Stone Town (Zanzibar) is an administrative and cultural center with Arabic architecture and the only port on the most famous island off Tanzania.
The sights of the old colonial city will be interesting for those who are already familiar with the history of Zanzibar, and for tourists who came to relax on its turquoise beaches or explore its marine life.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Stone Town
- Holidays in Stone Town
- Things to see and do in Stone Town
- Beaches near Stone Town
- Best time to visit Stone Town
Introduction to Stone Town
Stone Town is not only the capital of Zanzibar, but also the only city on the island. It is located in the central part of the west coast, and named after the stone buildings erected on the site of a fishing village in the early 19th century. The population is up to 200,000 people. The area is very small, so you can get around all the attractions in a couple of days.
There are no trams, railway lines, trolleybuses and metro in the Stone Town. But there is one seaport and an international airport that accepts both domestic and foreign flights.
The city is famous for its ancient history. Its territory was inhabited in the 16th century. Over the long years of its existence, she managed to visit the possessions of various nations, including the Ottoman state. Today, Stone Town is one of the most visited places in Tanzania.
Holidays in Stone Town
Stone Town, enchanting with the spirit of antiquity and interesting sights, has a relatively developed tourist infrastructure. For a comfortable stay, there is almost everything here – from hotels, souvenir shops and large shopping centers to medical facilities and information centers.
Due to its small size and too narrow streets, it is better to walk around the city. If you wish, you can use a motorcycle (it carries both people and goods) or Daladala, a minibus that acts as a taxi. The main station is in Arajani Market.
To get to other settlements locals also use the mabasi, trucks converted for transportation of passengers not only in the back, but also on the roof. The main station for mabasi is located near the slave market.
You can also rent a car as the roads in Tanzania are very good. Those who want to save money are advised to ask some local about the renting service. The fact is that for them, renting a car will cost significantly less than for foreign visitors.
As for accommodation, here you can find it for every taste and budget – from fashionable 5 * hotels and comfortable apartments to cozy hostels and bed and breakfast hotels. The most popular hotels in Stone Town are:
- Zanzi Resort
- Chuini Zanzibar Beach Lodge
- Park Hyatt Zanzibar
- Kisiwa House
- Annex of Tembo Hotel
- Zanzibar Hotel
- Africa House Hotel
- Jafferji House & Spa
The minimum cost of a double room in a 3-4* hotel in high season is from $50 to $300 per night.
And the last important factor is food. The capital of Zanzibar Stone Town boasts a considerable number of restaurants, cafes, bars, snack bars and other similar establishments.
The most popular restaurants and cafes in Stone Town are:
- Terrace Restaurant at Maru Maru is the best city restaurant located on the roof of the hotel. Here you can take a hookah and enjoy the sunset;
- Tea House Restaurant – offers Persian, vegan and oriental cuisine;
- Zanzibar Coffee House Cafe – has an original interior and mouth-watering dinners;
- Tamu Italian Ice Cream – an inexpensive cafe known for delicious ice cream;
- Lazuli – in this cafe you can try fresh juices, smoothies and cocktails made of many different fruits.
The average cost of a lunch or dinner for two in an eatery of the middle price category will cost $50, in a budget eatery – about $20.
Things to see and do in Stone Town
Numerous attractions of Stone Town are picturesque and truly unique places that remain not only in memory, but also on the Instagram profiles of every tourist. Below are the main ones.
1. Narrow streets in Stone Town
The old part of the city of Zanzibar, which is a must-see, is called the Stone Town. Its main distinguishing features are the middle-eastern architecture and narrow crisscross streets, where it is easy to get lost. But the tightly standing houses create a thick shadow in which you can walk even in extreme heat. A walk promises to be quite interesting!
Ancient buildings, as old as 100-150 years, graceful verandas, carved gates, ancient ruins, traditional Arab houses, palaces and small shops – all this takes us back to a couple of centuries ago. But the most unusual is that in the limited territory of Stone Town there are 2 Catholic churches, 6 Hindu temples and more than 50 Muslim mosques. Calls for prayers are heard 5 times a day!
