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Things to do in Surabaya – Understand
Surabaya is a sprawling, business-dominated city in Eastern Java. It’s Indonesia’s second largest city and it’s also one of the hottest cities in Indonesia with a humid and hot climate (even for Indonesian standards). The heat index easily reaches 120 degrees for most days.
It will surprise you with wider, more modern and more orderly streets than most of Indonesia. In fact most if the city will feel with a major highway and rest stops left and right of the road. In fact it’s hard to find any real city center. Walking in general or crossing a road on foot is a bad idea and locals use their motorbikes and cars to do that – so should you.
Surabaya can be urban and sophisticated and rural just a few blocks apart. It’s entirely untouched by tourism and you will be hard pressed to find other foreigners in the city at all. However it’s not empty – it is crowded like most places in Indonesia. Also like most places in Indonesia the people are incredibly friendly and down-to-earth.
Things to do in Surabaya – Get Around
Uber recently started in Surabaya and it was THE way to get around for me. It’s incredibly cheap and teh cars are usually brand new. The trouble is that drivers are often challenged and pickup times can be long.
Taxi drivers in town are usually honest and a good way to go as well.
Traffic can be bad a rush hours but it’s generally moving well. Keep in mind that it’s too hot to spend more than a few minutes outside on many days and cars make up the biggest part of peoples lives so this is a car city – don’t come here on a pedestrian exploration.
Things to do in Surabaya – Safety
Violence and property crime is not an issue at any level in Surabaya. However you will get a LOT of stares when walking – it’s quite annoying but nothing to worry about.
Most of Surabaya has no sidewalks you will need to walk on the busy roads which can be treacherous at night. So I’d avoid that.
Things to do in Surabaya – Sights
Surabaya has a limited amount of cultural ‘sights’ to speak of. However this also means you have it all to yourself mostly.
The Masjid Agung Sunan Ampel mosque is in a big pedestrian zone with tiny alleyways. It’s scenic, historic and really hot. The neighborhood is easily as interesting as the mosque itself. You will also be able to walk through the ‘Arabic street’ which will remind you of the Medina in Marrakesh. Bring appropriate clothing if you’d like to to get closer to the mosque – I was in short pants (as it was crazy hot) and couldn’t get close.
The National Museum is one city block with (mostly outdoor) installations commemorating the Indonesian independence. Its a great place for a break from the manic traffic and the heat yourself up outdoors.
Further north is the House of Semporna – Semporna used to be a major tobacco manufacturer in the city. The museum inside the original buildings has a number of interesting exhibitions from that day.
Hotel Majapahit is a colonial era hotel that has been beautifully restored. Even if you stay somewhere else come here to marvel at the architecture and interior design.
This mall is hiding as a ‘town square’ that is actually urban. It’s an open space where you can actually walk for a few hundred yards and sit outside in peace. It’s all chains but still tastefully done and worth to stop by.
Even in ‘mall mad’ Indonesia Surabaya is known as a haven for shopping and browsing in the malls. The city has an endless list of malls old and new to discover – if you like shopping this city won’t disappoint!
Things to do in Surabaya – Eat & Drink
Surabaya is not a gourmet heaven – food is supposed to be fast, simple and cheap around town. However the city is massive enough to support a few great spots!
Hands down my favorite place in Surabaya – fantastic industrial design, fantastic coffee and great food. It’s also lively enough (but not crowded) and cheap. This hidden gem was my rest stop every day while in Surabaya. It just does not have fast WiFi.
Hari-Hari has been the recommendation for traditional Indonesian Food several times. The staff is friendly enough and the restaurant calm and the food fresh. However I feel something was missing – still a good place for a ‘discovery lunch’
Sky36 is a rooftop cafe/ bar that has a great view over the city. When I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon I was the only guest – so it’s not exactly a busy spot!
Right across from Sky36 is Domicile which looks like a proper ‘Gordon Ramsay’ restaurant – it’s just beautiful inside/ out with lots of space. When I was there I was just not hungry but I’d love to have eaten here.
Marugame Udon is my favorite place to eat in Honolulu and little did I know is that the chain is huge in Indonesia. There are two outlets in Surabaya. I liked the food though it’s not as good as in Waikiki.
Bebek Sinjay looks like the myriad of road stalls feeding the hungry drivers on their way through the city. However it’s well know for their crispy chicken. It’s quite good and an extremely cheap option for dinner or lunch.
Despite the promising title the coffee here isn’t great and the food even less so. However it’s in a good location and a quiet place to come to study and work.
Bubur Ayam Elizabeth is a food stall with two stops in the city. It serves chicken with rice and spices that is pretty awesome and really cheap. A great place for a quick snack!
La Ricchi ice cream has some lovely ice cream creations and flavors that you just would not expect in Indonesia. On a hot day (read almost every day) come here to cool down with a delicious cup of ice cream. It’s not cheap though.
Next door to La Ricchi is Ikan Bakar Cianjur which gets good ratings for their fried fish. I really did not like the smell when I was there but maybe the food is god?
Kampar Batik & Resto is a bit outside of the main city area which gets good ratings for its food.
Things to do in Surabaya – Where to stay
I split my time in Surabaya to stay at these hotels:
I felt the Mercure Surabaya provides the best value (at just $17!) and the Holiday Inn Express is probably the best mix of them all.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
This post has been tagged with: best city | best place | city guide | things to do