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.

 

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 for renovations
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 ine of the balconies over the harbour and islands.

Beit El-Sahel (Palace Museum)
Once the Palace of the Sultan, it is now a museum displaying his role on Zanzibar.  It was recently re-opened.

 

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The Old Arab Fort

The Old Arab Fort was built by Omanis 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.

 

St. Josephs Cathedral in Gizenga Street

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

 

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The Old Dispensary

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.

 

 

 

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

 

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Capital Art Studio Rohit Oza

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.

There are plenty of small curio shops in Shangani Street and 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 “asante” (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.

I recommend Memories of Africa because of their extensive selection on two floors, quality of products and fair pricing (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 jewellery. You can pay by credit card.

Do visit the  Robin Batista Photo Gallery in Gizenga Street, which is part of the “labyrinth” of the old Stone Town, opposite the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Robin is well known on the island for his exquisite photography.

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One of my two favourite shops is Mustapha’s also in Gizenga Street, not far from the Gallery – keep on walking till you pass Stone Town Traders (on your left, at a corner). Mustapha’s is 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, excellent quality, at really good prices. Mustapha speaks very good English.

 

 

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My other favourite shop is Chimlo’s in Hurumzi Street, a short walk further from Mustapha’s, past the Maru Maru Hotel. They have the most beautiful skirts, nobody else has them – I am quite often asked where I got my beautiful skirts from. Besides that, they have a huge selection of Pareos. I prefer the larger Pareos and only get them there.

 

Forodhani Gardens is a small park located at the main seafront of Stone Town, in front of the House of Wonders and the Old Arab Fort. It is a popular place to chill.

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Forodhani Gardens

 

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After sunset  the food stalls open. Treat youself to typical Zanzibar cuisine, freshly grilled while you watch. You can also get there the delicious freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

 

 

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At Forodhani (alternatively opposite the Africa House Hotel, depending on the season) you can see Zanzibar’s only floating bar, restaurant and nowadays also place of accommodation, Dreamer’s Island. is Zanzibar’s only floating bar, restaurant and accommodation. A boat will you bring you over there. http://www.dreamersisland.org

 

 

Also do take a boat trip to Prison Island (also known as Changuu Island), a small island about 6 km off the coast of Stone Town. It is a government-owned and houses a collection of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises.

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Prison Island

 

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Before leaving this area treat yourself to the best icecream on the island at TAMU Gelateria Italiana. You find their shop opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel, at the back of a parking area. Depending on the season, they make for example Hibiscus or Soursop icecream, utterly delicious!

 

 

 

Now it’s time to check out the Darajani Market

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

Darajani market

 

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. 

 

In case you are looking to buy Tanzanites at fair prices (in Stone Town, tourists or “Mzungus” are generally charged premium prices for items that are sold much cheaper to locals) visit the shop of Hassan Jewellers just 5 minutes from the Old Anglican Cathedral. One price for all. 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 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

 

Please also check this guide to Stone Town: https://thirstyjourneys.com/guide-stone-town-zanzibar/?fbclid=IwAR1UqBUUd3-h2s-oxXx6Uannk2josEuBz8vTQthPCZsBy92M6MafL-kqGes

Other 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 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. Beware: There are a number of cheap copies around calling themselves “Blue Safari.”

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

 

In general: If I recommend a shop, activity or anything else, it is exactly that: a recommendation. I do not accept any commissions or any “gifts” 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.

Please also read this excellent article: https://explorepartsunknown.com/tanzania/the-perfect-day-in-stone-town/

 

13 thoughts on “Discover Stone Town

  1. Dear Gaby,

    Hope you are well. This might be a bit strange to ask.. but would I be able to purchase warm clothing (long sleeve tops/trousers) in Stone Town somewhere please? Thank you very much.

    Kristina

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    • Hi Kristina,
      You can try at the small shops opposite Darajani market, in the alley where Suma is. I usually show the vendors a photo of the items I am looking for on my phone and they will guide me to the right shop, for a small tip.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

  2. Excellent ‘blog’ Gaby… Mazuri Sanaa
    I’m going to be visiting the beautiful Spice Island in early Nov (nts). Not sure if we should stay in Stone Town and do day trips to Nungwi and Paje from there.
    Is dolphin watching and Jozani Park doable on the same day.

