Jakarta is more than just a stopover – it’s a family holiday destination in its own right. Tasha May runs the blog We Love Jakarta with her sister Treen May and has been living in Jakarta for five years. The Australian mother of 18-month-old Samudra Mega has spent the last year adjusting to Jakarta with kids (versus Jakarta without kids) and found there is plenty to do, see and explore for the intrepid family. It’s not Bali and it’s not Borobudur, but Indonesia’s capital is full of cultural activities and opportunities to interact with the locals that make for great family holidays with a difference. Here are Tasha’s reasons to visit Jakarta with kids.

Why should parents plan a family holiday in Jakarta with kids?

The most we ever heard about Indonesia back home in Australia was all about Bali, and I never heard or knew anything about Jakarta before arriving here. All reviews I have read about Jakarta is that is only a place for transit on your travels and to get out of here as soon as possible.  If you get out of the airport, out of your hotel and have an open mind, you will find there are pockets of magic to be found everywhere, even just with watching life happen out on the streets.  The people here are so warm and friendly and always want to chat and help you out, they love food too so will always suggest local dishes you should try and where to go to buy it.

[For more travel tips on Bali with kids, see the suitcases&strollers interview with Indonesian princess Lindy Klim.] 

There is no beautiful beach here to lie and relax on; [this is] more of a city adventure where you can have as much of a cultured experience as you want and mix it up with just having fun and having new experiences or head a couple of hours out of the city to the fresh air and mountains.

Where is your favourite place to take kids in Jakarta?

As we live in South Jakarta, we are only a short drive from Ragunan Zoo [Jl. Harsono RM. No.1, Ragunan, Pasar Minggu, Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia,+62 21 7884 7114] and we tend to spend many very early Saturday mornings taking a walk through the paths in the zoo, watching the animals before the sun gets too overwhelming and the crowds get out of hand. Samudra especially loves to see the monkey enclosure and it's a great place to escape the chaos of Jakarta and be able to run around outdoors. The zoo is on a massive property which would take hours to explore fully, so it’s a great place to go if you have lots of time to spare. I do wish someone would make improvements to the animal enclosures though for a better overall experience as the grounds are quite lush and green especially in rainy season and have the potential to be really lovely.

Another favourite for Samudra is the water park in Pondok Indah Mall for cooling off in the sunshine but remember to take a hat and sunscreen and try to avoid this place in the full heat of the day. Mornings and late afternoons are best for toddlers and young kids to enjoy the baby pool which has lots of climbing equipment and water experiences to play with. There are also water slides, a pool to float around on inflatable rings and a wave pool as well as an Olympic-sized pool for doing laps. This place provides hours of entertainment for kids in Jakarta and is a refreshing option for the city.

Where is your kid’s favourite place in Jakarta to hang out?

As Samudra is still so young, he doesn't really have a hang out area that he can single out as yet. But for his age group we have play dates in The Playground in Kemang which is great for toddlers. There is climbing equipment, a small sandpit, swings and a little water play area which all the kids love playing in.

Of course he also loves all the play areas in the malls that we have visited but I would say the thing he really enjoys the most is when we take the pram out and walk in the back streets of Jakarta exploring. I was so confused after years living here of what to do with a baby, so to stop his crying (since he was only a couple of months old) and to get back onto the streets (which I have loved photographing over the years), I put him in a sling as the sun rose and off we walk and again in the evenings before the sun sets again. Through doing this, we have met so many lovely people on our walks and Samudra has met so many kids in the kampungs [local village neighbourhoods] and it has really opened him up to meeting people on all our travels. 

Jakarta is not really a walking city as there are so many cars, motorbikes and buses to avoid on the main roads but if you take a walk through the back streets it's great to see people going about their daily lives and to get to know the locals.

What is the best free activity to do with kids in Jakarta?

Every Sunday morning from 6am to 11am is Car Free Day in Jakarta. This means that one of the main roads, Jalan Sudirman, is closed to traffic during these hours and the long stretch of road all the way up to Monas (the National Monument) is filled with people walking, jogging, cycling, playing and enjoying themselves. The Bundaran HI [also known as Selamant Datang Monument] roundabout it is filled with horse and carts, street food, people taking photos by the fountain. Up at Monas is usually packed with people and kids flying kites. 

Many Sundays now incorporate separate events into Car Free Day so there could be marathons taking place, festivals or something just as surprising. It's a good vibe and is a great chance to be able to see a little of Jakarta without looking out a window the whole time.

A day exploring Ancol is also fun. You can wander along the shoreline and have a picnic or take a walk or ride around the lake at Eco Park. There are also theme parks at Ancol and a gondola ride but they have very reasonable entrance fees.

Spending time in Kota Tua [also known as Old Jakarta or Old Batavia] is also fun, especially on weekends, although be prepared as it can get quite busy. You can browse the little stalls and soak up the atmosphere in the main square. There are also options to visit the Wayang Museum [traditional Indonesian puppet museum] and History Museum, eat at Cafe Batavia or hire colourful bikes and matching hats to ride around the area.

Where is the best place to take kids in Jakarta when the weather is bad? 

Due to the heat in Jakarta, the city is well equipped with many indoor play options for kids if the weather is either too hot or pouring with rain. There are so many malls here and more popping up all the time so it's hard to keep track of the latest, but most of the bigger ones have play areas to keep kids entertained. 

There is Kidzania at Pacific Place Mall which is set up like a mini version of the city where kids can pretend to be adults for the day trying out different professions, earn money and treat themselves with their savings.

Senayan City, Lotte Avenue Mall, and Gandaria City have Lollipops which is suitable for toddlers up to young teenagers with climbing equipment, slides, a flying fox, ball pit and other activities to let off some energy while parents can go shopping or just take some time out in a nearby cafe. 

Grand Indonesia has Carniville with rides for little kids and some play equipment and you can take the family through the cafe section in the West Mall which is set up with New York Street names and is quite quirky. Grand Indonesia also has a “dancing fountain” suitable for young children with a light show on every 30 minutes or so in the West Mall on Level 3A.    

Taman Anggrek and Bintaro Xchange malls offer ice skating for kids so they’re a great option for kids who have lots of energy they need to exert when it's either too hot outside or pouring with rain.

What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Jakarta?

A trip to Taman Suropati, a park in Menteng, especially on a Sunday morning. As this is set amongst the homes of government officials and people of high ranking in Jakarta, the place is guarded and the park is rubbish-free. From very early on a Sunday morning, families gather around to play in the park and watch bands sing in the sunshine.

The best part is that around 11am or so the Taman Suropati Chamber come to the park to practise for a few hours. This is a group of violinists and musicians ranging from quite young kids to adults and it is quite magical to sit in the park and listen to them. If you have a violin or just want to borrow someone's and join in, they would be more than happy to have you play with them.

This one is not really a secret but, if you have a spare day, you can get up early and rent a car and driver and head to Taman Safari which is a drive through zoo about 1.5 hours outside of the city.

It's fun for kids and adults alike as the zebras, deer and other animals can come right up to the car windows where you can feed them carrots from the comfort of your car. There are also kids rides and a baby zoo which you can walk around before grabbing a bite to eat at one of the cafes and heading back into Jakarta for the afternoon.

What’s the best way for children to have an authentic Jakarta experience?

Taman Mini (TMII) is a great “miniature Indonesia” where you can see architecture and learn about the culture of all 26 provinces in Indonesia through dance and music. There is also a cable car, museums, cinema and a water play park for kids to enjoy. 

If kids have lots of energy to exert, they may like to try rollerblading at Dunia Inline Skating inside Taman Mini before having a picnic on the grass and then heading into the bird park to have an up close and personal experience with native birds from Indonesia.

Another great place to have an authentic Jakarta experience is at Setu Babakan in South Jakarta. Situated around a lake, you can learn all about the life of the original Betawi people, the indigenous ethnic group of Jakarta, through traditional food, music and dance. The kids may also like to try fishing at the lake or take a boat ride across the water.

Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly restaurants in Jakarta?

With so many malls in Jakarta comes the option of hundreds of dining choices, enough to suit every possible taste bud. Some recommendations for dining with kids apart from the usual TGI Fridays (which has a great kids’ menu), would be Pizza Express, which has a restaurant in Grand Indonesia, West Mall. Here parents can enjoy a peaceful meal and take a deep breath and relax while the kids are busy making their own pizzas and having fun learning how to cook. They also have options for gluten-free dishes for any children prone to allergies.

[For more travel tips on traveling with allergies and dietry requirements, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

You may also like to try The Playground at Plaza Indonesia where the kids can enjoy a meal in this quirky restaurant and you can opt to book the swing or merry-go-round seats.

In Puri Indah, West Jakarta, you will find Macaroni House [Jl. Pesanggrahan No. 168B, Puri Indah, Jakarta, Indonesia] which serves several macaroni variations of meals and sweets both kids and adults will love. This restaurant also has a miniature house where your children can have their own mini dinner table where they can doodle and colour in to their hearts’ content.

As an extra option, if you are wanting to try some traditional Indonesian food you should try Payon in Kemang in the evening. There is a little grass area for kids to run around and the restaurant is open air and you can watch as the chefs cook up your meal.

What are your tips for kids' shops in Jakarta? 

This depends entirely on what you are after. Plaza Indonesia has Miniapolis on Level 3 which has a playground, short train ride, young children's clothing stores and lolly shops. Most of the bigger malls such as Grand Indonesia or Senayan City have a kids level with clothing shops such as Baby Gap, Cotton On Kids, Baby Zara, Gingersnaps as well as Mothercare and Early Learning Centre shops for clothing and toys for young kids. There is also Topshop, Justice and Forever 21 which is more suitable for the teenage age bracket.

