Stone Town is the cultural and historical heart of Zanzibar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili meaning ‘ancient town’), the atmospheric old capital of Stone Town is one of the most unique cities in the world – an exciting blend of Arab, Middle Eastern, Indian and African cultures.
Get pleasantly lost in the city’s maze of narrow winding alleyways crammed with Arab and Indian-influenced architecture.
Along the way discover bustling oriental bazaars, mosques, palaces and grand Arab mansions decorated with ornately carved brass-studded doors and enclosed wooden verandas that closely resemble the medinas of the Arabian Peninsula.
Check out the castellated battlements of the 16th century Arab Fort, the marble-floored rooms of the Beit-el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), personal artefacts of the sultan at the Beit al-Sahel (the Sultan's Palace) and the wooden balconies at the sumptuous four-storey Ithna’asheri Dispensary.
The best of Stone Town’s historic sites include…
Admire the thick caramel walls, wander the castellated ramparts and enjoy wonderful harbour vistas. Later, marvel at local craftsmen at the Cultural Centre, browse henna painting shops and watch traditional nightly performances of dance and music at the open-air theatre.
Located next to the House of Wonders, the fortress stands on a Portuguese settlement first established in 1560 then converted into a fort between 1698 and 1701 by the ruling Omani Arabs.
After successfully fending off attacks by mainland Mazrui Arabs the fort was later used as a jail; those prisoners sentenced to death were executed here. It is the oldest structure in Stone Town and has undergone extensive renovation.
Read more about the Old Arab Fort…
(House of Wonders) – Wander the marble-floored rooms, admire cultural exhibits, examine centuries-old artefacts, cannons and gracefully carved wooden doors in this imposing building, arguable the most elegant structure in Stone Town.
Built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash, the large four-storey building was the first in Zanzibar to have electric light and an electric lift – the ‘house of wonders’ to the local populace.
Surrounded by tiers of pillars and balconies and topped by a large clock tower, the palace is still one of the largest buildings in Stone Town.
In 1896, during a dispute with the reigning sultan, the palace was bombarded by the British Royal Navy forcing the sultan to abdicate his throne. Lasting just 38 minutes, this remains the shortest war in history.
Don’t miss the life-sized mtepe – a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without nails (only coconut fibres and wooden pegs hold the wooden planks together).
Read more about Beit el-Ajaib…
(The Palace Museum) – Explore the many rooms of this large white building, built in the late 1890s for members of the Sultan's family and featuring castellated battlements.
Originally called the Sultan's Palace, it became the official residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1911; following the revolution in 1964, it was renamed the People’s Palace.
Since 1994 the palace has been a museum featuring a display of the sultan’s furniture, artefacts and possessions that survived the revolution. Within the grounds lie the tombs of Sultan Said and two of his sons. The Palace Museum is open daily 9am to 6pm.
Read more about the Palace Museum…
This charming white, spherical building boasts a wealth of local memorabilia and offers a satisfying insight into Zanzibar’s intriguing history and culture.
Discover an amazing array of relics including exhibits including David Livingstone's medical chest and an old palm oil-powered bicycle lamp.
Stroll past local wildlife displays, traditional carvings and view relics from the era of the Sultans and early explorers. Look out for the huge land tortoises that live in the Museum's lush garden.
Read more about the National Museum…
Stroll inside the first Anglican cathedral built in East Africa. Construction of the huge cathedral began in 1887 to commemorate the end of the slave trade (in 1873) and was overseen by Edward Steere, the bishop of Zanzibar and a fervent abolitionist.
Ponder the imposing alter, constructed on the site of a former whipping post – a tree were slaves were brutalised to show their strength to prospective buyers – and the crucifix, allegedly carved from the tree under which missionary-explorer David Livingstone's heart was buried in Chitambo, Zambia.
The cathedral is a mix of Gothic and Arabic styles and is noted for its Basilica shape and barrel vault roof. Steere died of a heart attack during construction, which lasted ten years, and is buried behind the altar. For a bird’s-eve view of the city, climb up to the tower.
Just metres away (under St Monica's Hostel next door) are underground caverns stacked with low stone shelves where slaves awaited the slave market.
Read more about the Anglican Cathedral…
Although nothing remains of the old slave market today as the Anglican cathedral was built on the site, you can still visit some of the remaining holding cells.
Venture down into the tiny, dark, dungeon-type underground caverns stacked with low stone shelves where slaves awaited the slave market. The entrance is just metres away from the cathedral, next to St Monica's Hostel.
Read more about the Old Slave Market…
Explore this vibrant gable-roofed marketplace, which dates back to 1904.
Browse for jewellery, wooden chests and fabrics such as the brightly coloured khangas (worn by the local women).
See also an array of local fruit, spices and antiques on Wednesday and Saturday. The market is open from 8am to 6pm but the best time to visit is between 9am and 11am.
Read more about Darajani Market…
Although now closed and without water, you can still explore a maze of marble-floored rooms leading to ornately tiled public bathrooms that were built in the late 19th century by Sultan Barghash.
Read more about the Hamamni Persian Baths…
(Ithna’asheri Dispensary) – This colonial-era dispensary – so named because it once housed a dispensary, with a pharmacy and resident doctor – was built at the turn of the last century by an affluent Indian merchant, Tharia Topan.
Now known as the Stone Town Cultural Centre, this grand four-storey building features a set of intricately carved wooden balconies, stuccowork and stained glass windows overlooking the waterfront. Today, it’s home to a small museum as well as collection of curio shops, galleries and a café.
Read more about the Old Dispensary…
Join the locals on an evening stroll through this pleasant waterfront park, renowned for its open-air food market on Mizingani Street in Stone Town.
Pause to snack on freshly grilled fish, crab claws, calamari and Zanzibar pizzas, among other delicious foods, by the light of atmospheric gas lanterns.
Read more about Forodhani Gardens…
This ornate cathedral was built by French missionaries more than a century ago and is based on the basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, in Marseilles, France.
It’s twin spires are one of the city's most recognisable landmarks and one of the first sights you'll probably see when you arrive in Stone Town.
Read more about St. Joseph's Cathedral…
Visit the house where the great explorer lived before commencing his last journey in 1886 into the African interior.
Many missionaries and explorers also used this house as a starting point for the mainland.
Latest update: Stone Town Sights & Attractions: 27 April, 2022