Discover Stone Town

There is quite a lot to do in Stone Town and surroundings and you easily fill a day and still haven’t seen or done everything.   Avoid going to Stone Town on a Friday since this is prayer day for our Muslims, as from noon many places will be closed for several hours. although most tourist attractions will be open.

In Stone Town, best take a guide to show you the historical buildings, small pathways in the labyrinth of the old city, the grounds of the old slave market and the Old Anglican Church, the fish/meat/fruit market etc.

Shangani Post Office and Shangani Street

Shangani Post Office and Shangani Street

If you are the more adventurous type, go and explore Stone Town on your own with the help of a good guide book.  Look at the beautifully carved Zanzibar doors.  The bigger the door, the wealthier the owner.  Beware though that you will definitely get lost in the labyrinth, everyone does.  Just ask anyone for directions to Forodhani, that’s the easiest.

Forodhani Gardens

Forodhani Gardens

Some of the historical buildings or places you might want to see (there are more of course) are:

Beit El-Ajaib (House of Wonders) – closed at present, needs to be renovated
Built by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial palace, the House of Wonders is now the Zanzibar National Museum. It got its name because it was the first house in Zanzibar that had electricity.  Beautiful view from one of the balconies over the harbor and islands.

Beit El-Sahel (Palace Museum)
Once the Palace of the Sultan, it is now a museum displaying his role on Zanzibar.  I am not sure if it is open again, there was some renovation work going on.

Old Fort
The Old Arab Fort was built by Omani’s in order to protect the island against the Portuguese. Now it is part of the Zanzibar Cultural Center and also offers a number of curio shops on the inside of the fort walls. In February each year, the Sauti za Busara Music Festival takes place here.

The Old Dispensary
Newly restored building, close to the Big Tree and Mercury’s Bar and Restaurant. Beautiful from the outside and do go inside, it is beautiful.

Mercury’s Bar and Restaurant
(diagonally opposite the Old Dispensary) It is dedicated to Freddy Mercury of The Queen who was born in Zanzibar Town; there are lots of photos of him displayed.

The oldest shop in Stone Town was opened 1930: Capital Art Studio, in a house next to the Mazson’s Hotel in Shangani Street. A few years later, the house had to make room for a small park and the shop was moved to a building diagonally opposite. It is still there today, next to the Stone Town Cafe, with an atelier in the back of the shop – you’ll feel like being in an old movie. Mr. Rohit, descendant of the founder of the shop, runs it and has many stories to tell. He speaks very good English. Do stop by there and browse through the old black and white photos of the 1930’s and later. You can also buy them, Rohit has all the negatives. That’s a real treasure not to be missed.

Staying with shops (before we leave this area): There are plenty of small curio shops in Gizenga Street (off Shangani Street) where you can browse. Don’t be shy, you can have a look without feeling obliged to buy anything. Just say a friendly “ahsante” (thank you) to the shop attendant and carry on to the next shop that you are interested in. In case you want to buy something, haggle! That’s the norm in Zanzibar and it is expected by the Zanzibaris.

My personal favorite shops – because of the selection and quality of products and their fair pricing – are:

Memories of Africa (opposite the Post Office in Shangani Street): the owner makes a point of offering fair prices. His (English speaking) staff is well trained and they offer a huge selection of products, ranging from local coffee and tea, spices, crafts, fabrics and clothes, sandals, books etc to locally made jewelry as well as Tanzanites. You can pay by credit card.

Mustapha’s Shop in Gizenga Street, which is part of the “labyrinth” of the old Stone Town and even to me still very confusing. The easiest way to find this shop is when you walk from Shangani Street into Gizenga “street”. Keep on walking till you pass Stone Town Traders (on your left, at a corner). Mustapha’s is next to Morning Star exchange bureau and opposite Mago’s Boutique. Ask anyone in case you are not sure. I like this shop since he has different items compared to all the other shops, very good quality, at really good prices. Mustapha speaks very good English.

– A Jeweller who charges fair prices (in Stone Town, tourists or Mzungus are generally charged premium prices for items that are sold much cheaper to locals) is  Hassan Jewellers. Everyone pays the same. His prices are also much lower than in the main shopping areas in Stone Town. They are located in a small pathway diagonally across the former Slave Market/Old Anglican Cathedral – see map below. You recognize the pathway by the 2 concrete pillars to prevent cars from entering, the shop is about 50m ahead on the right hand side. I was very impressed with their designs and fair prices. They have their own workshop on the premises and can supply any stone. One can even give them (or email) a design and they will make it, it takes usually 2 weeks. They also have beautiful pieces of jewellery on display or you can buy tanzanites in any shape or size to take home with to your own jeweller. Mobile numbers +255 784 453 575 or +255 773 453 575   email: h_jewellers@yahoo.com
Please be aware that if you go there with a tour guide or someone showing you the shop, this person insists to get a 5% “commission” of the value you buy, which will be added to the price you pay

Hassan Jewellers details and map

 

In general: If I recommend a shop or any other place, it is exactly that: a recommendation. I do not accept any commissions or any other “rewards” from anyone in order to be mentioned on my blog. This blog is purely for information for anyone planning to visit Zanzibar. Therefore, you won’t find any advertisements on this blog.

