Tunisia is an excellent option for anyone wanting a very adventurous Mediterranean holiday within just a few hours flight time from London. It’s North Africa through and through, but just a stones throw across the Med from Malta. It’s also a very affordable holiday destination. Tunisia is not without it’s drawbacks — check the foreign office advice on terrorism and avoid drinking the tap water and eating in unhygienic restaurants. But if it’s a culture packed holiday that you are looking for there are so many amazing things to do in Tunisia.
If you’re interested, you can read all about my holiday to Tunisia — the good, the bad and the ugly!
Step back in time by visiting the beautiful Kasbah of Sousse with it’s narrow lanes beautiful doors and towering houses. Sousse Kasbah is home to some of the finest Arabic architecture in Tunisia.
Built in AD 859 on the site of an earlier Byzantine fortress, the Kasbah is one of Sousse’s grandest monuments. Its Khalaf al Fata tower is one of the only towers of it’s kind still standing in Africa. The Kasbah’s topmost platform is 50 meters above that of the Ribat, making it the best place to get medina views. After its construction, the Kasbah took over the military role of the Ribat and the Khalaf al Fata tower is still used as a lighthouse.
The Gulf of Hammamet possesses the best beaches in a country which is known for them. Both north and south of the town has lovely stretches, interspersed with private hotel beaches — particularly outside the International Cultural Centre, previously Sebastian’s villa (avenue des Nations Unies). Plenty of water sports facilities are available, including windsurfing, water-skiing and jet-skiing. Some hotels offer open-water diving courses.
Described as jewel of the heritage of Tunisia, it is housed in an old Beylic palace dating back to the Sixth Century. Through its collections, it retraces a huge part of the history of Tunisia (from Prehistory — contemporary epoch) and has the biggest collection of mosaics in the world including the mosaic that represents the poet, Virgil. You will discover there an abundant collection of Punic jewels as well as a gallery of Roman sarcophaguses and Christian baptisteries. One of the high points of the visit is a Roman ship’s cargo wrecked off the coast of Cape Africa, facing the town of Mahdia, with its Hellenistic Greek art master pieces: bronze pieces, marble sculptures, and furniture. This was the result of underwater excavations undertaken with the participation of Commander Cousteau.
With a history stretching back nearly three millennia, Carthage was once the heart of a powerful Mediterranean empire before being levelled by the Romans in the Third Punic War in 146 BC. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Carthage is a short train ride or taxi from Tunis and has several interesting attractions, like the Punic port and the Carthage Museum. Roman sites include the Antonin baths, the largest Roman baths outside of Rome. On the same site though you can find some of Carthage’s Punic remains including a kiln and a cemetery. Other remains in Carthage include the Amphitheatre, which is the remains of roman columns, water cisterns and houses alongside a section of Roman aqueduct.
Byrsa forms part of the Archaeological site of Carthage and contains a number of interesting historical places to explore. Once the ancient citadel of this powerful city, Byrsa was the military centre of ancient Carthage and was besieged and destroyed by the Romans in 146BC. However, when the Romans rebuilt the city Byrsa remained central to their administration and a number of important public buildings were constructed on the site.
#6 Kairouan Grand Mosque
In Tunisia, every city has a Great Mosque, but Kairouan is the most significant. Commonly regarded as the fourth holiest site in Islam (after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem), it is the oldest Muslim place of worship in Africa.
The exterior of the Great Mosque of Kairouan is in the classically austere ‘Aghlabid’ design and the grand minaret indicates the importance of the building, with the mosque becoming even more extraordinary after entering. There are nine different gates Muslims can enter the mosque through with non-Muslim visitors using the main gate on rue Oqba ibn Nafaa, who must be appropriately dressed. Robes are normally available at the entrance. Entrance into the courtyard is permitted to non-Muslims making it one of the best free things to do in Tunisia.
#7 El Djem Amphitheatre
The Amphitheatre of El Djem is an outstanding example of Roman architecture in Africa, with monuments notably built for spectator occasions such as Gladiator fights. Located right in the centre of Tunisia, the amphitheatre is built completely of stone slabs, free-standing with no foundations. It is fashioned on the Coliseum of Rome but it is not an exact copy of the Flavian construction. The El Djem Amphitheatre is actually better preserved than the Colosseum in Rome. Buy your ticket at the entrance and be prepared for security and bag checks.
The ancient Djerba Synagogue is found on the Tunisian island of Djerba. It is located in Hara Seghira, a Jewish village. The Synagogue is the oldest in Tunisia, and besides being the centre of the island’s Jewish life is also a site of pilgrimage, whose status approaches that of the Holy Land; one of the legends associated with its founding claims that either a stone or a door from Solomon’s Temple or the Second Temple is incorporated in the building. If you are interested in Judaism and Jewish history this is not to be missed.
#9 Pottery Shopping in Nabeul
Grab an awareness into the varied local production of ceramics, pottery, embroidery, spices, and perfumes at Nabeul Market, one of the biggest markets in Tunisia (predominantly on Friday mornings). Brightly made urns and jugs with a selection of practical applications are the trademark of Nabeul, along with the distillation of geranium blossoms, orange and jasmine. Although it used to be a camel market, it is now a diverse bazaar with fresh food. Souvenirs and clothing. Remember to barter!
A fine example of Islamic military architecture, Monastir’s immaculately preserved ribat overlooks the Mediterranean. Dating from AD 797, its seemingly chaotic design, with labyrinthine passageways and staircases, is a legacy of the many periods of construction and renovation it has undergone over its long history. The oldest remaining (though heavily restored) sections include the watchtower and the area around its base, all of which date from the 8th to 10th centuries.
What to Take to Tunisia
North Africa can be hot in summer, so between May and September you would need to pack a sunhat, insect repellant and sun screen. Don’t forget your swim wear of course, for the pools. Long maxi dresses are a good thing to take for women as the are comfortable and cool. Take a shawl or pashmina type scarf to cover the shoulders in case you get cold and also to wear in Mosques if you want to enter as a tourist.