The Tunisian city seduces you with its cultural mix and ancestral medina. To be combined with the nearby archaeological site of Carthage and the picturesque village of Sidi-Bou-Saïd.
At the crossroads of the trade routes between the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa, Tunis has always been coveted. From the Phoenicians to the Moors, from the Ottomans to the French, many have fought to take over the city, which is certainly one of the most endearing in North Africa. After the Arab Spring of 2011 and the upheavals that followed, the capital has regained serenity and is once again full of visitors. So much the better! Getting lost there for a few days before going on to the Mediterranean seaside resorts is like touching a culture that is more than two thousand years old.
You reach the heart of Tunis via Avenue Habib-Bourguiba, the backbone of the colonial district inherited from the French protectorate from 1881 to 1955. In the cool shade of the tree-lined avenue, the stroll to discover its architectural treasures is charming in itself: the municipal theatre or the Carlton Hotel with its art-deco features, the Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul with its eclectic style or the French Embassy. On a café terrace, the spectacle is enhanced with a slice of life. In suits, jeans or djellaba, for work or out for a walk, the inhabitants seem to intermingle in a joyful melting pot.
You could sit there enjoying the sun for hours, slowing down the pace in tune with the local nonchalance, were it not for the call of the neighbouring medina. You enter through the gates in the ramparts. Opening onto the aptly named Place de la Victoire, the Bab El-Bahr (or French gate) is the best-known. On the other side, we are in another timescale, another world which seems impervious to progress. Even if the sound of smartphones brings us back to the 21st century!
Built by the Arabs 1300 years ago, the medina dazzles with the whiteness of its houses and the maze of narrow streets and covered passageways. It is best to wander around freely. Mosques, Koranic schools (Madrasas) and mausoleums add to the atmosphere. Not forgetting the doors richly decorated with metal studs and tracery, which one imagines hide fine dwellings (dars) with verdant patios and cool fountains. UNESCO made no mistake when inscribing it on the World Heritage List.
The spectacle is everywhere, calm in the winding alleys, lively in the contagious fervour of the souks. Forget Jamaa-ez-Zitouna street and its tourist shops. If you dare to lose your way, you'll find a cheerful bazaar, much better organized than you might expect. This is the goldsmiths' souk, Ali Baba's real cave; further on, the silk and wool souk with its multi-coloured skeins drying in garlands, and then the perfumers' souk with its sweet oriental voluptuousness... And whatever the decor, bargaining is a must!
To take a breather, you have to climb up a level. Here and there, cafés and restaurants open onto terraces. You can enjoy a mint tea or freshly squeezed orange juice while overlooking the flat roofs that stretch into the distance, with rich palaces and mosques rising up here and there. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter. But there are minarets where you can take in the view, starting with that of the Great Mosque tiled with colourful ceramics. And the Mediterranean with its port La Goulette, from where the ferries sail for France, over the horizon...
Sites et monuments
- Avenue Habib-Bourguiba, lined with art-deco buildings and cafés with a French atmosphere
- The Great Mosque, the most famous of Tunis, built in the 8th century and redesigned many times.
- Ed Dar, a noble 15th century mansion hidden in the medina and transformed into an artisanal site (fabrics, carpets, jewellery...).
- The three Madrasas (Koranic schools) of Palm, Bachia and Slimania. The latter opens its doors to visitors (earthenware, patio, prayer room...).
- The El-Bey Mausoleum, whose glazed tile domes and ceramic-covered walls house dozens of tombs of pashas (governors) and dignitaries.
- The covered market El-Ghalla, to buy fruit and spices
- The Acropolium (in Carthage), a cathedral in the Byzantine Moorish style
- Belvedere Park, an oasis of freshness that houses a small zoo and an 18th century dome.
- John Kennedy Park, which borders the lake of Tunis, a few minutes walk from the medina.
- The Bardo National Museum, a former 19th century palace/harem of Andalusian-Moorish style, which exhibits the archaeological remains of the most famous Tunisian sites.
- Dar Bach Hamaba, a rich 17th century palace with zellige-tiled walls, transformed into a cultural centre dedicated to the arts of the Mediterranean.
- Tahar Haddad cultural centre, set up in the vaulted stone and brick rooms of former stables (exhibitions, concerts...).
- The National Museum of Carthage, at the gates of Tunis, displays statues, jewels and mosaics found during the excavations of the ancient site.
- The centre of Arab and Mediterranean music, housed in an Arab-Andalusian palace in the neighbouring village of Sidi-Bou-Saïd.
- January 14 - Revolution and Youth Day commemorates the events of the Arab Spring 2011
- 20 March - Independence Day
- 9 April - Martyrs' Day, in homage to the demonstrations against the French protectorate (1938)
- July - international festival of Carthage (music, shows...), in the ancient theatre
- 25 July - Republic Day
- 31 July – Eid al-Adha (feast of the sacrifice). Variable date (20 July in 2021)
- October - international classical music festival at the Acropolium (in Carthage)
- 29 October - Mawlid (birth of the Prophet Muhammad). Variable date (October 18 in 2021)
- Take the TGM train (regional railway) from Tunis to reach Carthage in a few minutes. Now a residential suburb with chic villas, the city is home to the archaeological remains of the ancient city built by the Phoenicians. Places to visit: the Baths of Antoninus, the theatre, the national museum...
- Long before the French singer Patrick Bruel sang of his Café des Délices, the small town of Sidi Bou Saïd (25 minutes from Tunis by the TGM train) attracted artists. Sloping alleys, white and blue houses overlooking the Gulf of Tunis and Arab-Andalusian palaces ... it's a real postcard!
- About ten kilometres from Tunis, you can relax on the long sandy beaches in the seaside resorts of La Marsa and Gammarth. The golden youth of Tunis meet up in its restaurants and clubs, until dawn.
- Brick - this fried pancake is a classic of Tunisian cuisine. It can be garnished with an egg, tuna, stuffing, cheese...
- Tajine - in Tunisia, this is an omelette au gratin that mixes chicken, cheese and potatoes.
- Couscous - a fine semolina drizzled with broth (harissa), garnished with lamb, chicken or fish.
- Gargoulette - lamb or mutton simmered slowly in a terracotta jar
- Dates - to be eaten fresh from October onwards
- Baklava - a cake filled with hazelnuts or almonds
- Makroudh - a semolina cake flavoured with almonds and orange blossom
- Bouza - a cream based on ground dried fruit
- Mint tea - not to be missed! Almonds or pine nuts are sometimes added.
- Orgeat syrup – barley water made with almonds or pistachio nuts
- Wine - excellent wines (red or rosé) can be found, mainly in the Cap Bon region (northeast), about 60 km from Tunis.
- Boukha - a fig brandy that can be enjoyed as a digestive
- Thibarine - a liqueur (40°) prepared with dates and herbs