In the heart of the often frenetic capital is Freedom Square (Medan Merdeka), one of Jakarta’s too-few public green spaces. Crowded on weekends and holidays, it is all but empty during the week.
At the center of the park is Monas(Monumen Nasional), a towering obelisk capped by a bronze flame sheathed in 35 kg (77 lb) of gold commemorating Indonesian’s independence from Dutch rule. A ride up an elevator to the observation deck reveals a panoramic view of the city, which is nothing short of awesome. In the basement is the National History Museum (Museum Sejarah Nasional) where, among rather simplistic exhibits and dioramas, visitors can hear Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, read the proclamation of independence in the Hall of Silence.
From Monas, it’s a short walk to the National Museum (Museum Nasional) on the west side of the square. Indonesia’s oldest museum, it contains an amazing collection of ceramics, stone statuary, prehistoric bronzeware, Chinese porcelain and other artifacts acquired by the Dutch. The bronze elephant statue in front of the museum was a gift from King Chulalongkorn of Siam upon its grand opening in 1868.
North of the museum are the Presidential Palace (Istana Merdeka) and the State Palace (Istana Negara). The State Palace, formerly the home of a late 18th-century Dutch businessman, is now used for important state functions and is not open to visitors. However, the Presidential Palace receives visitors on weekends unless the president is holding functions there. (Ask at your hotel front desk to confirm current opening times.) A guided tour of the mansion, built between 1873 and 1879, passes through selected rooms and outlying gardens.
On the northeast corner of Freedom Square is Istiqlal Mosque (Mesjid Istiqlal), reputed to be the largest Muslim house of worship in Southeast Asia. Officially opened in 1978, this enormous marble edifice stands on the site of the former Fort Noordwijk. Behind the mosque is the magnificent neo-GothicJakarta Catholic Cathedral, its black twin spires rising 60 m (197 ft) toward the heavens. A small museum on the second floor houses religious memorabilia. Staffed by volunteers, it is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 am to noon at no charge.
Best Time to Go: To avoid rush-hour traffic, go between 9 am and 4 pm. During the week, you’ll practically have the museums all to yourself.
Getting There: The quickest way is to go by taxi to Monas. Opening Times Museums open Tues.–Sun. 9 am–3 pm, closed Mondays and holidays.Admission Fees Below Rp5,000 per person.
Admission Fees: Below Rp5,000 per person.