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Things to do in Semarang, Indonesia: 3 day guide

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Getaway Category: Culture & Heritage and RelaxGetaway Tags: Asia, indonesia, and Semarang

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  • Semarang stays under the radar for most travellers who make their way to Java, but it is a good choice for those who would love to appreciate the beauty of Javanese heritage and Dutch colonial buildings, yet do not want to bother with the madness of Jakarta traffic. This 3 day guide to will provide you with a list of things to do in Semarang.

    This port city at the North Coast of Java is Indonesia’s fifth largest city and home to about 3 million people, most of which are Javanese although there is also a sizable Chinese population there. In contrast to many Indonesian cities, Semarang still has a fair amount of greenery which makes it charming in its own understated way.




    Day 1: Things to do to in Semarang, Indonesia

    10am: Arrival at Semarang’s Ahmad Yani International Airport

    Go through the immigration, collect your luggage and get ready for your Semarang exploration.

    10.45am: Sam Poo Kong Temple Complex

    Sam Poo Kong (also known for its variant name of Gedung Batu or “Stone Building”) is one of Semarang’s oldest temples. It was established in the 14th century by a Chinese Muslim explorer from Mainland China known as Admiral Zheng He, who was also a renowned explorer which helped established the now-iconic trading route known as the Maritime Silk Route, stretching from China all the way to East Africa.

    The unique background of Admiral Zheng He is partly the reason why Sam Poo Kong temple is a place of worship for people of various ethnicities and religions, whether Muslim, Buddhist or Taoist. Similarly, its architecture seamlessly blends the Chinese red pagoda style with 14th century Javanese influence.

    Interestingly, Sam Poo Kong is not just one temple, but a huge complex of five different temples: Sam Po Kong, Tho Tee Kong, Kyai Juru Mudi, Kyai Jangkar and Kyai Chundrik Bumi.

    12.30nn: Culinary at Pandanaran Street

    After checking in at your centrally located hotel, go hunting for a famous Semarang culinary experience  at Pandanaran Street. There are numerous options, but the following three dishes are a must-try when you are in Semarang:

    Lumpia is a type of Semarang spring roll with a thin crepe wrapping. In Semarang, they are usually filled with bamboo shoots, eggs and chicken/prawn meat.

    Wingko Babat is a type of Javanese coconut pancake, typically round-shaped and best eaten when it’s still warm!

    Bandeng Juwana is known for its delicious bandeng fish (also known as milkfish, a native fish of Southeast Asia), cooked together with banana leaf to bring out its fragrance.

    Lumpia, wingko and bandeng are all famous produce which locals will buy for their friends when they return from Semarang, so you may want to buy extra and share the happiness back with your families and friends in Singapore!

    1.30pm: Lawang Sewu

    Arguably the single most iconic landmark in Semarang, Lawang Sewu piques people’s interests and inspires countless stories, legends and myths. Rumour has it that this 19th century building, which was built by the Dutch and was used as the Japanese Military Headquarters, is actually haunted. During the Japanese occupation, Lawang Sewu was used as a prison and a place for execution. Those who fear paranormal encounters should definitely shun the basement of building B, which has had countless sightings reported.

    Horror stories aside, Lawang Sewu’s architecture is actually quite antique and postcard-worthy. Lawang Sewu means “a thousand doors” in the Javanese language, referring mostly to the many doors and over 600 windows (which resemble doors) decorating the three-story building.

    3pm: Central Java Grand Mosque

    Central Java Grand Mosque (or known locally as Masjid Agung Jawa Tengah) is another major highlight. This huge mosque complex covers 10 hectares, with traditional Javanese architecture giving it its striking bright orange colors, while elements of Roman and Arabic influences also come through. Apart from being a place of worship, this mosque is also an integrated education and activity centre.

    Make sure you also check out the Al Husna Tower, standing 9 meters height and you can view a panorama of the Semarang city from its 19th floor!

    5pm: Simpang Lima

    Simpang Lima is the heart of Semarang city, with a beautiful green field surrounded by numerous food stalls which really come alive in the evening. It is a good way to sample true local delicacies. Some mouth-watering local favorites are the satays (ask for the tasty peanut sauce), fried rice and fried chicken.

