Everything you need to know to organize your visit to Stone Town in Zanzibar
Stone Town, located on the Unguja island in the Zanzibar archipelago ma known simply as Zanzibar, is the old part of Zanzibar City.
This historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but is also a lively center of Tanzanian culture and history and one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities in Africa. Which is why anyone travelling to Zanzibar should make sure to dedicate at least one full day to it.
The city is renowned for its narrow alleys, intricately carved wooden doors and lively markets. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie or simply looking for an adventure, Stone Town has something for everyone.
The city is rich in history and historic monuments, including theOld Fort (and until recently also the House of Wonders), numerous museums, art galleries, cultural centers and markets with a Swahili charm as few can be found now on the continent, perhaps only Lamu in Kenya, called little Zanzibar, can come close to the beauty of Stone Town.
Food lovers will appreciate the opportunity to savor the local cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Arab, Indian and African cultures. If you’re not ready for street food, don’t worry because in the city you will also find high-class restaurants with local dishes revisited for sophisticated tastes.
Zanzibar is an island, a beautiful island, here there is no shortage of excellent sites yes snorkeling, for scuba diving but also long walks on stretches of white sandy and uncrowded coast (ok, it depends where you go).
If you are organizing a trip to Tanzania and want to end your trip in Zanzibar, your itinerary will certainly include a visit to Stone Town and in this post we’ll take a closer look at some of the must-see attractions and experiences that Stone Town has to offer.
If you are planning a trip to Zanzibar be sure to read the posts on where to stay in Zanzibar and what to do in Zanzibar.
If you want to combine a safari read the complete guide to safari in Tanzania
IMPORTANT: INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL INSURANCE CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENT
From May 2023 it is mandatory to stipulate, before departure, for both Tanzania and Zanzibar, a “International Health Insurance Certification”, which provides for the coverage of medical expenses and the possible medical air repatriation (or transfer to another country) of the patient.
If therefore you are leaving for Tanzania make sure you take out travel insurance because it is mandatory.
Where to sleep in Stone Town
In Stone Town you will find all types of accommodation, from budget hostels to luxury boutique hotels. The main neighborhoods where you can find accommodation in Stone Town are:
- Forodhani: This neighborhood is located in the heart of Stone Town and is known for its lively night market, serving delicious seafood and local delicacies. There are several budget hotels and guesthouses in this area, as well as some mid-range options. I recommend you evaluate the Tembo House and the Tembo Palace
- Shangani: Shangani is located south of Forodhani and is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in Stone Town. This area is known for its stunning sea views, elegant architecture and proximity to some of the city’s top attractions, such as the Old Fort and the House of Wonders. Here I recommend you take a look at thehotel Zanzibar Serena and the Dhow Palace
- Malindi: Malindi is located on the outskirts of Stone Town and is known for its relaxed atmosphere and affordable housing options. This area is popular with backpackers and budget travelers, as it offers a number of affordable hostels and guesthouses. Here I recommend you take a look at Kholle House and The Seyyida Hotel and Spa.
- Vuga: Vuga is located in the central part of Stone Town and is known for its buildings historical and its winding streets. This area is popular with visitors who want to stay in the heart of the city and be within walking distance of its main attractions, such as The Sultan’s Palace and the Anglican Cathedral. §Here I recommend you take a look at the Zanzibar Coffee House (which also has a wonderful terrace where you can have a coffee even if you’re not staying), the (another hotel with a wonderful terrace with bar and restaurant).The Swahili house and Spice Palace
Regardless of which neighborhood you choose, be prepared to stay in a historic building converted into a hotel or guesthouse. Many of these buildings have retained their original architecture and features, such as intricate wood carvings and ornate doors. Please note that some hotels may not have air conditioning or hot water, so be sure to check amenities before booking your stay.
Stone Town is a small center so wherever you stay you can easily get around on foot. Be careful that the center is pedestrianised, so before booking make sure if the taxi can drop you off at or near the hotel entrance (which consider if you have heavy luggage).
