What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

In 2016, we took a trip to the Zanzibar archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. All I can say is that you find yourself on an idyllic piece of land surrounded by the always warm Indian Ocean – absolute paradise!

What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

The resort we stayed at was amazing – but more on that in another post. One of the highlights of the trip was the tours we went on, who knew there was such variety on this small island. One tour we took involved a walking tour of the spice plantations (Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island). This was both an educational and entertaining experience and I’ll share more about it later.

While the stunning beaches are usually the biggest draw for Zanzibar, I was enticed by the multi-cultural experience of exploring Stone Town – the capital city. Click To Tweet

Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site with historical architecture that is currently being restored with materials that were originally used. It is such a mix of different cultures and the whole town vibrates with such energy and many friendly greetings (Jambo).

Darajani Market

The first thing that catches your attention as you get off the bus near the Stone Town market, is the strange mix of smells, both pleasant and unpleasant. As we made our way through this market, generally used by locals, we were overwhelmed by noise, color, and smell. This changed according to which part of the market you were in. We chose to avoid the meat and fish market.

Stone Town, What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

The Former Zanzibar Slave Market

Zanzibar was one of the main slave trade ports in East Africa and it was a dark period on the island. This was the last open slave market which now has a large Anglican Cathedral on its site to mark the triumph over inhumanity. This market was started by the Portuguese and finally outlawed by the British thanks to David Livingstone’s campaign.

There is a statue of chained slaves as a reminder of what happened here. You can also ask a guide to show you around the Cathedral, they are knowledgeable and able to discuss all the symbolism that was included. There are also guides that will lead you down into the last remaining holding cells – it is quite unpleasant in these small holes and can only take a few people. It will make you feel truly grateful for your life of freedom.

What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

Winding Alleys, Tiny Shops, Crazy Bikers, Grand Architecture, and Famous Doors

Stone Town is best explored on foot and wandering through its narrow winding alleys can be quite exciting. You will find many interesting shops along the way and there is something new to see around every corner. Just beware, these tiny alleys can be quite hazardous, especially when bikers come speeding down on you. When you hear a horn behind you, make sure to get out of the way, as they do not slow down or stop for any reason, not even travelers!

Make use of a guide if you are worried about getting lost in the labyrinth, but don’t worry the locals are friendly and willing to help. As you wander, make sure to look up and admire the detailed balconies and beautiful buildings. As you go along you will also notice many of the famous Zanzibari doors with intricate carvings and different meanings to each of the cultures they stem from.

Stone Town, What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

Freddy Mercury and David Livingstone

As Queen fans, we were quite eager to visit Mercury House. This is where the legendary lead singer, Freddy Mercury was born and lived for the first decade of his life. Unfortunately, there is not much to see, as the house has been turned into a hotel and only guests can enter. Photos at the entrance with a board of band photos were well worth it though.

For lunch our guide led us to a little gem of a spot right on the coastline – you can sit at tables with your feet in the sand, enjoying a view of the ocean while you eat.

As it turned out, this awesome old building (with the most amazing spiraling wooden staircase) was lived in by David Livingstone during his many stays in Zanzibar. The food was so tasty and the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable – we even made friends with two local cats while enjoying our lunch.

What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

The Old Fort

This massive structure is hard to miss and is a large fortification along the waterfront. It was built in the 18th century as a defense against attacks on the island. It was later used as a prison but is now in use as an event location for musical and theatrical performances. Inside we found colorful stalls selling clothing, jewelry, and food. The fort is a historical spot that was once a vital part of Zanzibar and definitely worth a visit.

What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

Forodhani Gardens and the House of Wonders

In between the Old Fort and the ocean you will find Forodhani gardens, a local park. During the day it is a green, shady and calm spot to relax in. Every night through the whole garden is transformed into a busy night market. It is a buzz of activity as locals and tourists alike are attracted to delicious smells and the warm glow of oil lamps.

Right next to the gardens is the House of Wonders with its unmissable white clock tower (which tragically collapsed recently). It was closed for renovations when we were there, but it was still remarkable from the outside. The huge front doors were built to be big enough for the sultan to pass through on an elephant, as the story goes. It was also the first building in East Africa to have electricity, running water, and an elevator.

Stone Town, What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

I found Stone Town to be a vibrant and interesting place, with much more to see and experience than I have mentioned! It would take a day or two to explore the whole town properly and I have many other sites that I plan to visit the next time I’m in Zanzibar.

Have you traveled to Stone Town? What would you add to this list?


What You Need to Know about Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

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  1. This place looks magical! I love the market and Freddy Mercury’s house, I would love to see that! The most I’ve seen of Africa is Morocco, next on my list is Egypt!

    1. The whole island was magical! You should definitely go to Zanzibar if you can. I would love to experience Morocco, did you enjoy it there? Egypt is on my list too!

  2. What a wonderful write-up to include both what must be done and what one really should know about the area. It leaves me wanting to pack my bags now. I also put one more must see on my list. Informative and compelling article.

    1. Thank you so much Regina, I am glad you enjoyed it! I would most definitely recommend adding it to your list! πŸ™‚

  3. I honestly never thought about adding Zanzibar to the list of places I would like to travel, but after reading your post I’m adding it! The spice markets look incredible!

    1. I’m glad I could convince you Emily! Zanzibar is now one of my favorite places to visit! Definitely add it to your list!

  4. I loved stone town, I think you have captured everything too. Spice tour was really good and I learnt a lot as well as having my face decorated ?

  5. Zanzibar is on my bucket list! The pictures you took are amazing and I never knew that Freddy Mercury lived there. Amazing, thorough post, that makes me want to visit Zanzibar even more.

    1. Thank you so much Carissa! I’m so happy you enjoyed the post! πŸ™‚ Definitely visit as soon as you get a chance, this was one of the best trips I have taken!

    1. My pleasure Victoria! Don’t get me wrong, the beaches are amazing, but I like a bit of adventure on my holidays. That’s what I loved about Zanzbar is that there is something for everyone, and I would definitely suggest that you visit Stone Town while on the island!

    1. That is a great idea, I hope you get to travel through Africa soon! While you are at it, I would recommend stopping in South Africa too!

  6. Wow – such history. Loved the pictures that truly shows the evolution over time. Sad to see the slaves pit, and reminding those of what passed is an important part of the history of man. Thanks for sharing.

    1. My pleasure, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope I inspired you to visit Zanzibar if you ever have the chance?

  7. Zanzibar is still on my bucket list! Steeped in history, I would love to explore. Beaches aren’t too bad either, LOL!

  8. Wow, this looks fantastic! I would love to visit Zanzibar– my partner’s sister and her husband visited a few years ago and loved it. It’s too bad about the Freddie Mercury house– reminds me of trying to visit Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca (from the movie)… you can’t enter without reserving and eating a meal, which is frustrating. Thanks for sharing! Would love to visit someday soon!

  9. I heard so much about Zanzibar from a group I trekked East Africa with – it definitely sounds every bit as amazing as they recounted!~

  10. Wow I have heard of Zanzibar, but didn’t know much about it. There are so many interesting things to see there. I would love to visit the spice market and see all it has to offer. Also, I had no idea that is where Mercury is from! I learned a lot from this!

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