Your initial impressions are not going to be great. A big, polluted, congested, business-driven city, Surabaya is not well set up for visitors. Just crossing the eight-lane highways that rampage through the centre is a challenge in itself. Attractions are slim on the ground, and against the calm of rural East Java, it is pandemonium writ large.
And yet if you've the patience to explore, Surabaya has quixotic little corners of interest. Its historic Arab quarter is fascinating: a labyrinthine warren of lanes leading to a historic mosque that’s a place of pilgrimage. Surabaya also has one of Indonesia’s biggest Chinatowns and a roster of impressive, though disintegrating, Dutch buildings.
For most foreign visitors, the city is merely a place to change planes, trains or buses. For locals, however, Surabaya is closely linked to the birth of the Indonesian nation, as it was here that the battle for independence began. To them, Surabaya is Kota Pahlawan (City of Heroes), and statues commemorating independence are scattered all over the city.