Stone Town is really an amazing city. The capital of Zanzibar and sometimes known as Zanzibar city, it certainly has a lot to offer. From lovely beaches to incredible history to stunning sunsets to winding through the maze of narrows streets, you’re sure to love this beautiful place.
Top 12 Things to Do in Stone Town
Whether you are a history buff, a culture enthusiast, or a good old beach lover, Stone Town will certainly provide you with some memorable things to do. Although Stone Town definitely does have a lot to offer, I would only recommend staying 2-3 nights there. Zanzibar has so many amazing places to see it would be a shame to spend most of the time in the city.
1. Nakupenda Island
Nakupenda Island is a tiny and very beautiful island about a 15-20 minute boat ride off the coast of Stone Town. Usually combined in a day trip with Prison Island, it is also possible to visit just Nakupenda itself. In Swahili, Nakupenda means “I Love You”. If you go before noon, I can almost guarantee that’ll you’ll have the island to yourself.
In the afternoon, they set up a large marketplace and “pop up BBQ’s” and the tiny white-sanded beach will become very crowded (usually with people coming from their visit to Prison Island) This island is so small that it actually disappears in the evening when the tides come up! So be sure to visit before 5pm if you want to actually see the island itself.
If the waters aren’t that rough it’s also a nice place to go snorkeling! When we visited unfortunately the waves were far too choppy to be able to enjoy the snorkeling however.
2. Prison Island
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Stone Town, if not all of Zanzibar is Prison Island. Also known as Changuu Island, this island has quite a tragic history. It was used as a prison (hence the name) for rebellious slaves in the 1800s. A bit later in the history it was also used as a quarantine island for those with yellow fever. Now it is one of Stone Town’s most popular tourist destinations, most famous for the abundance of giant tortoises that inhabit the island! A day trip by boat to visit Prison Island can last half a day to a full day as it’s just about a 20 minutes boat ride from Stone Town port.
3. Explore the Town’s Narrow Streets
Zanzibar has a long and very interesting history. Did you know that the current capital of Zanzibar, Stone Town, was once the capital of Oman? Zanzibar has been colonized by the Portuguese and then the Omanis and then the British and then Oman again before becoming the United Republic of Tanzania (with Zanzibar as a semi autonomous state) in the 60s. Simply wandering through the narrow streets will give you a feel for the history and the interesting culture.
4. Witness the Historic Slave Market
Zanzibar was home to one of the last open slave markets in the world, operating until the late 1870s. Predominantly used by Arab traders (usually from Oman) the slaves were held in tiny cramped quarters, shackled to prevent them from escaping. Certainly a sobering visit, it is definitely important to understand the tragic side of Zanzibar’s history.
5. Visit the Old Fort
Zanzibar has a long and very interesting history. Did you know that the current capital of Zanzibar, Stone Town, was once the capital of Oman? Zanzibar has been colonized by the Portuguese and then the Omanis and then the British and then Oman again before becoming the United Republic of Tanzania (with Zanzibar as a semi autonomous state) in the 60s.
Built in 1699, the Old Fort is the oldest building in Stone Town. Although there’s not much to do at the site itself, it is free so you mind as well stop in the take a look around. Used as a garrison, a prison, and even a train terminal throughout history, it is not used mainly as a cultural center.
6. House of Wonders
One of Zanzibar’s most famous attractions was known as the House of Wonders. It was the tallest and largest building in Stone Town and it faced the famous Forodhani Gardens. Sadly in December of 2020, it partially collapsed due to neglect and cannot be visited at this time.
7. Freddie Mercury’s Childhood Home
Located on Kenyatta Road in the heart of Stone Town, you’ll find a monument to Freddie Mercury, known as the Mercury House. Although not officially open the public, you can pass by and see an array of photos and memorabilia from the musician at his childhood home.
8. Forodhani Gardens
Located in the center of the historical district of Stone Town, the Forodhani Gardens are more of a park than a garden. Best to visit once the sun has set, you’ll find a bustling fresh seafood market with countless unique Zanzibari street foods to taste.
9. Stone Town Port/Ferry to the Mainland
Just about 1.5-2 hours and $35 and you could find yourself on a ferry ride to mainland Tanzania. The beautiful city of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania’s largest) certainly has plenty to offer and is refreshing change of environment if you’re spending a lot of time on the island. Pop on over for a day trip, or even spend a night in the city. There’s so much to discover.
