Tunisia is North Africa’s hidden gem. It is rich in history, dating all the way back to the Carthage empire (pre-Roman Empire), offers diverse landscapes ranging from the Sahara Desert to the Mediterranean Sea, and has a mixed culture that is inspired by Islam and France. Tunisia is a popular spot for European tourism as it is so close to Europe (only a ferry ride away from Italy!). There is much to see and do in Tunisia however, if your time is limited here are some must dos! This is how to spend a week in Tunisia.
Good to know
- Languages spoken : French and Arabic (primary), and some English
- Currency: Dinar
- Harissa will almost always be served with your meal (a spicy chili paste)…and possibly tuna too
- It’s not a huge “party/nightlife” kind of country
- Most stores and restaurants will be closed during Ramadan
Extremely brief history:
Tunisia is very rich with history. The history of the country has sculpted the culture that it is today. So, without going into too much detail..this is an extremely simplified and brief history of Tunisia.
Carthage and Roman Empire:
Tunisia was once home to the ancient Carthage, which was a major power that dominated a huge portion of the Mediterranean Coast. There were major conflicts between the Carthage an Roman Empire that lead to multiple wars, known as the Punic Wars. Rome eventually attacked the city of Carthage in the Third Punic War which lasted between 149-146 BC and led to the fall of the Carthage. Tunisia was then ruled by the Roman Empire for hundreds of years.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Tunisia was conquered by the Arabs and was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. With this ruling, brought the Islamic culture and religion to the country. Today, Tunisia is still 99% Muslim.
The French Colonization
The French had invaded Tunisia’s neighboring country Algeria in the 1830s. Tunisia, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, was considered an autonomous state. Eventually France invaded Tunisia in 1881 and imposed the Treaty of Bardo which allowed for French military to occupy Tunisia.
World War II
During World War II, many operations and battles took place in Tunisia known as the Tunisian Campaign.
In 1956, Tunisia gained its Independence.
Where to go and what to do:
Now that we’ve briefly covered the history of Tunisia, let’s get to the fun part. Here are some suggestions on how to spend a week in Tunisia:
About a 2 hour drive away from Tunis lies Dougga – home to an UNESCO World Heritage Site and some of the best well-preserved ancient Roman ruins in all of Africa. To get here, you will need a car (either your own or with a tour guide) as you will drive through some of Tunisias beautiful country side. Expect to see fields, cactus fields, mountain ranges, and lots of sheep!
Dougga lies above hilltops overlooking Tunisan valleys and countryside. It was once a small Roman city and here you can find remains of a massive theater that could hold over 3500 people, what was once a Roman brothel (keep an eye out for the stone dick and tits sign sculpted into the wall that leads to it!), many houses with mosaic flooring, stone streets that are dented due to the chariot wheels, a gymnasium, sculptures of various Roman and Greek Gods, ancient baths (and toilets!), a marketplace, and the capitol building. There are also small multiple tunnels to walk through the various houses and rooms.
Once you arrive to Dougga, there may be a few tour guides right there at the parking lot offering to take you around. We paid a man that had been doing tours around the ancient city for over 30 years. He showed us the best spots to take pictures, pointed out many things we would have missed (like the holes in the walls where the Romans would tie their donkeys), and briefer us on the history. I highly suggest paying one of these tour guides – you just may need to haggle a little bit!
Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is a quaint town very close to Tunis. Up in the hilltops overlooking the Mediterranean, Sidi Bou Said is an photographers/Instagrammers dream. It has a very Greek vibe to it because of this breathtaking town is filled with narrow, cobbled streets and all the buildings are white and blue, draped with colorful flowers, and enormous, traditional Tunisian decorated doors. You can drive here, but because the streets are so narrow, I suggest parking on the side of the road and walking around. There are small local shops for tourists as well as many cafes and restaurants to eat at. The most popular cafe with a view is Cafe Delices (pictured) – also, order the mint tea here!
Hammamet is about an hour away from Tunis and is Tunisians most popular beach town. On the coast of the Mediterranean, Hammamet is filled with luxurious hotels and is a perfect place to unwind by the Sea. The waters are extremely clean and the beaches are filled with activities from jet skiing, to parasailing, scuba diving, and even camelback riding. It’s not a party vibe at all, it’s very laid back, filled with older tourists, honeymooners, and families. If you walk around, you can find small hidden places to have to yourself and write/read/meditate or swim. I personally stayed at the Radisson Blu and it did not disappoint (pictured below).
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Media is the ancient city of Tunis. It was originally formed all the way back in 698 AD and was considered on of the wealthiest cities in the Arab world from the 12th-16th century. Today, Medina still fully functions as a city with over 100,00 people living there! It is a chaotic, ancient maze that you can get wonderful lost in. The city is thriving with market places, mosques, palaces, narrow stone streets, cafes, and hundreds of houses. It almost feels like you’re walking through the old streets of Disney’s Aladdin movie. If you don’t have a guide, you’re probably going to get lost.
Museum de Bardo
The Museum of Bardo is a great stop to soak in the ancient history of the country. The museum is filled with stunning, well-kept, original Roman mosaics, art, coins, jewelry, and statues. It is famous for holding some of the world greatest archaeological discoveries from Ancient Greece, Carthage, Tunisia, and the Islamic period.
A sad truth – On March 18th, 2015 ISIS had attacked the Bardo Museum, killing 21 people (mostly Europeans) on site.
Other things to do in Tunisia:
Although I only got to visit Tunisia for a week, there are still many other things to do! These include:
- Camel riding in the Sahara Desert / Grand Erg Oriental Dunes
- Visit the Star Wars sites in Matmata
- Ride the Red Lizard Train
- El Djem amphitheater
Have any other suggestions for a visit to Tunisia? Feel free to contact me or comment!