What to see in Stone Town in one day
Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for its its well-preserved Swahili architecture, vibrant culture and rich history. With its narrow alleys, lively bazaars and beautiful landmarks, Stone Town has no shortage of things to see and experience.
In this post we will highlight some of the top attractions to visit as you explore this fascinating city.
Alleys of Stone Town
Stone Town is known for its narrow, winding streets, full of history and charm where all you have to do is get lost. Here’s what you can expect to see and find while exploring the streets:
- Historic Buildings: Stone Town is home to a number of beautiful historic buildings, many of which have been preserved since the 19th century. As you stroll you can admire the intricate wooden doors, decorative balconies and unique Omani architectural styles.
- Markets and shops: Stone Town is known for its lively markets, where you can find everything from spices to souvenirs, clothing to jewelry. Darajani Market is one of the most popular markets in the city and is a great place to buy fresh produce and seafood.
- Museums and Galleries: Stone Town is rich in history and culture, and there are several museums and galleries where you can learn about the city’s past and present. The Palace Museum and Zanzibar Gallery are just a few of the many options. Unfortunately the House of Wonders has collapsed and is currently not accessible. Who knows if it will be in the future.
- Mosques and churches: Stone Town boasts a rich religious heritage and, as you walk around, you will find several mosques and churches.
- TheOld Fort which also houses an amphitheater used for shows and cultural events.
To orientate yourself in Stone Town, it is best to start by heading towards the seafront, which is easy to locate. Once you arrive on the seafront, you can use it as a point of reference and orient yourself among the streets.
Alternatively, you can hire a local guide to take you on a walking tour of the city and show you the main attractions and landmarks. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water, as Stone Town can be hot and humid.
The Darajani Market is the largest and busiest market in Stone Town. It is a lively and colorful place that sells a wide variety of products, including fresh produce, spices, clothing and souvenirs. The most evocative part is probably the area where fish and meat are sold.
Here you can explore the narrow alleys and market stalls, haggle with vendors and sample some of the local snacks and street food. If you want to take photos, always ask permission first.
The gardens of Forodhani
The Forodhani Gardens are a popular gathering place for both locals and tourists. Located on the waterfront, this public park is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the sunset.
The park comes alive at night when street vendors set up food stalls selling local delicacies, such as grilled fish, samosas and pizzas of Zanzibar. It’s a great place to soak up the local atmosphere and try authentic Zanzibari cuisine.
Stone Town Fort
TheOld Fort, also known as the Arab Fort, is a 17th-century fortification built by the Portuguese and later taken over by the Arabs of Oman.
Today it is a cultural center and museum showcasing the history and culture of Zanzibar. You can explore the fort’s internal courtyards, climb to the top of the ramparts for great views of the city, and visit the art and craft shops inside the fort.
Slave Market Museum
The Stone Town Slave Museum serves as a reminder of the island’s dark history of the slave trade. The museum is located in a former slave market and displays artifacts and exhibits detailing the brutal conditions of the trade, including the cramped holding cells where slaves were held before being sold.
The museum also highlights the efforts of abolitionists and includes information about the ongoing fight against modern slavery.
From one of the roofs of Stone Town, for example from the terrace of The Swahili hotel, you can see a curious Indu temple. In Stone Town, in fact, you can find and visit a Hindu temple located right in the historic Stone Town area of Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.
The temple was built in the early 19th century and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the major deities of Hinduism. It features intricate stone carvings and a unique blend of Indian and East African architectural styles. The temple serves as a religious and cultural center for the local Indian community and also attracts visitors from around the world interested in exploring Zanzibar’s rich history and cultural heritage.
Christ Church Anglican Cathedral
The Christ Church Anglican Cathedral is a major landmark in Stone Town. It was built on the site of the former slave market and serves as a powerful reminder of the city’s dark past.
The cathedral features beautiful stained glass windows, a towering spire, and a memorial to victims of the slave trade. It is a must see for anyone interested in the history of Zanzibar and the abolition of slavery.
House of the Sultan
The Palace Museum, also known as the Sultan’s Palace, is a beautiful building that was once the residence of the sultans of Zanzibar. It was built in the late 19th century and features a mixture of Arab, Indian and European architectural styles. The museum features exhibits on the history of the sultans, their royal regalia, and other artifacts that reflect the culture and lifestyle of the sultans.
Freddy Mercury Museum
The Freddy Mercury Museum, also known as the Zanzibar Museum of History and Culture, is located in Stone Town, Zanzibar, and is dedicated to life and legacy of the famous rock star Freddie Mercury.
Mercury was born in Zanzibar and spent his childhood there before moving to England with his family. The museum opened in 1999 to honor Mercury’s legacy and to showcase Zanzibar’s rich history and culture.
Inside the museum you will find a series of exhibits and artefacts relating to Mercury’s life, including photographs, albums, clothes and personal items.
There are also interactive displays and multimedia presentations that explore Mercury’s musical career and his impact on the world of music. In addition to the Mercury exhibits, the museum also hosts displays on the history and culture of Zanzibar, including those on the island’s colonial past and its role in Indian Ocean trade.
One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is the replica of Mercury’s childhood bedroom, recreated just as it was when he lived in Zanzibar. In this house you can get an idea of what the young musician’s life was like before becoming famous.
Jaws Corner is a famous square located in the heart of Stone Town. The square is named after a local resident, Mohamed Abdulrahman ” Jaws”, who used to sell tea and snacks in the area. Over time, the square has become a popular meeting place for locals and tourists.
Jaws Corner is known for its street food stalls that open in the evening and offer a variety of local delicacies such as Zanzibari pizza, grilled seafood and sugarcane juice. The atmosphere is lively and bustling, with people chatting, playing board games and smoking shisha pipes.
In addition to its food, Jaws Corner is also famous for its colorful murals and street art, which contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of the area. The square has become a popular destination for photographers and Instagrammers who want to capture its unique charm.
House of Wonders – Not accessible at the moment
The House of Wonders, also known as Beit-al-Ajaib, was an iconic landmark of Stone Town. Built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash as his palace, it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity and a lift.
Until last year the palace housed a museum showcasing Zanzibar’s cultural and historical heritage and its top floor offers panoramic views of Stone Town and the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately it is not accessible at the moment, a good part of the structure has collapsed and, from what the guide told me, it is not known whether it will be renovated.
Restaurants, cafes and rooftop bars in Stone Town
I don’t usually recommend restaurants and bars but for Zanzibar I make an exception because the panorama of places is very interesting, especially the cafes and some rooftops.
- Secret Garden
- African Coffee
- Zanzibar coffee House
- Carnation Coffee house
- Japanese restaurant
- Swahili house rooftop bar
- African house for sunset
What to eat in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is renowned for its spice trade and unique fusion of Arab, Indian and African cultures. The island is a gastronomic delight, offering a wide range of delicious and exotic dishes that reflect its rich history and diverse culinary traditions. If it’s your first time in Tanzania and you want to try some typical dishes make sure to try these:
- Zanzibar Biryani: One of the most popular dishes in Zanzibar is Biryani. It is a rich, spicy rice dish that is often served with meat or vegetables. Zanzibari Biryani is a unique variation of this dish that uses a blend of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and turmeric. It is usually made with chicken or beef and served with a side salad or chutney.
- Octopus Curry: Zanzibar is famous for its seafood and one of the best ways to enjoy them is to try the octopus curry. The dish is made with fresh octopus that is marinated in a blend of spices and then cooked in coconut milk. The result is a delicious, creamy curry that is often served with rice or bread.
- Ugali: Ugali is a staple food in East Africa and is a must try in Zanzibar. It is a type of cornmeal porridge that is cooked to a thick, mushy consistency. It is often served with a side of meat, vegetables or beans. Ugali is a substantial and nutritious dish, perfect for those who want to try something authentic and traditional.
- Zanzibari Pizza: If you are looking for something unique and delicious, then you should try Zanzibari Pizza. It is a street food made with a thin, crispy base and topped with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, tomato, meat and vegetables. The pizza is cooked in a clay oven, giving it a distinct flavor and texture that is different from traditional Italian pizza.
