10 Most Beautiful Places in Stone Town in Zanzibar

Most tourists will fly to Stone Town in Zanzibar, only to skip it altogether and go straight to the beaches around the edge of the island (the shambas). It’s true that the beaches in Zanzibar are spectacular. The white sands and blue water of the Indian Ocean are not to be missed!

Zanzibar has MANY places where you can take a beautiful photos – the beaches are superb, the weather impeccable and beautiful architecture ubiquitous. However, many of the best spots for travel photography can be found right in the bustling hub of Stone Town (surrounding the ferry port), and it’s often overlooked.

In our opinion, this is a big mistake, not only photogenically but culturally too. This photography guide aims to share a little more about Stone Town and then the most photogenic spots you can visit.

Note: we are not professional photographers, but we do have a keen interest in photography. All photos in this article were taken with a smart phone. We have since upgraded our tech to a beautiful camera, and next time we return to Zanzibar (hopefully soon!), we may replace some of these photos with hopefully upgraded alternatives. Nevertheless, this guide does give you an idea of where you can get the best photos and some of the most beautiful spots.

This article may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and they are often discounted, but we may receive a small commission if you use them to book.

Table of Contents

About Stone Town in Zanzibar

Stone Town is the ‘capital city’ of Zanzibar Island and though it does have a beach, but it’s mostly a port town. It’s a multicultural hotspot of Zanzibari people, food, Islamic architecture and history. As the old slave port of the island, every corner of the town has its own story to tell and it is as poignant as it is picturesque. Since many people skip straight to the beach resorts, they miss out on this.

Zanzibar has a noticeably different atmosphere and culture from mainland Tanzania. The Islamic influence has kept the island lodged in a different style from the rest of the country and it is worth exploring the winding streets and markets for the intrigue they have to offer. We highly recommend a trip to the old slave market to gain some valuable insights into a very troubled history, and eating at Lukman’s in town for some authentic Zanzibari cuisine. Stone Town is also really walkable, and you can also get there from the other resorts via public transport easily.

Stone Town has it all – local life, beautiful architecture, coffee culture, you name it! And besides which, the whole inner city is basically one big photo shoot.

Safety in Stone Town in Zanzibar

Is Zanzibar safe? It’s a question many first-time visitors ask.

We always say on our posts that it’s really hard to answer questions about safety, since it’s such a subjective topic, depending on who you are and your life experience. However, generally, yes Zanzibar is pretty safe.

Stone Town is probably the part of Zanzibar where you will want to be most aware of your surroundings, only because it is probably the busiest place. In other words, as with any city, keep an eye on your belongings. We’ve been to Zanzibar many times and never had an issue with pickpocketing, but it’s good to be vigilant, particularly in busy areas, such as the night markets and Forodhani Gardens.

Insurance for travelling through Africa

We’d all love to think our travels will always be smooth sailing, but the fact is that things can go wrong. That’s why I always like to recommend having great travel insurance to cover you for any eventuality.

We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and they are a great choice, especially for backpackers and digital nomads. They are affordable and reliable, and have an easy price calculator you can use to work out your cost below. Our favourite thing about them is how easy they are to use – the policy wording is super clear and not complicated. Additionally, you can easily add on electronics or adventure sports cover for any extras you need – so simple.

Check prices for your dates below.

Cultural sensitivities

Zanzibar is predominantly a Muslim island. This means that, although locals are quite used to tourists, it’s important to be respectful. It’s OK to wear swimming costumes in resorts and on the beaches, but you can make locals feel uncomfortable if you do this in the city centre of Stone Town.

As mentioned, locals in Stone Town are used to tourists, so dress code is not very strict. In order to stay as respectful as possible, we’d recommend to cover at least your shoulders and knees, and not wear super low-cut tops or those revealing your midriffs.

In terms of alcohol, Zanzibar is surprisingly relaxed, given the religious culture, and additionally they are very understanding of tourists eating during the day time during Ramadan. Regardless, it is important to stay respectful yourself as a tourist and understand that some locals may be uncomfortable with these things. As a result, drinking alcohol in the street should be avoided, and some understanding during Ramadan that locals may be fasting is important.

Most photogenic spots in Stone Town in Zanzibar

1. Zanzibar Coffee House

What is not to love about this coffee house? Great views, comfy seats, fantastic food, lovely coffee and friendly staff! This place should be top of any content creator and photographer’s list when visiting Zanzibar, not least because the outside area on the top floor looks like something straight out of a Parisian rooftop café!

The interior of the coffee house is sweet and cosy, plus the food is great for food photographers. The piece de resistance however, is the incredible view. The panoramic rooftop looks out over the whole of Stone Town and you can see some of the other rooftop bars (including Emerson on Hurumzi and Swahili House) from your seats.

