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The oldest building in Zanzibar City is the 17th-century Ngome Kongwe (Old Fort, also known as Arab Fort, as it was reportedly built by Omanis), built as a defence against the Portuguese. It can be found in Stone Town, opposite the lush Forodhani Gardens. Traders hawk their wares in the vast courtyard, and regular festivals are held in its small amphitheatre.
One of Stone Town’s most prominent features is the Palace Museum, otherwise known as the Beit el-Sahel or Sultan’s Palace. It is now a museum on the waterfront, but was originally built for the sultan and his immediate family, in the 19th century.
Stone Town is a stunning cornucopia of whitewashed buildings and winding alleyways at the heart of the city. It is East Africa’s oldest still-functioning settlement, and home to a myriad of traditional markets and historic sites. You will find it to be abuzz around the clock, and packed with restaurants and entertainment venues. Singer Freddie Mercury (real surname Bulsara) was born here in 1946, and the restaurant named after him pays homage to Queen’s flamboyant front man.
The beaches that ring the islands on all sides are amongst the finest in the world, and during your trip to Zanzibar you will inevitably find yourself stretched out on at least one of them. The coastlines in the east of the archipelago are the best, and among the most popular are Kendwa, Nungwi, Pongwe, Paje and Matemwe.
Take a 30-minute boat trip from Zanzibar City to Prison Island. Slaves were, at one time, detained here, before it became a quarantine camp. Today, the island is the domain of giant tortoises and has become an internationally renowned nature reserve.
Zanzibar is also the perfect place for snorkelling and diving, and there are numerous spots around the islands for doing so. Pemba Island is especially popular, and can board a traditional dhow to get there and enjoy the journey for its own sake.
Zanzibar’s multi-ethnic history is reflected in its fabulous cuisine. The mix includes strong elements of Arab, Bantu, Portuguese, British, Chinese and Indian traditions, such as sorpotel, which is boiled meat cooked in a Portuguese-Goan style. Another popular dish is pilau (like pilaf), an aromatic rice dish prepared with goose or cow, potatoes, spices, onions and coconut milk.
The most typical Zanzibari dessert is spice cake, made from pastry, with clove, cinnamon, chocolate and nutmeg mixed in.
The most famous, and certainly the most lively and colourful, market to visit when travelling to Zanzibar is Darajani Market in Stone Town. This is where you get a real taste for local life, garner great photo opportunities, and get a chance to practice your haggling skills.
Indeed, Stone Town makes for a great all-round retail experience. Many of the shops here sell items made in India, Africa and the Far East. Spices, essential oils and jewellery can all be found here, with gold shops clustered next to the Anglican Cathedral.
Cathedral Street is the best place for antiques, including the old Chinese bowls that were formerly used for ballast in dhows.
Essential facts about Zanzibar
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip