Zanzibar' Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Kim Paffen Travel Specialist & Photo Safari Tour Guide
18 min

33 Unmissable Things to Do in Stone Town in 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

18 min

Experience the best of Stone Town, Zanzibar with this comprehensive guide. Nestled along the picturesque shores of the Indian Ocean, Stone Town is a historical city located on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a notorious slave history and it's also the place where Freddie Mercury spend his childhood. As you wander through its narrow labyrinthine alleys, you'll find yourself immersed in a unique blend of Indian, Swahili, Arab, and European influences.

Here are the 33 best things to do in Stone Town featuring exciting activities and tourist attractions to explore this laid-back town:

Discover Historical Stone Town, a UNESCO site

Exploring Stone Town is the best thing to do in Zanzibar

Stone Town, part of Zanzibar City, is a great place to learn about the history of Zanzibar. Immerse yourself in the fascinating history of Stone Town by exploring its UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wander through narrow winding streets lined with intricately carved wooden Zanzibar doors, a hallmark of Swahili architecture with intricate symbols and motifs. These doors serve as symbolic gateways to the city's history, reflecting a fusion of cultural influences from across the globe.

Zanzibar Wooden Doors Stone Town

Don't miss out on historic Stone Town landmarks such as the Old Fort, built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, and the House of Wonders, a majestic palace showcasing Zanzibar's rich cultural heritage.

Stay in a Historical Palace Hotel

There is no better way to experience the history of Stone Town then sleeping in a Stone Town Heritage Hotel that breaths history and features stunning architecture with wonderful carved doors. We stayed in both Mizingani Seafront Hotel and Jafferji House boutique hotel. We also visited for example the Dhow Palace Hotel, Maru Maru, and the Zanzibar Palace Hotel. Stone Town has many historical hotels to stay at; it's not a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nothing.

Visit the Iconic Slave Market and Anglican Cathedral

Slaves Monument Zanzibar

Delve into the sobering history of the East African slave trade with a visit to the iconic Slave Market. Gain insight into the harrowing experiences of slaves captured and traded during the 19th century.

Slave Chambers Stone Town Zanzibar

At the Stone Town Slaves Monument, you can explore the underground chambers of the old slave market where slaves were held before being auctioned off, a poignant reminder of the dark chapters of human history in Zanzibar. Bear witness to the enduring remnants of this dark chapter in history, preserved within the walls of the Anglican Cathedral.

Delving into Stone Town's Top Attractions

Architecture in Stone Town Zanzibar

Sultan's Palace: A Glimpse into Zanzibar's Regal Past

Standing majestically on Mizingani Road, the Sultan's Palace in Zanzibar, later known as the People's Palace and now the Palace Museum, is a historical and architectural marvel that endured the tumultuous tides of history, surviving the ravages of the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896. Originally constructed in the late 19th century as a royal residence, it served as the official residence of the Sultans of Zanzibar and is now a prominent tourist attraction in Stone Town. You can find the Sultan's Palace between the House of Wonders and the Old Dispensary.

At the Palace Museum, you can explore various chambers of the palace, including the Throne Room and the Music Room, each offering a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Sultans. Its grand entrance, known as the "Ivory Door," is intricately carved with ivory and adorned with brass studs. The interior of the palace is equally impressive, featuring opulent rooms, courtyards, and gardens. The palace also houses a museum that showcases artifacts, furniture, and personal belongings of the royal family.

Beyond its historical significance, the Sultan's Palace is renowned for its breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. Its location on the waterfront provides you with panoramic views of the sea, making it a popular spot for relaxation and travel photography. The Zanzibar Sultan's Palace is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, and cultural heritage.

Note that the Sultan's Palace is temporarily closed due to renovations, so always check if it's open.

Stroll through the Old Dispensary

The Old Dispensary in Zanzibar, also known as the Ithnashiri Dispensary, is a historic 19th-century charitable institution that served during colonial times. It played a crucial role in providing medical aid and assistance to the local population.

The Old Dispensary underwent restoration as part of a broader seafront rehabilitation project. Today, it stands as one of the must-see attractions in Zanzibar, attracting tourists for its historical significance and stunning architecture featuring decorative balconies, intricate woodwork and stained glass windows. Immerse yourself in the vibrant arts scene of Stone Town as you peruse the works of local artisans within its hallowed halls.

