The city's name derives from the Javanese words "asem" and "arang" which literary translate to "scarce tamarind."
Semarang lies in the northern part of Central Java. It is a bustling mid-sized city with a population of 1.5 million. More a business than tourism destination, it nevertheless has its own charm with contrasting modern mid-rises, Dutch colonial architecture, Chinatown, and small "kampong" jutting against each other.
The city's weather is hot and humid, so wear light-colored cotton clothes. You do not need a long-sleeved shirt, instead a T-shirt and knee-long trousers are comfortable. However, some places like mosques (masjid) and temples require polite dress such as long trousers/skirts. Hot pants/mini skirts will attract people's attention in ways you might not like and might be considered impolite.
Semarang's Airport is Achmad Yani International Airport, quite nearby from the city centre. Daily flights are available to many major cities in Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia, Merpati Nusantara, Mandala Air, Batavia Air, Sriwijaya Air and Jatayu Airlines fly to Jakarta daily. Merpati also has a daily flight to Surabaya. There is also flight service to Yogyakarta by Trigana Air/Kalstar. Trigana Air/Kalstar and Indonesia Air Transport also flies daily to Pankalanbun.
Batavia Air  is the only airline which offers international service to and from Singapore 4 times a week.
Semarang is connected to Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya by train. Interestingly, there is no comparable railway service to Yogyakarta, although a railway line exists. The Argo Muria express connects Semarang to Jakarta, and with its relatively new equipment (2002), is very comfortable. The downside is the very early departure (5.00 AM!) to Jakarta. Overnight trains are also available. The fastest train ride between Semarang and Jakarta takes around 6 hours.
Bandung and Surabaya are also connected to Semarang with air-conditioned eksekutif (Executive) class trains.
There are two main railway stations in Semarang, Stasiun Tawang and Stasiun Poncol.
On the northern main line, between Semarang and Pekalongan, the railway line follows the coast line, providing passengers with beautiful views of the Java Sea.
Semarang can be reached by car from Jakarta. It takes around 10 to 12 hours depending on traffic. You can choose to leave early in the morning from Jakarta to arrive in Semarang in the next 12 hours or so. An over-night drive is faster yet more challenging and even dangerous for "Pantura", a non familiar with the roads driver. Pantura derives from "Pantai" which means Beach and "Utara" which means North.
From Jakarta you can take the Eastward route via Cikampek Toll-road. Go along the toll-road until your reach the Cikampek toll gate, take a left and you are in "Pantura Road". In Pantura road you have to follow the directing signs to "Cirebon", "Pekalongan", "Kendal", "Semarang" or "Surabaya" as those cities are eastward from Jakarta.
You will pass small towns like Patrol, Jatibarang, and relatively bigger ones like Cirebon. Before entering Cirebon, you can take the toll-road, which will steer you out of the heavy traffic by-passing it all-together. That is, if you do want to avoid any traffic and do not intend to sight-see Cirebon. After exiting the Cirebon toll road, you will drive eastward along Losari and then you will pass Tegal, Pemalang, Pekalongan and Kendal before you arrive in Semarang.
Gas stations are abundant, you can see them almost every 5 or 10 kilometers along the road. They have toilet facilities. Pay Rp1,000 (US$ 10 cents). Beware of small or old gas station, they have poor lighting and terrible toilets. Choose a newer and bigger gas station with good lighting, parking space and clean toilets. Please make sure that you have locked your car and do not leave your valuables unattended.
Many bus companies offer daily service from Jakarta to Semarang. You can choose to go in the day time with air conditioned (A/C) from Pasar Rebo Bus Terminal in East Jakarta, Kalideres Bus Terminal in West Jakarta or from Lebak Bulus Bus Terminal in South Jakarta. The overnight bus with A/C are also available with good services. You can choose bus operators such as: "Rosalia Indah" , "Raya", "Kramat Jati", Safari Dharma Raya  as the good reputed bus serving Jakarta to Semarang. Sometimes the bus route is Jakarta to Solo via Semarang. You can choose them too, but please remind the bus driver's assistant, (The person who checks your ticket on-board the bus) to wake you up in Semarang!!.
There is also the executive-class tourist bus Joglosemar, that connects Jogjakarta, Solo and Semarang (hence the name). Joglosemar picks up tourists from specific hotels and provide snacks and water for your trip. Considerably pricier than other executive buses, it is more comfortable and provides a friendly service throughout the journey.
If you are on a group, you can also rent a "Tourist/Charter Bus" .
Jakarta - Semarang and vice-versa, Is mostly a traditionally via-railway traveled route along the northern coast road ("pantura") or by plane. A trip by boat or sea vessel is uncommon due to its rare schedule and the length of the journey that takes too long compared with a train (approx 6 hours) and over-night bus (9 hours).
However, cruise ships occasionally spend a day in port. The port has few facilities for passengers, but an informal market of street vendors often assembles outside the secure-area. Most passengers take a one day tour to Borobudur.
By mini bus/bus
There are plenty of mini buses (locally called angkot/daihatsu) and medium-sized buses called Damri in the city. These mini buses go to different destinations as follows:
As 2008 Dishub Pemda Semarang operating Damri AC for Rp 5,000
As September 2009 There is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) called Trans Semarang planned route:
The mini bus has the route traveled written on the top-front of the bus. The route normally written in the form of 'origin-destination' and sometimes with ' VIA ' information if there is more than 1 mini bus with the same origin-destination but through a different route or path in between.
For example: Daihatsu Johar-Sampangan, means the origin is from Johar terminal and going to Sampangan and vice-versa. The fares for the mini-bus is around Rp.2000-3000.
Some popular places in Semarang that can be reached by mini bus/bus are:
Make sure you ask the conductor/driver of the minibus before you board, for the route it goes and whether it goes to the place YOU want to go.
Taxis are very safe and comfortable, and reasonably priced (starting price, Rp4000).
Make sure you understand the route or ask a friend. Make sure the driver uses the meter ("argo"). If he refuses to use the meter, use another taxi. List of taxi companies:
Fuel for your car (if you rent a car) Gasoline is available in 3 different choices, "Premium", "Pertamax" and "Pertamax Plus" for gasoline fueled vehicles and "Solar" for diesel powered vehicles. Fueling is not a self service here, you CAN NOT dispense the gasoline yourself. The gas station has their own employees who will fill-up for you and then pay them for the fuel, according to the fuel meter reading.
Northern Semarang has a lot of old Dutch colonial buildings. This was where the old walled city was located. The wall is no longer there, but many of the old building remain, especially in the area called Kota Lama (The Old Town or Oudstadt). On certain months, this part of Semarang is flooded by the rising tide (called "rob" in Javanese).
Semarang has a very good landscape, some say the best landscape thanks to its coastal area in the northern part of the city with Tanjung Mas as its international harbour and hilly area in the southern part streching from Candi area to Bukit Sari with picturesque Mount Ungaran at the background.
Before you get into the hilly area named Bukit Sari, you will see on your left Taman Tabanas Gombel where you can stop by, drink tea and see Semarang from the hill. It's a really beautiful view in the daytime and a very special romantic view during the nighttime.
Gunung Ungaran with its tea and jasmine plantation, Gua Kreo/Kreo Cave with its interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations and of course Marina at Tanjung Mas are the alternatives for those who have more than 2 free days in Semarang.
Tugu Muda is one of Semarang's landmarks. It is situated westward of Simpang Lima, on one of the 5 streets crossing Simpang Lima named Jalan Pandanaran. This monument commemorates the 5 days of fierce battle (October 14-19, 1945) between Indonesian freedom fighters and Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender.
There are some Dutch colonial buildings around Tugu Muda; the most famous one is Lawang Sewu which means A Thousand Doors. It was built as the headquarters of the local railway company. During World War II, it was used as the Japanese army's headquarters. Lawang Sewu's main attraction is its tall stained glass window. The building is now undergoing restoration although it is still open to the public. Tour guides are available at the building's entrance. Though reputed to be haunted due to the great number of executions there during WWII, Lawang Sewu remains one of Semarang's most prominent landmarks.
Semarang is the hosts of some universities/colleges. Diponegoro University is the state university. It is the biggest and the oldest university with good reputed faculty of law, economics, medicine, architecture, engineering, fisheries etc. It hosts more than 10 thousand students in its two campus, Pleburan (in the downtown) and Tembalang in the southern hilly part of Semarang. Islamic University of Sultan Agung and Catholic University of Soegijapranata are major private universities in Semarang.
For business travelers, Semarang is a transit city where you only have a chance to see Semarang's bustling activities from a taxi or a hotel's window.
Semarang is also an industrial city. Many companies have opened their manufacturing plants in the eastern, western and southern parts of Semarang. For a foreigner who wants to work in Semarang, this is a good place because of its landscape. You can live in the hilly and considerably cooler housing area in Candi or Bukit Sari while you work in the downtown area. Traffic jams is considered to be fewer than in Bandung or Surabaya. For visitors from Jakarta, driving a car in Semarang is "heaven" for its many fewer traffic jams compared with Jakarta.
Semarang is the home of the biggest "Jamu" (means "javanese traditional herbal") industry such as Jamu Jago, Nyonya Meneer and others.
Most of Jakarta's major banks and companies have opened branches in Semarang. For its relatively close vicinity with Jakarta (only 40 minutes by plane and 6 hours by train), making Semarang enjoy its status as a major hub in Java island.
Currency used is Rupiah (Rp). You can find money changer in the downtown area, or simply get into banks and you will get fair exchange rate. Please note that in practice, money changer and banks are not accepting US$ bank notes with issuance year 1999 backwards because of the experience in Indonesia mostly found US$ with issuance year 1999 backward had been forged.
Near the airport in Jendral Sudirman street, there is Money Changer "Golden Valasindo", which accept most of foreign currency include US$ bank notes with issuance year before 1999. The phone number is (024) 766 32631.
Banks are open between 8.30 a.m to 3.00 p.m.
You can visit some malls available in Semarang such as Sri Ratu (the first mall in Semarang from the 80's), Matahari Plaza, Ciputra Mall Java Mall, DP Mall and the Paragon Mall. There, you can buy batik (Javanese handwritten cloth), antiques and the traditional items in "Johar Market" or in Bahasa Indonesia called "Pasar Johar" (spell "Pa Saar Jouw Har). They have plenty of choices. Ask if you can get assistance from hotel staff or a travel agent staff to take you around Pasar Johar. It is also accessible by Angkot (vans) from Simpang Lima.
Semarang have many arts and crafts shops around the city. They normally sell Javanese arts, paintings and clothes including Batik. Some shops popularly visited by tourist are:
Many travelers buy Bandeng (locals call it Bandeng presto or Bandeng duri lunak, which is pressure cooked Milkfish), Lumpia Semarang (a kind of spring rolls with bamboo shoots filling), and Wingko Babat (sticky rice and coconut in a variety of flavors). You can get purchase any of these at either food stores called "toko-oleh oleh" (a lot located in street called "Jalan Pandanaran") or from street vendors/open stalls. If buying from street vendors or open stalls, you might look for those where locals go, as an indication of which ones are done right.
There are hawker-style food stalls and tents all across Semarang. They are very popular and offer good food at unbelievably cheap prices. Please note as they are not permanent establishments, they do not have phone numbers and exact address. However, they usually open in the same spots and at a regular time everyday. Also, as in any hawker-style establishments, hygiene is not a top priority here.
Simpang Lima  in the heart of Semarang has plenty of food stalls offering variety of Indonesian and Javanese food. The prices are cheap, sometimes very cheap. You can eat 1 piece of fried chicken, a thigh or a leg, plus 1 plate of steamed rice for as little as Rp 10,000 (equivalent to US$ 1). You can also get into other tents to try other meals. Some of them offer "lesehan" or "sit down on a carpet" while eating your meal . Beef or chicken satay (grilled beef or chicken) is mouth watering, with peanut sauce and hot chilli whith "fried rice" or nasi goreng babat situated in "Air Mancur" or fountain, southward of Simpang Lima and in front of Diponegoro University campus is delicious.
Along Jalan Pahlawan, south of Simpang Lima, you will also find many food stalls under tents, selling a variety of foods from "Gudeg" (Javanese steam sweet sour vegetables), Bubur ayam (Chicken porridge), Jagung bakar (grilled corn) and many others. Pamper yourself with plenty of good food, yet very cheap.
