Travel Guide: The Underrated City of Surabaya

More than a centre of commerce, Indonesia’s second-largest city is a fun destination and gateway to Java’s natural wonders.

Published: 06 November 2017, Text by: Gabrielle Dunlevy

For The Experience

START WITH COFFEE

Surabaya has a generous sprinkling of third-wave cafés serving coffee with Indonesian and imported beans. Fuel your sightseeing with a cold brew, flat white or pour-over from Caturra Espresso, Volks Coffee or Thirty Three Brew.

REMEMBER THE HEROES

Surabaya is known as the City of Heroes as it was the scene of the 10 November 1945 Battle of Surabaya, a crucial moment in Indonesia’s war for independence. The Heroes Monument is the city’s main landmark and honours those who died.

DUTCH ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL

Home to one of Indonesia’s most famous kretek cigarette manufacturers, the House of Sampoerna beckons for a visit. The factory and museum is housed in a lovely 19th-century Dutch structure, which was formerly an orphanage and a theatre. Take in the informative exhibits on the uses of cloves and the history of kretek in Indonesia and be mesmerised by the incredible collection of cigarette lighters, holders and cases as well as Ming-dynasty china.

KEEP SURABAYA BEAUTIFUL

It’s not by accident that Surabaya has some of the cleanest streets and parks of any Indonesian city. The campaign has been led by mayor and mother figure, Tri Rismaharini, who personally joins clean-up events and is famous for her responses when people don’t respect public gardens.

SPECIAL STREET FOODS

There are several dishes that are particular to East Java and fun to try in Surabaya. One of them is lontong balap (rice cakes with bean sprouts, tofu and crunchy mung bean fritters). Another is rujak cingur, a variation of Java’s rujak salad consisting of cucumbers, beans, pineapple and jicama, with the addition of beef snout.

BOUTIQUE HOTELS

For a hotel stay in playful surrounds, check in at Artotel, which features the colourful work of emerging Indonesian artists in its rooms and in the foyers and shared spaces. The hotel also hosts art workshops.

GLAMOROUS STAYS

The historical luxury Hotel Majapahit was founded in 1910 and is now recognised as a cultural heritage landmark. Besides grand rooms and gardens, it has a Martha Tilaar spa, health club, bars and restaurants.

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Retail Therapy

GET LOST IN MALLS

Surabaya’s big malls are a good place to see a movie, escape the heat or shop in global fashion stores. Tunjungan Plaza and Pakuwon Mall are gigantic, with the familiar restaurants, amenities and brands.

SHOP FOR STREET WEAR

Other Rag Enterprise (ORE), is a streetwear store (and cool café) with a curated range of global street apparel and undiscovered local labels. Also check out Eiger Adventure for high-quality Indonesian-designed-and-made outdoor gear.

DELICIOUS SOUVENIRS

The most popular treat to take home is a layer cake or lapis kukus, an alternative is Elan chocolates. Made in Surabaya, the bars are wrapped in colourful paper and come in flavours like Oreo, almond and green tea. Save time and have your souvenirs delivered to your accommodation by ordering online from disurabaya.id.

Worth The Trek

DAY TRIP TO MALANG

About 2.5 hours by car or train from Surabaya is the highland city of Malang, a much-loved escape from Surabaya because of its cooler climate, slower pace, heritage architecture and as a departure point for tours to Mount Bromo.

MEET AT TOWN SQUARE

Alun Alun Malang (Malang town square) is your first stop for a friendly atmosphere by day and night, with live music or street performers and excellent too for people-watching.

FEEL AT HOME

Malang’s charming neighbourhoods provide an opportunity to stay somewhere more personal than a big city hotel. Guesthouses with gracious service include Kertanegara Premium Guest House and Augustina Homestay.

CULINARY SCENE

Malang is a food destination in its own right, with dishes distinct from those in Surabaya. Enjoy cwie mie, a noodle salad with shredded chicken, and angsle, a warm dessert with white rice, tapioca pearls and sweet bread in pandan-scented coconut milk. Exactly what you want on a cold night.

CHASING WATERFALLS

The mountains around Malang have several waterfalls for outdoor exercise and scenic picnics. Air Turjun Coban Pelangi is named after the rainbows that dance on its waters. It’s often included as a stop on the way back from Mount Bromo tours, but the walk is better when you’re not tired or rushing. There is a small entrance fee.

VISIT MOUNT BROMO

From Malang, it is easy to book a tour to Mount Bromo, which would otherwise take four hours to reach by car from Surabaya. At 2,393 metres, it is not among the tallest of Indonesia’s mountains, but its popularity lies in its incredible setting and stunning beauty. A popular option to view the magnificent mountain scenery is the sunrise tour, where a Jeep will pick you up around midnight, and have you at the Mount Pananjakan lookout for sunrise. From there, you visit the dramatic moonscape of the caldera’s ‘sea of sand’ and walk to the rim of Bromo, an active volcano. Many return via the grassy savannah on the other side – a stunning and totally different landscape. 

© 2017 Malaysia Airlines Berhad (1116944-X)
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