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) – 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.
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: email@example.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
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/Taperia (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.
Please also read this excellent article: https://explorepartsunknown.com/tanzania/the-perfect-day-in-stone-town/
Back to sightseeing/attractions:
Dreamer’s Island is a floating “house boat” that actually is a restaurant and bar owned and run by a Rasta, they now also offer accommodation in the floating house. You find them off the Africa House Hotel or Forodhani Gardens floating in the sea. A boat will you bring over there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.