Surabaya walking tour

Surabaya walking tour

Explore the city on foot

More on Surabaya

Like many large Indonesian cities, at first glance Surabaya doesn’t scream out “walking town”, but upon closer inspection, it is actually a great town for a stroll, with pavements that rarely need security warnings, plenty of shade, loads of less-trafficked laneways and no shortage of places to snack at.

Travelfish says:

This walk will take at least half a day, and our advice is to start early, pack a hat, sunscreen and a refillable water bottle. You’ll be starting at one house of worship and finishing at quite another, while in between you’ll wander through the Dead Centre of town (yes Dad joke, sorry) along with one of the many birthplaces of an independent Indonesia and some other museums, a famous bridge, a magnificent wet market and a spot or two to stuff face. Sounds good? Lets go.

Gazing upwards at Cheng Ho Mosque. : Stuart McDonald.
Gazing upwards at Cheng Ho Mosque. Photo: Stuart McDonald

In a city as enormous as Surabaya there is no right place to start a walk, so we’re going to kick off at the southern-most spot of this particular walk, Cheng Ho Mosque. Named after the Chinese explorer Zheng He (also Zheng Ho and Cheng Ho) of the 14th and 15th century, he undertook expeditionary trips to various points of Southeast Asia—we’re assuming it is a rendition of him behind the Chinese junk on the far side of the main prayer area. What makes the mosque remarkable though is that it looks far more like a Chinese pagoda than a mosque—for us really the only particularly mosque-like feature was the main prayer area with the cool marble under foot (obviously do take off your shoes before entering) and the prayer mats laid out. It is a curious spot, backing onto a large basketball court public access area, when we first arrived we thought we’d ended up at a random pagoda by mistake.

Leaving the admiral behind and exit onto Jl Gading and walk east turning left (south) at the end of the road, then take the first right on Jalan Udaan Wetan IV. This will take you through a little kampung, delivering you to a main thoroughfare backing onto a tree-lined canal. You’ll see a narrow pedestrian bridge straight in front, cross the canal and you’ll see Warung Soto Ayam Hartono. If you’re already feeling peckish, grab a quick bowl, else push on straight ahead on Jalan Mas Soenjoto. Follow this for a couple of blocks, then take a left, then a right onto Jl Makan Peneleh. As you walk along here, after perhaps a hundred metres you’ll see glimpses to your left of our next stop, Makam Peneleh, or Peneleh Graveyard. Continue on a little and the road will veer to your left and you’ll see the small office and gates to enter.

Surabaya’s oldest expats. : Stuart McDonald.
Surabaya’s oldest expats. Photo: Stuart McDonald

“Opened for business” in 1814, Peneleh Graveyard is the final resting place for Surabaya’s colonial contingent who never went home and while the cemetery officially closed in 1955, the grounds are still well tended (there was much lawn cutting going on when we visited) and while some headstones and statues have been smashed, vandalised and/or fallen into disrepair, it is nevertheless interesting to take a wander and read the some of the headstones. Note that the gates may well be locked, but if you stand around for awhile someone is bound to show up and let you in.

Once you are done with the cemetery, exit via the same gate and continue along Jl Makan Peneleh and you’ll eventually reach a t-junction intersecting with north-south running Jl Peneleh, which runs along another tree-lined canal. Turn left and you’ll shortly see the red and white adorned Kue Bikang Peneleh—pop in here for a quick cake or pastry.

Indonesia’s history in the making. : Stuart McDonald.
Indonesia’s history in the making. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Pastries digested, head south a few blocks and you’ll reach a bridge crossing the canal to your right, turn left and walk down Peneleh Gang VII, first passing the classic shopfront Toko Buku Peneleh and then, a little further in, on your right, House of Hadji Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto, referred to on a signboard at the site as “The Guru of Indonesia’s Founding Father”. Better known as H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto, he was born in Ponorogo in East Java on 16 August 1882, and moved to Surabaya in 1905 when he was later appointed the Chairman of the Central Islamic Union—he moved into this house in 1915.

Once living here, he rented the house as a boarding house and, like the house of Dokter Mohamad Saleh in Probolinggo, among his tenants were free thinkers including Soekarno, Musso and Kartossoewirjo. These three all came to play important roles in Indonesia’s path to eventual independence—the first president, a PKI leader and the leader of the Darul Islam movement—boiled down, you could say these three represented a secular, communist and Islamic state.

Back in the day... : Stuart McDonald.
Back in the day... Photo: Stuart McDonald

The house contains a display which will be fascinating for students of Indonesian history—it is well organised and presented with some displays also having English explanations, revealing not just some of the history of the period, but also insight into what life was like before the formation of Indonesia in its current state. Walk to the end of the laneway to see a small graveyard surrounded by the laundry of local residents.

Backtrack to the main road and cross the river, then the busy road and turn right along Jl Pahlawan, taking a left onto Jl Bubutan V. The street is noteworthy for the towering minaret of Masjid As Syakur, but we liked it more for the well looked after houses (one, we noticed, dated to 1909) with their beautiful gables and wrought iron windows and edgings. Walk through to the far end of the lane and turn left onto Jl Bubutan, walk south for about 50 metres and you’ll see your next stop on the far side of the road.

Yes, we bought the t-shirt. : Stuart McDonald.
Yes, we bought the t-shirt. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The Museum Dr Soetomo is an open-air pavilion containing a photographic exhibition. Better known as Bung Tomo, Dr Soetomo was an charismatic Indonesian doctor and nationalist who was among the founding members of the Badi Utomo—the first nationalist movement in what was then (in 1908) the Dutch East Indies and in 1924, the Indonesia Study Club, in Surabaya—similar clubs were started in other Javanese centres and were integral in the spread of nationalist thought in the country. Arguably more socially minded than politically, Soetomo initiated the establishment of the first indigenous bank (Bank Nasional Indonesia) and worked to further the cause of other social welfare causes aiding orphans and lepers (among others). A very charismatic speaker, he also played a critical role in drumming up passions during the Battle of Surabaya (see below).

