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.
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)
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 harbour and islands. It is closed at present for much needed renovations. Latest news: A large section of The House of Wonders collapsed on Christmas Day 2020. This is really sad news. Hopefully the new Ministers of our Government will do their utmost to not only protect but also renovate the historical buildings of Zanzibar.
Beit El-Sahel (Palace Museum)
Once the Palace of the Sultan, it is now a museum displaying his role on Zanzibar. Currently closed for renovations.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favourite shops is Chimlo’s in Hurumzi Street, a short walk 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.
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.
At Forodhani 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Another popular activity is a full day Boat Tour with Safari Blue:
This is the most talked about sea adventure on Zanzibar. To join The Safari Blue Crew for an epic day of aquatic activities book with them directly. 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.” Rather book directly with http://www.safariblue.net
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.
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/