With over 1,200 years of interesting and culturally diverse history, Stone Town is a unique place that is a must-visit for anyone planning a trip to Zanzibar.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once a flourishing trading hub and is often described as the “melting pot” of African, Arab, Indian and European culture – all of which have left their mark in one way or another.
Walk around and you’ll see shutters hanging off their hinges, paint peeling from the walls and urban decay where there was once extravagant facades. But despite the years and years of deterioration, you can’t help but feel this adds to the town’s magical charm. Stone Town is a place that will definitely leave a mark on your heart.
Here are some must-do activities if you are considering a trip to this fascinating town.
Get lost in the maze of winding alleys
Lose your guidebook for the day and get lost in Stone Town’s timeless maze of narrow, windy passages of ancient and fantastically decrepit buildings. As you walk around, you can’t help but continuously look up at the magnificent architecture, which boasts colonial grandeur mixed with Arabic and Swahili influences. It’s a photographer’s paradise!
Marvel at the famous Zanzibari doors
While walking around, it’s hard not to miss the hefty wooden doors that are elaborately carved and remain intact, guarding these decrepit buildings. The noticeable large brass studs have roots back to India, where historically they were once used to deter charging war elephants. However, today in Stone Town, they are used as decorative pieces to show off economic status.
Forodhani Gardens Night Market
Every evening at sunset, stalls set up their street kitchens to deliver some of the island’s tastiest grilled and fried treats – including the infamous Zanzibar Pizza, which is kind of like a Roti folded around your choice of filling and fried on a hot plate. Half of the fun is walking around while soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the sales patter of each stall as the reel off their long list of seafood options.
Visit the Old Slave Market
Once the main slave-trading port in East Africa, you can learn more about Zanzibar’s haunting past by visiting Stone Town’s former slave market. At its height in the 18th and 19th centuries, some 45,000 slaves were shipped from Zanzibar to Brazil, India and Arab countries. Nothing really remains of the slave market today, except one small dark chamber which reputedly imprisoned 50 slaves awaiting auction for days and days at a time. The market itself was replaced with an Anglican cathedral, built after the abolition of slavery in the 1870s, where the former whipping post is marked by a marble spot at the altar.
Meander through Darajani Market
Not far from the old slave market, you will encounter a chaotic assault on the senses at the colourful and vibrant market of Darajani. Mainly frequented by the locals, you can find everything here from pots and pans, fresh meat and traditional kanga material. It’s a great opportunity to practice your haggling skills!
Visit the Old Fort
This large fort located on the waterfront of Stone Town was built by the Omani Arabs in the early 18th century as a defence against the Portuguese. By the 19th century, it was a prison where criminals were executed. Today, the fort has been transformed into an array of shops, a restaurant, cultural centre, and an open-air theatre that hosts various musical performances and the Zanzibar International Film Festival.
Go to the Palace Museum
This huge white palace is located on the seafront and was once the Sultan’s official residence. Now it is a museum and for 5,000 Tsh, you can head inside for a glimpse into the lives of old Zanzibar royalty and learn about the captivating story of Princes Salme who fled Zanzibar after falling in love with a German merchant.
Join a spice tour
Zanzibar has got its name as the “Spice Island” for a reason, and no trip to Stone Town is complete without exploring some of its famous spice plantations. If you’re a foodie at heart and love to cook, these educational tours offer a great insight into how some of your favourite spices and exotic fruits are harvested.
Take a stroll along the seafront
At the end of the day, as the sun starts to set, head to the beach to soak up its vibrant atmosphere. From late afternoon, the waterfront becomes a hive of activity where many locals come to show off their acrobatic skills or challenge each other to games of football. The vibe is lively and entertaining and a great way to round-off a busy day of exploring!
Have you ever explored the magical town of Stone Town? I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below!
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