Among the most-searched visitor destinations in Indonesia, the Central Javanese city of Semarang is re-inventing itself as a millennial must-visit.

Words by Andre Syahreza

With its vibrancy, multiculturalism and colourful history as a strategic trading port, Semarang is the second most popular city for tourists in Central Java after Yogyakarta. In a recent research report by Google, Semarang is listed as the 7th most frequently searched tourist destination in Indonesia.

It is also one of the 10 Best National Cities according to the 2018 Yokatta Wonderful Indonesia Tourism Awards. Based on recent records, Semarang also holds 5th position in the Indonesian Tourism Index. So, what makes Central Java’s capital city such a must-see, and why is it becoming a hot destination for millennial travellers?

For a start, it’s a social-media-savvy city; since arriving in Semarang, I have observed several new ‘instagrammable’ spots. These include Taman Indonesia Kaya, a modern-designed public space with an open stage for art performances. This city park is equipped with Wi-Fi and free bicycles. A number of Semarang parks have become popular selfie spots, including Taman Kasmaran, located not far from the eye-popping Insta-friendly ‘rainbow village’, Kampung Pelangi, and Tugu Muda – an old park that has recently been made more attractive.

In Semarang, ‘millennial destination’ is not merely a label. The city is shifting its focus to capitalise on its desirability as a visitor destination. Beyond creating attractions that look good on social media posts, the rich acculturation of this destination has enabled it to form its own unique image amidst the rise in numbers of millennial tourists from home and abroad, numbers that are set to keep on rising. Since the end of 2018, several new ‘millennial destinations’ have launched in the city.

On New Year’s Eve, Semarang Bridge Fountain was officially opened. The colourful fountains dancing over the Western Flood Canal Bridge mark the beginning of a new, fresher and more modern Semarang. Not far from this bridge, I pass through Kampung Kali, a social-media friendly tourist district covering the length of Mayjen D.I. Panjaitan Street, which convinces me that Semarang truly does want to engage younger visitors.

“It is essential now for Semarang to become a millennial destination. Whatever we do today must be oriented towards the concept of digital tourism,” Indriyasari, Head of Semarang Tourism Department, has stated.

In 2019, around 5.7 million tourists are expected to visit Semarang. Around 70 tourism events will take place this year, including Cheng Ho Festival, Semarang Night Festival and the international Semarang Folklore Festival. Over the past three years there has been a rapid rise in the number of hotels and restaurants, now totalling around 300 hotels and more than 800 restaurants. And at least 20 cruise ships drop anchor here every year, each carrying around 1,500 foreign tourists.

Uploading in Ungaran

From Semarang, I travel south to Ungaran, exploring several destinations that often appear on social media. Umbul Sido Mukti is one of the most popular, described as a pioneering venture in Bandungan- Ungaran tourism. Situated in a beautiful valley, Umbul Sido Mukti is a natural haven that offers horse-riding, archery, zip-lining and swimming. From Pondok Kopi in Umbul Sido Mukti, you can walk to Mawar Camp, a camping ground popular with young travellers. At night, this stop-off on the ascent to Mount Ungaran offers a view of the twinkling lights of Ungaran town.

One of the most divergent tourism spots I explore is Candi Gedong Songo, a remnant of the Syailendra Dynasty dating back to the 9th century, discovered by Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1804. In this temple complex lies The Ayanaz, an ultra-modern selfie zone that stands bizarrely inside the ancient temple grounds.

This ‘Instagram tourist’ site opened in June 2018 and quickly became a trending spot on the internet On its synthetic grass, visitors can take photos inside a giant plastic ball, or in an inflated hot-air balloon – an absurd sight in this former royal garden. “We created The Ayanaz to suit the selfie trend on social media. We present a concept of unique photo spots with scenic views of the valley,” says Ida Laela, owner of The Ayanaz.

From here, tourists can continue their journey to the volcanoes and temples of Dieng Plateau, or return instead to Semarang, stopping at a number of photogenic spots. Celosia Flower Park is one of the most popular, with its views of various flower gardens and other landmark structures. About a 10-minute drive from Celosia is Pak Yoto’s Flower Garden, with its beautiful chrysanthemums, and another 10 minutes east is Setiya Aji Flower Garden, another flower garden popular on social media.

Before returning to Semarang, I stop off at Kreo Cave, one of the area’s best-known landmarks and home of the long-tailed monkey. This cave is not far from Kandri Tourism Village, a simple village that surprisingly offers a number of imaginative selfie platforms at the edge of the valley.

At dusk, I arrive at Semawis Market, a culinary hotspot in the city centre that comes to life at night. I gain the impression that Semarang is more than a blend of cultures and a fusion of different cuisines. It also has the potential to become an attractive destination for ‘digital nomads’ – a destination that offers a local experience within a global frame.

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Jakarta to Semarang

Flight Time50 minutes

Frequency 56 times a week

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From Colours August 2019


5 Senses – Sight
Brown Canyon

About 30 minutes
from the city centre,
Brown Canyon is
a popular ‘Instagram
tourist’ spot. The
scenery at this
abandoned mine
is a modest version
of America’s
Grand Canyon.