    Are Dala Dalla quite frequent from Stone Town to Nungwi and how long is the journey. Apart from resorts are there eating places in Nungwi.

    Sorry for asking so many questions

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    • Hello Shahid,
      In theory, you could do everything from Stone Town. A daladala ride from Stone Town to Nungwi takes about 2 hours, to Jozani about 1 1/2 hours, one way. All daladalas to these areas start in Stone Town, you cannot for example go directly from Nungwi to Jozani. I don’t recommend the Dolphin watching in Kizimkazi, just heard horrific stories again on how the dolphins there are mistreated. Rather book the day tour with Safari Blue, it starts from Fumba which is close to Stone Town, you’ll be out on a boat all day, swimming, snorkeling and watch any dolphins that CHOOSE to swim along with you.
      Depending on how many nights you’ll stay on the island, I recommend 2 full days in Stone Town, 2-3 in Kendwa/Nungwi (you can take daladala to Matemwe to snorkel at Mnemba attoll with a good chance of seeing dolphins), and 2-3 days at the south east coast (you can combine visit to Jozani), which in my opinion is the best part of Zanzibar.
      You find restaurants etc at any of these places.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

      • Hi Gaby

        Many thanks for your prompt and comprehensive response.
        Will check with Safari Blue regarding dolphin watching in the south.
        Wit regards to dala dala.. How late do they run in case we want to do a day trip to Nungwi from Stone Town.

        Any idea with regards to tour to Jozani Nat Park – how much and will it be a day trip of just afternoon.?

        Thanks for all input.

        Regards
        Shahid

        Like

      • Hi Shahid,
        You are welcome. Daladalas usually operate from 06:00 till 19:00 but rather check with daladala driver on your way to Nungwi.
        Jozani you can book via a tour operator (expensive) or take a daladala from Stone Town to Jozani Forest (any daladala with destination Paje, Bwejuu, Michamvi, Jambiani, Kizimkazi, they all pass through Jozani Forest), the cost is 2000 Tzs per person which is less than 1 US$. The ride takes about 1 1/2 hours from Stone Town to Jozani. A few years ago the entrance fee was US$ 8 per person which included the guide, don’t know the current entrance fee.
        Cheers,
        Gaby

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  3. Hi Gaby
    My family and I are arriving on Zanzibar in July. We are hiring a car and staying near Paje on the East coast – but we will definitely want to spend some time exploring Stone Town. I’ve heard that parking can be a nightmare though. Is there anywhere in particular I should head for to park or would I be better off leaving the car and getting to Stone Town on public transport? I did wonder whether I might be able to park the car back with the hire car people (Kibau cars) at the airport? Any advice for me? Thanks so much …. Mark

    Like

    • Hi Mark,
      Parking in Stone Town is indeed a nightmare. I usually park my car at the outskirts of the old city, in the area of the Global hospital, and walk the remaining distance. You can also park behind the Old Fort in the old city, where the Forodhani Park Hotel is. But the parking lot is usually full and getting out of the area on the one way road past the Zanzibar ferry port takes hours.
      It is a good idea to also check with Kibabu Cars, maybe they have better suggestions.
      Have a great holiday on my beautiful island,
      Gaby

      Like

      • Gaby
        Thanks so much for the reply. I will talk to the people at the car hire to see if they have any suggestions – if not, I will be following your lead and parking on the outskirts near the Global Hospital.
        Thanks for the tip …
        Best wishes
        MARK

        Like

  4. Hi Gaby,

    I was wondering: Is it safe to walk around Stone Town at night (like from dinner back to your hotel or so)?

    Thank you for your advice!

    Like

    • I haven’t heard of any bad incidents in Stone Town at night. Be that as it may, be streetwise: Leave your passport in the hotel safe, only carry a copy on you. Don’t wear expensive jewellery. Only carry as much cash on you as you need. Stone Town attracts many tourists – and undesirable characters such as pickpockets. Bring a good torch, there are no street lights in Stone Town.

      Like

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