Forodhani Gardens: Oasis of Tranquility Amidst the Bustle

Forodhani Gardens Stone Town

Nestled along the waterfront, Forodhani Gardens in Stone Town captivate visitors with their verdant splendor and serene ambiance. A haven for nature lovers and weary travelers alike, these gardens offer respite from the bustling streets of Stone Town. Take a leisurely stroll through the lush foliage, eat street food, admire the vibrant blooms, and revel in the tranquil beauty of this urban oasis.

Spice Up Your Journey at the Darajani Market

Darajani Market Stone Town

Immerse yourself in the bustling Darajani Market, where the vibrant colors, exotic aromas, and bustling energy transport you to a world of culinary delights.

Darajani Market Stone Town Zanzibar

From fragrant spices to succulent fruits and fresh seafood, this bustling bazaar tantalizes the senses and offers a glimpse into the vibrant culinary culture of Zanzibar.

Stone Town Darajani Meat Market

Lose yourself in the maze of stalls of Darajani Bazaar, engage with local vendors, and embark on a culinary adventure like no other.

Discover the Old Fort of Zanzibar

Stone Town Zanzibar is a UNESCO site

Built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, the Old Fort is one of the most iconic landmarks in Stone Town. You can traverse the ancient walls of the Old Fort, a silent sentinel that offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean and the city. Uncover layers of history within its weathered stones, from its origins as a bastion of defense to its transformation into a cultural hub that has numerous souvenir shops and hosts the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Stone Town's Old Fort is open all year, each day from 8 AM to 6 PM and is free to enter.

Marvel at the House of Wonders

The House of Wonders, or Beit al-Ajaib, is a prominent landmark in Stone Town located between the Old Fort and the Palace Museum (and former Sultan's Palace). It is a unique architectural marvel that showcases a blend of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, and Indian influences. Built in 1883 as a royal palace for Sultan Barghash bin Said, it served as the official residence of the Zanzibari royal family until 1890.

The House of Wonders or Palace of Wonders is renowned for its ornate balconies, and towering clock tower, which offers panoramic views of the city and the Indian Ocean. Before the House of Wonders partially collapsed late 2020, it served as the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast.

My Stone Town Travel Tip: At the moment, this palatial home of Omani Sultans in Stone Town is closed for renovations. Check Google or Zanzibar Tourism to check when the House of Wonders will be re-opened to the public.

Witness the Legacy of Freddie Mercury

House of Freddie Mercury in Stone Town Zanzibar

The Freddie Mercury Museum in Zanzibar is a popular tourist attraction in Stone Town and the first museum dedicated to the legendary musician and Queen frontman. The Freddy Mercury House is situated in his former home on Shangani, in the heart of Zanzibar Stone Town.

Freddie Mercury Museum Stone Town Zanzibar

The former childhood house of Freddie Mercury in Zanzibar is now turned into a museum that celebrates the life and legacy of Freddie Mercury, offering insights into his remarkable career and personal life. When you buy an entrance ticket, you can explore exhibits showcasing memorabilia, artifacts, and interactive displays related to Mercury's life and music. It's a must-visit for fans of Freddie Mercury and music enthusiasts alike, as it offers a unique opportunity to learn more about the iconic singer's roots and legacy.

Experience the Timeless Beauty of St. Joseph's Cathedral

Roman Catholic Church in Stone Town

The beautiful St. Joseph's Cathedral in Zanzibar is a prominent Roman Catholic cathedral located in the Baghani part of town, identifiable by its twin spires that contribute to its architectural grandeur. The cathedral noted as the first Catholic Church in Tanzania, holding historical importance.

Stone Town St. Joseph's Cathedral

Attend a mass to witness the harmonious melodies of the choir echoing within its sacred walls. You can find the cathedral off Kenyatta Road. I highly recommend having a look at St. Joseph's Cathedral, as it is an integral part of Zanzibar's cultural and religious landscape.

