A half day wander
At first glance, Solo isn’t the most appealing of Indonesian cities, but many of the attractions are within a relatively easy walking distance of one another, and, once you get off the main roads, it is a pleasant—and interesting—town to wander through.
Set more or less due north of Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta, Solo’s small Chinatown is worth a quick wander, especially if you have an interest in markets.
At the northern end of Jalan Sudirman, the road splits with Jalan Jend. Urip Sumoharjo veering to the east, over the short bridge which spans the Pepe River (though it is more like a canal)—and once you reach the eastern bank, you’re in Chinatown. If you are in Solo near Lunar New Year, expect the streets to be strung with red lanterns.
Once you cross the river you’ll see Tien Kok Sie pagoda to your right on Jl RE. Martadinata. This pagoda is the epicentre of Solo’s Chinatown, hosts dragon dances and in early 2018 released 999 sparrows to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Cross the road from here and you’ll walk straight into the sprawling Pasar Gede which sells all manner of goods from t-shirts and flip flops through to over-sized snake fruit and limes. Wander the market but also make the time to explore the immediately surrounding streets as there are some pretty (albeit very run down) trading houses in the area.
Across the road, in a far more attractive two storey building, is Pasar Gede Barat—a triangle shaped building that is a major fruit clearing house—it is very photogenic. On the western side of Pasar Gede Barat, Jalan Suryopranoto runs to the north—if you have an interest in traditional Chinese style shopfronts, with a keen eye you will spot a few along here, but much is hidden behind commercial hoardings. The back side of these buildings can be seen from the bridge over the Pepe River as this row backs onto the the water.
From here, if you backtrack to the bridge and walk south for a block, you’ll see the remnants of the wall of the old Vastenburg Fort. Originally a Dutch fortification, the expanse has been through a number of owners since then and, we were told, is currently the source of a major land dispute. For now, you’re not officially allowed to enter but the gates are worth a look—when we swung by we could see a guy grazing his goats inside the fort. The western gate of the fort has a placard reading “hoogste waterstand op den 24 February 1861” which refers to the highest point flood waters reached in what could have been a monster flood related to a gargantuan earthquake in Sumatra a few days earlier on February 16.
At the southern flank of the fort, along Jalan Mayor Sunaryo, sits Galabo Solo—a large open air eatery with plenty of foodstalls—this is a very popular spot for evening dining.
From Galabo Solo, continue south again on Jl Pakoe Boewono and you’ll reach a very pretty shady stretch of road. On your left (to the east) is the small Pasar Cindramata—a small gem and souvenir market. It is worth a quick wander through, but we recommend leaving the purchase of polished stones to the experts.
After the market, turn right (to the west) and walk along the northern edge of Alun Alun Lor a large open-air market area which hosts rotating attractions of varying levels of interest to foreign travellers—stick your head in and see how you fare.
As you walk down the west side of Alun Alun Lor, look out to the west to see the sprawling Grand Mosque (Masjid Agung Surakarta), which was built in the 1760s by Pakubuwono III and is the royal mosque for the Sultan. The large minaret was added in the 1920s.
From here continue south to the Kraton Kasunanan Surakarta then return to the mosque and continue west, taking Jalan Cakra, which will lead you into one of Solo’s very pleasant batik villages.
There are plenty of outlets selling batik in Kampung Batik—from the affordable printed cloth right through to the very expensive real deal, but for us the main pleasure of the village was simply wandering around the back lanes and streets.
Cute signposting points this way and that to different boutiques and warungs. One street sign we found detailed some sixty batik outlets in the village—shop till you drop! If you do need to drop, we had a very comfortable rest stop at Batik Kaoeman on Jalan Wijaya Kusuma (the road roughly bisects the village north to south) as they have a cafe, museum and a retail outlet all under the one roof.
Address: Eastern Solo
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 6 other sights and activities in and around Solo