Serena Inn: Our full report
The Serena Inn in Stone Town is part of the internationally renowned Serena chain, which has hotels all over ...... East Africa. The buildings which make up the Serena Inn were once used as the residence for a Chinese doctor but it has been a hotel for the since the 1990s and has all the facilities you would expect of an international-style chain – including a choice of restaurants, a swimming pool, shop and coffee shop. It even has a conference centre.
The Serena Inn is a fine old hotel that has been carefully restored from two historic buildings – the end result is a reasonably smart and relatively high-quality hotel. The Serena also has a fantastic spot right on the beach (though this is a town beach, so not really one for sun-bathing and swimming), with a view across the sea towards the Tanzanian mainland. The swimming pool sits in the centre of the Serena, with the hotel's main areas and bedrooms circling around it in a 'U' shaped formation. There is also a small games room for children and a conference centre for those on business in Stone Town.
There are several places to eat and drink here: the Masahani Bar looks out over the beach. Inside, the bar has polished red-tiled floors, a dark wooden bar and a few antiques dotted around. There are plenty of low, comfortable lounge chairs where you can sit under fans and have a drink from the well-stocked bar.
Outside the bar on the terrace, are a number of cushioned wicker chairs around small tables. During lunch time people gather here in the shade to grab a quick snack from the bar-menu. It is a lovely spot with a very welcome cool sea-breeze and a relaxed air.
Just adjacent to the bar, up a few stairs is the main Bahari Restaurant. Similar to the bar, the dining room isn't especially stylish. Though it is atmospheric, decorated in an Arabian theme with lots of carved wooden furniture, antique-style brass lamps hanging from the ceiling, and dark red tiled floors.
In addition to its main restaurant, the hotel has a second, more exclusive and romantic Seafood Restaurant, which is a roof-top restaurant only open for dinner. Situated on an open terrace, the views across the Indian Ocean from here are beautiful.
For a quick coffee or a piece of cake, make a stop at the lovely Mdele Coffee Shop. This is situated in an open plan area behind the pool and is furnished with a number of small tables and wrought iron white garden chairs.
Adjacent to the café is the Serena Inn's shop which sells a variety of curios. It is a relatively well stocked little shop, though for those who can brave some serious bargaining, you will find better prices with the street sellers.
Of interest to afficionados of old audio ephemera, there are some mysterious bits of ancient signalling equipment on show in display boxes on the first and second floor of the north-west wing of the hotel. These date from the 19th-century when this building operated as a telegraph office, linked to Aden (now Yemen) by underwater cable.
The bedrooms at the Serena Inn vary in size and luxury, with the Standard Room being the smallest, the Prime Rooms being slightly larger and the Suites being the most opulent. However all of the rooms are of a good size and furnished with lovely Zanzibari beds and bright materials, and each has a private balcony. They're floored with polished red cement and rugs. Each room also has air-conditioning and an en-suite bathroom.
The Serena Inn is generally regarded as the best hotel in Stone Town, and it is a very well run establishment. When we were there last the team were helpful and friendly. The hotel can also arrange sunset dhow cruises around the harbour, or picnic trips to a sandbank for lunch!
What could be a draw-back for some people is that this is quite a large hotel – there are 51 rooms in total. It is the kind of place where all the staff wear immaculately ironed matching uniforms, and have a fixed gracious smile. It can feel a little commercial, but it certainly isn’t pretentious and everyone is genuinely very welcoming.
- Stone Town, Zanzibar
- Ideal length of stay
- 1 or 2 nights to explore the fascinating culture of Stone Town.
- It takes around 35 minutes to fly to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam, and then it's a further 15 minutes by car to Stone Town and the Serena Inn.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Bed & Breakfast
- Food quality
- Breakfast at the Serena Inn is served from 6.30 to 10am in the morning, and is usually a buffet consisting of fruit, cereals and an English breakfast. Lunch is then served from 12.30 until 3, from an a la carte menu.
For lunch here is a snack menu available from the bar which serves food throughout the day – serving sandwiches, pizzas and other standard international food.
Dinner in the main restaurant is rather more formal, with a set 3-course menu. Alternatively, upstairs is the Seafood Restaurant, which offers very good seafood and smart dining in the open-air on the roof, when the weather is warm and dry.
The food at the Serena Inn is as you would expect from a good quality, but large hotel. We did not eat here on our most recent visit in 2019, however in the past we found it extremely good and well presented, although it was not spectacularly original or unusual. We stopped at the Serena a couple of times in 2017 and had very good gin and tonics ($8), accompanied by live taarab music from the wonderful Culture Musical Club on the balcony.