Experiencing Stone Town's Hidden Treasures

Take a day trip to Prison Island

Prison Island Zanzibar

Escape the hustle and bustle of Stone Town and embark on a day trip to Prison Island (also known as Changuu Island) where history intertwines with natural beauty. Originally intended as a detention center, this tranquil isle now offers sanctuary to endangered Aldabra giant tortoises and serves as a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and history lovers alike.

Giant Tortoises on Zanzibar Prison Island

Explore the island's pristine shores, watch the gentle giants, and delve into the captivating history that permeates every corner of this idyllic retreat.

Visit the Ruins of Mtoni Palace

Explore the remains of the historic Mtoni Palace, once the residence of Zanzibar's rulers. The Mtoni Palace was destroyed in the 16th century by the Portuguese, who invaded Zanzibar and overthrew the Shirazi Sultanate. The ruins of the palace have been preserved and are now a popular tourist attraction in Stone Town. At the ruins, you can learn about the history of Zanzibar and the Shirazi Sultanate, and you can also admire the beautiful architecture of the palace.

Discover Hamamni Persian Baths

The ancient Persian-style baths built between 1870-1888 offer a glimpse into Zanzibar's cultural heritage. You can learn about the history of the baths and experience the traditional bathing rituals that were once practiced there in the hot room and cold room. The baths are also a popular spot for photography, with their beautiful architecture and serene atmosphere. It's a short stop, you can see the Hamamni Persian Baths in Stone Town within 10 minutes.

Visit the Ruins of Marahubi Palace

The Zanzibar Marahubi Palace Ruins are known for its beautiful gardens and historical significance. Also known as the Maruhubi Historical Sites, it's a collection of ruins that were once part of a palace complex built in the late 19th century. The site includes the remains of a large palace, harem quarters, and beautiful gardens. Maruhubi Palace was one of the several palaces built by Sultan Barghash for his harem. These historical sites provide a glimpse into Zanzibar's rich history and its connections to the Omani sultans who ruled the island. Today, you can explore the ruins and learn about the cultural significance of this once grand palace complex.

Dhow Countries Music Academy

Enjoy live music performances showcasing Zanzibar's rich musical heritage. The Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA) is a music education institution located in Zanzibar, Tanzania. It was established in 2003 with the aim of promoting and preserving the traditional music of the Swahili coast. The academy offers a variety of music courses, including traditional Swahili music, taarab, and ngoma. It also has a recording studio and a library of music resources. Immerse yourself in Zanzibar's musical heritage, which hosts performances and offers insight into local rhythms and instruments.

Indulge in Culinary Delights

Stone Town Street food

Stone Town is known for its street food and delicious cuisine, which is a blend of African, Arab, and Indian influences.

Savor Authentic Zanzibari Cuisine

Zanzibari Cuisine Stone Town

Embark on a culinary adventure and treat your taste buds to the delightful flavors of Zanzibari cuisine. Sample mouthwatering dishes such as pilau rice, coconut curry, grilled seafood, and aromatic spiced meats infused with local spices. Don't miss the chance to taste local Zanzibar street food and the famous Zanzibar pizza, a delectable fusion of African and Arabian flavors.

Enjoy Zanzibar Dishes in the Best Restaurants in Stone Town

Emerson Secret Garden Restaurant Stone Town Zanzibar

Stone Town is a perfect place to taste the Zanzibari Cuisine. Here are some of the best restaurants in Stone Town:

  • Forodhani Gardens: A great place to indulge yourself in culinary delights of Stone Town is at the bustling night food market of Forodhani Gardens. Sample an array of local delicacies, from "Zanzibar" pizza to freshly grilled seafood, amidst the vibrant energy of the waterfront.
  • Cape Town Fish Market: Enjoy a vibrant selection of seafood dishes and sushi in a lively atmosphere, offering a fusion of South African and Japanese cuisine.
  • Secret Garden: Indulge in a culinary journey amidst lush surroundings, offering a serene ambiance and a diverse menu of international cuisine; the best lunch spot in Stone Town.
  • Emerson Spice: Delight in a fusion of local and international flavors served in a charming boutique hotel setting
  • Emerson on Hurumzi: Indulge in Swahili cuisine in a historic rooftop setting, offering breathtaking views of the city
  • Lukmaan Restaurant: Enjoy authentic Zanzibari dishes at affordable prices in a casual atmosphere.
  • Livingstone's: Experience a laid-back beachfront dining experience with fresh seafood and refreshing drinks.