If you are on the island already for a while and crave Italian cured specialties, visit the deli at The Post (above the post office in Shangani Street, entrance is in Gizenga Street – look out for the signs). You can buy imported cured hams, salamis, cheeses etc thinly sliced, the proper way. They also have freshly baked breads. On the same floor is also a Taperia (excellent Tapas) and a Japanese restaurant. Have a cup of coffee or fresh juice and enjoy the view from the balcony overlooking Shangani Street.

 

Back to sightseeing/attractions:

Dreamer’s Island is a new attraction, a floating “house boat” that actually is a restaurant and bar owned and run by a Rasta. You find them off the Africa House Hotel or Forodhani Gardens floating in the sea. A boat will you bring over there.

Dreamers Island

Dreamers Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, do take a boat trip to Prison Island while in Stone Town.  It’s a 30 minute boat ride. A quiet island, a haven of giant tortoises and the old prison ruins make it an enjoyable trip.


Slave Market
These were the grounds of the biggest slave market in Zanzibar before slavery was outlawed in 1873.  The monument was built as a memorial to the thousands of slaves who were traded there.  Please read more about it on http://zanzibar-stories.blogspot.com.au/


Old Anglican Cathedral
On the same property as the old slave market in Stone Town is the first Anglican Cathedral in East Africa.  A landmark historical church, it was built in ten years, starting from 1873. As most buildings in Stone Town, it is made mostly of coral stone. The Anglican Christian Mission was given the site by a local Hindu and Sultan Barghash donated the tower’s clock. 

 

St. Josephs Cathedral
The Cathedral was built in French architectural style by French missionaries. The steeples are a prominent part of the skyline of Stone Town.

 

Darajani Market

Located on the edge of old Stone Town, Darajani market is a great local market to enjoy local sounds, smells (beware, the meat and fish market is not for the faint hearted).  Visit the fruit markets where you can also buy spices.

Darajani market

Of course, you cannot be in Stone Town without shopping for Souvenirs and Antiques!

Stone Town is full of curio stores and antique shops selling a huge supply of African handicrafts as well as unique gifts from Zanzibar. Zanzibar style wooden chests are among my favorites! Remember to haggle!  Start off with half the price the vendor is asking and take it from there.  It is part of Zanzibar custom to haggle!
And at sunset, enjoy the food market at Foradhani Gardens at the waters edge of Stone Town. There are many stalls, you just choose what you want and they quickly barbeque it for you. You’ll eat your meal sitting on one of the benches or low walls, overlooking the ocean, or watching the sunset.  Also try the freshly pressed sugar cane juice with a hint of lime and ginger , it is delicious.

F

Popular activities:

Mtoni Palace Ruins  – concert of traditional melodies and dances plus buffet

Enjoy an experience of a lifetime at the Mtoni Palace every Tuesday and Friday: The Dhow Country Music Academy band plays traditional melodies and dances.
The evening begins with a guided tour of the palace at 18h00 (6 pm). This is followed by a concert of traditional melodies and dances, whilst candles and incense are re-creating the magical atmosphere of 1001 nights and during the interlude, a grilled Zanzibar buffet will delight the appetite. The performance finalizes at about 21h00 (9 pm).
The price for the ticket for the tour, concert and dinner is US$ 45 per person. These prices do not include drinks.

Or attend the Coffee Ceremony: A perfect day time traditional experience at the Mtoni Palace Ruins is the Coffee Ceremony. Roast coffee in the Zanzibari way and get a tour of the palace for only US$ 5 per person. A beautiful activity to experience in Zanzibar.

CONTACT AND RESERVATIONS:+255 24 2250140  mobile +255 784 374930  or email  mtonipalace@zanzibar.cc

Mtoni palace traditional clothing     Mtoni Palace Ruins musicians

 

Safari Blue (full day Boat Tour)

The most talked about sea adventure on Zanzibar is the legendary “Safari Blue”. To join The Safari Blue Crew for an epic day of aquatic activities, either book with them directly on www.safariblue.net. Laid-back or lively, a Safari Blue day is filled with choice. Sail, snorkel, swim, sunbathe, explore, feast, observe, play… a Safari Blue day is packed with adventure. Menai Bay is scattered with isolated sandbanks, rugged island scenery, uninhabited islets, pristine marine life and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Since 1996, their aim has always been to provide their customers with a truly memorable experience using the best Zanzibar has to offer, while making a positive difference to Zanzibar and its people. They are the original Safari Blue operator and the only one fully licensed and registered.

