Stone Town, Zanzibar is a unique and enchanting travel destination, a place full of mystery and allure and yet it comes with both a dark past and enthralling history.
Almost every trip to Zanzibar will either begin or end here, so be sure to allocate a few days of your holiday in paradise to exploring the narrow alleyways, ancient buildings and colourful food markets in this vibrant city.
I ended up spending 4 days getting lost in the heart of Stone Town, on a mission to find the best food, most interesting buildings and dreamy sunset spots. Here’s my guide to Stone Town, Zanzibar including 17 of the best things to do here.
It might sound strange, but getting lost in the maze that is Stone Town is the best way to get a taste of what’s on offer and to hopefully get your bearings in the myriad of narrow lane ways and bust town squares.
You will pass by beautiful carved wooden doors, art galleries selling vibrant African oil paintings, street food sellers, mosques, churches, temples, the now famous Shark corner and museums and it’s the perfect way to get a feel for Stone Town and what treasures are is store for you.
Stone Town’s narrow streets, Zanzibar
2. Stone Town Beach
No matter what direction you walk, you’re more than likely to end up at the beach as 3 sides of the Old Town area surrounded by sandy shores. While the beach here in Stone Town is nowhere near as dreamy as the ones up north, it’s still a treat for the eyes for anyone straight off the plane from Europe or North America.
You can watch locals dancing to doing acrobatics in the sand, or catch a glimpse of fishing boats or traditional dhows sailing past into the sunset.
3. The Old Fort
Right next to the beach is one of the most historic and important buildings in Stone Town, the old Fort, build by the Arabs from Oman in the 18th century to defend Stone Town from the Portuguese. It’s the oldest building in Stone Town and a popular tourist attraction now full of restaurants and souvenir shops.
4. Forodhani Gardens Food Market
Right next to the old fort is Forodhani Gardens, which you can visit both in the day time and at night, In the day it’s a peaceful place to walk around and a welcome haven from the busting streets of Stone Town. There’s a beautiful old band stand, a view of the beach, the old fort and the house of wonders.
At night-time the gardens turn into a simple but fun food markets, which most stalling selling the same dishes. There’s a real mix of cuisine here, from Arabic to Indian and trying some “Zanzibar pizza” as well a few pieces of grilled meat on a stick is a must. Stay away from the seafood, at least that’s what I was told!
5. Prison Island
Prison Island is fun half day trip from Stone Town, with boats leaving right from the seafront. They take you to the gorgeous prison island, which is now a sanctuary for giant turtles, The beach here is also stunning and you’ll have some time to go snorkelling in the crystal clear waters before the boat drops you back in Stone Town a few hours later.
6. Admire the Zanzibar doors
One of the most unusual things to see in Zanzibar, and a totally free activity, is to check out as many of the city’s beautifully carved wooden doors – some complete with metal spikes for decorations – a feature once used in India to fend off elephants from rubbing against the doors!
Sadly it’s a bit a dying tradition in Zanzibar, with doors like this taking so much time and money to carve, but you will see a lot of them throughout town – some pretty spectacular.
7. Find a good sunset bar
most guides tell everyone to go watch the sunset from Africa House hotel and while I did go there for one sunset I no longer believe its the best place time Zanzibar to watch the sun go down.
Other bars that I enjoyed visited included the much more chilled out Travellers cafe, right next to the beach, and the newly opened “Beach House” which has stunning decor, a fun “Zanzibar sign and photo spot and some of the cocktails on the island.
8. Eat at Lukmaan
Everyone here recommends this place for local food and they are right to as it’s simple THE best place in Stone Town to get a taste of local cuisine. Watch my video to see what I ate!
9. Try some Indian food
With such a large Indian influence, along with many other cultures of course, finding one fo Zanzibars best Indian restaurants is a must. There’s a few to choose from but I personally loved The Silk Route so much I ended up going back twice. Mouth watering samosas and curries and a delightful coconut lassie!
10. Go souvenir shopping
I’m not normally a big fan of souvenir shopping, but in Stone Town you can actually get some high quality souvenirs. Be it dolls create by female single parent entrepreneurs, to beautiful paintings, hand made purses and bags to beautiful clothes in small boutiques – shopping here is like a dream.
11. Visit the Darajani fish market
The Darajani market is the largest food market on the island, with large sections dedicated to meat, fish and vegetables. It’s not for the light hearted, with actual animal carcasses and some pretty interesting smells.
One of the most fun things to do here is to go to the fish section in the morning to witness the fish auction, where they quickly and expertly auction off the catch of the day.
12. Visit the former slave market
The Slave Market, now a christian cathedral, brings light to Stone Town’s dark past as a centre for slave trading. It’s quite horrific to read up about where the slaves were brought it from, where they were kept and how they were sold – and while disturbing I think it’s a place everyone visiting Zanzibar should take some time to visit and learn.
13. Check out the old dispensary
Stone town has a lot of gorgeous buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th century, many with an interesting and colourful history.
The old Dispensary is one of these historic landmark buildings that needs to be visited. This finely decorated building, complete with carved doors, stained-glass decorations and a larger covered courtyard was used as a dispensary in the early 20th century – built by a wealthy Indian who intended it to be used a a charitable hospital for the poor.
14. See Freddy Mercury’s House
Many people are totally unaware that one of the world’s most famous rockstars came from Stone Town Zanzibar.
Queen legend Freddy Mercury was born here and lived in a house, now named the Freddy Mercury House, right in the middle of the old town. A fun visit on your walking tour.
15. Stay in a historic Arabic-style hotel
There are many beautiful hotels in Stone Town that come with rich interiors and an interesting past. I checked into the Dhow Palace, hotel that was once the family home of a rich merchant, whose family owned the building for more than 3 centuries.
The building and furniture feel like a living museum and the building layout gives off Moroccan Riad vibes, complete with open courtyard in the centre with unique water features and even a rooftop perfect for watching the sunset.
16. Take a walk down by the port
It’s a fun walk to Zanzibars main port, where the ships and ferries that go to mainland Tanzania and other islands dock. There’s a beautiful promenade complete with a long line of palm trees that is magical to walk down during that golden hour before sunset. You’ll also pass some of Zanzibars most important and architecturally beautiful buildings along the way.
17. Visit The House of Wonders
Finally no visit to Zanzibar would be complete with stopping off to admire The House of Wonders.