Kota Tua, or Old Town, is Jakarta’s equivalent to an historical heart found in various other cities around the world. It’s one of the few locations in Jakarta where many old heritage buildings are concentrated and still endure in some way or another. You could say the center of Kota Tua is Fatahillah Square, a large plaza located in front of the old City Hall, or Stadhuis, a building that now houses the Jakarta History Museum. Performance artists, dancers, bubble-blowers, and many other kinds of entertainment, along with thousands of tourists, congregate on the square in front of this building. Several museums surround the square: the aforementioned Jakarta History Museum, the Wayang Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics.
The streets leading up to the square are packed with warungs, kaki limas (little food carts), souvenir sellers, artists, and touts of all kinds of services and goods. Because of the crowds and shops you can’t really take in the old buildings and admire the streets. The old heritage feeling was lost on me. It’s really a shame. It’s just filled with people. The actual town square should officially be free of touts as it is forbidden, but in reality you’ll still see many of them there too.
Visiting Kota Tua during the weekend or on a holiday is not recommended. Because of the giant crowds, I would really suggest going on a weekday if that is possible. I went on a Sunday and it was very crowded which made it hard to walk, and also very hot. Of course, these are just my recommendations. It might no problem for others. Trash is another of the problems of the place. Even though some garbage cans are provided, there is a lot of littering in this area.
I noticed a few new restaurants that have opened near the town square so you might check those out. In any case, I would not recommended eating or drinking at Café Batavia as it is overpriced and serves underwhelming food and drinks. However, I would recommend a visit to the café just to take a look at the awesome interiors, but otherwise… skip it.
My feelings towards Kota Tua are that of disappointment. The area is way too small to house so many people. Touts should be relocated to outside of the main tourist areas, and most importantly, a large number of the old heritage buildings need more renovation and preservation. It’s really a shame, because this is the closest Jakarta has to a historical heart of an old city and it’s not taken care of as it could be. Once again, with the proper development, this could be the booming, cultural, and historical core of the city and perhaps the country. But as of now, I feel it’s just a giant tourist trap and lacking as a cultural center.