Most foreigners only ever hear about Bali and Jakarta. But Surabaya is no shrinking violet. The city is Indonesia's second-largest, and its urban sprawl contains an assortment of ethnicities and cultures. Surabaya has world-class shopping malls, historical landmarks, and a range of sights and activities to lure tourists. Whether you're a foodie who wants to sink your teeth into something new or a nature lover seeking an escape, you'll find it here in East Java. We've curated 15 activities to activate your travel bug, so let's poke around and see what Surabaya has in store for you.
The Heroes Monument commemorates the Battle of Surabaya in 1945 and is an iconic symbol of the city. This battle was fought against British troops who supported Dutch colonial rule in the country. The pillar is less than a third of the height of the Monas Tower in Jakarta and was open to the public a year after construction commenced. At its base, the 10 November Museum outlines key details of the conflict with the help of murals.
Open since 1916, Surabaya Zoo garnered a notorious reputation in the 2010s when a spate of animal deaths earned it the moniker, "Death Zoo". Animals were seemingly malnourished, enclosures were overcrowded and dirty, and mismanagement led to unchecked breeding, among other issues. There have been improvements, and Surabaya Zoo has gained recognition for its conservation efforts with endangered Komodo dragons. If you're traveling with kids, an outing here will show them hundreds of species of animals that they might not encounter otherwise.
Not far from the Surabaya City Hall Building, you'll find Cheng Hoo Masjid, a Chinese Muslim mosque named after the Ming Dynasty admiral and naval explorer Zheng He. He died circa 1435 after spreading the Islamic faith and traveling the world well before Columbus. Inspired by Niu Jie Mosque, built a millennium earlier in Beijing, Cheng Hoo Masjid was built in 2001 and can accommodate 200 worshippers. There's no dome or minaret at this house of worship—the architecture is distinctly oriental, with upturned dragon-fin roofs and vibrant red and green colors.
If your idea of a good time involves sundowners and seaside views, North Quay should be on your Surabaya itinerary. Watch as cruise ships dock at the terminal, and the active Tanjung Perak port whisks travelers away on ferries. You can see Suramadu Bridge, the Jalesveva Jayamahe Monument, and Madura Island from afar. The refreshing breeze can end up being a little strong for your liking, but other than that, this is a lovely spot for relaxing. There's live music every so often too.
You can get cake, coffee, or something more savory and substantial at this beloved food court and shopping mecca. Expect traditional food that packs a flavor punch. Nasi goreng, mie goreng, fried chicken, and buttery grilled corn will whisper to you invitingly, and you can get both halal grub and pork, so whatever your dietary preference, you're covered. There's air-conditioning too, so you can wolf down your Chinese delicacies in comfort. Weekends are crowded, a testament to Atom Market's popularity.
Sanggar Agung means "a great place". If you're in Surabaya for an extended stay, this Chinese temple for Buddhists and Taoists, also known as Hong San Tang, is housed in the Pantai Ria amusement park and faces the sea. You'll see folks come to pray and place flowers for ancestors, and there are multiple statues of gods and goddesses at the shrine. You can take pics with owls or go on a little boat ride. It's best to visit in the morning.
One of Surabaya's best attractions, House of Sampoerna is a kretek cigarette factory and museum in a preserved Dutch building. Kretek are unfiltered Indonesian cigarettes flavored, largely, with cloves. The museum has lots of interesting tidbits from lighter and matches collections to a Heidelberg printing press, Ming dynasty artifacts, and at least one Rolls Royce. The experience engages all the senses, and you can learn about the company's 20th-century legacy and handmade cigarettes, and take its Surabaya Heritage Track sightseeing bus for free.
Shopaholics, assemble! Since 1986, Tunjungan Plaza has had six expansions. It promises to empty your bank account and fill your closet, just the way you like. Indonesia's second-biggest mall has hundreds of stores for your retail therapy, including all the major international brands, and is connected to a Sheraton hotel. The number of food and beverage outlets will wow you, and there's ample parking if you're renting a car and plenty to keep young ones entertained while the grown-ups spend some dough.
Indonesia's longest bridge will take you from Surabaya to Madura, a diamond in the rough, but you can also hop on a boat. A hot and dry island, it's recently become more enjoyable for tourists, with growing amenities. Bull racing is a big deal here in August and September. Madura's hills are rural farmlands where corn, tobacco, and cloves grow, and you can do a bit of agricultural exploration. Madura's north coast is excellent for a mini road trip, and you'll come across royal tombs and the coastal Toroan waterfall. Pantai Lombang is the best beach in Madura, with white sand and coconuts for sipping. The adventurous may want to travel further and go snorkeling or diving in the pristine waters of the nearby Kangean Islands.
Going to Cinque Terre in Italy can be a deflating experience if you expect a screensaver-like riot of color and no crowds. But Jodipan is really that colorful and has considerably fewer people to contend with. You can spend a few hours at this eye-catching rainbow village, eating ice on a stick and taking photos of the graffiti. If you don't have that much time, pull out your camera at the bridge over Brantas River. As recently as 2019, Jodipan was a slum. It underwent a makeover inspired by some Brazilian favelas, with umbrellas, 3D paintings, pot plants, and other accessories. The cheerful transformation gave the residents hope and an income from tourism.
Indonesia has the largest Islamic population of any nation in the world. Approximately 85% of Indonesians identify as Muslim—that's over 230 million people. It makes sense then that the country would have some of the world's biggest and most beautiful mosques. Al-Akbar National Mosque of Surabaya has stunning turquoise tiled domes and an organic garden, and it can accommodate 59,000 worshippers. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the minaret for excellent views of Surabaya.
The Monkasel or Pasopati, a decommissioned Russian military submarine, opened as a public attraction in 1998. You can learn about the submarine's history and functions, squeeze inside the tight vessel, and check out the periscope views. Sold to the Indonesian Navy in the 1960s, the Monkasel could be uncomfortable for older, taller, and less flexible folks. A park surrounds the attraction, and there's a kids' play area and pool. The cafes draw a youthful crowd.
Covering 7.8 hectares on Surabaya's east coast, this conservation area has been developing its ecotourism offering for years. You'll find mangrove product sellers, a fish culture pond area, and a bamboo jogging track. Observe the estuary's biodiversity on a boat ride or go on a culinary tour. If you forget your snacks, there's a canteen. Wonorejo Ecotourism Park is a nice change of pace in a green space. Wear your sunblock and apply mosquito repellent too, or you'll be scratching like crazy in no time.
Twinkling fairy lights. An array of menus. Live music and playgrounds. Sounds like a tempting prospect, indeed. Pakuwon Food Festival in East Surabaya is a treat, with over 100 food vendors, a fun ambiance, and parking that isn't a headache. Portions tend to be big and prices low, with halal and non-halal options. It gets busy on the weekends.
Get the adrenaline going with a trek to a fiery mountain. Indonesia is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, with dozens of active volcanoes. Mount Bromo is just one of them. The climate is mild, and the scenery is pretty special. Waking up early to catch the sunrise is unofficially mandatory, and you can easily book an affordable tour that takes care of the transport and logistics from Surabaya, which is two hours away by car. Once there, you can walk or ride a horse to the crater rim. Pack for potential sand storms.