KOTA TUA – AN OLD TOWN IN JAKARTA CITY

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When we first heard of Kota Tua, it was hard to imagine that among Jakarta’s modern skyscrapers, massive malls, sprawling streets, scooters zig-zagging their way through the notorious traffic jams, and a cluster of street food vendors, there is a part of this mega city dating back almost 400 years.

It is the old town of Kota Tua that is a big contrast to the vibrant streets in Indonesia’s Capital Jakarta – the world’s second most populated city.

Most famously known for Fatahillah square in the middle of the town, Kota Tua has become one of Jakarta’s main tourist spots.

Both locals and foreign tourists come here to get a taste of what Jakarta once looked like before it became the mega city that it is today.

Concentrated around the Fatahillah square are loads of well-preserved historic buildings. And most of them are a reminder of when the Dutch still ruled Indonesia.

The streets lined with historic buildings are influenced by European architecture. And most of them have been transformed into insightful places like museums depicting the country’s banking system or displaying traditional artifacts.

While others have been transformed into beautiful hotels and cafes or restaurants in this area that surprisingly felt more like we were walking around a European town rather than an overpopulated city in Asia.

Street art in the streets of Jakarta

Kota Tua is easily one of the most interesting areas in Jakarta. It is a place that anyone should visit at some point while in the city.

In this guide, we will explain a few basic things you should know about Kota Tua. Like how to get there and what to actually do once you’re there.

WHERE IS KOTA TUA

Kota Tua is a relatively big area in the Northern part of Jakarta. The city’s old town goes all the way up to the coast where a port used by big wooden boats transport goods around the country.

And the center point of Kota Tua is Fatahillah Square.

Although the actual size of Kota Tua is quite big, the focus point is in and around Fatahillah square.

Unfortunately, despite efforts to restore the historic buildings on a larger scale, the restoration progress seems to have been limited to just a small area of this old part in Jakarta city.

And walking for a few minutes out of the popular square and well-maintained buildings you’ll see all these old buildings left in ruins.

A lot of the buildings have been left to deteriorate so much that tropical trees and vegetation grow straight through the walls and roofs.

One of the buildings in Kota Tua completely overgrown with loads of tropical vegetation
A building with overgrown vegetation near Fatahillah square

HOW TO GET TO KOTA TUA

Buses

TransJakarta is the main mode of public transport in Jakarta city.

We used TransJakarta the first time we visited the city. And I must say, it is actually quite convenient. The price is cheap and in some situations may actually be less time-consuming than taxis.

The reason why buses could be more efficient than taxis is that in certain cases buses can easily cut through congested traffic because they have their own bus lane.

So while all the cars (and taxis) are stuck and barely moving, the TransJakarta will just go along its private lane which saves a lot of time.

However, buses do require some knowledge of how the system actually works. Like where you need to get off to change buses when needed. Or which is the right bus stop to wait on for the place you want to go.

To use the TransJakarta you need a card with enough credit for the trip. Cards can be bought from many bus terminals and also from convenience stores like Indomaret and Alfamart where you can also top the card up once it runs out of credit.

By Taxi

If you’ve ever read any of our blogs you know we travel on a budget and try our best to keep costs low.

But sometimes we choose what is more practical over what is cheaper.

On our second trip to Jakarta, all the places we wanted to visit were just a few kilometers away from our hotel. So we used taxis to get around and reach those places that were out of walking distance.

And although taxis in Jakarta are the more expensive option of getting around, the fare was rarely over $3.

Taxis in Jakarta can be found just about anywhere and there are loads of different taxi companies.

Whenever we need a taxi we always use the online taxi service Grab. Because we can see what is the price in advance. And most times the car always picks us up within a few minutes.

When grab taxis are too far away or there is a long waiting time we use the Bluebird taxis.

So far, every bluebird we used had a clean car and always used a meter so we [sort of] always paid a fair price. The bluebird taxis are easy to recognize from the blue metallic color and a bird logo.

I said “sort of” because sometimes, Bluebird drivers did take a longer route and just went round in circles to increase the fare price.