From the museum, exit back onto Jl Bubutan and turn left, and start walking. This is a longish about twenty walk—just keep going till you reach Jl Tembaan and cross kitty corner to reach Tugu Pahlawan, a large park which, aside from the enormous monument commemorating those who have fallen, is home to the interesting Museum Sepuluh Nopember.

Learn about “Heroes’ Day” at Museum Sepuluh Nopember. : Stuart McDonald.
Learn about “Heroes’ Day” at Museum Sepuluh Nopember. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The park and monument are a tribute to those who died in Surabaya fighting for Indonesia, while Museum Sepuluh Nopember (admission 5,000 rupiah, the name means Museum 10 November) is dedicated to the Battle for Surabaya which kicked off on November 1945. The battle was between pro-independence fighters and British Indian troops who were in Surabaya ostensibly to send Japanese soldiers back to Japan, seize weapon caches and disarm the nationalists—though facilitating the return of the Dutch colonialists was what they were really on about.

When a British Brigadier was killed by a nationalist in somewhat confused circumstances, the British responded with a punitive attack on 10 November which, after three weeks of fighting left as many as 15,000 Indonesians dead. The 10th of November is now commemorated nationwide as “Heroes’ Day”, in memory of the battle. The museum contains a raft of photographic displays explaining the history behind the battle.

Art Nouveau near the Red Bridge. : Stuart McDonald.
Art Nouveau near the Red Bridge. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Leave the museum and walk east to the east side of Tugu Pahlawan, cross Jl Pahlawan and head north for a block till you reach the busy Jl Kebon Rojo. Cross the road and turn right till you reach the river, but rather then crossing the river, walk along its western bank. This is just a quiet stretch, with a local feel, just keeping walking north and you’ll eventually need to dogleg to the left to get back onto Jl Jembratan Merah, which, by following it a little further to the north, will deliver you to Surabaya’s Red Bridge.

Just before you reach the bridge, keep an eye out for a dilapidated building on your left—it has winged catish-like guardians (they’re actually supposed to be lions) at the base and an Art Nouveau panel above the gates. The panel was done by Jan Toorop, a Dutch-Indonesian painter who, despite leaving Indonesia as a child showed Javanese influence through his later work. The building was originally the home of the Algemeene Maatschappij van Levensverzekering en Lijfrente but it went bankrupt in 1921.

Surabaya: Where even the market signage has style. : Stuart McDonald.
Surabaya: Where even the market signage has style. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The Red Bridge is famous for being the location where the above-mentioned Battle of Surabaya began. British Brigadier A.W.S. Mallaby was shot and killed by an Indonesian militia member after being trapped in the crossfire between Dutch soldiers (who were guarding a nearby bank) and the nationalists (who were marching on it). The shooting of Mallaby kicked off the British attack which killed thousands of Indonesians.

Cross the bridge and take a left up Jalan Panggung. This is the beginning of what comprises Surabaya’s Middle Eastern Quarter, and it is a fascinating and very mercantile area. Expect plenty of pretty shopfronts and no shortage of becaks wheeling back and forth.

Pasar Pabean—and this is just the beginning! : Stuart McDonald.
Pasar Pabean—and this is just the beginning! Photo: Stuart McDonald

After about ten minutes, you’ll reach Pasar Pabean, an enormous wet market which runs off to your right (the parked becaks and hordes of vendors will give it away if you somehow miss the signage). Do take a stroll into the market—it goes and goes and goes some more. Once you have had your fill, return to Jalan Panggung and keep walking north.

You’ll first reach Masjid Serang (on your left), but follow the veer to the right for another couple of hundred metres, past the date and perfume shops, and on your left you’ll see the entrance to Pasar Gubuh—a covered market, which wouldn’t feel out of place in Istanbul. About half way through the covered market, on your left you’ll see Depot Mas Hakim—absolutely where you want to stop if you want a great big slab of goat for lunch—nasi and barbecue chicken also available!

Slow down and do some tasting. : Stuart McDonald.
Slow down and do some tasting. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The covered market empties out at Ampel Mosque, the oldest mosque in eastern Java (built in 1421) and while it looks attractive from the outside, non-Muslims are not allowed within. The attraction as with much travel through, is the getting here—we loved the walk from the Red Bridge to here.

This marks the end of our little stroll, and while as the crow flies, the House of Sampoerna is not all that far from here, you need to actually backtrack to the Red Bridge and head north from there—at this point, we’d stop walking and get a go-jek or taxi—or head back to your hotel for a shower and a well-earned cold drink!.

The covered bazaar on the way to Ampel Mosque. : Stuart McDonald.
The covered bazaar on the way to Ampel Mosque. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While we didn’t actually learn about Surabaya Johnny Walker till after we had left the city, if you are keen on doing more walking in Surabaya, they look to really know their stuff—see their website for more details, and we’ll look them up next time!

Reviewed by

Stuart McDonald co-founded 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.

Tours in Indonesia

These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.

Our top 4 other sights and activities in and around Surabaya


Majapahit archaeological site

Joko Dolog
Joko Dolog

Secluded Buddhist antiquity

House of Sampoerna
House of Sampoerna

Monument to a tobacco magnate

Monumen Kapal Selam
Monumen Kapal Selam

A fish out of water