The city of Surabaya in Java is not as well-known on the tourist trail as other places such as Jakarta and Bandung, which is a shame, as Surabaya is one of the most historically important cities in Indonesia and has a number of interesting attractions that make it well worth a visit.
Surabaya is actually the second largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta and is a good choice for families, couples, or solo travelers. It is also easily accessible and provides tourists a look at a more traditional Indonesian city. Surabaya comes from the words shark (sura) and crocodile (buaya) and you will notice that statues of these two animals fighting each other are dotted around the city. This story comes from a local legend that claims that these two animals fought when the city was founded, and it is such tales that makes Surabaya a charming spot to visit particularly if you are keen to learn more about Indonesian history.
Surabaya doesn’t have as many tourist attractions, as other cities in Java but the ones on offer are still well worth the trip.
House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory:
One of the best known attractions in Surabaya is the House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory. The name is slightly misleading, as this is a factory with an attached museum with a delightful little coffee shop. You can also go on a city tour that leaves at 09:00 every day and will take you around the sights of Surabaya for an hour and a half. The best thing about the tour is that it is free to join but note that it doesn’t operate on Mondays. Definitely this is not to be missed if you are in the city.
Monumen Kapal Selam:
This is one of the more unexpected tourist attractions in Surabaya and is actually a former Russian submarine. The Indonesian navy used it until 1990 when it was decommissioned and for IDR 5,000 (USD 0.35), you can climb aboard and take a tour. The submarine is located in the harbor and is a great stop to learn a little about Indonesia’s maritime history.
One of the best things about Surabaya compared to many other Indonesian cities is that it is easier to go for a stroll here. An ideal place to do this is in Chinatown, which used to be full of Chinese-owned businesses and restaurants. This area of Surabaya has a range of gorgeous local architecture and the main artery of Jalan Karet is the best place to start.
Surabaya is easily accessible from a number of locations in Indonesia using a variety of different transportation methods:
By Air: You can fly into Surabaya Airport from all over Indonesia and the airport is around 45 minutes from the centre of the city. Domestic flights are usually cheap so this is one of the best options especially if your time is limited.
By Train: Surabaya has two train stations and if you fancy traveling by rail in Indonesia then this offers you the perfect opportunity.
Both stations are centrally located, which is convenient, but they access different areas of Indonesia. Pasar Turi Station runs from Jakarta so if you have flown into the capital then this can be a good pick for moving on. The journey however takes twelve and a half hours.
If you are in Surabaya and want to move on to another location in Java or further afield then you need to proceed to the Gubeng train station. From here you can travel to cities like Banyuwangi (which is close to Bali), which takes 7 hours, or Bandung (12 hours) or Yogyakarta (5 hours).
Note however that schedules and fares change very frequently so it is best to go to the train station in question to get the latest information.
By Bus: Bus travel is common in Indonesia, mostly because it is the cheapest form of transportation available. That said, it can be uncomfortable and the journeys long and somewhat arduous. The bus terminal in Surabaya is centrally located and is called Purabaya or Bungurasih. Buses from here run all over Indonesia so it is best to inquire at the various counters for the latest fares or schedules. Some common destinations however include Denpasar in Bali (12 hours), Bandung (18 hours) or Yogyakarta (8 hours).
Accessing money in Surabaya can be simple, as you would expect in a city of this size. International access ATMs and a number of large banks are located all over the city. You will also find money changers in the city although these are less common than in other areas as the city is not a tourist hub.
You can expect it to be hot in Surabaya pretty much all year round with temperatures topping 30 degrees at times. The rainy season here lasts from around November to April and during this time it can rain every single day. With that in mind however, it often doesn’t rain all day long but you can expect short, sharp showers.
As with most cities in Indonesia, public transport is not very well catered for and it can be confusing and difficult to use. Unlike places like Bali, however, Surabaya has becaks or motorized trishaws that will take you around the city and are cheap to use. For a short journey of a few blocks, expect to pay around IDR 10,000 (USD 0.70). If you are going on a longer journey then you can get a taxi using a reputable company such as Bluebird and a short journey across the city should be around IDR 40,000 (USD 2.80).
Surabaya is known for its specialty soup called Sup Rawon. This is a beef stew that is almost black in color and takes a long time to prepare. The signature Rawon soup in Surabaya is called Rawon Setan (Devil’s Soup), as it is usually made with an abundance of chilies so it is not for those who don’t like or can’t handle spicy food.
In addition to Rawon you will also find Indonesian warungs and cafes all over the city, which are cheap and sell delicious local food. If you are looking for Western options then many of the malls in the city have fast food outlets and restaurants that sell international fare.
Surabaya is not on everyone’s itinerary but there is much to discover here especially if you want to see a more authentic and less touristy side of Indonesia. In terms of history Surabaya is a great pick and it also offers the chance to travel overland across Indonesia either by bus or train, which is an experience in itself. If you are flying in to Jakarta and want to make your way to Bali then traveling via Surabaya can be a good choice.