A performer in a hello kitty costume collects a tip from a yellow cab taxi driver somewhere on a busy street in Jakarta
A street performer collecting a tip from a yellow cab driver

INTERESTING PLACES AND THINGS TO DO IN KOTA TUA

All around Kota Tua there are historical buildings that have been renovated and are now being used as museums, restaurants, and hotels.

And most of these interesting places are all dotted around the Fatahillah square. So you could easily walk around the area and visit each place.

Or you could also consider renting one of the bright-colored bicycles and peddling around some of the streets that are actually closed off to the cars.

Bright pink colored bicycles that tourists can rent to roam around Kota Tua.

Either way, I will list some of the places that you should visit while in Kota Tua. The first 3 activities on this list are based on our own research.

Unfortunately, I won’t go into any detail or give insight on what to expect because when we came to Kota Tua, Fatahillah and the popular museums and buildings around the square were closed due to restrictions still in place.

But further down are a few other interesting places that we did actually visit and were very interesting.

If you do visit the places before we visit again and update this post, let us know in the comments below what you think.

An old Dutch building in Kota Tua Jakarta

Here are some things to do in Kota Tua.

Cafe Batavia: it is one of the most popular cafes/restaurants in Kota Tua and is also known throughout Jakarta as the cafe inside an old historic building. And an interesting fact about the name is that Batavia is the name of the old Jakarta.

Wayang Museum: this is one of those places that at the time of our visit was also closed. The Wayang Museum is one of several museums facing the Fatahillah square. And what is interesting about this place is that the museum occupies the building of what was once a church.

Wayang Museum offers insight and showcases various traditional Javanese puppets.

Bank Indonesia Museum: the building where the central bank of the Dutch East Indies used to operate. Today this building serves as a museum that will take you through Indonesia’s banking history.

SUNDA KELAPA – JAKARTA OLD HARBOUR

It may not be one of the common tourist spots in Jakarta but Sunda Kelapa is anyway an interesting place to visit while you’re already in Kota Tua.

Sunda Kelapa is Jakarta’s old harbor and is just a short 10-minute walk from Fatahillah square in Kota Tua.

This old harbor is sort of an unusual place to visit for tourists but is a good place to add to your list.

Jacqueline posing in front of one of the cranes inside the old harbour

When we went, workers were loading various goods and materials on these big bulky wooden boats that are very common in Indonesia. All the goods would be transported all around Indonesia.

Besides being an interesting place to wander around and see all the loading, repairing, painting, and cooking going on in the harbor, you can also do a boat tour.

The boat tour is on a long, narrow, low-lying wooden boat with a slow puffing hand maneuvered engine. And the driver will take you on a ride around the port and close to a lighthouse.

A red and yellow banged up steel lighthouse near the old harbour

On our way back we were stopped next to one of the big wooden boats to take a few pictures. Before passing by a small village that looks like to be resting on wooden stilts in the water.

Jacqueline sitting in boat while driving around the harbor
The stilted villages on the side of the harbor

Although this may be a sort of unusual thing to do in Jakarta, we can’t really complain and actually liked the 30 or so minute trip. Mostly because it was something unusually different.

There is no entry fee into the harbor.

And if you want to do the boat tour ask one of the local boatmen on small boats. Or ask someone in the harbor, they will know what you mean.

There is no official price for this unofficial tour. But the old friendly boatman that drove us around asked us for IDR 100.000.

The old guy that drove us in his boat around the harbour

WHERE TO EAT / DRINK – TAKE A BREAK

Being a tourist is often a tiring thing. Especially when you’re in a place like Jakarta where temperatures are between 77 and 86 Fahrenheit (25 and 30 celsius).

First of all, consider starting early in the morning to avoid the scorching heat.

And if you want to cool down once the day gets hotter, take a break in one of the restaurants like Batavia Cafe near Fatahillah square.

Maybe even just stop for a cold refreshing drink from one of the many small eateries and pushcarts selling typical Indonesian drinks.

Rather than needing a break from the sun, we actually ended up having to find a place to shelter from the rain.

