand the history and culture of the world’s most populous Muslim country, don’t miss a tour of the Istiqlal Mosque. Said to be the largest of its kind in South-East Asia, it accommodates more than 120,000 worshippers in its main hall alone.

Best place to shop The Grand Indonesia mall delights with Gucci, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana

Art and crafts

Traditional wayang or shadow puppets at Jakarta’s Puppet Museum Jakarta’s museums and galleries are dotted across the city, making it difficult to see more than two in a day. Begin at the National Museum; built in 1862 it’s home to a large collection of artefacts, from musical instruments to costumes and ceramics. To see Java’s traditional wayang puppets, visit the Puppet Museum on Taman Fatahillah, a cobbled square in Kota. Dozens of contemporary galleries, including Ark Galerie and Art Seasons, offer a more modern take on Indonesia’s artistic talent.

Out and about

A brightly painted Makassar schooner There’s no need to jump on a plane to find sun, sand and seafood. An hour’s speedboat ride north of the city’s harbour lies Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands), a string of 130 islands across Jakarta Bay with crystalline waters full of tropical fish. If you miss the boat, the old port area in Jakarta, Sunda Kelapa, is picturesque with brightly painted Makassar schooners and old fishing vessels. Wander south of the harbour for Kota (Old Batavia), once the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Although the colonial grandeur has faded, handsome buildings like Toko Merah (once the residence of Governor General van Imhoff) and the homes lining Kali Besar the Great Canal give a nostalgic taste of 18th-century Jakarta.
Where to dine Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta’s Chinese restaurant, Xin Hwa, offers delicious Cantonese and Szechuan dishes alongside an extensive range of tea

Fabulous food

Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta’s restaurant, Xin Hwa, is renowned for its Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine End your Kota wanderings with brunch at Café Batavia, in a colonial building on Taman Fatahillah. Try the toothsome Batavia Indulgence – Iranian caviar, blinis, sour cream and vodka shots. Back in the central business district, a slew of upscale restaurants offer a taste of the archipelago. Harum Manis is the newest, serving traditional cuisine in a beautiful dining room resembling an aristocratic Javanese house. In the old-money neighbourhood of Menteng, restaurant Bunga Rampai calls a charming neocolonial building home, serving up Indonesia’s rich and nuanced dishes such as soft-shelled crab cakes and grilled beef ribs. For fine French cuisine, Lyon at Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta celebrates classic brasserie fare in a cosy space and has an impressive selection of wine. The hotel’s much-loved Chinese restaurant, Xin Hwa, offers delicious Cantonese and Szechuan dishes alongside an extensive range of tea. For a less formal occasion, head south to Kemang where Shy Rooftop attracts Jakarta’s party people, with tapas and live music under a Bedouin-style, candle-lit tent.

Cool nightlife

Map of Jakarta Jakartans like partying more than shopping – and the capital has plenty of hip nightspots. Begin with alfresco cocktails at Potato Head, a lounge with a drinks menu that will please even the most jaded night owl. The upbeat Blowfish transforms into the most happening destination after dinner (creative Japanese), while just around the corner, the party spills onto the sidewalk at Loewy, a French-inspired bistro, all tiled walls and ceiling fans.


Anyone for golf?

A lush Jakartan golfing green With some 30 courses ringing the city, golfers are never far from a green. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman have chiselled some of the region’s most appealing, but even Jakarta’s smaller courses offer world-class golfing. For other activities such as yoga and swimming, try a city gym, like the state-of-the-art one at Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta.
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Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta

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Jalan M.H. Thamrin,
PO BOX 3392, Jakarta 10310, Indonesia

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