Unfortunately, most of the buildings are in poor condition, and some are completely destroyed, but they still deserve the attention of European tourists. Not so long ago, the Stone City in Zanzibar was included in the UNESCO register – this allows us to hope that in the near future the situation will change for the better.
2. Freddie Mercury House
This attraction will be interesting for both young people and older people. And at first glance there is nothing special about it, but it was in this house, located in the very center of Stone Town, that the famous Freddie Mercury, world music legend and leader of the Queen band, was born and lived until he was 6 years old.
Today, this fact about the house is given out only by a nameplate and a small honor board mounted on one of the walls. Tourists have the opportunity to take a photo near the famous front door.
Address: Kenyatta Road, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
3. House of Wonders
The Wonder House in Stone Town can be called the main architectural structure in the whole of Zanzibar. Until 1964, it served as the residence of local rulers, which is why it was here that such rare things at that time as electrics and water pipes first appeared.
Today, the palace has lost its former glory. Well-known politicians no longer live in it, and the elevator, which was used to move between floors, has not been working for a long time. However, the building is alive – several of its rooms are given to the museum dedicated to local crafts and customs. And the terrace of the building offers a wonderful panorama, allowing you to fully admire the Old Town.
Address: Mizingani Rd, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
4. Christ Church Cathedral
The Anglican Church in Stone Town, built in 1887, is considered the most significant architectural landmark of Zanzibar Island. The greatest wonder is in its extraordinary construction, which does not allow to pin-point which particular religion this building belongs to – Islam or Christianity. The Christ Church was the first first Catholic church built in eastern Africa.
Christ Church has a structure made of coral stone, a beautiful, but not too durable material. Outside, it looks quite solemn with stained-glass windows, lancet arches, a simple tiled roof and a bell tower with a clock.
Inside it is ornately decorated! The interior of the Anglican church really impresses with its beauty and wealth. The altar is decorated with colorful lamps and chic engraving depicting biblical heroes. The wooden crucifix erected in honor of David Livingstone deserves no less attention. The main highlight of the Church of Christ is the columns turned upside down, installed by black workers and approved by the chief architect.
Near the Anglican Church there are several more attractions – Livingstone’s house, a monument to slaves and a former slave square.
Address: Mkunazini, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
5. Turtle Island (Prison Island)
Turtle island Prison is located near Stone Town. Once there was a prison for slaves, now this beautiful place is known for the huge turtles brought from Seychelles.
Most of these inhabitants of Prison Island have long exceeded a hundred years in age. Now they live in a special nursery and delight tourists. And most importantly, turtles free to roam in public space, as they walk around in Seychelles. You can take photos with them, stroke, feed with leaves, etc. The main thing is not to violate the rules of stay in the nursery.
- Address: Off the Coast From Stone Town | Shangani, Stone Town, Zanzibar 3395, Tanzania.
- Opening hours: 9.00 – 16.15.
- Admission: $ 5.
6. Darajani Bazaar
Looking at the photos of Stone Town in Zanzibar, it is impossible not to miss the pictures of the Darajani Bazaar. This place, saturated with African color, is focused not only on guests of the island, but also on local residents.
This marketplace is located in the historic district of the city. Since its founding in 1904, virtually nothing has changed here. Numerous shops sell various spices, exotic fruits and coffee, fresh and dried seafood, long rows of clothes. All this is accompanied by an incredible variety of aromas.
The fish market is in the same place, so there is no escape from the smell!
7. Spice Farm (Tangawizi Spice Farm)
A variety of fruit and spices is not only a profitable agricultural sector, but also an important part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city of Zanzibar. Recently, more and more specialized farms have been opened on the island. They grow ginger, basil, pepper, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, lemongrass and cloves. One of these amazing places is the Tangawizi Spice Farm. In addition to spicy herbs, a variety of fruits grow here, whose names are unfamiliar to the average European.
For a small fee, you can watch, touch, smell, try and even buy all this. The quality of the spices is very high, but so are the prices. In the city market, the same spices are sold 2, or even 3 times cheaper. But even if you are not going to buy anything, be sure to grab some small money when visiting. Tangawizi Spice farm owners often give small presents while waiting for small tips.
