Things to do in Stone Town

Stone Town Itinerary

Mesmerizing architecture and foodie haven

Duration: at least one week

Stay: Balcony House

We quickly lost ourselves wandering the narrow streets of Zanzibar’s cultural heart: Stone Town. Strolling through the maze of winding alleys, you will experience a colorful hustle and bustle. In addition to the hundreds of small shops, historical architecture seems magical. Zanzibar is so different from mainland Tanzania. It even could be an entirely different country. We’ll probably forever remember Stone Town’s impressive buildings and the most delicious food. Despite beautiful beaches, Zanzibar offers plenty of things to do.

  • Sight Seeing 85% 85%
  • Culture 95% 95%
  • Activities 100% 100%
  • Nightlife 70% 70%

A melting pot of cultures

The former trade hub is a melting pot of African, Arab, Indian, and European cultures. Of course, the heavy influence of the Middle Eastern is still present today, not just in architecture and food. But, contrary to the rest of Tanzania, most Zanzibaris are Muslim. The UNESCO World Heritage Site and its maze seem to hold a secret at every corner. Tall white buildings constructed by Arabs stand next to romantically latticed balconies built by Indians. As a result, stone Town looks like a kaleidoscope of colors, flavors, and people.

Wander through the maze of alleys

We loved exploring Stone Town on foot. The deteriorated buildings tell the stories of past times. But, if you pay attention, you’ll notice Zanzibar’s tolerance. Mosques, Hindu temples, and churches can often be found nearby. Time has eaten up the grand architecture from past times. We spent our days strolling around the maze of alleys, admiring beautiful cravings, balconies, and doors. The buildings date from the 19th century and are primarily coral stone. Because of the material’s sensitivity, many buildings are now in deplorable condition and form a vivid, dramatic image. Besides the massive, multi-story stone buildings with flat roofs and tiny windows from Arab architecture, one finds houses with romantically decorated, open balconies that bear the signature of Indian architecture. Today, many transformed buildings are home to museums that elaborate on Zanzibar’s history. With no goal and nowhere to be, it was beautiful to imagine life in those buildings
back in the day.

Stone Town Sansibar
Granada, Nicaragua: market

Admire the world-famous Zanzibar doors

With its unique architecture, Stone Town is a living monument to its past cultural fusion and trade, which shaped the nation. The magnificent Zanzibarian doors offer an understanding of the homeowner’s place of origin, profession, and economic status. There are two types of doors in Stone Town:

Arabic doors

Secondly, Arabic doors with elaborate Arabic inscriptions – most likely a phrase from the Holy Qur’an – are at the top. Arabic doors are richly decorated around the frame. The lotus, chain, and pineapple are common cultural motives that can often be found on Arabic doors. You’ll find the oldest ones close to the Old Fort.

My favorite things to do downtown

Zanzibar Door

Gujarati doors

As you stroll along the bazaar, you’ll spot Indian entries or “Gujarati doors,” which indicate that Indian businessmen used to settle here. Gujarati doors were crafted from Indian teak, imported from Asia, and ornated by skilled Indian craftsmen. Typically one can witness large brass studs which have their origins in India, where they were used as a defense against war elephants. However, in Zanzibar, the studs were only a symbol of wealth.


Arabic doors

Secondly, Arabic doors with elaborate Arabic inscriptions – most likely a phrase from the Holy Qur’an – are at the top. Arabic doors are richly decorated around the frame. The lotus, chain, and pineapple are common cultural motives that can often be found on Arabic doors. You’ll find the oldest ones close to the Old Fort.


Watch the sunset at the waterfront

Every afternoon Stone Town’s waterfront comes to life as young people come together to hang out, play and challenge each other’s acrobatic skills. We loved the vibe, which was bursting with energy. The waterfront is an excellent spot to immerse into local life and enjoy breathtaking sunsets.

Stone Town Hafen und Schiffe
Granada, Nicaragua: dani in front of church

Experience a sunset Dhow cruise

Arab traders used Dhows for centuries to travel the Indian Ocean to the Swahili Coast. The wooden vessels vary in size. Of course, it’s very touristy thing to do, but a sunset Dhow cruise is a beautiful way to enjoy the sunset.