10. Souvenir Shopping
Stone Town is full of lovely little shops selling unique goods from Zanzibar. From handmade straw bags to African motif blankets to lovely pieces of jewelry, you’ll surely be able to find some amazing goodies from the street stores scattered throughout the city. In the center of Stone Town, you’ll find a cluster of most of the stores in the city.
11. Spice Market
One of the nicknames for Zanzibar is “Spice Island”. It would certainly be a shame to visit the country and not indulge in some of its famous spices. The best market in the country is located in Stone Town and it’s called Darajani Bazaar. Here you can buy just about anything you may be interested in; traditional clothing, fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, baskets, toys, and of course….SPICES. Some of the spices they are most famous for are clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili. And although not technically a spice, Zanzibar’s vanilla is almost as famous as Madagascar’s.
12. Sunset Views
Stone Town certainly has no lack of astonishing sunset views. Silhouettes of sailboats floating by against a backdrop of pastels and blue waters. A dream. Beach House, Serena Hotel, and the rooftop of 6 Degrees South all offer some of the clearest views in the city!
Where to Eat in Stone Town
Zanzibar is a seafood lover’s paradise! Prawns, crab, octopus, lobster, and countless types of fish are easily on the menu everywhere. No need to search. If you’re a seafood eater, be sure to enjoy all that the country has to offer with its fresh and local products! Here are some of the best restaurants in Zanzibar for seafood lovers and vegetarians alike.
Although I’m normally not a big fan of repeating restaurants, the Beach House such a lovely place to relax and see the sunset that we spent many meals here. Delicious cocktails and a mix of local and European food makes for a perfect combination. If you need a place to work from, they also have decent Wi-Fi and lovely vibes.
Stone Town Cafe
Located right in the middle of Stone Town, Stone Town Cafe is a great place to grab a coffee while exploring what the city has to offer while also people watching the mix of locals and tourists who frequent the area.
6 Degrees South
Rooftop views of the ocean? You won’t find any better place than 6 Degrees South, perfectly located right near most of the main hotels and the beach. They certainly win the best Wi-Fi in Stone Town award, although they are a bit touchy about people working from their café. At one point the manager very rudely asked us how much we had purchased to see if we has spent enough money per seat time. (It was almost empty and we got breakfast, lunch, and drinks there). The food, however, is quite good and it usually has a nice vibe.
Where to Stay in Stone Town
Being the main city of Zanzibar, Stone Town certainly has no shortage of lovely, beachfront hotels with stunning views. We stayed at two hotels during our stay:
Perhaps one of the loveliest hotels we ever stayed in, Serena was a complete pleasure. We had a stunning beachfront view with an enormous balcony. The pool was delightful with a 30-second walk to a lovely beach. The food was a bit questionable, but centrally located to some lovely restaurants right nearby.
Tembo House Hotel
The main building was lovely and authentically decorated in Arabic style and the staff was very friendly and helpful. If staying at the Tembo Hotel, we would suggest requesting to stay in the main building and not the annex building. Besides horrible Wi-Fi (the main building wasn’t that much better, Stone Town Wi-Fi was challenging), the annex building had an incomplete vibe to the décor. Our room in the main building had a beautiful beachfront view and a rooftop pool.
Tips for Visiting Stone Town
- It’s Small– Stone Town is a very small city and just about everything is inn walking distance. We didn’t need a vehicle for any of the activities within Stone Town itself although we did see some people navigating around on scooters
- HOT – As is the case throughout Zanzibar, Stone Town is very, very hot. Be careful with the sun, carry lots of water, and make sure to be extra cautious against sunburn. Zanzibar is just 6 degrees south of the equator. The sun is strong!
- Street Vendors – Stone Town is bustling with countless street vendors trying to sell you something on every corner. Whether it is a tour of the Prison Island or a little spice boat, they can be very persistent.
- Beaches – Stone Town is a lovely city, but its beaches are honestly not the best that the country has to offer. Of course you can certainly still enjoy a swim (and the island’s a boat’s ride away from Stone Town are pristine) be sure to experience the beaches throughout the country as well.
- Wi-Fi – The Wi-Fi in Stone Town was horrendous! Even at the nicest hotels, it was still pretty awful. The only place with decent Wi-Fi was the restaurant 6 Degrees South, but they were pretty strict about people not working from their place. If you need to work from Stone Town, be aware that the service is challenging!
Looking for more amazing things to do in Zanzibar? Check out: 18 AMAZING THINGS YOU CAN’T MISS ON YOUR TRIP TO ZANZIBAR | THINGS TO DO.
And for tips and tricks before you travel: ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ZANZIBAR | EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Lots of Love and Safe Travels,
Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters