The city of Surabaya in East Java is not as well known on the tourist trail as other places in the country although it is actually the second largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta. It is also one of the most important parts of the country historically and there are a range of interesting attractions that make it worth spending some time here if you are travelling around Java.
One of the key reasons to come to Surabaya is for the chance to check out an authentic slice of city life in Indonesia away from the major tourist hubs and you can also spend time eating your way around the city which is known for a clutch of signature dishes such as spicy soups and curries.
Surabaya is also a port and with that in mind you can enjoy sweeping vistas across the water and also enjoy a walk along the waterfront where you can look across to the famous bridge that connects the city with neighboring Madura. All in all, Surabaya is well known as a tourist destination on the domestic market, but unfortunately the international market has yet to catch up despite the myriad charms of this city.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Surabaya:
1. Visit the House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory
One of the top attractions in Surabaya is the House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory which is something of a misnomer as there is factory here as well as an adjacent museum and a charming little coffee shop.
Sampoerna is a well known brand of cigarettes in Indonesia called kretek which are made from a blend of cloves.
At the factory you can learn the history of the brand including how the cigarettes are made and the background of how cloves are said to have medicinal properties in Indonesia.
2. Tour Monumen Kapal Selam
You may not imagine that you would find a Russian submarine in Surabaya but this is exactly what is on show at Monumen Kapal Selam.
The submarine was used by the Indonesian navy until it was decommissioned in 1990 and then set up as a museum in the city.
As such you can now climb aboard and tour the submarine which sits in the wider harbor and is a great way to learn some of the history of Indonesia’s navy.
3. Walk around Chinatown
Indonesian cities are often difficult to navigate on foot so if you get the chance make sure to head to the Chinatown area of Surabaya which lends itself well to an afternoon stroll.
This part of Surabaya got its name thanks to the influx of Chinese owned restaurants and shops in the area and you can still find a wealth of local architecture here that leads off the main road which is called Jalan Karet.
4. Take a tour to Mount Bromo
One of the main highlights of East Java is Mount Bromo which is a volcano that is technically still active.
The smoldering mountain lies in the wider Bromo Tengger National Park and one of the easiest ways to get here is to take the famous Bromo Midnight Tour that leaves from Surabaya.
As the name suggest you will leave around midnight in order to get to the volcano in the early hours of the morning where you can watch the majestic sun rise over the lip of the crater.
Certainly if you visit Surabaya then this is one day trip that you shouldn’t miss and for many is a highlight of a trip to Java.
5. Have some food at G-Walk
G-Walk is part of CitraLand in the west of Surabaya and this is the place to come if you want to try some of the best food in the city.
There are a wealth of food stalls here are well as nightly bazaars and there are also upscale restaurants that flank one side of the walkway.
Surabaya’s youth flock here are this is a great spot if you want to people watch and sample some of the local fare at the same time.
6. Have afternoon tea at Majapahit Hotel
Majapahit Hotel is one of the most famous old landmarks in Surabaya and was built in 1910. The hotel is built in the colonial style and is surrounded by stunning lush gardens and you can come here to drink in the old-world atmosphere and enjoy a classic high tea which features little sandwiches, cakes, and other finger food.
Tea is served from 12 pm until 6 pm and this is one of the best upscale dining experiences in Surabaya.
7. Go for a stroll at Taman Bungkul
If you want to take in some of the scenery in Surabaya then head to Taman Bungkul which is one of the few green spots in the city.
This park is a welcome relief from the congested traffic and frenetic pace found elsewhere in the city and you can go for a walk and enjoy the local flora and fauna.
Note however that it gets quite busy in the evenings when amorous couples wander around so go in the afternoon if you want to beat the crowds.
8. Check out the Suramadu National Bridge
The Suramadu National Bridge is one of the longest in this part of the world and runs between Surabaya and the neighboring island of Madura.
If you walk along the waterfront in the city you can take in the majesty of the bridge and one of the best times to come here is after dark when the bridge is illuminated with a variety of colorful lights.
9. Visit the Surabaya National Monument
No visit to Surabaya is complete without a trip to the Surabaya National Monument.
The name Surabaya comes from two ancient Sanskrit words, namely ‘sura’ which means whale and ‘baya’ which means crocodile.
These two animals are said to represent the difference between war and peace and at the national monument you will find two sculptures of the animals that are the national motif of the city.
The story goes that the city was founded after an epic battle between a crocodile and a whale and you will find further echoes of these fighting motifs in other spots all over Surabaya.
10. Take a bus tour around the city
If you visit the House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory then make sure to take advantage of its other key attraction in the form of a free bus tour.
The bus leaves from the factory at 9 am every day except for Monday and will take you around the city and show you all the main sights for free.
If you are just stopping off in Surabaya and don’t have much time to get out and explore the city then this is one of the best ways to visit everything quickly.
11. Try the food at Pasar Atum
One of the main reasons why people come to Surabaya, particularly domestic tourists, is to try the delicious food.
The main area of the city to try some of the culinary delights for which Surabaya is famous is Pasar Atum and one restaurant in particular stands out in the form of Kartiko Restaurant which is known for its traditional food.
The food here is cheap and offers you a quick taste of some of the best flavors in the city such as toothsome curries and a range of both sweet and savory snacks.
12. Visit the Cheng Hoo Mosque
Many people may not realize that Surabaya has a large Chinese population who originally came here as traders and then settled in the area.
