My Travel Guide to the Arab World
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Map of Tunisia

Tunisia

Tunisia in Arabic
Flag of Tunisia

Time zone: GMT +1
Capital: Tunis
Area: 163.610 square kilometres
Population: approx. 10.1 million
Currency: Tunisian Dinar (TND)
Click for Tunis-Carthage, Tunisia Forecast

Tunisia has the unique feature of being northwest Africa in a nutshell. The small size of the country, its deep historical heritage, and the splendid beauty of its varied landscape, all combine to make Tunisia a perfect holiday destination.

A well-developed infrastructure with an extensive network of good-quality roads make travelling around Tunisia easy and enjoyable.


Road distances in Tunisia
From Tunis to:
Tunis Carthage airport: 7.5 km Kairouan: 161 km
Algiers (Algeria): 857 km Kelibia (Cap Bon): 104 km
Bizerte: 71 km Mahdia: 223 km
Carthage: 18 km Matmata: 419 km
Dougga: 112 km Monastir: 172 km
Douz: 497 km Nefta: 477 km
El Jem: 221 km Sfax: 267 km
Gabes: 376 km Sousse: 151 km
Gafsa: 361 km Tabarka: 173 km
Hammamet: 68 km Tozeur: 454 km
Houmt Souk (Jerba): 549 km Tripoli (Libya): 740 km

Tunis

The capital of Tunisia has a history going back to Punic times. During the Ottoman era in the 16th century, Tunis became the main city on the so-called "Barbary Coast", where pirates roamed the Mediterranean. Modern Tunis is a European-style city with neat, tree-lined avenues and a modern cityscape.


The Medina (Old City)

Tunis
An old gate in Tunis.
(©istockphoto.com/Danijela Markovic Pavlovic)

The Medina is the old quarter of Tunis, and one of the city’s main attractions. The main entrance is through Bab El Bahr, at Place de la Victoire.

If you venture past the main street of the Medina, called Rue Djemaa Ez-Zitouna, you will find small alleys with more genuine shops.

The perfume-souq, Souk El-Attarine, offers traditional perfumes, scents and oils, as well as local crafts items. Souk Birka, the gold souk, was built in the 17th century.


Djemaa Ez-Zitouna (Mosque of El Zeitouna)

The Mosque of El Zeitouna (meaning "The Mosque of the Olive Tree", also referred to as “The Grand Mosque”) is located in the heart of the Medina. It is one of the most important mosques in the country.

Mosque of El Zeitouna in Tunis
The Mosque of El Zeitouna.
(©istockphoto.com/Dariusz Lewandowski)

The construction of the mosque was begun already during Omayad caliphate rule in 732. Subsequently, the mosque has gone through a large number of additions and renovations. The mosque used to house a college of theology and Islamic law, which once used to be one of the leading centers of Islamic teaching. The mosque is open to non-Muslims, although access to the prayer hall is restricted.


The Bardo Museum

This museum houses, among other archaeological items, one of the world's greatest collections of Roman mosaics. Situated in an originally 13th century palace in the outskirts of Tunis, the museum includes archaeological treasures from the pre-historic, Carthaginian, Roman, Christian and Islamic eras. The Roman section is the most outstanding part of the museum, with well-preserved mosaics covering floors and walls.


The Belvedere Park

This lovely park in the modern part of Tunis also houses a zoo.


Carthage

Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians in 814 BC. The city was a maritime centre and eventually became the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Carthage’s economic and political influence spread across the Mediterranean and began to rival the Roman republic for dominance over the western Mediterranean.

The ruins of Carthage spread over a large area and the site requires a whole day’s visit. Carthage also has a popular museum, the National Museum of Carthage.


Sidi Bou Saïd

The picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said
The picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said. (©istockphoto.com/Rainer Schmittchen)

Sidi Bou Saïd is a picturesque village featuring the blue and white architecture which is so typical of Tunisia. The charm of this village has made it a major tourist attraction.

Since Sidi Bou Saïd is situated on the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Tunis, there are splendid views of natural scenery.


Bizerte

Bizerte is the northernmost city on the African continent. This city in the green belt of the northern coast of Tunisia, has been a port since Phoenician times. Since French rule, the city has remained a naval centre.

The old port in the heart of the city, is a picturesque area housing shops and cafés and multi-coloured fishing boats can often be seen in the harbour.

Bizerte has a Medina which, although not as old as the one in Tunis, is worth a visit.


Dougga

The best-preserved Roman ruins in Tunisia are found at Dougga, some 90 kms southwest of Tunis. Dougga was originally a fortified Berber village. In the 2nd century BC, it became the seat of the Numidian king Masinissa.

The site's main attraction is its well-preserved Capitol, built in 166 BC and dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.


Bulla Regia

This is another impressive Roman site, situated 75 kms south of Tabarka. Its most notable feature is its semi-subterranean housing from the era of emperor Hadrian. These were used by wealthy residents as protection from the summer heat. Many of the mosaic floors are still in their original place; others are on display at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. There is also a small museum on the site.


Sbeitla

The small town of Sbeitla is located some 105 km southwest of Kairouan. Outside Sbeitla are the Roman ruins of Sufetula. This is one of the best preserved Roman sites in Tunisia. The history of Sufetula goes back to Numidian times in the 1st millennium BC. Sufetula flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, during which most of the buildings we can still see today, were built.

The site contains a triumphal arch, public baths, a forum, the gate of Antoninus, temples of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, a theatre and public fountains.


Nabeul & Hammamet

These are tourist towns attracting large numbers of package-tour holidaymakers. Nabeul is the main centre for Tunisian pottery, and the town has plenty of shops and workshops where potters can be watched in action.

