Travel Experiences

Stone Town Zanzibar

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town Zanzibar offers a unique glimpse into the island's storied past, rich cultural heritage, and vibrant present.

Incorporating Stone Town into your East African safari enriches your journey with a captivating cultural and historical dimension. After exhilarating wildlife adventures, Stone Town offers a unique exploration of Zanzibar’s heritage through its labyrinthine streets, vibrant markets, and iconic architecture. The town’s rich tapestry of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European influences, showcased in its historic sites and local cuisine, provides a fascinating contrast to the natural wonders of the safari.

Visiting Stone Town adds a memorable cultural immersion, making your East African adventure truly unforgettable, and it's your gateway to some of Africa's most rewarding diving and aquatic life.

Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania Safari Guru Deon De Villiers
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania Safari Guru Deon De Villiers

Stone Town Zanzibar, the historic heart of the ancient Zanzibar City, is a captivating blend of cultures and history.  For many visitors, a tour of the principal city of the Islands is a highlight. It offers a real change from sunbathing and relaxing on the beaches to enjoying the beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean.  

The town itself is a maze of alleys showing a genuine taste of the Arabic and European history of the islands'. A guided walking tour of this town is highly recommended to show the highlights and offer an insight into the area's influences.

This guide aims to take you on a journey through the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town, highlighting the best things to see and do and explaining why it is considered a cultural highlight of Zanzibar and a fantastic end to any East African safari itinerary prepared by Safari Guru.

Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town Zanzibar

Stone Town is a melting pot of influences, reflecting a history shaped by Arab, Persian, Indian, and European traders and settlers. It was once the centre of the spice trade and the East African slave trade. The town’s architecture, with its intricate wooden doors, winding alleys, and grand Arab houses, tells the story of these diverse influences.

Key Historical Sites

1. The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib)

The House of Wonders is one of Stone Town’s most iconic buildings. Constructed in 1883 by Sultan Barghash, it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity and an elevator. Today, it houses the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast, offering exhibits on the island's history, culture, and maritime heritage.

2. The Old Fort (Ngome Kongwe)

The Old Fort, located next to the House of Wonders, is the oldest building in Stone Town. Built in the late 17th century by Omani Arabs to defend against the Portuguese, it now serves as a cultural centre. Visitors can explore its battlements and courtyard and even enjoy performances at the amphitheatre.

3. The Sultan's Palace (Beit-el-Sahel)

The Sultan's Palace, also known as the Palace Museum, was the former residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar. It offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the Zanzibari royal family. The museum's exhibits include furniture, personal items, and historical photographs from the royal family.

4. The Anglican Cathedral and Slave Market

The Anglican Cathedral, built in the 1870s, stands on the site of the former slave market. It is a poignant reminder of Zanzibar’s dark past. The cathedral features a memorial to the slaves and the underground chambers where slaves were held before being sold. A visit here is a sobering but essential part of understanding Zanzibar's history.

Cultural Experiences

Stone Town is not just about historical sites; it’s a living, breathing cultural hub. The town's vibrant markets, aromatic spice tours, and lively festivals offer a deep dive into the local culture.

1. Darajani Market

Darajani Market is the bustling heart of Stone Town. This vibrant market is where locals shop for fresh produce, spices, seafood, and everyday items. Walking through the market, you'll be immersed in Zanzibari life's sights, sounds, and smells. It's a great place to buy spices, local crafts, and souvenirs.

2. Forodhani Gardens Night Market

Forodhani Gardens transforms into a lively night market every evening. Located along the waterfront, this market offers a variety of local street food, including Zanzibar pizza, seafood kebabs, and sugarcane juice. It’s a perfect spot to sample local delicacies and mingle with locals and tourists.

3. Spice Tours

Zanzibar is known as the "Spice Island" due to its history as a major producer of spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Taking a spice tour allows you to visit spice farms outside Stone Town, learn about the cultivation and uses of different spices, and enjoy a sensory experience of tasting and smelling fresh spices.

4. Music and Festivals

Stone Town is home to several music festivals, the most famous being the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) and the Sauti za Busara Music Festival. These events showcase local and international talent and offer a rich cultural experience through films, music, and dance performances.

Architectural Wonders

The architecture of Stone Town is a testament to its multicultural history. Its narrow streets are lined with buildings featuring ornate wooden doors, intricately carved balconies, and Arab-style courtyards.