- Chapati: Chapati is a type of flatbread popular in many countries in East Africa and South Asia. It is made with wheat flour, water and oil, and then cooked on a hot griddle. In Zanzibar, Chapati is often served as a side dish with curries or stews.
- Zanzibar Soup: Zanzibar Soup is a delicious and nutritious soup prepared with a variety of vegetables, lentils and spices. It is often served as an appetizer in restaurants and is a great way to warm up on a cold evening. The soup is also a great vegetarian option for those who want to try something tasty and healthy.
- Zanzibar Tea: Finally, you can’t leave Zanzibar without trying their famous spiced tea. The tea is made with a blend of black tea leaves, milk, and a blend of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. It is usually served with sugar or honey and is a great way to end a meal or warm up on a cold day.
Zanzibar is a food lover’s paradise, with an array of delicious and exotic dishes that reflect its rich history and diverse culinary traditions. From spicy curries to fresh seafood and traditional dishes like Ugali and Chapati, there is something for everyone.
Withdraw Tanzanian Shillings in Stone Town without paying fees
It may seem silly but considering that in Zanzibar it is better to pay in cash, in Tanzanian shillings, even if many businesses are now starting to accept the card (applying between 5 and 8% commission) withdrawing could have high costs especially because in addition to applying commissions between ) the maximum that can be withdrawn at ATMs is 300,000/400,000 (€120/150).Tzs 10,000 and 20,000 per withdrawal (approximately €4/8
So considering that you want to withdraw more in extra commissions you could pay a lot.
I always travel with the Revolut card (free and rechargeable) which in itself saves a lot on withdrawals because it allows you to withdraw for free up to €450 (I have the premium that I pay every month which includes, in addition to a higher withdrawal limit, travel insurance with Allianz) and then apply 2% commission exceeding the free withdrawal (commissions are higher on weekends).
But in addition to this commission, the exchange rate it applies is the real one of the day, something that the cards of traditional banks do not do, which in fact I never use abroad.
In addition to our card fees most banks in Stone Town charge the withdrawal fees above, but I managed to find a bank that doesn’t apply them (so you save between €4/8 per withdrawal) and the DTB (diamond bank) which is located right in fort at Stone town fort. Here on google maps.
Allows you to withdraw a maximum of 300,000TZS. If you try to withdraw more the machine will decline the operation.
Tours to (and from) Stone Town
Stone Town, the historical heart of Zanzibar, is an unmissable destination for anyone traveling to Tanzania. There are many exciting tours you can take from Stone Town to explore the rich culture, history and natural beauty of the island.
Remember that the main beaches are 1 to 2 hours away by car from Stone Town, and since you mainly travel by taxi, which are quite expensive, if you are not staying in Stone Town, which I recommend you do do even just for 1 or 2 nights, consider a whole day and perhaps try to combine several visits in the same day. Below I mention both single tours and possible combos that optimize costs and times.
ùHere are some of the best tours you can take from Stone Town:
Stone Town Walking Tour
Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a rich history reflected in its architecture and landmarks reference. Stone town is not particularly large but finding your way around can be chaotic but, above all, if you are alone you risk losing some of the most evocative corners of a place that is already out of time.
I recommend you book a walking tour through the narrow streets and alleys of Stone Town which will take you back in time to the days of ;island as a commercial hub, with visits to landmarks such as the Old Fort and the Sultan’s House.
Best walking tours of Stone Town
If you don’t know which tour to choose you can consider a free walking tour with Nasser, 3-hour walking tour in English, which I found very interesting and complete.
The tour is free, that is, it does not have a fixed cost, but at the end of the visit you leave a tip (generally approximately €10/15 per person or its equivalent in local currency).
If you prefer a tour with an Italian speaking guide you can book a 3-hour private tour that brings together the best of Stone Town in few hours.
Zanzibar is known as “the spice island” for a reason. A spice tour is a must-do activity for anyone interested in learning about the aromatic history of the island.
You will have the opportunity to smell and taste various spices, learn about their origins and uses, and even see how they are grown and harvested. The tour usually includes a visit to a spice farm, where you can also see exotic fruits and plants.
Best Spice Tours
The Zanzibar spice tour takes place on a farm outside the city, in they usually take about 3 hours. If you are only interested in the spice tour you can consider the three-hour tour, departing from Stone Town which also includes entrance to the farm and you can also choose tours with an Italian speaking guide. The tours are private. If you are not staying in Stone Town and are arriving from one of the beaches you probably want to combine it with a visit (which are all quite close to each other). In this case I recommend the combo tour with the three attractions. Stone Town, the spice tour and Prison Island
Prison Island Tour
A short boat ride from Stone Town is Prison Island, once used as a slave holding center. Today the island is a nature reserve where it is possible to see giant tortoises and enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. You can also take a guided tour of the history of the island and see the ruins of the old prison.
Best tours on Prison Island
Prison Island is located off the coast of Stone Town and as with the other tours, especially if you are not staying in Stone Town I recommend you consider combo tours that combine multiple attractions. Among the best I recommend the tour Prison Island, Nakupenda Sandbank (the strip of sand that appears at low tide) and Stone town, which you can also visit book with an Italian speaking guide, which you can book at this link. Or the combination tour Prison Island, Spice tour and Stone Town, which is perhaps the one I prefer because if you stay on the east coast of Zanzibar you can see sandbanks many easily.
Sunset Dhow Cruise
A dhow is a traditional Arabian sailing ship and this tour will take you on a relaxing cruise along the coast of Stone Town. You will watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean, enjoying delicious food and drinks on board.
Regardless of which tour you choose, be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Zanzibar can get hot and humid, so it’s important to stay hydrated and protected from the sun. Also, be sure to respect local customs and dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. With these tips in mind, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience exploring Stone Town and its surroundings.
Internet in Stone Town and Zanzibar – Data Sim and Wifi
The sore point. I was hoping that the internet had improved over the years. It is in some ways, but we are not yet at the level of being able to work peacefully.
The Wi-Fi which I found difficult to navigate quickly. to do this I have always used the data (Zantel and Halotel which seems to be the best on the island, while in Tanzania in my opinion Airtel is the best).
In Zanzibar there are several mobile network providers offering prepaid SIM cards with data plans, but be aware that in some areas it can be quite slow (for example in Nungwi it was quite good but it was very slow in Matemwe).
Here are some of the best options:
- Zantel: Zantel is one of the most popular mobile network providers in Zanzibar and offers affordable data plans with good coverage. You can purchase a Zantel SIM card in one of the many shops on the island and top up your account with credit to purchase a data package. Zantel data plans start at around 2,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $0.85) for 500 MB of data.
- Airtel: Airtel is another very popular mobile network provider in Zanzibar and offers competitive data plans with good coverage. You can purchase an Airtel SIM card in one of the many shops on the island and top up your account with credit to purchase a data package. Airtel’s data plans start at around 2,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $0.85) for 500 MB of data.
- Vodacom: Vodacom is a well-known mobile network provider in Tanzania and also operates in Zanzibar. You can purchase a Vodacom SIM card in one of the many shops on the island and top up your account with credit to purchase a data package. Vodacom’s data plans start at around 2,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $0.85) for 500MB of data.
- Halotel: Halotel is another mobile network provider in Tanzania that also operates in Zanzibar. Halotel offers affordable data plans and good coverage in many parts of the country, including Zanzibar. Halotel’s data plans start at around 2,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $0.85) for 500 MB of data. Halotel’s network is known to be reliable in some areas of Zanzibar, but coverage may vary depending on location. It is advisable to check coverage maps and ask locals or your accommodation provider about the quality of the Halotel network in the specific areas you intend to visit. Or do two like I do if you intend to move around the island.
When purchasing a SIM card, make sure you bring your passport or other valid identification document, as it is required to register the SIM card. Also, before purchasing a SIM card, make sure your phone is unlocked and compatible with the local network.