Photo: Temple incense.

Surabaya's sights in a day

Many travellers we here at speak with during their trans-Java journeys like to take in the main Java attractions of Borobudur, Gunung Bromo and Kawah Ijen before making a beeline to Bali. Fewer stop to take in cities such as Bandung, Malang and the capital of East Java, Surabaya.

Colonial architecture abounds in Surabaya

Colonial architecture in Surabaya.

Surabaya is Indonesia’s second largest city and is predominantly focused on industry and trade. But that doesn’t mean it’s simply a mini-Jakarta with traffic snarls, choking pollution and inconvenient transport options. On the contrary, Surabaya is a laidback and easygoing city compared with its big brother to the west. It also has colonial architecture in spades. That said, most visitors will only want to stay here for one or two days.

The following is a breakdown of how you might plan a day to take in the best attractions in town:

09:00: House of Sampoerna cigarette factory

Without a doubt the number one attraction in Surabaya is the House of Sampoerna cigarette factory. How thrilling can a cigarette factory really be? Well for starters there’s a lot more to the House of Sampoerna than simply a factory. It’s a museum, working factory, cafe and city tour all in one. In fact, our favourite part is the free 1 to 1.5 hour air-con bus tour of the city which starts at 9am every day except Monday. The cafe is top quality, the manual rolling of cigarettes in the factory a site to see and the museum informative and interesting — whether you are pro- or anti-smoking.

Why not relax and have a cool drink at the Sampoerna Cafe after your free city tour?

The cafe at Sampoerna: we're guessing you can smoke?

11:00: Old Chinatown

Surabaya’s old Chinatown is simply an old area of town once dominated by Chinese merchants engaged in trade through the local port. Nowadays much of the Chinese influence has disappeared and all that is left is street after street of very old warehouses, shops and residential homes. It’s a great place to wander around and we recommend starting at Jembatan Merah (red bridge) as a point of reference, heading east for 100 metres or so before turning right onto Jalan Karet, where the old town appears in all its glory. Take a camera!

13:00: Monumen Kapal Selam

Monumen Kapal Selam is an old Russian Whiskey class submarine. It was acquired by the Indonesian Navy in 1962 and saw active service until 1990. Now it stands on the side of the river as a tourist attraction and a destination where hordes of locals come to picnic. It’s worth the 5,000 rupiah entrance fee to pop your head into and check out all the Russian dials (how ever did the Indonesians know which button push?), the cramped living quarters and how the torpedo system worked.

Monumen Kapal Selam - rust bucket or top tourist attraction?

Monumen Kapal Selam: rust bucket or top tourist attraction? Or both?

15:00: Kebun Binatang Surabaya

Located about 3km south of the main train station, the Surabaya Zoo, known locally as Kebun Binatang Surabaya, has been around for almost a century in one form or another and to this day provides locals with a great place for a picnic. Some of the animal enclosures here are a bit outdated, but if you can see past these misgivings, you can see tigers, elephants, an array of primates and a wide variety of deer. It’s not a large zoo by any means, but that’s a good thing as you’ll spin through in about an hour.

Surabaya is another one of those cities in Indonesia that gets a bad rap but we think it deserves a bit more love. Check out these attractions and you’re sure to come away with a different view of Surabaya than many other travellers.

House of Sampoerna
Taman Sampoerna 6, Surabaya
Open daily 09:00-22:00

Old Chinatown
Jalan Kembang Jepung, Surabaya

Monumen Kapal Selam
Jalan Pemuda 39, Surabaya
Open daily 08:00-22:00

Kebun Binatang Surabaya
Jalan Damro Raya, Surabaya
Open daily 07:00-17:00

Last updated on 29th November, 2014.

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