Once a mass tourism destination that received thousands and thousands of tourists per year, including being a popular stopover for a shit load of Mediterranean cruise ships, after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Sousse, the city (and country) saw a massive decline still visible today.
Many shops were shut down, some tourist attractions were closed and the streets of one of the most charming cities in North Africa were suddenly empty.
After all these years, however, the country seems to be slowly recovering, as the entangled alleys of the Medina seem to finally have come back to life and, in the Roman sites of Carthage, tour groups abound.
Locals are happy to see tourists coming back and that’s why I think now is the best time to travel to Tunis.
This guide contains things to do in Tunis in a 3 day-itinerary (including off the beaten track things), as well as everything you need to know regarding transportation tips, best tours and more.
For a full country guide, including a 2-week itinerary and travel tips, read my Tunisia travel guide
In this Tunis travel guide you will find:
- Day 1: The medina
- Day 2: Bardo, Ville Nouvelle & around
- Day 3: La Goulette, Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and La Marsa
Intro: Why visit Tunis
A third Mediterranean, a third European and a third North African, Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, is the Maghrebi city with perhaps, the largest cultural contrasts.
From the wine-lovers, secular people of Carthage to the traditional families from the Medina and their Italian-like local restaurants, the capital of Tunisia has always been kind of in the middle of the way, so that’s why today, it is a real mix of all its surrounding cultures, to the extent that you will have a hard time trying to define it.
I spent 5 days visiting Tunis and I just loved it.
I liked it because, on the one hand, you have a great Arab Medina, not very different from the ones in Morocco, but way more welcoming, as you don’t bump into the classical hustlers that you typically find in the touristic lanes of Morocco.
I liked it because as soon as you step out of the Medina, you are suddenly in a quarter with European-like facades, boulangeries, churches and gelato stalls, and the air is quite often filled with freshly made Italian pizza.
I liked it because the city is also home to great Roman ruins that overlook the fertile, green lands that surround Tunis and the Gulf.
But above all, I liked it because I was very surprised by the complexity of the Tunisian society living in Tunis: on the one hand, traditionally Maghrebi but, on the other, here you find one of the largest Westernized, secular societies I have ever seen in the Arab world, even comparable to Beirut.
Add to this, all the things to do in Tunis like visiting impressive sites, mosques, museums and savoring their cuisine, which is a real North African-Italian blend, and you have a first-class tourist destination which you don’t want to miss.
Is Tunis worth the weekend trip?
Good question. Whenever you go to such exotic destinations, travelers like to spend several days, but they’ll never think of traveling to Tunisia to just visit its capital. If you live in North America or somewhere in Asia, I agree, but seriously, if you are in Europe, you can easily reach Tunis in 2 or 3 hours, and I think it would be a great alternative to the classic European capitals people tend to visit on long weekends. And by the way, you can get a free visa on arrival.
Best time to visit Tunis (the city)
Tunis is a Mediterranean city.
I visited it in April from Barcelona, and not surprisingly, the weather between both cities was the exact same, perhaps 1 or 2 additional ºC.
This means that, like most south European cities, Tunis is a year-round-destination with 4 different seasons:
- Winter (mid-November to February) – It will be cold, but the temperature shouldn’t go below 0 except on very especific days. Good for day-sightseeing.
- Spring and autumn (March to May and mid-September to mid-November) – Perfect timing. Pleasant weather during the day, but you may need a thin coat or jacket at night.
- Summer (June to mid-September) – Extremely hot during the day, but evenings can be pleasant and the temperature is hot enough for swimming.
Where to stay in Tunis
Backpacker Hostel – Medina Youth Hostel – Located in the heart of the Medina, this is the most backpacking-friendly hostel in Tunis. Very simple, but cheap, and where you are likely to meet the few backpackers visiting Tunis.
Mid-range hotel – Dar La Leila – Super nice, traditionally decorated lovely hotel, the top-rated hotel in Tunis, and super charming staff.
Top-end hotel – Dar El Jeld Hotel and Spa – A 5-star but traditional hotel that offers all the luxuries.
Best tours in Tunis and day tours from Tunis
I visited Tunis independently, but if you want to visit the mazes of the Medina with a local guide, or just want to do day trips to nearby places with an organized tour, there are many options.
I recommend you look for these tours via GetYourGuide, a website that offers a large variety of budget tours which can be booked in just 1 click.
Carthage and Sidi Bou Said – A guided tour through the Roman ruins of Carthage and the Santorini-like city of Sidi Boud Said.
Bardo Museum & Medina – The classic Medina and the museum containing one of the largest collection in the world of Roman mosaics.
Day trip to Kairouan & El Jem – The holiest city and, perhaps, the biggest standing Roman Amphitheatre in the world, after the Colosseum in Rome.
How to travel to Tunis
How to visit Tunis by air
I am pretty sure that, before the 2015 attacks, the International Airport of Tunis had frequent flights from all over Europe but today, at least from Barcelona, there were just 2 or 3 direct flights a week, operated by Tunis Air – during the month of April at least.