Explore the Spice Farms

Zanzibar Spice Island

Embark on a sensory journey through Zanzibar's lush spice farms, where you can witness the cultivation of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other aromatic spices. Engage in guided Zanzibar Spice Farm Tours led by knowledgeable locals, who will enlighten you on the intriguing history and cultural significance of these spices. Don't forget to purchase some freshly harvested spices to take home as souvenirs. I highly recommend booking a guided spice tour to one of the spice farms in Zanzibar to learn more about the Island's spice heritage.

Attend a Swahili Cooking Class

Roll up your sleeves and learn how to prepare traditional Swahili dishes using fresh Zanzibar spices and ingredients. Stone Town has several places that offer Swahili Cooking Classes.

Experience Vibrant Culture

Go Souvenir Shopping in Stone Town

You can't leave Zanzibar without souvenirs. Stone Town is the perfect place for souvenir shopping, especially at the Darajani Market, a bustling bazaar teeming with colorful stalls selling fresh produce, spices, textiles, and handicrafts. Engage with friendly vendors, haggle for souvenirs, and soak up the lively ambiance of this bustling marketplace.

Attend a Traditional Taarab Music Performance

Enrich your cultural experience by attending a traditional Taarab music performance, a melodious blend of Swahili, Arab, and Indian influences. Be captivated by the soulful rhythms and enchanting melodies of this time-honored musical tradition, performed by talented local musicians. Don't hesitate to join in the dancing and celebration, immersing yourself fully in the vibrant spirit of Zanzibari culture.

Immerse Yourself in Local Culture at Jaws Corner

Join the lively gatherings at Stone Town's Jaws Corner, a cultural crossroads where locals gather to socialize and play traditional games. Absorb the vibrant rhythms of daily life as you sip coffee amidst the spirited camaraderie of the square.

Explore Natural Wonders

Zanzibar has many natural wonders to explore. If Stone Town is your base, consider taking a day trip from Stone Town to for example one of the best beaches in Zanzibar of Zanzibar's only national park. Apart from that, Stone Town is a great place to sail into a magical sunset on a dhow cruise.

Relax on Pristine Beaches

Tropical Nakupenda Beach Zanzibar

Escape the hustle and bustle of Stone Town City and unwind on the pristine beaches of Zanzibar. Sink your toes into powdery white sand, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean, and bask in the warm tropical sunshine. Whether you're seeking serenity or adventure, Zanzibar's beaches offer the perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation. Stone Town is located on the coast, so there are several beautiful beaches nearby. However, some of the best beaches in Zanzibar include Nungwi Beach, Kendwa Beach, and Matemwe Beach.

Snorkel or Dive in Marine Sanctuaries

Menai Bay Zanzibar

Explore the mesmerizing underwater world of Zanzibar's marine sanctuaries, renowned for their breathtaking coral reefs and diverse marine life. Strap on your snorkel or scuba gear and dive into crystal-clear waters teeming with colorful fish, sea turtles, and other fascinating marine creatures. Don't miss the chance to swim alongside dolphins or explore historic shipwrecks hidden beneath the ocean depths.

Sail into the Sunset on a Dhow Cruise

Sunset Dhow Cruise Stone Town

Set sail on a traditional dhow cruise and witness the mesmerizing beauty of Stone Town bathed in the golden hues of twilight. Surrender to the timeless allure of the ocean as you embark on a journey into the heart of Zanzibar's maritime history. It's best to book your sunset dhow cruise in advance to avoid the tours are full.

Watch the Sunset at Stone Town Beach

Sunset from Rooftop Bar Stone Town

Watching the sunset is completely free and a great thing to do in Stone Town if you're exploring Zanzibar on a budget. Stone Town Beach is beloved by locals who frequent it after work for relaxation, dancing, acrobatics, singing, and overall enjoyment. Additionally, it offers a picturesque setting for witnessing the mesmerizing sunset in Zanzibar.

Go on a day-trip to Jozani Forest

Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey Jozani Forest

Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park is only national park and largest conservation area. It's home to the endangered red colobus monkey, as well as other wildlife such as Sykes' monkeys, bush babies, and birds. A guided tour through Jozani Forest is the best way to see the wildlife and learn about the local ecosystem.

Insider Tips for an Unforgettable Stone Town Experience

Take a Stone Town Walking Tour

Enhance your exploration of Stone Town with a guided tour led by knowledgeable locals. From informative Stone Town walking tours to immersive cultural experiences, these guided excursions offer invaluable insights into the Stone Town's hidden gems and unforgettable memories.

Consider a Stone Town Food Tour

Indulge your taste buds in the vibrant flavors of Zanzibari cuisine with a culinary tour of Stone Town. From savoring exotic spices at local markets to dining on fresh seafood at seaside restaurants, let your palate be your guide as you embark on a gastronomic Stone Town food tour like no other.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Exploration

Get lost in Stone Town and venture beyond the well-trodden tourist trails and discover hidden gems awaiting in the narrow streets and neighborhoods of Stone Town. Rather than relying on maps, allow your intuition to guide you through the vibrant tapestry of daily life. Engage with locals, explore hidden markets in Stone Town, and immerse yourself in the authentic rhythm of this captivating city.

Discover the Waters off the Coast in Stone Town

Nakupenda Sandbank Tour Zanzibar

Ways to explore the waters off the coast in Stone Town are:

  • Taking a boat trip to nearby islands, including Nakupenda Sandbank, or Nakupenda Beach, where you can swim, relax, and admire the powdery white sandbank surrounded by turquoise waters.
  • Taking a Stone Town Fishing Trip, where you will join local Zanzibari fisherman on a traditional fishing trip to experience their way of life.

Book a Spa Treatment

Mrembo is one of the best spa's in Stone Town. It specializes in traditional beauty therapies sourced from the rich heritage of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Embracing sustainability, Mrembo utilizes solely locally cultivated flowers, herbs, and spices in crafting its 100% natural remedies. Experience the allure of UNESCO's Stone Town through the rejuvenating offerings of Mrembo Spa.

Conclusion: Let the Wonders of Stone Town Captivate your Heart & Soul

Exploring Stone Town is the best thing to do in Zanzibar

In conclusion, Stone Town Zanzibar is worth visiting and stands as a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, beckoning travelers with promises of discovery and adventure. Whether you're wandering through its labyrinthine alleys, basking in the sun on its pristine beaches, or immersing yourself in its vibrant culture, Stone Town offers a wealth of experiences waiting to be uncovered. So pack your bags, embark on an unforgettable journey of exploration, and let the wonders of Stone Town captivate your heart and soul.

In summary, here is a brief list of the 33 Best Things To Do in Stone Town, including Stone Town's top tourist attractions, hidden gems, culinary delights, tours, and insider tips to unlock the secrets of Zanzibar's ancient capital:

  1. Discover Historical Stone Town
  2. Stay in a Historical Palace Hotel
  3. Slave Market and Anglican Cathedral
  4. Palace Museum
  5. The Old Dispensary
  6. Forodhani Gardens
  7. Darajani Market
  8. Old Fort of Zanzibar
  9. House of Wonders
  10. Freddy Mercury Museum
  11. St. Joseph's Cathedral
  12. Daytrip to Prison Island
  13. Ruins of Mtoni Palace
  14. Hamamni Persian Baths
  15. Zanzibar Marahubi Palace Ruins
  16. Dhow Countries Music Academy
  17. Savor Authentic Zanzibari Cuisine
  18. Enjoy Zanzibar Dishes in Stone Town's Best Restaurants
  19. Spice Farm Tour
  20. Swahili Cooking Class
  21. Souvenir Shopping Darajani Bazaar Stone Town
  22. Attend Taarab Music Performance
  23. Jaws Corner
  24. Relax on Pristine Beaches
  25. Snorkel or Dive in Marine Sanctuaries
  26. Sunset Dhow Cruise
  27. Watch Sunset at Stone Town Beach
  28. Day-trip Jozani Forest
  29. Stone Town Walking Tour
  30. Stone Town Food Tour
  31. Off-the-Beaten-Path Exploration
  32. Boat trip or Fishing Trip to explore the Waters of Stone Town
  33. Spa Treatment

I hope this comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Stone Town is helpful to plan your Zanzibar Holiday.