Surabaya, the hectic capital city of East Java and home to some 3 million people, is not at the top of most people’s “must-see” list but its vibrant streets do reveal some places of interest for those willing to linger and explore.
Surabaya’s big port has attracted a mix of cultures into the city over time, with one of Indonesia’s largest Chinatowns, crumbling Dutch colonial buildings and a historic Arab quarter among the city’s most appealing places to wander.
Outside its ‘old city’ district, Surabaya is a modern metropolis with heavy traffic, modern shopping centres and a fantastic range of inexpensive local restaurants and markets. For Indonesians, Surabaya holds a place of pride as the birthplace of the country’s post-World War II independence movement.
Several monuments honouring the struggle are found throughout this ‘City of Heroes’. Many visitors stay in Surabaya for only a day or two, with the city serving as a transit point for travel further east to the popular island of Bali or south to Mount Bromo national park.
Surabaya Attractions Surabaya’s Old City is the place to go for a proper exploration of the city, starting with Jalan Jembatan Merah, an atmospheric street lined with rather rundown Dutch colonial buildings.
Just east of here is Chinatown, with crowded lanes chock full of shops and markets, as well as the Kong Co Kong Tik Cun Ong temple where Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs intertwine. A lively bazaar that seems to have been plucked straight out of the Middle East is found in the Arab Quarter, which is also home to Surabaya’s most sacred mosque, Mesjid Ampel.
One of the founders of the Muslim faith in Java, Sunan Ampel, was buried here in 1481. The colourful Kalimas Harbour offers a look at Surabaya’s busy nautical life.
The House of Sampoerna kretek cigarette factory and museum is an unusual sight but well worth visiting regardless of your views on smoking. Indonesia’s signature clove cigarettes are seen being rolled in rapid fashion by hundreds of women workers.
The factory is housed in a lovely 19th-century Dutch building, and there’s an excellent cafe here, too. Naval history buffs will want to visit Monumen Kapal Selam on Jalan Pemuda for the chance to see the 1962 Pasopati Russian submarine, once used by the Indonesian navy.