When you get there, you will realise why it is called Stone Town, and certainly not because it is boring. Quite the opposite, Stone Town is the bustling centre of Zanzibar City that lies on a small peninsula on the Western side of the main island Unguja. It is the cultural hub of Zanzibar and the historic centre of Swahili history where you can find anything from Batik workshops and traditional art galleries, to lively restaurants and one of Africa’s biggest music festivals: Sauti za Busara.
Stone Town began as a settlement that flourished under the Swahili spice trade and later as the main hub for the Arab trade in African slaves. Stone Town’s unique architecture represents the Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and of course African influences that underpin Swahili history and culture. Its unique history and architecture has made Stone Town a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a must see in Zanzibar. It is a truly unique place where winding narrow streets are surrounded by tall stone buildings made of coral rock that give the town its name.
Significant sights to see include the Old Fort, Forodhani Gardens (where there is a delicious night time food market), and the House of Wonders that dominates the port side of Stone Town as you arrive by water. There is also the Sultan’s palace, the Hamamni Baths, and historical houses such as that of Freddie Mercury and infamous slave trader Tippu Tip. Indeed, the slave trade’s influence can be seen in the names of former slave markets such as Kilele square (Swahili for “noise”, after the hustle of the slave market which used to be there), and there is also a commemoration of the slave market near the Anglican Cathedral. A Stone Town tour is recommended to get to all these sights in before simply letting yourself get lost amid the streets. The guide will tell you everything about Stone Town including the traditional Zanzibari doors which proudly and impressively decorate homes around town.
The streets are too narrow for cars so you will be walking among a flurry of people and bicycle bells with shops eagerly trying to entice you in to see traditional Zanzibar hand craft and clothing. Take a break at Jaw’s Corner where you can chat and drink chai with the welcoming locals, or step into the Hurumzini Movie Café and catch a smoothie with a film. Stone Town also boasts a lively nightlife with a mix of local and more “ex-pat” restaurants and bars. For some good Swahili cuisine, try out Lukmaan’s restaurant or if you’re looking for more Western styles and a drink there is Taperia and Six Degrees. Stone Town is extremely safe and small so you can simply walk around and explore everything this amazing site has to offer.