Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, is a sprawling commercial centre and the primary trading port for islands to the east. Known as the ‘City of Heroes’ because the momentous first battle of the Indonesian revolution took place here in November 1945, it is now home to around 3 million people. Although predictably hectic, enlightened local governance in recent years has made it far more pleasant than some other large urban centres, with clean, tree-shaded streets in the centre, good public transport, and relatively orderly traffic. The crumbling older quarters towards the port area are less gentrified but contain much historical interest.
The best travel tips for visiting SurabayaThe most interesting areas of Surabaya are the old Arab, Chinese and colonial neighbourhoods in the north of the city. The richly atmospheric Arab quarter, known as Ampel, is centred on the mosque and tomb of Sunan Ampel, one of the legendary saints said to have spread Islam in Java. The mosque compound is approached via a narrow, covered bazaar.
Further south, amidst crumbling colonial-era shop-houses, the vast Pasar Pabean market is a warren of stalls and alleys. From late afternoon until early morning the western part of the market turns into an emporium for freshly-caught fish.
Beyond the market, the original Chinese quarter begins, home to old temples such as Hong Tik Hian and Surabaya’s oldest Chinese shrine, the 18th-century Hok An Kiong.
From the Chinese quarter, walk west and cross the famous Red Bridge over the Kali Mas River. Nearby is House of Sampoerna, a small museum attached to a factory that makes traditional hand-rolled clove kretek (clove cigarettes). There is a good café on site. ‘Surabaya Heritage Track’ is a free sightseeing bus run by House of Sampoerna. Departing the museum three times daily Tuesday to Sunday, it is an excellent way to see the city.
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Top attractions and things to do in SurabayaMany of Surabaya’s best things to see and do are to the north of the city, where Chinese districts spill out into old Arab neighbourhoods with the colonial leftover from when the Dutch took over the city in the mid-18th century. Here are the best things to do in Surabaya.
#1 House of SampoernaThis tobacco museum is housed in a 19th-century Dutch building, which was originally an orphanage. On display find all manner of tobacco-related paraphernalia, as well as some other artefacts. Upstairs, look down on the former factory’s main hub, where scores of workers once rolled and packed thousands of cigarettes a day.
#2 Kong Co Kong Tik Cun Ong TempleDiscover candle-lit prayer and burning incense at this exquisite Buddhist temple in east Surabaya.
#3 Masjid AmpelAmpel is the oldest mosque in the region, and one of the oldest in the country. It is a cherished sacred space; non-Muslims are not permitted entrance into the mosque itself, but the surrounding streets are certainly worth a ramble.
#4 Pasar PabeanConnecting the Chinese and Arab Quarters is an extensive, winding market, where, amid the dimly-lit alleys, you can browse piles of brightly-hued chilies, inhale powdered spices billowing from sacks and marvel at the equally pungent stacks of seafood on display.
#5 Masjid al AkbarMasjid al Akbar's aqua-marine domes glimmer in the sunlight. It is a truly striking sight. Take a guided tour from a member of staff, and finish with an elevator trip to the top of the minaret for panoramas of the cityscape.
Best areas to stay in SurabayaThe standard of accommodation in Surabaya is generally high. Check booking sites for some seriously excellent deals on luxury hotels. The best areas to stay in Surabaya include:
Old TownStep back in time and wander streets filled with elegant colonial-style buildings and ancient landmarks throughout the area.
ChinatownA towering red entrance gate adorned with golden dragons marks the entrance to the city’s well-preserved Chinatown. Find it lively, friendly, and filled with ancient buildings and delicious food.
Best restaurants and bars in SurabayaThere’s no shortage of places to eat in Surabaya. Find everything from night markets to Japanese imari. While there’s not a huge drinking culture, the eagle-eyed will find a scattering of bars and clubs for a drink and some tunes.
Here are the best places to eat in Surabaya:
- Pasar Genteng Amid the trinkets, spices and fabrics find aromatic street food and traditional produce at Genteng Market.
- Chamas Brazilian Churrascaria Sizzling skewers of glazed meats, vibrant cocktails and warm amber lighting all make for a stylish - and filling - night out.
- Xiang Fu Hai Cuisine This elegant Chinese eatery will meet all your dim sum needs.
- Imari Japanese Restaurant A delicious rainbow of Japanese cuisine greets diners at Imari..
- Seventeen Skyview Resto & Lounge High-end international dining with a view.
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How to get around SurabayaGetting around Surabaya isn't as simple as some other major Indonesian cities, with most visitors opting for a taxi over minibuses.
By taxiThe easiest way to get around Surabaya is by taxi. Book through well-known companies such as Uber or GrabTaxi, else Bluebird Taxis are also very good.
By busSurabaya is well-served by buses. There are two types in the city: normal buses and patas buses (express). Both are often crowded. Visitors, however, rarely use any other bus than patas P1, which goes along Jl Basuki Rahmat to Purabaya bus station.
How many days do you need in Surabaya?Visitors will need at least two-to-three days to explore Surabaya, depending on what they want to see and do in the city. The House of Sampoerna, the Museum Mpu Tantular, the Cheng Hoo Mosque, and the Suramadu Bridge, can all be tackled in two days – a morning or afternoon spent on each – with time to fit in the Submarine Monument, Surabaya City Hall, and the Pasar Atom.
If you want to visit the surrounding area, such as Mount Bromo or the Ijen Crater, then you will need to add additional days to your itinerary.
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Best time to visit SurabayaThe best time to visit Surabaya is during the dry season, which typically lasts from May to September. During this time, the weather is sunny and dry with lower humidity, making it more comfortable for outdoor activities.
Surabaya's wet season lasts from October to April, and brings frequent rain showers and high humidity. It can make lead to some flooding here, making it harder to get around the city. Lower prices for accommodation will reflect that.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.