I also love the kids range by Duduk which can be found in Alun Alun in Grand Indonesia or online, which is a colourful hand coloured range of designs perfect for decorating a nursery or kids room. Also in Alun Alun you will find toys, clothing and gifts for kids in traditional batik fabric in bright and colourful designs which are really sweet. 

Which is the best place to stay if you are looking for family friendly accommodation in Jakarta with kids?

There are many hotels spread throughout Jakarta and I would recommend staying either in and around Menteng as it is quite central and easy to get around the rest of the city. Where you would like to stay completely depends on your budget, but you may like to try the Grand Hyatt Hotel which is located at Bundaran HI and is joined to Plaza Indonesia and across the road from Grand Indonesia.  

The Ritz-Carlton is also another child friendly hotel and is centrally located at Pacific Place Mall. Hotel Borobudur is a  5 star hotel and is also centrally located and has a kids’ outdoor play area.

Senayan is also good area to stay in and home to Plaza Senayan, Senayan City mall and usually has events around the area on a Sunday along with Car Free Day. Hotel Mulia Senayan or Harris Suites at FX Sudirman could be good choices in this area. 

Another area of interest would be to stay in Kemang which is an expat area and comes to life in the evenings with lots of cafes and shops and is also home to Lippo Mall and a few play area options for kids. The main area is currently under construction so I am excited to see what is going to appear in the next month or so. In Kemang you may like to try the Grand Kemang Hotel or a more budget-friendly options include the Fave Hotel Kemang or Pop! Hotel Kemang

What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Jakarta with kids? 

This would depend entirely on whether you plan on just passing through Jakarta on your way to another destination or whether you are wanting to make it your final destination. To get the most out of Jakarta, you may want to stay at least a minimum of three days to get a real taste of the city and then extend as long as you like for a true taste of Betawi culture and lifestyle. 

Remember to keep in mind that the traffic in Jakarta is quite crazy so you will need patience and not be in a real hurry to get anywhere (getting to multiple locations in one day can prove to be quite tricky). It all depends on what kind of holiday experience you are looking for to decide how much time you would like to stay here. In saying that, I initially came here for a two-week holiday and am still here five years later!

When is the best time of year to visit Jakarta with kids?

Jakarta is tropical with high humidity all year long and there are only two seasons; rainy season (November to June) and dry season (July to October). During the dry season there can also be rainy days but between the two seasons the temperature does not vary too much and it rarely ever gets “cool”. The transitional period between seasons would be my suggestion for the best time to visit if you are planning for outdoor activities. Keep in mind that during the rainy season Jakarta is prone to flooding in the central city, so it's best to visit outside the peak of rainy season. [Conversely], the middle of dry season can be incredibly hot outside.

What is the best way to move around Jakarta with kids? 

This would depend on where you are staying in Jakarta. If you are central and just want to go a short distance you may like to take a ride in a noisy and crazy bajaj [motorised trishaw] just for the experience. You will need to barter for the price and it is usually very cheap to travel in one of these as they weave their way through the traffic. 

The easiest way to get further around would be in a taxi as the fares are incredibly reasonable given how much time you are likely to stay in them on some days waiting for traffic to move. If you are wanting to make day trips outside of the city or your stay is a little longer term, you may prefer to rent a car and driver for the ease and convenience it provides for travelling with a family. 

[Should you bother taking kids car seats with you when you travel to Jakarta with kids? Check out the suitcases&strollers interview with a car safety expert to find out more here.] 

There is also a relatively new Jakarta City Tour Bus (which I am yet to try). It is a free bus service to serve tourists and can take you to places of interest such as Istiqlal Mosque (the largest mosque in Southeast Asia), Museum Nasional, Monas and more if you feel like a pure city adventure.

What are your top 3 tips for families travelling to Jakarta with kids? 

Bring something to entertain the kids with in the car. The traffic here is really crazy and you may end up spending quite awhile at a standstill or moving incredibly slowly either trying to get to your destination or home again. Once the kids tire of watching life out on the streets through the window, they are going to want to be entertained inside the car and you're going to want them to stay distracted for as long as possible. Also bring water and snacks in the car for the very same reasons, they may get hungry along the journey.

[For more travel tips on surviving road trips with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

Indonesians are known for their love of children so be prepared for lots of touching and strangers coming to say hello or take photos with you if you are not a local. Every day when I go walking with Samudra people will stop us, touch him and try to make him laugh if he is not already trying to entertain them. Whenever we are out at cafes or restaurants it is not unusual for the staff or strangers to come over and pick him up and want to walk away with him to take photos. This has caused some confusion for him when we return to Australia as no one pays him attention on the streets. He is always waving and trying to catch peoples eye and make them laugh wherever we go, but in Indonesian he is always certain to get a reaction.  

Be patient. Things move slowly here in Jakarta. Whether it be from the traffic to waiting in a queue or needing to get something done, everything always works out in the end, but with very little sense of urgency. If you come with an open mind, patience and a sense of adventure, the kids and yourself are sure to leave with great memories, full bellies and a desire to explore this city again.