A Review of Surakarta

Few months ago when I was about to turn 27, I asked myself, “what do you want to do, while you’re still here?”

I was born and raised in my hometown until I moved out for university, and stayed there for 6 years, to then moved out again for my Master’s for 3 years. So, after all those periods of long stays, I decided that I want to try to not live in one place for so long at a time. After considering a few candidates, I picked Surakarta as my first destination. This chill-ass town is located between 2 more major cities: Semarang & Yogyakarta, both are whom I’m already familiar with. The plan was originally to only stay for a month, just to get a breath of fresh air away from Jakarta’s suffocating, heavy smokes. But the town is so chill, I ended up stayed for more than 3 months :”)

What I like about living in downtown Surakarta: Adequate public transportation, very heavy Javanese culture ambiance, wide sidewalks, that it’s generally safe, it has a harmonious blend of modern & traditional establishments, beautiful weather all around, foods are affordable (even cheap if you want it to be), so many hospitals and healthcare facilities for such small town, so many festivals/ local events, plus the general cleanliness.

What I don’t like about living in Surakarta: The ultra politeness of the people, quality of the psychiatrists, and there’s really not much to do if you’re here for a long-term stay.

Places & activities I’ll recommend for short-term travelers:

Note: My main mode is solo travelling, and I don’t like to take selfies or chase Instagram-worthy places. The reasons why I chose these entries would be either because of their richness in culture, uniqueness that you couldn’t find anywhere else, how quiet the places are, and/or the hospitality of the hosts. EF means Entrance Fee, per person.

1. De Tjolomadu (@museumdetjolomadoe) (EF= Rp35,000)
It was a sugar refinery that got transformed into a museum (with a spacious café inside) that has a huge open yard, often utilized as venue for mid-scale festivals or thrift weekend events.

2. Situs Manusia Purba Sangiran (Klaster Krikilan) (@museummanusiapurba) [EF= Rp8,000, but you have to also pay for local transport Rp6,000 per person, so a total of Rp14,000)
If you like seeing skulls and shriveled heads and bones from both humans and animals, while also learning about them and the history of humankind, it’s a nice place to be. Very welcoming staffs, will give you expansive explanations about all the exhibits there.

3. House of Danar Hadi (@museumdanarhadi) (EF= Rp35,000)
Premium batik museum. The entrance fee you paid will also provide you with a very fun, knowledgeable guide to accompany you looking around the museum, whether you’re alone or with a large group.

4. Tumurun Private Museum (@tumurunmuseum) (EF= Free, but registration beforehand is required)
A private museum with many antique cars, unique sculptures, mindboggling paintings, that sometimes also held special exhibitions of renowned artists. The ticket is crazy fast to “sold out” (well, technically it wasn’t sold out because it’s free), because they open the registration for the whole week’s attendance on Tuesday morning, and, yeah, you gotta be fast to snatch ’em tix.

5. Radya Pustaka (@museumradyapustakasurakarta) (EF= Free)
The oldest museum in the country. Not really well-maintained. Exhibits are mostly keris and old furniture from the Keraton Surakarta era. Worth to visit at least once, just to take it off the to-do list.

6. Puro Mangkunegaran (@puromangkunegaran) (EF= 20K, plus some pay-as-you-wish tip for your tour guide)
Basically the palace of Surakarta. If you’re into learning about Javanese culture from one of its core sources that’s still thriving and heavily influential other than the Jogja dynasty, it’s the place you’d want to visit. A tour guide will accompany you around the museum. Aside from giving you information, their job is also to make sure you don’t trespass limited areas because parts of the royal family still live there to this day.

7. Galabo (@galabo_solo) is an open-air food court right around the corner of Pasar Gede (Solo’s central market). If you’re visiting during daytime, you can have some very cheap street snacks around the area, or if you’re visiting during the evening, there would be lots of food stalls right there, too.

8. Take a roundtrip Solo <-> Wonogiri with the classic Batara Kresna train. (EF= One-way ticket is Rp4,000)
This is a unique train (or ‘railbus’, as the govt formally addresses it as) because its track is running on the main city street. So, expect many children while you’re boarding this train especially on weekends, and bystanders on the side of the road taking videos and pictures. Travel time one-way is about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

9. Gedung Djoeang ’45 (EF= purchase at “Gelatoku” is required, generally around Rp25,000)
Beautiful interior. It’s like a rectangular shape complex of building with open square garden inside and various seating areas. Lovely place.

Notice how most of them are museums or renovated old buildings? Because those are exactly what they have. So, if you’re not into antique stuffs, I’d say it’s better to take the commuter line train to Yogyakarta for more diverse choices of destinations.

Cafes with cool enough atmosphere, according to me:

1. La Moda del Gelato (Manahan Store) (@lamodadelgelato) Jl. MT Haryono No.8, Manahan | Google Maps Link
I’ve asked a lot of people about this phenomenon on why the Jogja-Solo area is flooded with gelato stores all over, but no one could give me satisfying answer. But since La Moda del Gelato’s shit is good, so, I don’t mind them. I specifically mention the Manahan store because even though they already have lots of branches (mostly at malls), here you could get much more options on flavors, and the view from the second floor is cute and quiet enough for a “me time”.

2. helve-tea-ca (@helveteaca) Jl. Perintis Kemerdekaan No. 31, Purwosari | Google Maps Link
As someone who’s not really into coffee or coffee shop of any kind, this tea bar is my jam. Small space, not so many choices on their menu, but their presentations of the house cocktails are pretty enough for my standard. Highly recommend it.