Feast at Forodhani Gardens -Stone Town's food market

While we have grown accustomed to goat and Kuku (=chicken), rice and beans, our taste buds were ready for some stimulation.
Many vendors are illuminated by oil lamps and sell mostly seafood in front of the Old Fort. After sunset, the square is buzzing with life as hungry tourists and locals alike come
to enjoy the delicious dishes. We enjoyed a lovely dinner there. It’s perfect for hanging out with locals and learning about their cuisine.

Shop for spices and soaps at Darajani Market

Darajani Market is located right next to the former slave chambers. The market is buzzing with local life—a firework of noise, smells, different colors, and people. We loved discovering fruits, produce, and spices from all across Zanzibar. So step up your haggling game and get some spices and handmade soap. The small alleys leading away from the Darajani market disclose small stores where all kinds of products invite you to a shop. People were eager to explain and sell us their products. While shopping for clothes, we made friends with local women and enjoyed getting to know them better.

Go on a spice tour

The Zanzibar archipelago is also known as “Spice Island.” In the past, Arabs, Indians, and Persian brought spice plantations to the island. Until today, you’ll find spice plantations across Zanzibar. Of course, those tours are touristy, but they are exciting and educational.

Stone Town Gewürze

Visit the former slave market

Zanzibar has an adverse and sinister claim to fame: Enslaved people from the African mainland were transported here, mistreated, and sold before being shipped to the Middle East and even North America. While the Portuguese first introduced the slave trade, it reached its peak under the Omani sultanate. To get a deeper understanding of the history, it’s worth visiting the world’s only open slave market. It’s a profoundly important site. Nowadays, an Anglican cathedral is there as a symbolic triumph over inhumanity

Popular tours in Stone Town

Practical travel tips for Stone Town

Where is Zanzibar?


The Zanzibar Archipelago is a group of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, just off the mainland of Tanzania.
Zanzibar, also called Unguja, is the main island of the archipelago. In the center is the historic old town - known as Stone Town. Although Zanzibar officially also belongs to Tanzania, it has semi-autonomous status, making it politically independent. The culture and way of life on the Muslim island are also very different from Tanzania's mainland.

How to get to Stone Town?


By plane
If you are coming from mainland Tanzania, you can fly for about $ 70 from Dar es Salaam. Several airlines (e.g., Coastal Aviation and Zan Air) fly daily from Dar to the Zanzibar archipelago.

By ferry

Alternatively, you can get to Zanzibar by boat from Dar es Salaam. The ferry station is located on the waterfront downtown, right off Sokoine Dr. There are several ferries per day. The ride takes between 2-3 hours and costs $35 one-way. Zanzibar's ferry terminal is located about 1km outside of stone town. The boat ride between Dar and Zanzibar can be rough.

How important is religion?


Zanzibar is predominately Muslim Especially in Stone Town and local villages, women tend to cover. They wear a hijab (headscarf) and covering clothes. Therefore, we advise females to wear loose, covering garments when walking around Stone Town.

Where to get money?


Load up on cash before heading to Zanzibar's beaches. Unfortunately, ATMs are hard to find.

Is Stone Town safe for travelers?


Zanzibar is generally considered to be relatively safe. However, in the winding streets of Stone Town, it can get more dangerous at night, so don't stay here alone at night - it is best take a taxi home. Otherwise, do not take too many valuables with you or carry them visibly. Beware of pickpockets.

Can I drink tap water on Zanzibar?


You can not drink tap water in Zanzibar without risking becoming sick. Bring your water filter or self-cleaning bottle and enjoy cool drinks while avoiding plastic pollution.

What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?


Trash: Often, you'll find food vendors selling typical Nicaraguan dishes on the go. It's not just delicious but cheap. To avoid plastic wrapping, choose to buy your food at the bus stations and have them put it in your collapsible container. Bring your self-cleaning bottle to avoid having to buy bottled
Sunscreen: Protect marine life and use reef-friendly sunscreen.

tanzania travel Zanzibar beaches

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