Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya sits on the northeast tip of Java. It is home to a modern urban centre with some lovely old Dutch colonial buildings, a fascinating Arab Quarter and one of Java’s most improbable attractions, the House of Sampoerna cigarette factory.
Surabaya is the capital of East Java and a major trade and transport hub popular with tourists due to its relative proximity to Mount Bromo. With a population close to three million, it is Indonesia’s second largest city. Its name is thought to derive from the words sura, meaning shark and baya, meaning crocodile, two creatures which in local folklore fought for supremacy and statues of fighting sharks and crocodiles can be seen throughout the city. But to locals, the city will always be Kota Pahlawan, meaning City of Heroes, as it was here in Surabaya that the Indonesian battle for independence began in 1945. Independence was finally granted on 2nd November 1949, when Dutch sovereignty was transferred to the United States of Indonesia and the city is also full of statues commemorating this struggle.
Within the city, Surabaya’s top attraction is the unlikely choice of Indonesia’s most famous cigarette factory, the House of Sampoerna. Even if you are vehemently opposed to the tobacco industry, the factory and museum are a fascinating place to visit and the 19th century Dutch architecture is stunning. We’d also recommend a visit to Ampel, the Arab Quarter of Surabaya, smelling of rosewater, stacked with bags of pistachios, jars of sticky-dates, coloured prayer beads and traders sipping tea, the covered bazaar in the heart of this labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways sells an exotic selection of goods. It is also the site of Surabaya’s most sacred mosque, Mesjid Ampel.
While Surabaya’s charms may not be immediately evident, for those in transit, we think the city has enough attractions to keep you amused for a night or two before you continue on to Mount Bromo.