The main attraction of Hammamet is the Medina, which dates back to the early 10th century.


Kelibia

Kelibia is a pretty fishing port and a good base for exploring the beautiful, green Cap Bon peninsula, also known as “The Garden of Tunisia”. A huge sixth-century fort overlooks the town, offering impressive views.


Sousse

Sousse is Tunisia's third largest city and a thriving seaside resort. It used to be an important coastal city of the Phoenicians.

Places to see in Sousse include the Great Mosque and its Ribat - one many fortresses spread along the Mediterranean coast. Both are located within the lively Medina, in itself an attraction sharply contrasting the modern parts of Sousse.

The Kasbah Museum houses a collection of third and fourth century mosaics.


Sfax

Sfax, Tunisia's second largest city, is an industrial city with few tourist attractions. However, the Medina is one of the best preserved in the country. Since it is rarely visited by others than the locals, it has retained its authentic character.


Kerkennah Islands

This group of low-lying, small islands are 20 km off the coast of Sfax. The Kerkennah Islands are becoming a popular holiday destination with locals and foreigners alike. Hotels, restaurants and private holiday homes have been built on the islands.

The local population, relying on fishing and olive crops, are known for their hospitality. Be warned that the islands' summer temperatures can reach up to 48 degrees Celsius.


El Jem

The Roman colosseum at El Jem
The Roman colosseum at El Jem.

Travelling some 80 kms south of Sousse, alongside plains of olive trees, you are suddenly in for a big surprise - a giant Roman amphitheatre rising at the end of the road. This is truly one of Tunisia’s most remarkable sites. It is an imposing building, being only slightly smaller than the Colosseum in Rome.

Built around the year 200, the amphitheatre could seat crowds of more than 30,000. It was used both for festivals and gladiator contests and was the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman empire.


Monastir & Mahdia

These are largely purpose-built tourist towns on the Mediterranean coast. Monastir is famous for its Bourguiba Mosque, where the founding father of modern Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, is buried.


Kairouan

The Grand Mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia.
The Great Mosque in Kairouan. (©istockphoto.com/Robby Verschueren)

Kairouan (pronounced “Kay-ra-wan”) is one of the most genuine cities of Tunisia.

Kairouan is known as “The City of 50 Mosques”. It was founded in 670 AD, and became a religious centre and a base for the Muslim armies. Kairouan is still today considered a sacred city by many Tunisians.

Within the Medina of Kairouan, the Great Mosque of Sidi Oqba is the main landmark. Originally constructed in 671 AD, the existing building was constructed in 863 AD. This impressive building dominates the whole city.

The Medina, surrounded by walls with monumental gates, encloses many mosques and hundreds of shops offering traditional handicrafts. 

Kairouan is the oldest and most renowned carpet centre in Tunisia, which is reflected in the large selection of carpets of all qualities and sizes available for sale.


The Sahara & The South

Tozeur & Nefta

Tozeur is situated at the edge of a large salt lake called El Chott El Jerid. The town is renowned for its huge palm groves and the dates produced in them, called “Deglet Nour”, a big Tunisian export article.

This oasis, with its 14th century Medina and botanical gardens, attracts visitors from all over the world.

The picturesque Medina houses two interesting museums; the Dar Chariet Museum and the Traditional Museum of Tozeur. Both have displays of traditional artifacts.

Not far from Tozeur is Nefta, an oasis town distinguished by its palm-filled gully, called "La Corbeille" ("The Basket") in the centre of town. Nefta has a tradition as a centre of Sufism (Muslim mystics).


Douz

A lone rider in the Tunisian desert
A lone rider in the Tunisian desert.

Douz is a typical desert town known as the “Gateway to the Sahara”. It was historically a stop on the trans-Saharan caravan routes.

Today, Douz attracts desert-trekkers, who come for excursions into the Sahara, which can be done by camel or 4x4 vehicles. The market in Douz sells camel-skin products and Bedouin jewellery.

The town hosts the annual “Festival of the Sahara”, which features camel- and salouki racing, folk dancing and poetry recitals. The festival is usually held in November-December.


Matmata

Rock dwellings in Matmata, Tunisia.
A house in Matmata. (©istockphoto.com/Witold Ryka)

Matmata is an amazing village between Jerba and Tozeur, looking like a lunar landscape. This is because the local residents live in houses dug into the ground. These were created by digging a large pit in the ground, around the perimeter of which are artificial caves used as rooms. Some homes are comprised of multiple pits, connected by trench-like passageways.

Some of the Matmata people nowadays live in modern buildings at Matmata Nouvelle, 15 km away from the underground village. However, there are many who still prefer to live in the 700 underground dwellings.


Djerba & Zaris

Djerba is an island of thousands of palm trees, ringed by long stretches of fine sandy beaches and luxury hotels. The island, with its 130 km coastline, is a popular holiday destination among Tunisians and foreigners alike.

Djerba offers a large variety of attractions. Apart from water sports and sunbathing, there are Roman sites and the ancient and famous synagogue of El Ghriba. Djerba used to have a large Jewish population until 1967. The island is also noted as a center of the Muslim Ibadhiya sect.

The only town on Djerba is Houmt Souk. The town is known for its local traditional handicrafts. The public market held on Mondays and Thursdays, is a good opportunity to shop and experience the locals. Houmt Souk has a Museum of Folklore and Popular Art, displaying local traditional costumes and jewellery.

Djerba is the gem of southern Tunisia, with exceptional landscapes, beaches and hotels. It is also distinguished by its unique architecture. The island can be reached by air and by a causeway connecting it with the town of Zaris on the mainland. Zaris is host to the "Sponge Festival", held annually from mid-July to mid-August. The festival features folk dancing, music and fishing competitions.

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