Jakarta's museums, culture in small doses
It’s a pleasure to leisurely wander the halls of the many museums in Jakarta, a city that can be frenetic and yet sometimes more leisurely in its museums. The history of a nation that has lived through various periods of occupation and colonialism is carefully preserved, in these cultural spaces. If you have enough time, it’s well worth visiting places like the National Museum, where ethnological and archaeological pieces are on display, and the History Museum, which exhibits pieces from the prehistoric era, with a special emphasis on the Dutch period. The Maritime Museum is also an interesting visit, which focuses on Indonesia’s links to trade through maritime routes.
Art lovers should make stops at workshops to see the bustling local activity in this sphere and today’s up-and-coming artists. In places like the National Gallery of Indonesia, in addition to Indonesian works, you can also admire valuable pieces by other international art leading figures such as Frenchman Pierre Soulages and Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. There’s no doubt that in Indonesia you’ll realise that in addition to the stunning nature and breathtaking beaches, culture is a good reason to pay this destination a visit.
The National Museum is the pride of Jakarta and the best place to get a first impression of Indonesia’s history and culture from prehistoric times to the present day. If you can only visit one museum, this should be it. In this impressive space in Central Jakarta, over 100,000 pieces are on display, covering ethnography, numismatics, prehistory, archaeology, and historical relics. In its rooms you can see sculptures and tombstones with inscriptions found throughout the archipelago since the 1st century BC, a complete collection of batik fabrics and other textiles from different islands. Don’t miss the finely carved silver and gold jewellery that belonged to Indonesian sultans and kings on the top floor.
Taman Prasasti Museum
This is one of Indonesia’s most unique museum spaces as it’s located in a former cemetery built by the Dutch colonial government in 1795 to bury the nobility or prominent Dutch nationals. These include Olivie Marianmne Raffles, the British governor’s first wife, and the young Indonesian activist Soe Hok Gie.
The museum’s main collection consists of Dutch gravestones, some of which come from the Nieuwe Hollandsche Kerk (New Dutch Church) and are marked with the initials HK. The oldest ones date from the 17th century and their style is a mixture of Hindu Javanese, neo-Gothic, and classical. Another interesting collection is that of stone inscriptions, some of which are replicas, such as coffins and hearses, among other things.
Jakarta Maritime Museum
This interesting museum is ideally located because it’s housed inside an old Dutch East India Company warehouse in the old port of Sunda Kelapa (Penjaringan district). The site’s link to the maritime trade and its importance in the country’s economy is ideal for putting its collections in context. Inside, you can see many fishing boats from various Indonesian islands, maps, seafaring artefacts, and mannequins in period costumes, among other things. Please note that it closes early, at around 16:00.
This museum is also known as the Batavia or Fatahillah Museum and is located in Jakarta’s old town, the Kota Tua district. The site is a building dating back to 1710 that used to house the City Hall. Since 1974, however, it has been home to this unique space that displays objects from prehistoric times, the founding of the city, and the period when it was colonised (from the 16th century to 1945 when it gained independence). The building, which was completely renovated, is also magnificent.
Museum of Fine Arts
Art lovers will enjoy the Jakarta Museum of Fine Arts, also known as Museum Seni Rupa dan Keramik. It’s housed in a beautiful colonial building in the heart of Kota Tua, very close to the History Museum and the Wayang (Puppet) Museum. Before becoming a museum in 1976, the building was used as a Court of Justice and military residence. Inside you can find a number of pottery pieces from various Indonesian islands, as well as many paintings that have been organised by historical period from 1880 to the present day.
There are many more museums in Jakarta, but the main ones are the ones we mentioned above. If you’re enjoying a longer stay in Java and want to visit some more, take note of the National Gallery, which is a large space dedicated to the visual arts; MACAN, which is Indonesia’s first Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; and the Wayang Museum where hundreds of traditional Indonesian puppets are on display. Also take note of the Basoeki Abdullah Museum, which houses the painter’s private collection, and the Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Museum, dedicated to the life of Suharto, the country’s second president.
Where to stay in Jakarta
Among the best hotels in Jakarta is The Orient Jakarta, a Royal Hideaway Hotel, a five-star hotel with incredible interior design by Bill Bensley. Its décor blends the most avant-garde lines with antiques, objects related to local culture, and elegant and tasteful touches. There’s no doubt that staying in one of the 153 rooms at this boutique hotel is a wonderful experience.
The hotel’s facilities also include two large swimming pools, one of which is on the rooftop, a spa with several treatment areas, and a fitness area. And if you’d rather spend the day relaxing at the hotel, there are also three restaurants to choose from. It’s certainly one of those establishments that can change the feel of a trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
What museums are worth visiting in Jakarta?
There are a number of museums in Jakarta, but the ones that must be on your itinerary are the National Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Taman Prasasti Museum, the History Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts. All of them have extensive collections inside.
What can you see at the National Museum in Jakarta?
The National Museum houses over 100,000 pieces related to ethnography, numismatics, prehistory, archaeology, and historical relics. Of particular interest are the ancient sculptures and tombstones, a comprehensive collection of batik fabrics, and a collection of finely carved jewellery.
What art museums can you visit in Jakarta?
The main art venues open to the public are the Museum of Fine Arts, the MACAN (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), the National Gallery, and the Basoeki Abdullah Museum, which houses the painter's private collection.