3. Voila Gelato (@voila.gelato) Jl. Slamet Riyadi No. 266, Timuran | Google Maps Link
The best thing about their place is that they’re very strategically placed, and they have indoor dining on the second floor to just eat your gelato and face the big window, observing Slamet Riyadi street’s traffic. Their gelato itself is so-so, I don’t really taste anything extraordinary from the flavor.

4. Bloomery Cake & Patisserie (@bloomerypatisserie) Jl. Teuku Umar No. 44, Keprabon | Google Maps Link
I’ve been a huge fan of mille crepes for many years, and Bloomery never disappoints, so far. They are more or less a close rival for First Love Patisserie which had larger market shares in the Jabodetabek area. I even bought my 27th birthday cake from here.

5. Paw Paw Cafe (@pawpaw_cafe) Jl. Ronggowarsito No. 42, Kp. Baru | Google Maps Link
I am more of a dog person, but to know that there’s a cat cafe in this town is definitely a surprise. It’s simply cute. There are 10 cats here, and most of them are long-haired ones (I wish they’d get the sphynx breed someday), seem well-fed, and calm. Cleanliness of the place is a bit questionable, though, take it from someone who’s quite sensitive to most smells. But if you really like cats, I guess it’s an okay place.

6. Teakyard (@teakyard) Area Belakang Grandis Farm, Jl. Adi Sucipto, Blukukan, Colomadu | Google Maps Link
Thi is not a cafe, per se, but since I like their artisan and specialty beverages more than the food, I’d put this here. They brand themselves as serving Mediterranean cuisines but honestly it’s only because they have hummus, falafels, and biryani rice. The rest of the menu are the usual western: pizzas, pastas, and steaks.

Restaurants I consider interesting:

Note: I don’t eat Surakarta’s local, traditional foods because I’m not fond of the taste, with only a very few exceptions. So, 5 out of 6 of the entries are mid-high end, western-serving, Jakarta-esque places.

1. Saffron Resto & Meatshop (@saffron_soc) Jl. Ronggowarsito No. 38 | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Proper western with wide range of selections. | Price range per dish: 45K – 170K+
If you want western food, Saffron will actually gives you western food. They got all the popular brunch options, soups, salads, breads, pastas, poultry, seafoods, meats, desserts, drinks, and beers, ready for you to munch on. The ambiance is not something they could really brag about (hard to park your car here, and the decor is mostly just… wood) but the quality of the food, size of the portions, hospitality, and overall warm feelings inside are all worth high praises. Very suitable as a date night restaurant if you want to enjoy both the person you’re with and also the food!

2. Cari Makan (@carimakan.solo) Jl. Slamet Riyadi No. 101 | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Spicy, spicy sambals! Rice and deep-fried proteins. | Price range per dish: 25K – 30K
My personal favorites are their crispy, deep-fried paru (cow lungs) and kulit (chicken skins), because they’re just absolute delights. Beware though because the sambal is very spicy. Their establishment is a makeshift sidewalk restaurant you would’ve seen at movie scenes taking set in Paris. Only, your surroundings would be a lot of food delivery service drivers waiting for their orders because this place is quite popular, even for locals.

3. Alamama Resto (@alamamaresto) Jl. Gajahmada No. 42, Timuran | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Indonesians a.k.a rice dishes, plus spaghetti, and grilled chicken. | Price range per dish: 50K – 125K+
Restaurant with renovated Javanese house aesthetic, repainted with bright and enticing colors. The meals are tasty with beautiful presentation all around. Very suitable for solo lunch, or even for family with small kiddos.

4. Canting Londo Kitchen (@cantinglondo) Jl. Dr. Rajiman No. 525, Laweyan | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Mostly western, with some Indonesian twists (beef, pasta, pizza, rice) | Price range per dish: 50K – 230K+
“Colonial style restaurant” suitable to bring your londo partners for some palate-confusing lunch. It’s inauthentically western, but the prices were definitely not ‘local’ at all. Very pretty plating and presentation of the beverages.

5. Grandis Barn (@grandisbarn) Jl. Adi Sucipto, Blukukan, Colomadu | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Indonesian (rawon, tongseng, iga), Western (steak, pasta, sandwich) | Price range per dish: 40K – 100K+
Garden-themed resto, suitable for family gathering with parents, aunties & uncles in their 50s, plus the grandchildren (very kid-friendly!). You’re mostly paying for the decor, ambiance, and their gardener cost here, since the hospitality and the food are just borderline ‘okay’.

6. Haustra House of Gourmandizer (@haustra.hog) Jl. Kenanga No. 6, Purwosari | Google Maps Link
Cuisine: Smoked halal meats (beef, chicken) | Price range per dish: 30K – 60K+
Industrial-themed kitchen serving smoked beefs & brisket burgers hoping to trick you into believing you’re at Cipete or Kemang. Cute for lunch date or daytime get-together with friends. Note: gourmandizer means a person who is devoted to eating and drinking to excess.

If you want authentic Surakarta cuisines, you might get better ideas from this official culinary map provided by Department of Culture and Tourism of Surakarta (Disbudpar SKA). Aside from the spots they mentioned, you could just look up for certain food on Google Maps and pick one that seems most comfy/ popular/ tasty/ foreign-tourist-friendly/ anything that suits your preference.

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