    7pm: Mal Ciputra Semarang

    If you’d like to do some shopping, head to Mal Ciputra Semarang right at the Simpang Lima area. It’s a modern mall offering a variety of products from fashion to gadgets.

    Day 2: Things to do to in Semarang, Indonesia

    9.30am: Breakfast in style at Toko OEN

    As soon as you step into Toko OEN, you will feel like you have been time-warped to 1936. The restaurant has not changed a thing since the Dutch colonial days, with high ceilings, full-length glass windows and vintage wooden furnishings creating a very charming ambiance.

    Pisang Plenet Pak Subandi

    Just outside Toko OEN is Pisang Plenet Pak Subandi, another champion of Semarang culinary experiences. Pisang plenet is a type of thinned down banana crepe which would be perfect to chew on as you wander through the streets of Semarang.

    11am: Step back in time at the Old City

    The Old City of Semarang, also known as the Little Netherlands, harkens back to the 19th century. Here, you can find plenty of quaint heritage buildings:

    Kantor Pos Besar Semarang Pemuda is a historic post office which is half a century old by now! Semarang was one of the first three cities in Indonesia to provide postal service to its residents.

    Gedung Keuangan Negara is the state finance building right outside the post office.

    Titik Nol KM Semarang is the original heart of the Semarang city, marked by a monument adjacent to the post office.

    Jembatan Mberok is a bridge connecting Pemuda street and Mpu Tantular street, which was built in 1705.

    PT Djakarta Lloyd is one of the oldest buildings around the Mpu Tantular street, being a major corporation in the field of cargo and sea transportation.

    PT PELNI is another sea transportation corporation around Mpu Tantular street, which you’ll recognize for its striking yellow-red-and-maroon colors.

    Gedung Marba is a favourite shooting place for the local film industry and among Indonesian photographers, because of its exotic maroon red wall. The building was formerly used for sea transportation too, which signifies the importance of Semarang as a port city back in the days.

    Blenduk Church is the main highlight of the Old City. Dating back to 1753, its most prominent feature is its large, copper red dome. Enter the church to admire its charming teak, rattan and wood-based interior with a spiral staircase.

    Gedung Marabunta is quirkily unique for the two red ant statues which stand on top of the roofs. The roof was also built to resemble the shape of an upside down boat. Back in 1854, the building was used for dramatic, dance and music performances.

    Susteran Ordo Fransiskan is another notable red church further at Ronggo Warsito street.

    PT Praoe Layar produces indie cigarette brand and has been here at Merak street since the Dutch colonial days.

    Semarang Tawang is the second oldest railway station in Indonesia. Up to today, it still operates 6 different lines.

    Polder Tawang right in front of the railway station, it functions as flood control to hold water before it’s redistributed to the ocean.

    12.45nn: Lunch at Ikan Bakar Cianjur

    After a morning chock full of history, it’s time to shift the attention back to the culinary. Ikan Bakar Cianjur is known for its variety of fish-based dishes. Must-tries are the grilled fish, either gourami, catfish or parrot fish.

    2pm: Museum Jamu Nyonya Meneer

    Museum Jamu Nyonya Meneer is a really unique experience, as you get to learn about the process of jamu-making. Jamu is prominent across all of Indonesia, but is especially prominent in Java with iconic images of kebaya-wearing women making jamu.

    Jamu is a type of traditional Indonesian medicine, making use of natural herbal properties like roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Animal properties such as honey, royal jelly, milk and eggs are also often used.

    Museum Jamu was built in 1984 as a way to preserve this heritage of medicine-making to be passed on to the new generations.

    3.30pm: Kampoeng Semarang

    Kampoeng Semarang is a one-stop shopping and leisure destination where you can buy unique Semarang merchandise ranging from fashion to houseware. The overall wooden-feel and thatched-roof ambiance of Kampoeng Semarang also brings out the traditional elements of Semarang which really makes shopping at Kampoeng Semarang a delight.