As a result, the Cheng Hoo Mosque is one of the key religious sites for Chinese Indonesians in Surabaya who converted to Islam but still retained much of their heritage, and this is a top spot to visit if you want to see some of the culture firsthand.
Make sure to check out the vivid red, yellow, and green decorations all over the mosque as well as the traditional pagoda which is a blend of dragon and lion carvings.
13. Catch a game at the Gelora Bung Tomo Stadium
Indonesians love football and no more so than in Surabaya which is the home of the Persebaya Football Club.
The club play out of the Gelora Bung Tomo Stadium which can seat up to 50,000 spectators at one time and if you want to see one of the most exciting sporting events in the city then make sure to catch a game while you are in town.
14. Have a bowl of soup at Rawon Setan
Rawon Setan is probably one of Surabaya’s best known dishes and is basically a kind of very spicy soup which is not for the faint of heart.
‘Setan’ literally means ‘Satanic’ in Indonesian which tells you everything you need to know about the spice levels used here but the restaurant is so popular that it is open 24 hours a day.
15. Go for a harbor cruise
Surabaya is a port and there is no better way to enjoy the city than to get out on the water and take a cruise around the area.
One of the best cruises is on board the Artama III which takes around two hours to travel around the harbor and you will run all the way along the waterfront and even pass under the iconic Suramadu Bridge.
You can only take the cruise on a Sunday at 9 am but if you are in town at the right time then this is absolutely not to be missed.
16. Visit Klenteng Sanggar Agung
Klenteng Sanggar Agung is a well known Chinese temple in the city that is a place of pilgrimage by those who follow the Tridharma faith, If you want to see a different side of the religious diversity of the city then this is a great place to visit and the temple is located in a strategic position overlooking the water and you will find aromatic incense and red candles burning all over the temple and the adjacent courtyard.
17. Enjoy the nightlife
Surabaya, as you would imagine for a big city, has an interesting nightlife scene and you won’t be short of things to do in the evenings.
As well as restaurants, many of which are open 24 hours, you will also find bars and nightclubs such as Our Bar or Colours Pub and Restaurant.
The best way to find where to go for a night out is to ask a local or spend some time exploring the city on food and seeing where looks lively.
18. Make a splash at the Ciputra Waterpark
If you want to cool off in Surabaya then consider a trip to the Ciputra Waterpark which is a great spot to have fun, especially if you are travelling with children.
The park is part of the wider CitraLand entertainment complex and you can enjoy attractions like wave pools, slides, and smaller play areas for children.
The park is open until 8 pm every day and gets very busy around the weekends so make sure to plan accordingly.
19. Visit Grahadi
Grahadi is the home of the Governor of East Java and the building dates from the colonial period.
It is located close to the adjacent Balai Pemuda which is a Youth Hall and also a historical building in Surabaya in its own right and you can catch a traditional dance show called the ‘Reog Dance’ here every Sunday at 8.30 am.
20. Check out Masjid Al Akbar Surabaya
Masjid Al Akbar Surabaya is a huge mosque complex that is well worth a visit for the views alone.
The mosque actually has its own tower that has an internal elevator and you can ride all the way to the top of the tower which sits at 65 meters above the city.
As you would imagine the views here are spectacular and you can also check out the ornate Islamic architecture at the same time.
Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the mosque provide they dress modestly.
21. Have a game of golf
Many visitors to Surabaya may be surprised to learn that this is a city obsessed with golf.
To that end there are a huge number of courses to enjoy here include Bukit Darmo Golf which has 18 holes and the green was designed by Jack Nicklaus II. Other alternatives include Yani Golf which is something of a historic relic as the course is built on a hill and is also the sight of the crypt of the last Dutch Governor of Surabaya.
22. Have dinner at Ayam Penyet Bu Kris
Surabaya is known for its ayam penyet which is a dish of fried chicken which is pounded before cooking to make it incredibly tender.
The chicken at Ayam Penyet Bu Kris is particularly well known in the city and it comes with a traditional sambal sauce of chilies crushed with garlic.
One of the good things about this warung is that you can customize the sauce and opt for a less spicy version if you prefer a little less heat.
23. Pick up some souvenirs at Roode Brug Soerabaia
If you want to pick up some souvenirs in Surabaya then you need to make your way to Roode Brug Soerabaia which is on Jalan Pucang Anom Timur.
Here you will find a range of retro memorabilia such as vintage t-shirts, old fashioned Japanese and British army helmets, and even miniature models of Surabaya’s famous Russian submarine.
This shop is like an antique store mixed with a museum and they also do heritage tours around the city.
24. Go shopping at Galaxy Mall
Locals in Surabaya love to shop and there are a huge concentration of malls in the city.
One of the most famous is Galaxy Mall which has over 400 different shops as well as a cinema and supermarket.
One of the other big reasons to come here is that there are not one but two food courts, one of which focuses on inexpensive but delicious Indonesian food and the other which is dedicated to upscale restaurants located in an area of the mall called Dining Town.
25. Visit the Island of Madura
The island of Madura is around 4 hours away from Surabaya but it is not to be missed if you are in the city.
If you leave early in the morning then you can visit Madura as part of a day trip and if you happen to go from July to August then you will be able to take in the amazing buffalo races for which the island is famous.
The races see the bulls running through rice paddies which makes it look as if they are skating on the surface of the mud and this is one of the most unique spectacles in Indonesia.
Madura is also difficult to visit on its own due to its location so if you are in Surabaya then it is definitely worth putting some time aside to venture out into the countryside.