Semawis is another place to go for hawker-style food. Located on Gang Warung in the China Town. It opens only weekend nights (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and has a variety of food stalls offering authentic Semarang cuisine and delicacies.
"Jalan Pandanaran" is a street specialized for having numerous stores selling locally made "Semarang-ish" products worth getting for your loved ones and friends before you leave Semarang. Although parking is a bit of a hassle, it may only take you a minute or two to walk from where you are parked to visit these shops.
Food Stalls (Note: Unless stated otherwise, these food stalls only open after sunset everyday)
In Semarang it is not easy to find bars. However, lately a few stylish venues have sprung up, mainly caters to the trendy young population.
There are few bars and cafes around 'Simpang Lima' location (right in the downtown). After sunset, please avoid small tents selling homemade tea (teh poci) as lots of hookers looking for targets, especially rich looking travelers.
Wedhang means hot soothing drink. You can get them in Simpang Lima, hotels or restaurants in Semarang. One of the most popular variety is STMJ (Susu Telor Madu Jahe, a concoction of milk, egg, honey, and ginger drink). For more Wedhang:
If you want to travel backpackers style, you can go to Jalan Kauman and you'll find a lot of hostels there. With less than US $20 you can get a nice, clean, and air-conditioned room in Hotel Bali and Rahayu at Jalan Imam Bonjol.
Semarang's safety is considered moderate. The people are nice, to strangers. (Specially, western tourists); People are helpful and friendly.
Never touch anyone's head (especially teenagers and older men) as it is considered as "insult" and might invite troubles. In the crowded bus/train/small car used as public transportation, "unintended touch" is tolerated. Never look at someone (especially young men) straight in the eyes more than 3 times as it might be considered as "challenging them to fight" (this applies especially in bigger towns/cities) - Villagers are more friendly to strangers.
Semarang is neither a small city nor huge city if compared to Jakarta. Everyone is urged to observe universal safety rules such as "only walk in the light-bright areas"; do not attempt to deal with hookers or trans-sexual hookers which are usually done under secluded and dark areas; lady travelers are urged not to travel alone after 11 p.m especially in an unknown dark neighborhood, sometimes even in residential areas. For precautions do carry mace or pepper spray. Only take moderate amount of money in an open air ATM.
When riding the public transportation it is not encouraged to wear jewelry, or gaudy and branded or designer watches. Petty thieves are common, but they do not strike when it isn't obvious. During the night if you must use public transportation, look for those units which have more than a few people riding and do avoid the empty ones. You might always want to seat close to the operator.
Tap water in Indonesia is not potable. So do not drink your hotel tap water unless you boil it first. Bottled water is very popular and not expensive, popular brand is AQUA, ADES, 2 Tang etc. You can find them in department stores and mini mart such as Indomart, Alfa Mart and even in small street stalls (usually in the corner of street intersection). In unfamiliar establishments or where you have no assurance of of sanitation standards, also take care with ice used in drinks.
Hospitals with 24 hours emergency rooms (ER):
Post offices are easy to find. DHL, TNT, Fedex and other international courier also available. Local courier and shipping company (also serving international courier and freight) is ELTEHA (LTH). Ask your hotel staff to help you dealing with these courier companies.
Tourism Information Centre :
Semarang is the major hub city of Central Java. From Semarang you can go to Dieng Plateau to a small town named Wonosobo for a one day sightseeing ancient hindu temples/candi in a former ancient city which lies in the misty plateau.
Alternatively, within one and a half hours you can go to Borobudur temple in Muntilan and then to Prambanan temple in Klaten and buy some antiques and batik in Yogyakarta. It takes less than 2 hours to drive from Semarang to Yogyakarta. Solo is also only a one and half hour drive from Semarang.
You can also go further southward to some small towns like Ungaran, Salatiga, Ambarawa, Kopeng and Bandungan. It will take at least a one day tour but is really worth it. You will see beautiful scenery on the way between Semarang, Salatiga and the adjacent cities like Solo and Yogyakarta. You can reach Solo (sometimes called Surakarta) or Yogyakarta in less than 2 hours.