Surabaya is the second-largest city in Indonesia, boasting a population of over 6 million inhabitants. The city is a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity featuring towering skyscrapers and crowded highways blended with the age-old cultural traditions of Surabaya’s many inhabitants.
As the capital of East Java, Surabaya serves as the main gateway into Indonesia from the east and has been an important trading port for centuries. As such, Surabaya is a center of commerce and most visitors here are here for business.
The city is a little lacking in tourist-y sights and most travelers in Surabaya are passing through on their way to more popular Indonesian destinations like Mount Bromo and Bali, for which Surabaya serves as a great gateway city.
Best Time to Visit Surabaya
Surabaya’s close proximity to the equator guarantees tropical climates year-round, with the average annual temperature at around 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are only two distinct seasons – wet and dry – and the best time to visit Surabaya is during the dry season. The dry season is typically from May to October, with the chances of rainfall being the lowest from July to September.
The dry season is hot and humid with a maximum temperature of 30°C and a minimum temperature of 25°C. There is minimum rainfall, so it is the peak season to visit Surabaya, as it is ideal for sightseeing.
The rainy season is November through April and the temperatures during this time is between a maximum of 30°C and a minimum of 23°C. There is heavy rainfall during this season. High temperature and heavy rain make it difficult to explore the place.
How to Get to Surabaya
You can get to Surabaya by plane, train, bus, or boat.
Surabaya’s Juanda Airport (SUB) is the second busiest airport in the country, just after Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta and you’ll be able to catch a flight here from domestic and international locations, including most of the major Indonesian destinations as well as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Guangzhou. The airport is 18 km from town and it’ll cost you around $7 to $10 USD to take a taxi into the city.
If you want to catch a train to Surabaya, that’s possible too but it depends where you’re coming from. Surabaya has two main train stations: Surabaya Pasar Turi and Surabaya Gubeng.
- Surabaya Pasar Turi: For trains coming and going from Jakarta and Semarang
- Surabaya Gubeng: For trains coming and going from Jakarta, Bandung, and Yogyakarta
Another popular option of getting to Surabaya is by bus or minibus. Surabaya has frequent bus connections from all parts of East Java and from major cities in other parts of Java and beyond. The main bus terminal is at Bungurasih and located around 10 km from the city. You can get buses going to Bali, Jakarta, Malang, Yogyakarta, and more.
How to Get Around Surabaya
There are a few transportation options for getting around Surabaya. There is public transportation, but the public buses tend to be very crowded and commuter trains are extremely limited.
Angkots (small minivans) are an option – being very cheap and plentiful – if you know the routes. There are also becaks (bicycle rickshaws) in Surabaya but they’re not so practical nowadays since they’re not allowed on the main roads.
The most convenient options for getting around Surabaya is by taxi or private car. Taxis are plentiful – prepare to pay around 20,000 IDR ($2.00 USD) for a cross-town trip and 70,000 IDR ($7.00 USD) to or from the airport.
There are also a lot of car rental companies in Surabaya and this is a good option to explore Surabaya on your own, without the need to figure out public transportation or depending on taxis.
Things to See and Do in Surabaya
Surabaya, the second-largest city in Indonesia, offers all the usual big city activities such as huge shopping malls and an array of dining options. This makes it the perfect place to stock up on must-haves like sunscreen and other essentials as you’re passing through in-between more remote Indonesian destinations.
Apart from shopping, here are some awesome things to see and do while in Surabaya:
Walk Around the Old Town Area
The Old Town area makes for a beautiful visit, with colonial buildings, Chinese temples, a lively Arab Quarter, an ancient mosque, and a tobacco museum to check out while you’re there.
- Museum Sempoerna: The House of Sampoerna (HOS) was built by the Sampoerna company, the owner of Indonesia’s famous cigarettes. It is now a small museum with a cafe, family house, art gallery and the actual Sampoerna cigarette company. You can actually still see all the workers making and packing cigarettes – fascinating!
Make a visit to Madura Island
A short ferry ride takes you from Surabaya to Madura Island, a truly off-the-beaten-path destination for travelers. Even in Indonesia, Madura is synonymous with poverty since the island’s dry, infertile soil has led to the majority of inhabitants to flee the island and only around 4 million people now remain to eke out a living from subsistence agriculture.
This little-known, little-explored island offers an entirely different experience than the other popular island destination off of Surabaya (Bali) and visitors can witness bull races throughout the summer months and hear local lore of Madurese women who are famous throughout Indonesia for secretive sex techniques known as goyang Madura.
What to Eat in Surabaya
Surabaya has a thriving eating culture and you won’t go hungry here. There are tons of restaurants offering local fare and international cuisine and you’ll be able to find pretty much anything you crave.
As for local delicacies, remember to try the rujak cingur, a local salad with sauce and cingur, slices of cooked cow nose. Also, sample the sate kelopo, satay with coconut rasp.
Surabaya Travel Tips
Surabaya is a big city and you should take all the usual precautions. The city has a reputation among Indonesians for a mid-high crime rate and although there are few real dangers, be careful when crossing the busy roads and exercise caution when walking around at night.
Thanks to the traffic in Surabaya, if you plan on walking around the city – especially during rush hour – it’ll be handy to have a face mask to prevent breathing in all the air pollution.
And as always – don’t be without travel insurance!
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