On the bright side, it is less than a 3-hour flight from pretty much anywhere in Western Europe and in the worst-case scenario, you will just need to do a quick layover in Paris.
For a full country guide, including a 2-week itinerary and travel tips, read my Tunisia travel guide
How to visit Tunis by land
- Libya: The border is actually open, but you are unlikely to cross from there, as only crazy people travel to Libya and even if you were willing to, the visa costs a shit load of money.
- Algeria: Algeria is becoming popular these days and the border is open. Actually, my initial plan was traveling to Algeria and then overland to Tunisia but, since my passport was full of ambiguous stamps such as Iraq or Syria, they denied my visa, so I flew to Tunis instead.
Read: a guide to visit Tbilisi
How to move around Tunis
Going and coming from the airport
The airport of Tunis is very close to the city center and taxi would be your best bet, especially because it is very cheap, but you should be aware that Tunis airport is well-known for its taxi mafia.
They will try to charge you around 15-30 dinars, making whatever excuse about airport tax, parking, baggage fees, etc., but it is all bullshit, and illegal.
The local price for going to downtown is 4 dinars, and it can’t go higher because all taxis should switch on their taximeter.
Paying 4 dinars with the taxi mafia is nearly impossible so, instead, just go out of the airport (to the left), cross the street and catch the first taxi you see.
Note: There is a bus just outside of the airport but the taxi is so cheap that I doubt all the hassle is worth it.
Moving around the city
Taxi – They are so cheap, really and they all have taximeters, so they will never rip you off. Short rides cost around 1-3 dinars, which is barely 1€.
Tram – The center of Tunis is well-connected by a European-like tram and a single ticket costs a few cents. An easy, and nice way to move around.
Moving from downtown to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said
Train – Carthage and Sidi Bou Said belong to Tunis but they are located more than 15km away. They are, however, connected by a train that runs all day long until midnight. Check What to do on day 3 section.
Things to do in Tunis in 3 days
For just visiting the highlights, you must spend at least 3 days visiting Tunis, and this is the itinerary I recommend:
Map of the places to visit in Tunis – Itinerary
Click on the image to see the interactive map
Places to visit in Tunis on day 1 – The Medina
A UNESCO World Heritage site founded in the 7th century by the Arabs, the Medina of Tunis is not surprisingly for North Africa, a maze of alleys, tunnels and traditional life.
The Medina had been the heart of Tunis for over 1,000 years but in the 19th century, when the French built the European-like Ville Nouvelle, the main soul of Tunis shifted to downtown along with many families who moved out of the Medina.
If you spend a fair amount of time exploring all the alleys, you will see that some parts are uncared for, and dirty, but the reason is that those houses belonged to families that decided to move to the new, trendy part of the city.
Still, there are quite a few sites to explore, and besides all the cafés, souks and mosques, these are the places I recommend you to check out.
Book a day tour around the Medina
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
Things to do in the Medina of Tunis – Highlights
Visit Zaytouna Mosque – Dating back to the 8th century, the mosque was named ”olive tree” because it is said that the founder Hassan Ibn Nooman had lessons under an olive tree planted somewhere in the mosque.
The mosque looks simple, but it is gorgeous and my favorite part was that the courtyard columns are original Roman Corinthian columns recycled from Roman Carthage.
Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer room, only the courtyard.
Check out Blacksmith’s souq – From an overwhelmingly number of souvenir souks selling all sort of crap to fabrics and everything in between, the only souq I actually liked (for being less touristic) was the blacksmith’s souq, located south of Zaytouna Mosque, at the lane located on its right side (coming from Place de la Victoire).
Basically, you will find plenty of blacksmiths handcrafting different metal objects.
Enjoy the view from a rooftop café – Next to the main mosque, there are a couple of cafés with a rooftop that overlooks the Medina skyline.
Tourbet El Bey – A mausoleum containing tens of tombs from all the important people that lived during Ali Pasha’s reign, in the 18th century. The Ottoman-era green dome is the highlight of the place.
Because of the tourism decline, entering is a bit tricky, as it is not officially opened, but there is one local guy that has the key. I tried entering the first time with no success but, on my way back, an old man approached me, claiming that he could open it for me, plus he gave me a guided tour inside. He only charged me 7 dinars.
Dar Ben Abdallah Palace – This is supposed to be the best house palace in the Medina but, unfortunately, it was closed when I came, so I just checked it from outside. This palace is a clear example of how rich people used to live in the Medina in the 19th century.
What to do in Tunis on day 2 – Bardo Museum & Ville Nouvelle and around
On your second day, I recommend you pay a visit to the Bardo Museum and then spend the rest of your day in the European Quarter of Tunis.
How to visit the Bardo Museum in Tunis
This is the best museum to visit in Tunis.
Placed inside one of the best palaces in the country, Bardo Museum contains one of the largest collection in the world of Roman mosaics, which once adorned the presumptuous Roman villas you are likely to visit during your trip around the country.
The museum, however, is today a bit messy, as many rooms and areas are going under an eternal renovation process, like most touristic sites in the country.
It opens from 9am to 5pm, from Tuesday to Sunday. Entrance fee 11 dinars. It is 5km from downtown, but you can reach it by tram.
Book a day tour to Bardo Museum (combined with the Medina).
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
Things to do in Ville Nouvelle – Highlights
Ville Nouvelle is the colonial French district.
Here you find some churches, fancy hotels, boulangeries, endless Italian restaurants, gelato stalls, bars, and pretty much anything you may find in France, but with a Maghrebi touch and way more chaotic.
The district is huge, composed of several streets from all sizes, and I recommend you begin your day walking around randomly to check all the Marseille-like facades, and end your day in Habib Bourguiba.
Habib Bourguiba – The main avenue in Ville Nouvelle doesn’t look like a North African avenue, like not at all. Composed of tree-lined streets filled with terraces where the locals meet over an espresso, this is the best place to end up your day and check out what modern Tunis is like.
Synagogue of Tunis – Amazing place. This is the only still functional synagogue I have ever seen in an Arab country. Well, apparently, there is one in Cairo as well, but I never saw it. The one in Tunis is surrounded by wire and a few armed soldiers.
You can only enter with a special permit and, if you come close to check it from outside, you will trigger the soldier’s attention but if they see you are a tourist, you will be fine. For me, this was one of the best places to visit in Tunis.
Abandoned Hotel (Hotel du Lac) – At the end of Habib Bourguiba to the left, there is a wing-shaped abandoned hotel. If you like this kind of stuff, then you can’t miss it. You can find the location on the map.
Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul – It’s funny that Tunis is the only Arab capital whose main square is dominated by a Cathedral and not a mosque.
Jamaica Bar – In Habib Bourguiba, Al Hana Hotel has a rooftop bar in its 10th floor, where you get the best panoramic views of the city.
What to see in Tunis on day 3 – La Goulette, Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, and La Marsa
Welcome to fancy Tunis.
This part of the city has 4 distinctive areas worth to check out, each one being so different from each other.
How to get here from downtown
There is a train that runs all day long until almost midnight. It leaves from the end of Habib Bourguiba.
One single ticket costs 0.7 dinars, and each area has its own train station, la Goulette being the first station, which is 16km from downtown.
Alternatively, you can go by taxi, which costs 10 dinars to La Goulette.
Things to do in La Goulette – Highlights
La Goulette is the first neighborhood you bump into when coming from downtown, an area which is definitely humbler than the rest, much more local, but here you also find the best and cheapest seafood restaurants in the city, all of them always packed with locals from all social levels who wish to enjoy fresh seafood on a budget.
I strongly recommend La Maison de la Grillade, where I had a stuffed calamari couscous, better than any other couscous I ever had before, as in Tunisia they make it juicier than its Maghrebi neighbors.
La Goulette also has a more local beach but it is not that nice.
Things to do in Carthage – Highlights
For many, Carthage is one of the best things to do in Tunis.
Originally founded by the Phoenicians – which came from today Lebanon – nearly 3,000 years ago, Carthage then became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire, the 5th largest imperial city.
Today, the main site is in total ruins, like very ruined, so you will need to have some imagination, but the few columns that remain are located on the top of Byrsa Hill, from where you get epic views of the Gulf of Tunis.
There are several sites to visit spread all over Carthage. You can buy a multi-entry ticket for 12 dinars, and visiting all of them takes a few hours. These are the ones I visited:
Byrsa Hill – The heart of Carthage are the ruins located on top. To get here, you will have to walk from the train station through the fanciest mansions in Tunis.
Roman Amphitheater – Located 15 minutes from Byrsa Hill, this used to be one of the biggest in the Roman Empire. It could accommodate up to 36,000 people.
Punic Ports – Built by the Carthaginians but then re-shaped by the Romans in a circular shape, these two ports were very important for Carthage’s development.
Sanctuary of Tophet – The Carthaginians used this place for sacrificing their children, something that even the Romans found horrific, so they build a temple and other things on top of it.
Book a tour to all the Roman sites of Carthage
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
Things to do in Sidi Bou Said – Highlights
A Santorini-like village in its purest Mediterranean form, Sidi Bou Said is the cliff-top, postcard-like town that everybody likes, both tourists and locals.
When the Muslims in Spain were defeated in the 16th century, many of them sought refuge here, so that is why some of the houses have an Andalusian style, as well as Ottoman.
There are a few art galleries and several cafés, but the best you can do is just walking around all the Instagrammable spots.
Book this great tour to Sidi Bou Said
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
Things to do in La Marsa – Highlights
La Marsa isn’t a really a place for sightseeing, but this is the most Westernized place in Tunis, the area where most expats live, as here you can find regular cafés where women won’t be stared at, bars and the best beach in the city.
I recommend you check the weekly Couchsurfing event because they tend to organize stuff here, but you should attend it anyways because it is a great way to meet open-minded locals.
This was my list of the best things to do in Tunis in a 3-day itinerary. Have any more suggestion? Please post it in the comments section.
More useful information for visiting Tunis
Read: Is Tunisia safe?
Here you can read more related content about the Middle East.