N.B. It is a few flights of stairs to the top and we couldn’t see any elevators, so this likely wouldn’t suit those with access needs.

Inside Zanzibar Coffee House
Emma and Murray, a white couple in their 30s are sitting in a rooftop cafe. Emma is wearing a straw hat and has her back to the camera - Murray is wearing sunglasses and is side on. The surrounding views are out over Stone Town in Zanzibar
Views from Zanzibar Coffee House

2. St Joseph’s Cathedral

St Joseph’s Cathedral is iconic in Zanzibar – built by French missionaries in the early 19th century. As cathedrals go, this one is very pretty. You can go inside and explore the colourful interiors, which have plenty of spots to get a great shot. The colonial architecture is really interesting and the bright colours make the cathedral very unique.

The outside is also nice, but a little crowded, so it’s best to go early to avoid too many people.

If you do go inside the cathedral, it’s really important to dress respectfully. The cathedral is hugely important to the locals and they do not allow people inside if they are wearing revealing clothes (this mostly applies to women, but men also should wear modest clothing). If you see people praying, leave them in peace and try to keep their faces out of any photographs you take.

The cathedral staff also prefer tat you don’t use flash photography – it’s bright inside, so you shouldn’t need it.

St Joseph’s Cathedral from the outside…
And from the inside

3. Ocean Grill Bar and Restaurant

This is definitely a left-field choice and won’t be found on most photo guides to Zanzibar, but it’s a really cool place!

Set right on the beach front, but secluded enough that it doesn’t have the outrageous price tag of some of the beachfront restaurants, Ocean Grill is perfect for those wanting some great food, with a lovely rooftop vibe, and beautiful views of the beach.

The views are lovely, but there’s a cute little shot you can take on the colourful staircase leading up to the restaurant. We even saw someone shooting a music video there! This is probably more for people wanting photos social media or modelling shots than anything else, but it was very sweet.

Sometimes there are staff guarding the stairs, so remember to ask permission before taking photos, and move out of the way if there are people entering and exiting the restaurant, so as not to annoy customers. It’s also a nice idea to do them the courtesy of eating there so you can help their business if you want to stop for photos.

Emma, a 30 year old white woman, is sitting on the multicoloured stone steps of the Ocean Bar and Grill restaurant looking upwards. She has her legs and arms crossed and is wearing a hat and smiling
The jazzy steps at Ocean Bar and Grill Restaurant
Views from the restaurant

4. Forodhani Gardens

Forodhani Gardens is a park in Stone Town overlooking the old fort and host of the fabulous Zanzibar night markets, meaning that it’s the perfect spot for taking photos, as you’re guaranteed great shots, no matter when you choose to come!

Not only can you get some beautiful photos of the foliage with the fort in the background during the day time, but when it gets dark, you have the gorgeous market stalls at your disposal, and don’t forget to get a video of the infamous dockside Zanzibar jumpers welcoming you to Zanzibar! They start around 5pm and continue all evening – a must-see, but don’t forget to tip a small amount if they make a video for you.

When taking photos of people in the night markets, we would recommend always getting their permission before posting online, and we personally would try not to take portrait shots or close ups of their faces.

A Zanzibari chef is cooking on a barbecue. The table in front of him is full of various barbecue meats, fish and veg on skewers
The night markets in Zanzibar are not to be missed

5. Stone Town Cafe

Although not completely budget friendly, Stone Town Cafe is certainly one of the more affordable cafes of Zanzibar’s coffee culture scene and the coffee makes for some impressive photography, as it is all served in traditional Turkish-style pots.

The spiced coffee is not to be missed for a traditional local foodie experience! You can sit outside and enjoy the palm trees or get cosy inside and spend the day being a digital nomad like we did.

Not only is the coffee photogenic, but it’s also extremely delicious and comes in a traditional Turkish-style pot.

Turkish coffee in Stone Town Cafe

6. The many doors of Zanzibar

A sign in Stone Town affirms that only 277 of Zanzibar’s magnificent carved doors now exist in Stone Town, where there was once over 600. The reason is that the carving fell out of fashion and many of the trade was lost to history. Now that it is again a sought-after craft, a lot of the doors have fallen into disrepair or been sold to tourists, and the trade is coming back into fashion.

It still feels like the doors are everywhere when you’re walking around Stone Town, and there are few streets where you can’t find one of these doors.

When taking photos, be mindful that these may be the doorway to someone’s home, so definitely move on if you are asked to. Mostly, the locals don’t mind you taking photos of the doors because they are a very popular sight in Stone Town, but it’s still good to be mindful.

The older doors
A brown door, framed in gold with a very ornate, islamic style of carving
A beautiful ornate door in Stone Town

7. Emerson Spice Secret Garden

Who doesn’t love a secret cafe?

