City Guide: Stone Town on Zanzibar
Visiting Stone Town on Zanzibar was a very special experience. While the city is UNESCO World Heritage, it is very run down at the same time. In his City Guide, you’ll read what you need to know before visiting the city as a tourist.
Zanzibar has a growing number of tourists, mainly for its beautiful beaches. That’s one of the reasons we spent four nights at the DoubleTree Zanzibar Nungwi, where we enjoyed spending time at the beautiful beaches.
However, after the beach days, we decided to check out the capital of Zanzibar, Stone Town, for another two days. The city has quite an interesting history and is somewhat troubled till today. Even though Stone Town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, the city is in danger of loosing that important “mark” because the city is losing more and more of its beauty due to the lack of restoration.
Forodhani Gardens & the House of Wonders in Stone Town
When staying at the DoubleTree Zanzibar Stone Town, we just went to the Forodhani Gardens by the water first.
This park is quite beautiful and doesn’t only come with some greenery, but also a lovely view of the sea. You can also spot a historic building, which is the centerpiece of the park.
I also liked the restaurant on a pier, right in the park as well as the floating houses in the distance.
When you happen to be in Stone Town, you definitely need to pass by this park.
From here, you can also have a nice view of the remaining of the Stone Town Fort.
Moreover, you can spot the House of Wonders, which is one of the most beautiful buildings in Zanzibar. At the same time, it is also the tallest and largest building in town.
Back in the days, the House of Wonders, also known as the Palace of Wonders, was one of six majestic palaces built by Sultan Barghash bin Said.
Palace Museum in the former Sultan’s Palace
Speaking of the Sultan: One of the main attractions in Zanzibar is the Palace Museum, located very close to the Forodhani Gardens.
The former Palace doesn’t make a great impression from the outside and is a good example on why Stone Town is consistently loosing some of its beauty.
Inside, you can find a museum showcasing the history of Zanzibar, its Sultans and the Muslim influence on the island. While quite interesting, the museum is very much run down, too.
Several rooms are more or less empty, there are only a few explanation boards and the historic furniture looks mismatched. The views of the sea from the various terraces are totally beautiful though.
We also got some good explanations by a guide of the museum (who was nice and didn’t ask for tip consistently). We parted ways in the nice gardens of the Palace, which must have been glorious once.
Here, you can also spot the first car used by the last Sultan.
It actually looks more modern than most other cars you’ll see in town 😉
Slave Trade Exhibition & the Anglican Cathedral Stone Town
Two further highlights in Stone Town are the Slave Trade Exhibition and the Anglican Cathedral. Both are located right next to each other in the Northern Area of the historic old town. The reason for that is that the church was built right next to the spot, where slave auctions took place until the late 19th century.
Zanzibar has always been one of the world’s important trading points for slaves, mainly under the rule of the Oman Sultanate. The conditions for slaves where horrible and thousands over thousands died in Stone Town. The cruel history and the remaining of what once was the main trading point, including the prisons, can be visited here in a museum.
When you’ve seen all of that, you might want to check out the Anglican Cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful buildings of the city.
More importantly, the church played an important role in abolishing slavery, mainly due to one brave priest, who fought against the local government.
Markets, Streets & Buildings in Stone Town
When you read about Zanzibar and Stone Town, you are expecting beautiful streets, full of life, flying markets and art. Reality is different though, which is why I can understand the problems with the UNESCO World Heritage situation.
Most streets we walked through had a few nice buildings, a few markets and some color. Nevertheless, most of Stone Town looks totally run down and even begins to feel quite dodgy.
The beauty is somewhat rotting away, which is a shame as the whole historic old town is some beautiful and unique. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of investment needed to preserve what lost a lot of its beauty in the last couple of decades. We also visited the biggest markets in the city center, which was quite a nice experience.
Hopefully, Stone Town will get back to its original charm again.
Beaches & Sunsets in Stone Town
If you happen to visit Stone Town, you might rather think of culture than of beaches (which are most beautiful in the North and the South of the island), but there are a couple of small and nice beaches in the Southern part of the city center of Stone Town, too. Here, you can enjoy beautiful sunsets.
In this area, you will also find most hotels, including the stunning new Park Hyatt Zanzibar, but also several other luxury hotels.
Those also offer private pools with views of the sea and will definitely make you feel relaxed while visiting Stone Town.
Overall impressions of Stone Town on Zanzibar
Visiting Stone Town was a very interesting experience I definitely don’t want to miss. At the same time, I was a little disappointed by the historic city center. While there are certainly some beautiful areas and buildings, including the Forodhani Park and the House of Wonders, most parts look a bit past their prime. It’s certainly an interesting city and it’s a unique experience, but I somewhat expected the city to be in a better condition overall. Let’s hope that Stone Town will find back to its originally beauty and I’m sure that visiting will be incredible. For now, Stone Town is well worth a visit when you are on Zanzibar anyways, but not if you are just visiting for the city.
Do you have any questions about Stone Town? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!