Loud, chaotic and a maze of narrow streets yet so colorful, fascinating and a truly unique place to be. Welcome to Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was able to spend two full days in Stone Town as part of my two-week trip to Zanzibar. After 12 days of exploring the island’s beautiful nature and relaxing on its serene and dreamy beaches, coming back to this bustling city was almost a shock.
However, after the initial skepticism, I slowly became comfortable with the city and it didn’t take long until I was completely caught in its spell. There were just so many cool things to do in Stone Town!
If you walk along its streets there’s something to see on almost every corner. Whether it’s an impressive colonial-style building made of coral stone, a vendor selling freshly-picked fruits, or an artist currently working on a new breathtaking painting.
Yes, Stone Town is full of surprises.
To prevent you from wandering around aimlessly and maybe missing out on the most awesome things to do in Stone Town, I created this blog post to help you plan your trip to Zanzibar’s old city.
It guarantees you an unforgettable time but be careful, you might lose your heart to this energetic and exciting place!
(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a certain percentage of a sale if you purchase after clicking.)
14 Great Things to do in Stone Town, Zanzibar
1. Wander The Old Fort
Let’s start your journey through Stone Town with a visit to the Old Fort. It was originally built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, making it the oldest building in Zanzibar.
Due to its location at the main seafront, the building is hard to oversee.
Originally used as a defensive fortress and later as a prison in the 19th century, the Old Fort is nowadays the place where the Zanzibar International Film Festival, also known as Festival of the Dhow Countries, takes place.
The fort can be best described as a square of high, brown walls with merlons surrounding an inner courtyard. While wandering the inner courtyard, you’ll spot the ruins of earlier buildings including those of a Portuguese church.
Moreover, there are numerous shops selling tourist-oriented souvenirs such as African paintings plus it features an open-air amphitheater where live dance and music shows occur most evenings.
The Old Fort is open all year round every day from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and is completely free to enter.
2. Take a Stroll in Forodhani Gardens
Number two on the list can be found just in front of the Old Fort. Forodhani Gardens, or Forodhani Park, is a small park located along the seafront, next to the new harbor.
During the day, it’s a wonderful place to take a break from bustling city life. It’s a popular place to hang out for locals and tourists alike.
You can find a big restaurant with a jetty into the water, two small cafés with outdoor seating, benches under trees, a children’s playground and much more!
Every evening from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, Forodhani Park gets usually very crowded because then it transforms into an open-air night market where people come to try local food from different food stalls.
If you love seafood, this place will be like heaven for you! There’s probably no sort of fish you won’t find at the market. However, if you are vegetarian or even vegan like me, it’s best to look for another place to eat.
3. Go Shopping at Darajani Bazaar
The one place in Stone Town that every type of food lover will enjoy for sure is Darajani Market (or Bazaar).
This traditional African market is specialized in food such as seafood, meat, fruits, grains and spices but you’ll also find vendors selling other goods such as souvenirs or electronic devices.
It was first established in 1904 and later extended and restored.
Inside, the market is very organized and divided into different sections.
In the fruit and vegetable section, for example, you will find a large variety of tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples, avocados and jackfruit – basically everything that grows on the island!
Darajani Market is truly worth a visit, especially the area around Kanga Street where you’ll find colorful local prints and fabrics to buy.
Additionally, there are shops from where you can purchase clothes, shoes, household goods and many other bits and pieces.
4. Learn About History at The Old Slave Market
While Stone Town is very lively and exciting, the city also has a very dark past.
In 1873, the world’s last open slave market was shut down by the British and the last vestige of this cruel institution could be found in Stone Town. For way too long, the city was home to the most brutal slave market in Zanzibar.
At the Old Slave Market, you can travel back to the horrible time of the slave trade and visit one of the formerly 15 low-ceiling slave cellars.
Here, up to 60 slaves were crammed together like sardines in the can, with no toilets, hardly any food and chained by the feet.
The toughest among them who survived the dreadful circumstances were brought to the auction, ready to be inspected by potential buyers.
Being in one of these dim, suffocating chambers is a very oppressive and moving experience. It brings you much closer to the terrible past of the city.
Right at the place where once enslaved people were brought to be sold is now the Slave Market Memorial. It was created in 1998 to serve the sole purpose of never forgetting the sordid history of Zanzibar.
Next to the memorial, you find a huge Anglican cathedral whose altar was built exactly where they used to whip the slaves.