We already knew where we wanted to go and have something to eat later on. So a quick change of plans and we were on our way for an unplanned breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.

PANTJORAN TEAHOUSE

We had found Pantjoran Tea house through our own research while searching for things to do In Kota Tua.

And then again the place was suggested when we met a local family while eating street food in Jakarta.

Pantjoran is one of the oldest Chinese tea houses in Jakarta. It will make for a nice stop when in Kota Tua because it is only ten minutes walk away.

This old Chinese tea house is located in Jakarta’s very own China town. So although very close to the old town, the buildings don’t really have anything in common with those near Fatahillah square.

This old tea place offers various teas to choose from that are served in a traditional Chinese way. Like tiny teapots and almost shooter-sized teacups. Also, the waiter will serve the tea which makes it like a fine tea experience.

The old chinese tea house in Jakarta's very own china town district

And just keep in mind that this is a Chinese tea house. So if you come for breakfast, don’t expect toast with jam or scones and cake.

Instead, the food menu is like actual meals. For example rice with sides of meat in sweet and sour sauce or chicken in some spicy mixture with noodles.

So at about 7:30 in the morning we were having a breakfast consisting of white rice along with asparagus crab meat soup, chicken fillet in china town sauce, crispy things with chicken and mushroom, and a couple of egg tarts.

There are a few light options available. For example dim sum or pastries like the egg tarts we had. The tarts were really good by the way.

Although the tea alone costs $10 [or more depending on what you choose], it is worth the experience of seeing the whole process and actually understanding that tea is served in a completely different way than what we westerners are used to.

KOPI ES TAK KIE

Kopi Es Tak Kie is a small coffee shop and eatery in a small alley in the china town area near Kota Tua.

This coffee shop is just a 2-minute walk from Pantjoran Tea House house I mentioned.

Don’t expect anything fancy, it’s a simple coffee shop with old tile walls and hidden away behind street vendors in a rather dark alley.

But it is said to have the best ice coffee. Although, my honest opinion is that I could not tell any difference from any other ice coffee I had elsewhere.

If you don’t come for the coffee, consider making a stop and try their Nasi Campur.

Nasi Campur basically means rice mix and here they serve this dish with various cuts of pork, sausage, and egg. 

It may not seem like anything special, but the pork is really worth it. Not to mention, pork isn’t so commonly found in Jakarta.

The place isn’t cheap and we actually thought we had got ripped off really bad when we were charged almost $10 for 4 ice coffee and a small plate of rice with some meat cuts.

But it turns out what we paid is the official price.

Ice coffee IDR 22.000 ($1.50) Nasi Campur IDR 55.000 ($3.85) – October 2021

FINAL NOTE

Kota Tua is most definitely one of those places you should visit while in Jakarta. Because you will get a better understanding of the origins of this sprawling megacity.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t really go into much detail about some places that we wanted to visit because of restrictions being in place at that time.

So in the meantime, and until we visit Jakarta again and update this post, let us know if you visited the places listed here. You could leave a comment below for other readers to know what you think.

If you’re considering adding Kota Tua to your bucket list of things to do in Jakarta, make sure to save the URL of this page. Or save the post to Pinterest for future reference. And if you have other travel buddies or adventurous family members, share it on your socials and get your friends and family inspired too!!

Are you in Jakarta and aren’t sure where to go next, then consider adding Bandung to your Itinerary. It is a beautiful city in the highlands and is only a 3-hour ride from Jakarta. There, in Bandung and the cooler climate in the highlands, there are loads of cool [literally] things to do. Like waterfalls, epic sunrise spots, camping. And Bandung itself is an interesting city that is known as the Paris of Java for the many European influenced buildings.

CLICK HERE AND TAKE A LOOK AT THE AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN BANDUNG

One last thing. Java is an amazing island that we just can’t seem to get enough of. Each time we come to Indonesia we spend 2 months just on Java. And each time, we find more and more interesting things to do. If you plan on spending more time in Java, make sure to read our Java articles.

Read All Our Indonesia Guides.

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