You can also organize this tour via your hotel wherever you stay on Zanzibar, they will provide transport to Fumba (south of Stone Town) where the Safari Blue tour starts.

Safari Blue boat

 

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20 thoughts on “Discover Stone Town

  1. Hi Gaby. I find the name ‘Beit El-Ajaib’ (House of Wonders) quite interesting as ‘ajaib’ is also the Indonesian word for ‘wonder’. Some Arabic root, perhaps? Cheers!

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  2. What a treasure trove of information you are sharing here!….Thank You!!

    We are specifically interested in hiring a local boatman to take us to Nakupenda sand bar for some swimming and snorkling. I understand some offer set up of shade tent, and lunch as well? Can you give an idea of what we can expect to pay for two people? Thanks Again!

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    • Thank you, great to hear that my info on Zanzibar helps.
      As to your question, I honestly have no idea at all about the cost involved. You might want to check Tripadvisor or google it.
      Cheers Gaby

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  3. Hi Gaby, I forgot to tell you my wife and I found Ahmed curio. We really liked the ladies there and spent with them . I mentioned your name and they knew you . thanks again. We rally enjoyed the holiday and I gave Zanzibar a big up on Trip Advisor.
    All the best
    Brian .

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  4. Hi Gaby!
    Thanks for your blog! I know several people who found it very helpful. And they are from Russia, so you have megainternational blog)).
    I’ll be with my clients in Stone Town in a few weeks and I need quite place which can accommodate 12 prsn for easy conversation, ofcourse with good food and service 🙂 Could you advice smth?

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    • Hi Egor,
      Yes, my blog indeed is multinational, I can see on WordPress that it is read everywhere in the world. That’s fantastic since the aim of my blog is that everyone who arrives here comes well informed about the island.
      As to your question. There are quite a few restaurants and hotels that can cater for 12 people. My favourite is the Taarab rooftop restaurant of the Double Tree Hilton Hotel; you can sit on the balcony overlooking the ocean and the old town, the food is excellent and the service too. It is advisable that you book a table beforehand.
      But as I said, there are many places available, maybe check reviews on Tripadvisor.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  5. Hi Gaby
    I am traveling to Stone Town on 17th March which happens to be a Friday and I just read your first few lines that mentioned that most of the Town is closed on this day. I have just this one day and i walnut want to change it unless it would be an absolute waste. Hence I wanted to double check with you – If I were to spend Friday walking around Stone Town, would I still be able to experience most of the Town or would it be a real waste?
    Cheers

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    • Hi Karen,
      On my blog I wrote that as from NOON many places will be closed. Tourist attractions mostly remain open all day, including curios shops in Gizenga street. Supermarkets and some exchange bureaus will be closed from around 12h00-16h00. You can also visit Darajani market although some of the stalls might be closed in the afternoon, depending on the owners.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  6. Hi Gaby,

    Thank you for your very informative blog. My sister and I are traveling to your beautiful island from South Africa in June 2017. We are staying at Uroa Bay Beach Resort for 7 days. I have a few questions which I am hoping you can assist with:

    When booking for excursions: Would you recommend we book directly online from South Africa or at the hotel. We are interested in snorkling, visiting spice farms, Stone Town, Prison Island etc. Judging from the internet, Safari Blue is highly recommended, your comments/recommendation is appreciated. Transport seems to be very expensive, can the hotel arrange transport to the pick -up points or will the tour operator do that at an additional cost?
    What is the weather like in early June and what clothes would you recommend. I have taken note that it is Ramadan during that time. If we book a tour some provide lunch and drinks – will this still be applicable?
    Would it be best to get USD and then change over to their currency in Zanzibar?

    Any other tips or suggestions will be appreciated.
    Baie dankie

    Marietjie

    Like

    • Hi Marietjie,
      You can book anything at your hotel. Safari Blue: the hotel will arrange for the transport at an extra cost if you book the tour there. If you book with Safari Blue directly online, check if they arrange for the transport.
      If you want so save on transport cost, you might want to consider to rent a car, it works out much cheaper.
      June is a lovely month, the rains are usually over by then. Pack summer clothes, a sweatshirt/cardigan (evenings can be cooler), and long trousers.
      Safari Blue lunch is on a sandbank – check their website or email them regarding tours during Ramadan.
      Please don’t drink or eat openly when you walk around in Stone Town or in the villages, as a courtesy to the fasting Muslims – please read “to do and not to do”.
      Pleaase read “Money/ATMs/Internet” re USD.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  7. Hi Gaby
    Thank you for all your great tips on your site!
    Are there any shopping malls for clothing, make-up, and the usual bucket list for ladies looking for retail therapy?

    Like

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