- Family holidays
- The Serena Inn in Stone Town is a spacious hotel with a large swimming pool, cots and high chairs and babysitting on offer. Don’t expect anything quirky or exclusive here, but a convenient, comfortable base for your family beach holidays in Zanzibar.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- There is a small spa at the Serena, which can provide the usual range of beauty treatments that you would expect from an international hotel. With a beautiful swimming pool, a stay here makes for a relaxing start to your holiday in Zanzibar.
- See ideas for Wellbeing
- Attitude towards children
- The Serena Inn happily welcomes children.
- Property’s age restrictions
- There are no age restrictions at the Serena Inn
- Special activities & services
- There are no special activities organized for children, unless it is around Christmas time. A babysitting service can be provided – however note that this is generally the housekeeping staff, and not professionally trained babysitters.
- Cots and highchairs are available on request.
- Generally recommended for children
- This is a good hotel for children, as it is one of the few in Stone Town that has a pool to keep them entertained and can also offer babysitting.
- The Serena Inn has free Wi-fi. There are also phones in all of the rooms which can be used to call outside of the hotel for a fee. There is cell-phone reception in most areas of the Serena.
- TV & radio
- There is satellite TV in all of the rooms, with a variety of international channels.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a private hospital only 10 minutes away from the Serena Inn for medical emergencies. Staff are first aid trained.
- Dangerous animals
- Low Risk
- Security measures
- There are always six security guards on duty at the Serena Inn – and the main doorman here is very knowledgeable and helpful.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in all of the communal areas and corridors around the Serena.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- The laundry is an extra charge and costs between US$2 – 4 depending on the item.
- The Serena Inn will happily exchange US dollars, pounds, euros and Tanzanian shillings.
- Accepted payment on location
- You can pay for any extras using US dollars, pounds, euros and Tanzanian shillings cash. You can also use Visa, Mastercard and Amex for no extra charge.
Room types at Serena Inn
The Prime Rooms are larger than the Standard Room with a much larger balcony - some with hammocks, though they are very similar in style and design. Each of the Prime rooms has a highly polished stone floor, white washed walls and large windows that let in plenty of light.
The rooms are furnished with a traditional carved double bed, a lovely European wooden dressing table and stool, and a comfortable embroidered chair. The beds have high-quality cotton sheets and soft throws, whilst mosquito netting hangs from the canopy. Each of the rooms has air-conditioning and fans, hairdryers, a kettle, mini-bar and satellite television.
The six Prime Rooms also have wonderful large balconies, with comfortable lounge chairs and great views across the sea. These are relaxing places to rest in privacy when you/re not exploring Stone Town.
The bathrooms are also slightly larger than the standard rooms, though they are still decorated with white marble-effect and tile. They have a hot showers, flush loos and wash basins.
The Standard Rooms at the Serena Inn are lovely bright and airy, with large windows, white-washed walls, dark Zanzibari furniture and polished stone floors. The rooms aren't huge, but they are perfectly comfortable and each has its own small private balcony with some chairs.
Each Standard Room has air-conditioning, mini-bar, a hair-dryer and satellite television. The beds are draped in mosquito netting, with crisp cotton sheets and Zanzibari throws. The furniture is a mixture of traditional carved Zanzibari pieces and colonial antique-style chairs and dressers.
Some standard rooms are doubles, some twins and some can be used as both.
The en-suite bathrooms are all quite small, though they were very clean and nicely decorated with white marble and tiles. Each has a shower, a flush loo and a basin.
There are four suites at the Serena Inn which are the hotel's largest rooms by quite a long way. Each has a reception area where there is a comfortable lounge furnished with antique-style silk sofas and chairs - which look as if they have come straight from an English stately home.
The bedroom has fresh whitewashed walls, polished cement floors spread with Persian rugs and a mix of Zanzibari and European furniture. The end result isn't opulent or especially stylish, but it's charming in a rather colonial fashion: these are beautiful rooms.
Like the other rooms, the suites have air-conditioning and fans, hairdryers, a kettle, mini-bar and satellite television. But the suites are much more spacious and have enormous balconies to lounge around on.
The en-suite bathrooms in the suites are much larger than the other standard of room. Each has twin wash basins, a combined bath and shower and a flush toilet. They are decorated with white marble effect facias and tiles and are spotlessly clean.
Other lodges in Stone Town
Alternative places to stay in this same area.