Address: Kianga – Dole | next to Dole Mosque, Stone Town, Zanzibar city.
8. Forodhani Gardens
Forodhani Gardens can be called the most visited Stone Town attraction in Zanzibar. They represent a spacious platform located near the city promenade. The name of the park, which means “ship unloading point”, is due to long-standing historical events – several centuries ago it was this place that brought slaves intended for sale on the local slave market.
To date, only those memories have remained of those terrible events. Now the gardens of Forodhani are attracted by their market – a mecca for outdoor cooking.
With the onset of the evening, an ordinary marina with shady alleys and ancient cannons turns into a huge fast food fest! Closer to sunset, the entire premises of the square is occupied by cooks, “armed” with their own braziers, barbecues and other culinary equipment. The list of dishes is striking in its variety – shrimp and octopus, lobster and pancakes with fish filling, marlin and lobster, tuna and french fries, sailboat, dorado and much more. All of these dishes will be cooked right before your eyes.
To do this, just collect on a disposable plate everything that you wish to eat and take it to the cooks. Payment is made both before and at the end of the meal. It’s better to check the prices right away to avoid nasty surprises.
Address: On the Waterfront, Stone Town, Zanzibar City, Tanzania.
9. Slave Museum
Yes, the island has a dark past. It was here that the last slave market existed until 1873. Just thinking about it makes you sad, but this is an important part of the history of the region.
Thousands of slaves were brought to the island from African countries to work on plantations or temporarily before the long road to the east, where they were sold to Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.
The museum will show you the chambers in which the slaves were kept before being sold. The “rooms” for slaves is a basement 3.5 by 3.5 meters with a tiny window under the ceiling. More than 30 people were kept in one such “room”. Even though it happened hundreds of years ago, it will make you uncomfortable!
It may not be easy to return to a carefree holiday, but this way you will better understand the island and its inhabitants. The museum is open every day from 8:00 to 18:00. A ticket costs 5 USD, lay around an hour for a visit.
Beaches near Stone Town
Zanzibar boasts a huge variety of beaches. However, in Stone Town itself, the water is quite murky. If you are looking for a beach near Stone Town, you have to leave the city.
Among the most popular places for a beach holiday include Pingu, Nungwi, Kendwa, Paje, Kizimkazi, Kiwengwa and many others. Below is a list of beaches located near Stone Town.
Bububu Beach, the closest beach to Stone Town, is a 30-minute walk from the city center. This place is quiet and secluded. The path to it runs through villages with a unique Tanzanian flavor.
Several comfortable hotels have been built on Bububu, but only one has become famous – it is Hakuna Matata, located in a lagoon with clean white sand and surrounded by mango trees that rise directly above the water.
The rest of the Bububu coastline is covered with small pebbles. The main advantage of this beach is its low tides and a small number of visitors, allowing you to immerse yourself in an atmosphere of relaxation and tranquility.
Looking at the photo of the city of Zanzibar, you can notice a small disappearing island located near Prison. Why disappearing? Because it appears only in the morning during low tide. Despite its small size, the beach on the island of Nakupenda is very popular and is considered one of the best.
Crystal clear azure water, starfish, several dozen pleasure boats, a dozen souvenir merchants, grilled seafood and not a single tree around … The special atmosphere of this place is fueled by the realization that in a few hours it will disappear in the depths of the ocean, only to reappear the next morning.
The only drawback of Nakupenda is the large influx of tourists arriving here every day.
Best time to visit Stone Town
As you can see, a visit to the city of Stone Town in Zanzibar promises to be bright and eventful. Stone Town in Zanzibar can be called an ideal place to relax in terms of weather, because it is warm here all year round. The average air temperature is +30 ⁰С, the water warms up to + 26 ⁰С. The rainy season lasts from May to April – during this period some hotels remain closed. If you decide to come to Zanzibar in early February, you can get to Sauti za Busara, an annual music festival, tickets for which are sold out long before it starts.