The entrance fee is only $5 and includes a tour guide who takes you to the cathedral, the chambers and the memorial.
On the site, you will also find a UNESCO-funded museum that displays a series of informative panels about the history of the slave trade.
5. Experience Local Life at Jaws Corner
Another one of the best things to do in Stone Town is to be part of the local life at Jaws Corner.
Jaws Corner is some kind of community square where locals meet in the early morning hours to socialize, play board games and enjoy a cup of black Zanzibar coffee.
Simply grab a cup of the strong, unsugared coffee too and listen to their interesting stories. The people of Zanzibar are very open-minded and love to chat with foreigners, especially if you know a few words in Swahili!
I think Jaws Corner is the only place in the entire city where you won’t find anyone selling tourist souvenirs.
6. Marvel at Stunning Zanzibari Doors
Something you will probably encounter very often on your tour through the city is a large number of impressive wooden doorways.
No wonder, Stone Town is famous for its iconic doorways that blend the typical African style with Indian and Arabic designs. Of an estimated amount of 560 doors around Zanzibar City, the majority can be found in this part of the island’s capital.
Most of them are over a century old and often they are the only thing left standing when the buildings they belong to collapse.
Furthermore, it is said that the doors had deeper meanings as well: Depending on their look from the outside, one could determine the social status or religion of the occupant.
7. Enjoy Freshly Roasted Coffee at Zanzibar Coffee House
If you are a coffee lover, Zanzibar Coffee House is a place you can’t miss by no means. You can find this coffee shop and boutique hotel in one in an authentic Arabic house right in the heart of Stone Town. Constructed in 1885, it is one of the oldest buildings in Zanzibar.
Whether you decide to stay in one of their individually designed rooms and suites or not, a short visit here is a must – their freshly roasted Zanzibar coffee is incomparably good!
Even if you don’t drink coffee, they offer a great variety of mouthwatering homemade cakes and other sweets. To my pleasant surprise, I found a vegan chocolate croissant on their menu, which I ordered right away, of course.
But that’s not all! Besides the cozy seating areas on the ground floor, you can climb up the stairs to the 360° rooftop terrace where you can enjoy incredible views over the city.
Come and sit down here, enjoy a good cup of high-quality coffee and watch the hectic life in the streets below for a truly unforgettable experience!
8. Pay a Visit to Freddie Mercury Museum
Did you know that Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of one of history’s most popular rock bands ever, was born in Zanzibar?
Well, I didn’t know until the moment I started putting together my itinerary for Stone Town. Only then, I realized Freddie Mercury had roots in Zanzibar, more precisely in a house in the winding alleys of Stone Town.
Today, the house Freddie grew up in and stayed with his family until their move to England in 1963 is now a museum. It mainly showcases Freddie’s childhood and upbringing in Zanzibar, plus, of course, his extraordinary journey to becoming the great star that he was.
The location of Freddie Mercury Museum is right on one of Stone Town’s main streets, close to Forodhanig Gardens and the Old Fort. It is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and the price is $10 for adults and $5 for children below 12.
9. Admire One of The Most Valuable Gemstones
Something else you probably didn’t expect to find in Stone Town either is one of the world’s most valuable gemstones. I’m talking about the Tanzanite.
Tanzanite gemstones are so expensive and valuable because they can only be found in a very small mining area in Tanzania. Usually, Tanzanite gemstones appear alternately blue, violet and burgundy, depending on the lighting conditions and crystal orientation.
In all those shops, you’ll find different designs of Tanzanite jewelry including rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pendants and so on.
10. Eat Local Food at Lukmaan Restaurant
Don’t you agree if I say that trying local food is one of the most fantastic things about traveling? The best address to do exactly this in Stone Town is Lukmaan Restaurant.
Unlike most restaurants around the world, you don’t just take a seat and choose from the menu. Instead, you find a lot of different dishes in glass display cases so you can look and then order from the staff behind the counter. Solely the drinks you need to choose from a menu hanging at the counter.
Your food will then be brought to your chosen table. You don’t even get a table number or similar, no, the waiters just come looking for you in the restaurant! That’s remarkable service, given the fact that the restaurant is always well-visited and remembering all the faces is not an easy task, I guess.
Not only the service, but the food is excellent as well! Big portions, cheap prices and amazing taste – what more could you ask for?
Good for you that it’s open every day from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm so you’ll have enough time to taste your way through all the delicious dishes!
11. Get Lost in The Narrow Streets of Stone Town
Trust me when I tell you that another one of the coolest things to do in Stone Town is to get lost in the city’s maze of narrow streets. It may sound scary at first, but it’s the best way to really get to know the city.
Although maps of Stone Town are available, they’re useless when it comes to finding your way through this chaotic city. Needless to say, you’ll get lost about a hundred times unless you join a guided tour – something I totally recommend by the way!
Tours are a good way to get basic information about certain parts of the city, however, you would miss out on finding hidden treasures if you don’t go and explore it on your own.
So relax, put down the map and go wherever the paths lead you!
Tours you might find interesting:
12. Watch The Sunset From Stone Town Beach
Could you imagine a better end to an adventurous day than watching a romantic sunset from the most wonderful location? In Stone Town, the best address is the city’s beach, just a few minutes from Forodhani Gardens.
Stone Town Beach is a favorite spot of the locals who come here after work to relax, dance, do acrobatics, sing and just have a good time. And, as already mentioned, it’s a great place to watch the sun disappear behind the horizon.
Observing the sky turning first slightly orange and then dark red, creating a magical shimmer on the calm sea, is an indescribable experience!
13. Try Different Spices on a Spice Tour
One activity you shouldn’t miss while being in Stone Town is to join a Spice Farm Tour.
To be honest, visiting a spice farm wasn’t part of my initial itinerary. However, while staying at Michamvi Spirit Lodge, I met a German couple who couldn’t stop raving about their time at such a farm.
Since my time in Stone Town was very limited, I couldn’t fit in another tour. So I decided to visit a spice farm instead of going to Nakupenda Beach. What should I say, it was such an incredibly cool and interesting experience and I’m still happy about my decision!
If you now think a spice farm is too boring for you and you’re not into plants, spices and all that, let me tell you one thing: I thought the same. And after my visit, I realized how wrong I was.
Not only do you learn about the local spices, no, but you can also see and taste different spices and fruits.
Usually, every time we approached a new plant, tree or bush, my tour guide let me guess what it could be. I was so incredibly bad at this guessing game, it was really embarrassing. It was only then that I realized that most of us only know the dried spice, but not the plant it came from.
Did you know, for example, that black pepper comes from a climbing plant? Well, I didn’t know. But to be honest, I didn’t even have a single idea of what a black pepper plant could possibly look like …
So, if you’re curious to learn more about the island’s local spices, see where your favorite fruits grow or just want to try new exotic flavors, definitely take part in a spice tour!
Tours you might find interesting:
14. Take a Day Trip to Jozani Forest
Last but not least, don’t forget to plan a day trip to Jozani Forest, the island’s only national park.
Founded in the 1960s as a forest reserve and later turned into a national park, Jozani Forest covers more than 50 square kilometers and is home to the largest near-natural forest in Zanzibar.
However, the one thing Jozani Forest is most popular for is the red colobus monkey, the most threatened group of African monkeys. Compared to other monkeys that run away from visitors, or, on the contrary, attack people, the red colobus monkeys are totally relaxed and don’t mind being observed and photographed.
The easiest way to get here is as part of an organized tour. Especially from Stone Town, there are many options for half-day tours to Jozani Forest. If you’re adventurous enough, you can also rent a car or come here by dala dala, the public minibusses of Zanzibar.
For more information about the national park such as opening times, entrance price and other things to see, check out my detailed guide to visiting Jozani Forest.
Tours you might find interesting:
Last Words …
So, as you see, the bustling old part of Zanzibar’s capital has many great things to offer. I really enjoyed my stay here so much, but unfortunately, I had way too little time.
Two full days are not enough to really get to know the local life so if possible, I recommend spending at least three or four days here.
But one thing I can guarantee you: No matter how long your stay here is, you will enjoy every single minute of it!
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Do you want to travel like me?
Here are some of my favorite travel tips and resources:
Flights: I prefer using CheapOair or Skyscanner to book flights. The destination everywhere feature is perfect for finding some cheap deals!
Accommodation: Booking.com is my favorite site to find some great hotel deals. I do love staying at a local place as well, thus I book an Airbnb every now and then.
Travel Insurance: There are many reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having one. I use the simple and flexible one from World Nomads to be protected against unforeseen events.
Tours: I love taking tours to explore destinations like a local. My favorite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.
Camera Gear: I use a Nikon D5300 camera with an 18-105 mm and a 10-20 mm wide-angle lens to take my photos.