Things to do in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Where is Zanzibar?

Located off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is composed mainly of two islands:

  • Unguja, the island to which we generally refer when we talk about Zanzibar
  • Pemba, the second largest island north of its big sister. This one is less known to tourists and is still a little wild.

Zanzibar is an archipelago renowned for its heavenly beaches of white sand, its seabed and its many activities

What is the best time to visit Zanzibar?

Zanzibar enjoys a very pleasant equatorial climate all year round

This archipelago has two rainy periods:

  • From March to May
  • From October to December

The best times are as follows:

  • January and February
  • From July to September

However, you should know that even during rainy periods, the weather can be very pleasant. Indeed, I visited the Zanzibar archipelago from March to May and the weather was excellent in March and April. However, I had a lot of rain in May.

A little history about Stone Town, Zanzibar

Zanzibar Town is the capital of Zanzibar. With its 400,000 inhabitants, this capital is located in the west on the island of Unguja. 

Zanzibar Town refers above all to Stone Town, which is the historic district of the city. Today classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is the cultural and historical heart of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar’s history goes back to the first millennium.

Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Zanzibar was the place of many trade exchanges with Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Trade with the East also brought Islam and the Arab architecture that still characterizes Stone Town.

During the 16th century, Zanzibar fell under Portuguese control, then, at the end of the 17th century, under the domination of the Sultan of Oman.

From the 19th century onwards, Europeans found a growing interest in East Africa and the end of the slave trade led to the decline of the Sultanate of Oman’s domination. 

In 1890, Zanzibar entered the British « protectorate », led by Omani Sultans, supervised by British colonial representatives. 

In 1963, Zanzibar was declared independent.

The many influences throughout history have made Zanzibar the archipelago of today with a mix of Arab, Swahili, Indian, Omani, Persian and Western cultures

This city is a cosmopolitan and tolerant city where 90% of the population is Muslim and 10% of other religions (Christians, Hindus, etc.) live together.

Best things to do in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town is the city to visit for anyone traveling to Zanzibar. Depending on the time you will have in town, you must at least spend half a day there.

1 – Dinner at Forodhani Gardens

Located on the waterfront, it is a vast public space where many street food stands are set up at nightfall. It is a place where locals and tourists mix to taste the island’s culinary specialities. 

In my opinion, this night market is an essential place to go to. You will discover the sweetness and madness of life in Zanzibar.

2 – Learn more about the island’s history

Stone Town is a city rich in history. I therefore invite you to learn a little more about Zanzibar by visiting the following places:

  • Old Dispensary: with its mint green balconies, this building is one of the most striking on the waterfront. It was a former charity hospital and now houses offices. You can freely access this building.
  • The Slavery Memorial: with slave cells. You will learn that more than 70,000 slaves were sold in this city in the space of 40 years.
  • Anglican Cathedral: this building, which dominates the surrounding streets, was built on a former slave market. It was the first Anglican church in East Africa. 
  • Old fort: this fort with orange walls dominates the gardens of Forodhani. Over the centuries, this fort has had several functions, from prison to tennis club. Today, the fort houses a row of souvenir shops and a pleasant café that turns into a bar in the evening.
  • Beit El-Ajaib: or « the house of wonders » rises on several floors. Inside you will find the National Museum of History and Culture, which is dedicated to Swahili civilization and the peoples of the Indian Ocean. However, in 2012, following a collapse of part of the building, the museum was closed. Today it is only possible to admire this house of wonders from the outside.
  • Aga Khan Mosque: This is one of the largest mosques in Zanzibar. 
  • Hamamni Persian Baths: built at the end of the 19th century, these were the first public baths in Zanzibar

3 – Getting lost in the streets of Stone Town

I strongly advise you to get lost in this city where you will observe a real cultural mix. Stone Town combines Arab, Indian, European and African influences. 

The small streets form a real labyrinth where it is pleasant to get lost. 

When walking around, pay attention to the carved wooden doors of the houses. This is the most famous feature of Zanzibar architecture. Some of these doors are centuries old and in the past these doors had meanings. Indeed, when reading them, one could know the owner’s social rank, origin and occupation. 

4 – Walk around in Darajani market

This is probably one of the largest markets in Zanzibar. This giant market is open every day of the week. It is a place where you can really experience the soul of the city. Be aware that a walk in this market is a real immersion in local life. 

There is everything at the Darajani market; food with fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, fish; but also clothes, hygiene products etc. Absolutely anything you want can be found on this market.

5 – Spend an evening listening to traditional music: taarab

If you have the opportunity, I advise you to spend an evening listening to the taarab, which is the most famous music in Zanzibar. This music combines African, Arab and Indian influences. The theme of the songs often revolves around love.

Excursions departing from Stone Town

Stone Town is also the starting point for many day trips.

Among the most famous are:

  • Prison island: also known as « Turtle Island », is located only a few kilometers from Stone Town. A half-day excursion is possible to observe a sanctuary of giant turtles.
  • Spice Tour on Spice Island: Zanzibar, also known as « Spice Island » is known for its spices. Indeed, many different kinds of spices grow on this island. You have the opportunity to embark on a spicy visit in the forest about 30 minutes from Stone Town.
  • Swimming with dolphins in Kizimkazi: Kizimkazi located at the southern tip of the island has been chosen as the home of many dolphins. It is possible for you to realize the dream of every child in us, to swim with dolphins.
  • Jozani Forest: This forest is home to the world’s only red colobus. You can observe them in their natural habitat in the Jozani forest.
  • Diving or snorkeling: Zanzibar is a place renowned for its seabed with many corals and fish that can be found. It is possible to dive all around the island.
  • Jozani Forest
  • Island Prison
  • Diving in Zanzibar

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