Things to do in Kota Tua, Jakarta’s Old Town, Indonesia
In this sprawling metropolis of a city, it’s hard to imagine that Jakarta was once confined to just a small area here around an area that was known as Batavia. Today it is called Jakarta’s Old Town or Kota Tua – and it’s a reminder of the centuries of Indonesian history dominated by Europeans.
In the 16th century, the Dutch established a base here that was the centre of commerce in the region. Because of its strategic position and access to natural resources, it quickly became an important hub across the Indonesian archipelago.
Oddly, though, it always stayed relatively small.
Just a century ago at the start of the 1900s, Jakarta only had a population of about 150,000 people. Since then, it has grown to a size of up to 28 million in the greater urban area.
The history of that small colonial origin has almost been lost in the wave of development that has washed over the city.
What has been preserved, though, is within the 1.3 square kilometre area of Kota Tua.
Not all of the buildings have been protected as well as they should have been, unfortunately, but wandering through the streets and the main square give an impression of the European settlement that started Jakarta on the path to becoming one of the largest cities on the planet.
If you would like to visit Jakarta’s Old Town, I have a few suggestions on the best things to do in Kota Tua.
You can see all my suggestions on this map.
If you’re using your smartphone, just click on the icon in the top right to open the map in your Google Maps app and all of the markers will load up.
Jakarta History Museum
Set in the former City Hall of Batavia, the Jakarta History Museum has exhibits about the city and its location from prehistoric times through the colonisation period and until the independence of the country.
The building was constructed in 1710 and is a good example of the grand public buildings in the area. The exhibitions are presented quite crudely and a visit to Kota Tua just to see the museum would probably not be warranted.
On another side of the main square where the Jakarta History Museum is located is the Wayang Museum dedicated to Javanese puppetry. The puppets are used in a traditional form of theatre common on the island of Java but also present in other islands across the country.
The museum has a large range of exhibits from different times and gives a good showcase of the evolution of the local puppetry. The signs explaining the items are not of a high standard but a lot of the museum is self-explanatory.
There are also occasional performances using traditional instruments like the gamelan.
Fine Art and Ceramic Museum
The Fine Art and Ceramic Museum is located inside the old Court of Justice built by the Dutch in 1870. The old court makes up one of the sides of the main square of Kota Tua and is one of the most impressive architectural buildings in the area.
The museum houses traditional ceramics showcasing the range of designs across the archipelago. There are also artworks from the 19th and 20th century and more modern ceramic works.
A 10 minute walk from the main square of Kota Tua is the Maritime Museum, set inside former warehouses of the Dutch East India Company.
The sea is extremely important to a country made up of thousands of islands – for civilian transport, military and commercial reasons. The museum showcases some examples of the history over the centuries.
Bank Indonesia Museum
Although the topic may sound a bit dry – banking – this is actually one of the most interesting museums in the area.
The Bank Indonesia Museum takes a modern multimedia and interactive approach to telling the story of banks in Indonesia. It covers relevant history and has an emphasis on the production of bank notes.
After all the museums and walking around the Old Town, the most authentic place to have a rest is Batavia Café. It’s on the main square with a view across to the old City Hall.
The building was constructed in 1850 in the colonial style and the interior has been designed with this history in mind. It’s been a restaurant for about 20 years but tries to replicate the mood of the old Dutch city of Batavia.
As you can tell, there are lots of things to see in Kota Tua. I don’t think you should visit the city and not have a look around Jakarta’s Old Town.
If you would like to get a better understanding, I would recommend one of these tours.
- Private Tour: The Old Batavia Trail from Jakarta
- Private Tour: Discover Jakarta Old Town with Dinner
- Kota Tua Food Tour
But, regardless, take a moment to enjoy how peaceful it is here in Kota Tua. Think about what Jakarta was like when it was this small. Then prepare yourself, and head back out into the chaos of the city!
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN JAKARTA
Although there are a few good areas to stay in Jakarta, I would recommend Menteng for most visitors.
The friendly staff and evening entertainment are just part of the appeal at Konko Hostel, which is also clean and modern.
With its colonial-style architecture, Hotel Des Indes Menteng offers more than the standard budget hotel, plus it’s got a great free breakfast.
There’s a wonderful mix of modern and old charm and The Hermitage, where its garden and pool feel like an oasis in the busy city.
With a beautiful panoramic view of the city, the Park Hyatt also has large rooms, modern facilities, and a lovely outdoor pool.