We certainly can’t resist and loved visiting the Emerson Spice Garden, which is not really so secret, but is hidden behind a doorway. The café itself is really beautiful, with open air seating, or you can head upstairs for the overhead view.

The food is all locally sourced with some great vegan and vegetarian options, though be warned, it does come with a price tag! By the way, if you’re new to Tanzanian food, we recommend checking this article we wrote about food in Tanzania and what you need to try.

Views from the top
A small cafe covered in tropical plants in an atrium style courtyard.
The garden at midday

8. Emerson Spice on Hurumzi

Part of the same franchise as the Emerson Spice Secret Garden, Emerson Spice on Hurumzi is the fine dining dinner equivalent.

Unlike the garden, the setting of Hurumzi is an upstairs seating area, with beautiful traditional cushions to sit on and a fine dining seafood experience. Vegans/vegetarians will not have much joy with the evening menu, as it’s all seafood, but you can go up for lunch, which is a separate menu.

The views are great and the seats so comfy you will want to stay all day! Hopefully you’ll get a photo that’s better than the one we took.

A cozy seating area with colourful cushions on a rooftop. The surrounding views are of Stone Town and the sea
The views from Emerson Spice on Huzumi aren’t to be beaten!

9. Darajani Markets

The Darajani markets are a great spot for shopping of any variety, and the main thing to get here is, of course, the famous Zanzibar SPICES.

The labyrinthine passages make for great photos and videos of market stalls and trinkets of every kind. You can find whatever spice you are looking for here, and no doubt at a very reasonable cost! Additionally, there are souvenir stalls, grocery markets, shoe shops and so many other things to pique your interest.

This is the perfect spot for photographers, though do of course be respectful and don’t point the camera directly in anyone’s face, no matter how great you think the photo will be. It’s important to be mindful when capturing people’s everyday lives that not everyone likes to be on film, even if you think they look interesting.

If you can avoid faces, this is for the best.

A narrow street lined with market stalls selling shoes, spices and all sorts. The street isn't crowded but there are people walking down it
Wandering through the markets

10. The Old Fort

Beautiful from the outside and the inside, the old fort in Zanzibar is as iconic as it is interesting. It’s free to enter, and inside, you will find a variety of souvenir shops and cafes, as well as the old amphitheatre.

Don’t worry though, you don’t get hassled to buy things, people generally leave you well enough alone to walk around in peace. If you want to shop, it’s always recommended to haggle, as it’s part of Zanzibari culture!

There isn’t much in the way of explanation as you’re walking around, but you can find out a little about the fort before you go. From our research, we found out that it was originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and later re-built by Omani invaders in the 18th century. In the 1900s it was even used as a train station, though today it’s more of a monument and cultural centre.

Emma, a 30 year old white woman, and Sarah, a 29 year old black woman, are standing smiling at the camera. Emma has an arm around Sarah they are standing in front of a Roman style amphitheatre. Sarah is wearing a bright yellow block pattern dress, Emma is wearing a straw hat and sunglasses, as well as a crochet top and pink trousers. They both look very happy.
Enjoying the Old Fort

Accommodation in Stone Town

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Stone Town in Zanzibar, you have plenty of options!

The below are some of our favourites – you can also use the search tool to check prices.

Budget accommodation in Zanzibar

Stone Town House – this is a really sweet little hostel, very well-located and laid out in a local style

Shoki Shoki Hostel – for those wanting hostel accommodation, Shoki Shoki is a great choice. Again, centrally located and with options for both private and dorm rooms, and it’s usually very affordable!

Sanaa Hostel – another great hostel option in Stone Town. Well-rated with dorm and private rooms, and a lovely fun atmosphere.

Mid-range accommodation in Zanzibar

Tembo House Hotel – Tembo House Hotel is pretty iconic, as it’s right in the middle of Stone Town. Most people will walk past it every day, so it’s in the perfect location for getting around. The design is beautifully Swahili in style and it’s a great traditional place to stay.

Spice Palace Hotel – one of the best things about the Spice Palace Hotel are the views from the terrace up top over the whole of Stone Town. This is a sweet place and usually well-priced.

Zanzibar Coffee House – this place even made our list of beautiful places to visit in Zanzibar! The views from the top are beautiful and you’ll have incredible food for breakfast every day.

Luxury accommodation in Zanzibar

The Neela Boutque Hotel – Neela Boutique is a chic but characterful boutique hotel just on the beach in Stone Town. It’s set in a historic building, so it’s a really unique place, and the service is next to none.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar – Park Hyatt is a brand everyone can recognise. The Stone Town hotel is decorated in traditional Zanzibari style, making it feel really unique.

Zanzibar Serena Hotel – the Zanzibar Serena Hotel is really cool and the views of the Indian Ocean are unparalleled. The food here is also unreal, and they have a beautiful pool area.

Have a look at what’s available for your trip below!

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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