1. The Doors of Stone Town

One of the most striking features of Stone Town's architecture is its doors. The wooden doors are often intricately carved with geometric patterns, floral designs, and inscriptions. These doors are not just decorative but also symbolise the status and wealth of the household. A walking tour focusing on the doors of Stone Town is a fascinating way to explore the town's architectural heritage.

2. The Persian Baths

The Hamamni Persian Baths, built in the late 19th century by Sultan Barghash, were the first public baths in Zanzibar. Although no longer in use, the baths offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Zanzibari elite during the sultanate period. Visitors can explore the bathing rooms, steam rooms, and courtyards.

3. Old Dispensary (Ithnashiri Dispensary)

The Old Dispensary is another architectural gem in Stone Town. Built in the late 19th century, this ornate building features stained glass windows, carved wooden balconies, and elaborate stucco work. Originally a hospital, it now serves as a cultural centre and museum.

Culinary Delights

Stone Town offers a culinary journey that reflects its diverse cultural influences. From street food to fine dining, there’s something to suit every palate.

1. Local Street Food

Sampling street food is a must in Stone Town. Popular local dishes include:

  • Zanzibar Pizza: A savoury or sweet stuffed pancake.
  • Urojo: A tangy soup with fritters, boiled eggs, and cassava.
  • Samosas: Deep-fried pastries filled with meat or vegetables.
  • Mandazi: Sweet fried dough similar to doughnuts.

2. Seafood

Given its location, it's no surprise that seafood is a staple in Stone Town. Fresh catches from the Indian Ocean are prepared in a variety of ways, from grilled fish to seafood curries. The seafood at Forodhani Gardens Night Market is particularly popular.

3. Rooftop Restaurants

For a more refined dining experience, Stone Town boasts several rooftop restaurants offering panoramic views of the town and the ocean. These restaurants serve a mix of local and international cuisine. Dining at sunset while overlooking the historic rooftops of Stone Town is an unforgettable experience.

Exploring Beyond Stone Town

While Stone Town itself is a treasure trove of cultural and historical experiences, the surrounding area also offers plenty of attractions.

1. Prison Island (Changuu Island)

A short boat ride from Stone Town, Prison Island is a popular day trip destination. The island was once used as a quarantine station and a prison, but today it’s known for its giant tortoise sanctuary and beautiful beaches. The island’s history and natural beauty make it a must-visit.

2. Jozani Forest

A trip to Jozani Forest, the only national park on Zanzibar Island, is a great way to experience the island's natural beauty. The forest is home to the rare red colobus monkey, which is endemic to Zanzibar. Guided tours offer a chance to see these monkeys, as well as other wildlife and unique plant species.

3. Mangapwani Caves

The Mangapwani Caves, located north of Stone Town, offer a glimpse into the island's darker history. These caves were used to hide slaves after the official abolition of the slave trade. A visit here is both haunting and enlightening, shedding light on a lesser-known aspect of Zanzibar’s history.

Getting to Stone Town Zanzibar

Stone Town is easily accessible from mainland Tanzania and other parts of the world. Zanzibar International Airport (Abeid Amani Karume International Airport) is the main entry point, with regular flights from Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and other major cities. Ferries also operate between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, providing an alternative mode of transport.


Stone Town offers a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From luxurious boutique hotels housed in historic buildings to budget-friendly guesthouses, there's something for everyone. Staying in Stone Town allows you to fully immerse yourself in its unique atmosphere.

Getting Around

The best way to explore Stone Town is on foot. Its narrow streets and alleys are not suitable for cars, and walking allows you to discover hidden gems and soak in the ambiance. For longer trips, taxis and bicycles are available.

Safety and Etiquette

Stone Town is generally safe for tourists, but it’s always wise to take basic precautions, such as keeping an eye on your belongings and avoiding poorly lit areas at night. As Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim region, it’s respectful to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites.

In Summary

Stone Town is a cultural highlight of Zanzibar, offering a rich tapestry of history, architecture, and local experiences. From exploring its historical landmarks and bustling markets to savoring its diverse cuisine and engaging in cultural activities, there’s something for every traveler. Whether you're wandering through its winding alleys, admiring the intricately carved doors, or enjoying a sunset meal at a rooftop restaurant, Stone Town promises a unique and unforgettable adventure.

A visit to Stone Town is not just a journey through space but also through time, offering a glimpse into the island's storied past and vibrant present. This cultural gem of Zanzibar invites you to immerse yourself in its heritage and experience the magic that makes it a truly special destination.

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