You can’t see everything in Jakarta in just one day. But if that’s all you have, this tour will take you across the city to sample its offerings in history, culture, and food:
8:00 am – Breakfast and Pasar Baru
Catch breakfast at Bakso Rusuk Samanhudi, where their specialties are traditional Indonesian bakso (meatballs) and rusuk (braised ribs). Spoil yourself and get both in menu item #1 (Bakso Urat + bakso Kecil + Rusuk) because you’re going to be doing a lot of walking before lunch. And if you loved it, come back here any time; the restaurant is open 24 hours.
After breakfast, walk down Pasar Baru and watch the market wake up (it officially opens at 9:00 am). Here you’ll find food stalls, clothing and fabric stores, shoe shops, and all sorts of other odds and ends. Watch out for the occasional ojek (motorbike) careening down the street.
10:00 am – The Mosque and Cathedral
Wander south and you’ll encounter Istiqlal Mosque, Indonesia’s national mosque and the largest in Southeast Asia. Dress modestly and register with the front desk, and you’re free to admire the architecture inside. Across the street you’ll find the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, the seat of Catholic worship in Indonesia. Again, dress modestly and you’re free to look around and admire the gothic architecture. Given the conflict in the rest of the world, the peaceful coexistence of these two houses of worship so close together is inspiring.
11:00 am – National Monument (Monas)
Southwest of the mosque and cathedral is the Monument Naisonal (National Monument), also known as Monas. Housed in a massive park, the tower holds a gold-leaf flame atop to symbolize the struggle for Indonesian independence. Reliefs depicting the fight for independence surround the tower’s base, and during business hours you can ascend to the top (though the wait can be long and the elevators crowded). The surrounding park affords a relaxing walk and souvenir vendors, but it can be hard to find your way in and out as the park only has entrances at each of its four corners.
12:30 pm – Lunch on Agus Salim Street
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head south to Agus Salim Street, which is famous for its street food. Grab a quick nasi goreng with telur (egg) or ayam (chicken), or get a bowl of mie (soupy noodles) with chopped meat and veggies. You won’t find many English speakers here, so brush up on your Indonesian foods and come armed with a smile and some patience. Eat quickly if it’s a Thursday and you want to catch the guided English-language tour at the National Museum.
1:30 pm – National Museum
Hurry back up the street to the National Museum, where on Thursdays you can catch an English-language tour by the Indonesian Heritage Society at 1:30 pm (double check tour times at the link). If it’s not Thursday, explore on your own. The museum houses thousands of artifacts illustrating Indonesia’s diverse history and culture, so it’s best to choose a couple of exhibits rather than cover the whole museum.
3:30 pm – Shopping mall stroll
After visiting the National Museum, it’s time to indulge in some consumerism at the massive mall plazas that sprawl just to the south of the National Monument Park. Catch bus line 1 south from the Monumen Nasional stop in front of the museum and take it three stops to Busway Bundaran Hotel Indonesia. Cross the street and you’ll find yourself between the Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, two enormous, multi-story malls. Complete with themed food courts, international brands, and batik boutiques, you could literally and figuratively get lost in these malls for hours. This is a good chance to stock up on a quality batik scarf of dress, indulge in a quality coffee, or just marvel at the difference in development and income between these malls and the Pasar Baru Market only a couple of miles away.
6:00 pm – Explore and dine at Blok M
Catch bus line 1 south again and ride 30 minutes (10 stops) to the end of the line at Blok M. If you’re worn out from the consumerism, get some fresh air by wandering the streets around Blok M station or head to Martha Tiahahu park for some greenery. Blok M also hosts a plethora of stores for gemstones, secondhand books, and records if you’re not done with shopping. You can also get an early drink here at a bar, but careful of what you order as we’ve heard there can be hidden charges.
Once darkness falls and the shops of Blok M shutter, head to the Blok M Square for the nightly food market that sprouts up on the sidewalk outside. You’ll find a panoply of traditional Indonesian food on offer, but to sample the greatest variety get some padang—look for a long table with dozens of dishes on it. Get a plate of rice from the vendor and then load it down with whatever catches your fancy – I’d recommend the quail eggs on skewers, fried egg, braised eggplant in sauce, and sweet gudeg. Pay at the end based on how many dishes you got and doff your shoes to take a seat at one of the low tables nearby. When you’re done, indulge in dessert with an STMJ – a local drink made with milk, spicy ginger syrup, honey, and egg, topped with a thick froth and caramelized with a blowtorch.
Buses run until 11:00 pm, so when you’re done you can catch one back to your hotel/hostel. Or if you want an all-nighter, you can stay until 3:00 am, when the food stalls pack up for the night to make way for the 5:00 am bulk goods market.