7 things we bet you didn't know about Surabaya

It may have a reputation for being a business and shopping hub, but Surabaya has so much more to offer.

  • Alison Goh
  • October 2019

Rich in culture, nature and history, there’s more to Surabaya than megamalls and office buildings. From how it earned the nickname City of Heroes to why it got a special mention in the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize last year, here are seven things about the thriving port city we bet you didn’t know.

Surabaya is an award-winning city

Surabaya wears its history on its streets, which are dotted with colonial Dutch architecture like the iconic Maybank Building above.

Just because the capital of East Java ranks behind Jakarta in terms of population size doesn’t mean it’s a second-class city. In fact, it was voted top tourism city at the 2018 Yokatta Wonderful Indonesia Tourism Awards and also won a Special Mention at the 2018 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize. The latter was in recognition of its urban development strategy, which has resulted in rapid economic growth while still promoting a cleaner environment — there are about 100 parks in Surabaya, and green spaces make up more than 20 percent of the city area.

There’s so much more to do than shop

The neighbouring Madura Island can be accessed via the Suramadu Bridge. The 5.4-kilometre bridge is the longest in Indonesia.

As a sprawling urban metropolis, many visitors have associated Surabaya with being a shopping haven. Indeed, over 10 megamalls are scattered throughout the city including Pakuwon Mall, which is more than twice the size of Singapore’s ION Orchard. But people often overlook the fact that Surabaya is also home to beautiful colonial buildings, one of Indonesia’s largest Chinatowns and the idyllic beaches of Madura island.

It’s the gateway to Mt Bromo

The most iconic peak in the country, Mt Bromo is an active volcano that stands at 2,329 metres.

People often assume Mt Bromo is in Surabaya because you have to fly into Juanda International Airport to get to Indonesia’s most well-known active volcano. In reality, Mt Bromo is located in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java, and it takes about four hours to get there. From Surabaya, travellers head towards the city of Probolinggo, then onwards to Cemoro Lawang, the town right next to the volcano. This is where people stay overnight before waking up in the wee hours of the morning to hike to that famous sunrise.

Beef isn't the only thing on the menu

Bebek goreng (deep-fried duck) is a local favourite that’s served with a side of extra-spicy sambal.

Okay, it’s true that lots of the local must-tries feature beef. There’s the cow foot soup called lontong kikil, the beef lip salad that’s called rujak cingur, the coconut-topped beef skewers called sate klopo… you get the idea. There are, however, tons of other specialities for non-beef eaters, such as the famous tahu tek (fried tofu bathed in sweet peanut sauce) and nasi bebek (spicy deep-fried duck rice).

The Mayor of Surabaya is a woman

In 2011, Surabaya’s first female mayor made education free through secondary school.

Tri Rismaharini, known affectionately as Risma, is the reason Surabaya is as clean and green as it is. An architecture graduate, she’s been in the government for over 30 years and was recently included in The World’s 100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy 2019.

The city played a key role in the country’s independence

On November 10, Indonesians celebrate Heroes’ Day, which pays tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Surabaya.

After the Japanese retreated in World War II, the Battle of Surabaya broke out, in which Indonesian soldiers fought off foreign invaders. This has given the city its honourable nickname, the City of Heroes.

You’ll find the largest submarine monument in Asia here

The Cold War-era submarine isn’t just for show — for a small fee, you can step inside and explore its claustrophobic hallways.

A decommissioned Russian war submarine is permanently docked at the Surabaya port. It was a gift from the Soviet government and was used in an operation to seize West Papua from Dutch control in the ’60s.