A Day in Surabaya: Exploring Indonesia’s Second Biggest City

In this destination trip report, we will guide you around the sights of Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.

Surabaya

After a fun train ride from Yogyakarta and a quick tour of the lovely Majapahit hotel (an absolute no-brainer if you are in Surabaya and need accommodation) it was time to explore the city.

I had only one-and-a-half day in Surabaya – with the original plan being some sightseeing in Indonesia’s second biggest city in the afternoon on day one, and making a day trip to the top of the Mount Bromo volcano on day two.

colonial charm majapahit hotel surabaya
The Majapahit Hotel is not only Surabaya’s finest hotel but also has tons of history. ©Paliparan

Change of plans

As I already wrote before in some earlier chapters of this trip report, my plans for this Indonesia trip changed drastically when my provisional days off from work were retracted and I had to do an afternoon shift on my laptop, therefore being bound to my hotel room.

With the Mount Bromo trip taking the entire day, it meant that I simply didn’t have enough time to make this otherwise worthwhile day trip from Surabaya.

Instead, I spent the first afternoon in Surabaya working from my hotel room, and planned to explore the city in the morning and early afternoon of day two before having to return back to the Majapahit Hotel for another work shift on my laptop.

Quiet

The area directly around the Majapahit Hotel mixes the old with the new. Some of Surabaya’s most historic buildings can be found here, as well as the highest office towers with their modern steel-and-glass architecture.

When walking out of the hotel on day two, I was surprised how quiet it was. The roads were eerily quiet, there were no cars and almost no pedestrians – a huge contrast to the previous day!

I asked around why it was so quiet and was told that some city centre roads were closed off for traffic due to Indonesian Independence Day. A friendly local told me that there would be a military parade just a few metres away from my hotel, so obviously this was where I went.

majapahit surabaya hotel
The main entrance of the Majapahit is built in a wonderful Art Deco style and is a Surabaya landmark. ©Paliparan
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The city centre of Surabaya mixes the old with the new. ©Paliparan
surabaya city centre road
I was surprised how quiet and empty the roads were this morning. ©Paliparan

Parade

There parade took place in the street on which the historic Governor’s House is located. Right opposite this white villa, a stand was built which was filled to the brim with Indonesian girls all dressed up in immaculate white uniforms and long blue skirts who were waving flags and cheering and chanting the entire time.

All branches of the Indonesian military, police and other civil services took part in the parade as they walked by some local bigwigs.

I have seen a few military parades before, but this one absolutely stood out for one single reason: it didn’t feel militaristic at all.

Sure, some heavy guns were towed around and many soldiers carried arms, yet it felt so peaceful. Most soldiers were smiling rather than showing a stern look and some were even dancing! It was all jolly good fun to watch.

military parade ground
At the military parade ground. ©Paliparan
surabaya military parade
The stand was full of Indonesian girls all dressed up in the same uniform. ©Paliparan
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Independence Day parade. ©Paliparan
indonesia independence day parade
Independence Day parade. ©Paliparan
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Indonesian soldiers taking part in the Independence Day parade. ©Paliparan
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The Indonesian Navy took part as well in the parade. ©Paliparan
indonesia parade
The jubilant girls in the crowd made for a bit of a North Korean-like parade atmosphere. ©Paliparan
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Indonesian Navy officers and sailors posing for some photos. ©Paliparan
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Independence Day parade in Surabaya. ©Paliparan

Smiles

After the parade I walked a bit more around the area. It was good fun to see the soldiers all walking back to their respective trucks parked in the area to transport them to to their respective barracks.

Many soldiers happily asked me if I could take their photo before I managed to ask them if it was OK to snap a picture! If one thing impressed me most during the entire Indonesia trip it was for sure the smiling nature and kindness of the Indonesian people.

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Smiling Indonesian soldiers after the Independence Day parade in Surabaya. ©Paliparan
indonesian army gun
Gun being towed away. ©Paliparan
indonesian soldiers surabaya
Indonesian army soldiers. ©Paliparan

Riverside walk

Next up I walked a bit along the river which streams through Surabaya’s city centre and explored a nearby park.

I got the impression that although there isn’t that much to see in the centre of Surabaya itself, the city did for sure feel more peaceful than chaotic Jakarta, making it rather pleasant to walk around despite the oppressive heat.

In the park, many families were out for a picnic, or to simply take a walk and buy an ice cream or some fresh juice from one of the many vendors.

surabaya governor's house
Surabaya Governor’s House. ©Paliparan
city centre park
A city centre park in Surabaya. ©Paliparan
fisherman surabaya riverbank
A fisherman sitting on the riverbank. ©Paliparan
river surabaya
Some decorations and lampoons hanging over the river. ©Paliparan
surabaya skyline bridge
The Surabaya skyline as seen from one of the bridges. ©Paliparan
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Surabaya. ©Paliparan
shark statue
Shark statue. ©Paliparan
surabaya indonesia trip report guide
Surabaya. ©Paliparan
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Surabaya. ©Paliparan

Accident

In the end it turned out that it really was not my lucky trip at all. Besides being forced to suddenly spend a lot of my time doing remote work on my laptop instead of sightseeing – I also got involved in a small accident.