    5.30pm: Dinner at Restoran Kampung Laut

    End the day chilling at the floating seaside restaurant of Kampung Laut. Their specialities are seafood such as prawns, lobsters, squid and fish, typically costing around IDR 55,000 per dish. A serving is usually good enough for 4 pax, so try not to over-order unless you are in a big group. The restaurant ambiance is especially beautiful around sunset time (typically around 5.30-6pm) and at night.

    Other than serving delectable seafood, those who enjoy fishing can also do so here!




    Day 3: Things to do to in Semarang, Indonesia

    Pantai Marina

    If time permits and if you wake up early enough, you may want to head to Pantai Marina early for a fresh morning breeze, then head to the airport for your flight back home.

    The distance from Pantai Marina to the airport is approximately 20 minutes, assuming there are no traffic jams. Make sure you arrive in the airport at least 2 hours before for international flights!

    Looking for more Indonesian unchartered territories? Check out our guide to exotic Bangka here

    "New Year's Eve in Asia"




  • Places to stay in Semarang, Indonesia

    Prices listed are based on average daily rates for a Standard Room.

    Affordable

    Imam Bonjol Hostel is a quick 7-minute walk away from key attractions like Lawang Sewu and Tugung Muda Monument. Though they refer to themselves as a "hostel", you can actually book standard a twin/double room (but with shared bathroom), so you can still rest well at night with some privacy. They can also arrange airport transfers, car rentals and bicycle rentals, which will make your Semarang exploration an easy breeze!

    Price range: $14-18

    Mid-range

    Hotel Ciputra Semarang is right smack at the center of Semarang's modern entertainment hub along the Simpang Lima Square, with direct access to the popular Ciputra Shopping Mall. Being a Swiss-Belhotel property, they are equipped with in-house facilities such as outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre and you can also book a massage with them!

    Price range: $64-105

    High-end

    Crowne Plaza Semarang offers spacious rooms and its strategic location right beside Paragon Mall means convenience is just a short walk away. They have restaurants serving Western, Indonesian and Chinese cuisine. Amenities also include indoor swimming pool and modern gym.

    Price range: $78-108

    Getting to Semarang, Indonesia

    Semarang is easily accessible, with Singapore Airlines and AirAsia running multiple flights between Singapore and Semarang every week.

    For long weekends, we recommend flying from Singapore to Palembang on Friday, either 9.00-10.05am via Singapore Airlines or 2.25-3.40pm via AirAsia. For the return flight, we recommend taking Sunday flights, either 11.25am-2.40pm via Singapore Airlines or 4.05-7.10pm via AirAsia.

    Getting around Semarang, Indonesia

    There are public buses known as DAMRI serving different parts of Semarang, but this is complicated to navigate unless you are well-versed in the Indonesian language.

    There is also a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) known as Trans Semarang, which is similar to the ones in Jakarta. You can view the map of the bus routes by clicking here, but this is more recommended for the more adventurous type. Whether you board DAMRI or BRT, always ask the driver or conductor before you board!

    Otherwise, taxi remains the easiest way to get around. The most reliable operator is Blue Bird Taxi. They are not always easy to find, so the easiest way is to call them at +62-24-6701234. Always make sure they use the meter. Taxi fares are commonly rounded up to the nearest thousand. Even if you have smaller denominations, the drivers will usually ask you to round it up as "cigarette allowance" or "meal allowance".

    Both Uber and Grab have presence in Semarang, and so is the Indonesian variant known as GO-JEK.

    Other important notes

    Time difference

    Semarang is GMT+7, which is 1 hour behind Singapore.

    Best months to visit

    Like elsewhere in Indonesia, the dry season is between May to September, which is absolutely the best time to visit Semarang unless you prefer to get drenched in rain!

    Health and safety

    Safety in Semarang is comparable to Jakarta, so observe the usual common sense rules such as avoiding empty alleys, staying in after dark, holding your bags away from the street side to avoid snatch theft, and not flaunting your valuables.

    Health is usually not a concern while in Semarang. However, do note that tap water in Semarang is not drinkable. It is also generally better to stick with the more established restaurants for better food hygiene standards.

    Helplines

    • Police: 110
    • Fire department: 113
    • Ambulance: 118
    • Search and rescue team: 115
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