Stone Town, Stone Town
Concierge.com's insider take:
During the 19th century, when its Omani rulers were at the height of their powers, Stone Town was home to a colorful collection of scheming sultans, greedy merchants, conniving colonial powers, and notorious cutthroats who prowled the alleys after dark. Slaves, spices, and ivory were exported to the deserts of Arabia and to markets in Europe and America; dhows cluttered the chaotic harbor, their upright sails carving the ocean's waves like shark fins, destined for foreign ports.
Today's Stone Town is as colorful and clamorous as it was a century ago, though colonial officials have given way to camera-toting tourists. Its narrow streets are a tumult of temples, churches, mosques, and the crumbling remains of Arab palaces. Make time to visit iconic sights like the Old Fort, built by the Portuguese in the late 17th century; the House of Wonders, used by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial palace after its construction in 1883 and today housing a history museum; the Anglican Cathedral, erected on the site of the old slave market; and St. Joseph's Cathedral, built by French missionaries in the 19th century and buried deep in Stone Town's labyrinth.
Local companies such as Zan Tours (Malawi Rd.; 255-24-223-3116; www.zantours.com) offer walking tours of town. Much of Zanzibar's history has been preserved through oral tradition, making a guide useful, but you'll be amply rewarded by strolling the streets yourself, watching the locals haggle for fish at the market, or hearing the cries of schoolchildren reciting their lessons in a madrassa.