I was walking along the riverbank when suddenly the pavement ended. Instead of turning back, I decided to continue my walk at the side of the busy road. Suddenly an oncoming motorbike crashed into a cyclist and in their fall they took some 10 to 12 other motorbikes down with them in a giant crash.

One of the bikes involved in the pile-up then crashed into me, causing me to fall hard on the road. My legs were all bloody from multiple scratches and abrasions and one of my arms hurt like hell.

It wasn’t anything too serious as I quickly realised that I hadn’t broken a limb, but it was still quite a painful fall. I decided to head back to the hotel to clean my wounds and to take it easy for the remainder of the day.

Unfortunately, in the late evening my legs and arm still felt painful, so I decided to stay in the hotel and order room service instead of finding a nice restaurant on my last evening in Indonesia.

surabaya street
Walking along a chaotic Surabaya street moments before the massive accident. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to see and do a lot in Surabaya due to unforeseen circumstances so I might not be in the best ever position to give a definite opinion about Indonesia’s second biggest city.

Surabaya seemed to be a lively, modern city with a nice vibe and friendly people. I for sure enjoyed watching the military parade for Indonesian Independence Day, which happened to coincide with my visit.

If you visit Surabaya, I would for sure highly recommend to stay in the fabulous Majapahit hotel, which has so much history and is located on such beautiful and quiet grounds right in the heart of the city.

I hope that one day I can visit Indonesia and Surabaya again to finally see more of the city, make that Mount Bromo day trip, and enjoy some great Indonesian food in some of the city’s restaurants.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Journey to Java‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Rome Ciampino (Airbus A321)
2. Half a Day in Rome: A Walk Around the Eternal City
3. Review: Casa Alitalia Lounge ‘Piazza di Spagna’ Rome Fiumicino Airport
4. Review: Saudia Business Class Rome to Riyadh (Airbus A320)
5. Review: Saudia Alfursan Business Lounge Riyadh Airport
6. Review: Saudia Business Class Riyadh to Jakarta (Boeing 777-300)
7. Review: The Hermitage, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia
8. A Day in Jakarta: Exploring Indonesia’s Bustling Capital City
9. Review: Garuda Indonesia Domestic Business Lounge Jakarta Airport
10. Review: Garuda Indonesia Business Class Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Boeing 737-800)
11. Review: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta – Mgallery By Sofitel
12. A Magical Sunrise Visit to Borobudur Temple
13. A Visit to the Great Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan
14. Review: Yogyakarta to Surabaya (Indonesia) by Train
15. Review: Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya, Indonesia
16. A Day in Surabaya: Exploring Indonesia’s Second Biggest City (current chapter)
17. Review: Concordia Premier Lounge Surabaya Airport
18: Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Surabaya to Singapore (Airbus A330-300)
19. A Short Singapore Stopover: Into the City or Stay at the Airport?
20. Review: SilverKris Lounge Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2
21. Review: Singapore Airlines business class Singapore to Manila (Boeing 787-10)
22. Review: PAGSS Lounge Manila Airport Terminal 1 Gate 2
23. Review: China Airlines economy class Manila to Taipei (Airbus A330-300)
24. Review: China Airlines Business Lounge Taipei Airport Terminal 1
25. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Taipei to Rome (Airbus A350)
26. Review: TAROM economy class Rome to Bucharest (Boeing 737-700)

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

4 thoughts on “A Day in Surabaya: Exploring Indonesia’s Second Biggest City

  • June 30, 2021 at 5:13 pm
    Permalink

    When I used to regularly commute LHR-SIN-SYD twenty plus years ago Surabaya was always one of the places that came up on the map! I’ve never been but thank you Koen for letting me see a bit of it after all this time, as ever, a great report.

    Reply
    • July 2, 2021 at 6:15 pm
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      You keep surprising me with your own stories, Pete! That’s quite of a commute to make, LHR to SYD! Although admittedly, if it’s on SQ in a premium class it’s certainly bearable 😉

      I always have a similar fascination with random places you often see on the flight map on a plane but never set foot in, like Grand Rapids, MI, or Novosibirsk in Russia.

      Reply
  • July 4, 2021 at 2:48 pm
    Permalink

    In those days SQ called business class Raffles Class and it certainly was something very special particularly on the top deck of the 747. I gained LPPS status over time with them, a tier that is now closed but it keeps me as a *G for the rest of my days. As a PPS member you were treated even more exceptionally back in the day though upgrades were still few and far between. The only other airline that came close back then was Cathay.

    What SQ offer now as business class is poor in comparison but like a few more they trade on past glory and reputation.

    Reply
    • July 6, 2021 at 1:45 pm
      Permalink

      I can imagine it was more special. I think it actually counts for many more airlines, I’m sure you have also read for example the stories of OA in the Onassis era on the A3 board at FlyerTalk and seen such pictures..

      And yes, what I’ve gathered SQ has always been stingy with upgrades, never really overbooks flights, and being super protective about their premium classes in general when it comes to miles redemptions.

      Perhaps what SQ offers now is poor in comparison, I can’t compare as I only did 2 flights ever in SQ business class. I can only say I tremendously enjoyed those 2 flights, especially SIN-MNL on the B787. Great seat, and book the cook option! Had a delicious lobster thermidor which is still is the best meal I’ve eaten in the skies.. besides, service was impeccable on both my flights.

      Reply

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