There is so much more to Tunisia beyond glorious sandy beaches, as I discovered when I spent a long weekend in Tunis with four other bloggers. From wandering the vast medina and buying traditional souvenirs to eating delicious food and learning about an intensely fascinating culture steeped in centuries of history. I can still remember feeling the warmth of the sun as I stood on a rooftop looking out over Tunis, watching the light sparkle across the city and beyond. I didn’t know what to expect – but what I experienced was beyond my imagination. Tunisian people who were hospitable and welcoming, a city that is vibrant and ever-changing, and a country I cannot wait to return to.
After returning, we’ve written and produced an ebook that reveals more about what we got up to. Tunisia Beyond The Beach is a culmination of all we experienced…
The dazzling colours of Tunisia…
Whatever the time of day or night, it’s colour that leads you down winding alleyways and welcomes you through ornately decorated open doors.
Blue, white and gold are the predominant colours of the coast, and the beaches have drawn tourists to this North African country for a century, to rest and unwind under the deep blue sea and sky.
But we take you beyond the coast and the sea, to places where personality and creativity shed light on the country and its culture. We take you to locations where you can almost touch the past and taste the future. We follow cats as they meander through the medina and camels as they pop up unexpectedly in the street.
We follow locals to their favourite bars and cafes, to find out what they like to eat and drink and do. And in an age of Instagram, we follow the tourists to a steep coastal town where the selfie is elevated to an art form and capturing blue doors and windows is a mission. In this short guide to Tunis and the surrounding coast and countryside, we explore the places where art is created, where food is made and shared, where history was born and continually changes, along with the people and the vibe.
See that beautiful door? Let’s open it and explore…
This ebook was written and produced by The Family Travel Collective in association with the Tunisian National Tourist Office
Welcome to Tunis
Two worlds sit side by side in the fascinating city of Tunis: the medieval medina and the modern metropolis. The Tunisian capital’s ninth-century medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known as one of North Africa’s most impressive examples of a medieval medina.
At one time the medina had 17 gates and was enclosed by around five miles of walls, but these were destroyed by the French during the colonial era. The medina’s winding streets are home to covered souks selling handcrafted goods, workshops where artisans create traditional products, and grand residential buildings with colourful painted doors. Some of the historic buildings in the medina are now beautiful boutique hotels, making it an ideal base for exploring Tunis and the surrounding area.
Beyond the medina, the rest of the city has much to offer. The Bardo Museum is famous for its outstanding collection of Roman mosaics. Tree-lined Avenue Habib Bourguiba has a distinctly French feel, and its Théâtre Municipal is a classic Art Nouveau building. The vast 19th century Marché Central food market is the place to go for locally caught fish, spicy harissa, herbs and plants and of course for haggling and people-watching.
TIP: Vibrant Tunis is easy to reach from London, with direct daily three-hour flights by Tunisair making it a great option for a sunny city break.
There’s plenty to do in the suburbs of Tunis, particularly to the east where the sea glistens and beckons visitors to relax in its turquoise hues.
The most popular area is Sidi Bou Said, an evocative town of blue and white which rivals any of the Greek islands in beauty. There are cafes, souvenir stalls and best of all the street sellers serving up hot bambalouni, the Tunisian doughnut that comes scalding hot and sprinkled with large sugar crystals. Down below the winding streets of the town, expensive yachts bob harmoniously in the harbour, making it the perfect place for a post-dinner stroll. It may be touristy but there’s something hypnotic about Sidi Bou Said.
The seaside town of La Marsa is much more down to earth and is the place for beachside promenades and coffee in the pretty little town centre. The cafes here are more rustic than Sidi Bou Said but packed full of charm and with friendly locals, it’s a great place to while away an hour or two.
Carthage, further down the coast, comes with the weight of history and doesn’t disappoint. Walk across Roman mosaic tiled floors and weave around the bathhouses where gladiators would have roamed. This is as atmospheric a historical site as they come.
Finally, Gammarth is full of vibrancy and packed with fantastic hotels and restaurants. With beachside bars and happy hours in full swing, it’s the place to kick back and enjoy modern Tunisia’s fun side.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in a country’s history, the heritage sites around Tunis plug you directly into a time of gladiators, emperors, trading routes and wars. There’s a lot to see, so leave time to explore
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carthage is a must-see on any visit to Tunis and the surrounding area. The ruins, church and museum are scattered around a seaside suburb and it’s worth investing at least a morning exploring the once-powerful ancient city.
Information panels give you plenty of background on Punic and Roman history, but real connection comes as you weave in and out of the arches, stand under the iconic columns
and trace the stone carvings with your fingers. Carthage was Rome’s second city, and an important Mediterranean trading hub. There are more stories, statues and stones than you can take in, so we suggest concentrating on the Punic District and the remains of the Antonine Baths complex. Book a guided tour to help you understand the layout of the foundations, the role of the eight ton columns, and the atmosphere when packed with merchants, servants, acrobats and gladiators.
National Bardo Museum
The magnificent National Bardo Museum in Tunis is famous for its world-class collection of ancient Roman mosaics. The museum encompasses the grandly ornate 13th century palace of the Bey, the
ruler of Tunisia, and a sleek, modern annexe, where the astonishingly intact mosaics are housed. At the Bardo you can learn about the different cultures which have shaped Tunisia through the centuries, from Berbers and Phoenicians to Romans, Arabs and Ottomans.
Sidi Bou Said
White and blue are the colours of Sidi Bou Said, a startlingly pretty clifftop town and doors are the main draw. You’ll find it impossible not to stop and photograph the ornate doors and doorways, and their novel handles and studs.
TIP: Visit the palace of Ennejma Ezzahra to see a weighty collection of musical instruments including the mizwad, made from a sheep’s stomach and played at Tunisian gatherings.
If there’s one day trip you can’t miss, it’s visiting El Jem, around two hours
south of the Tunisian capital. It pulls in the tourists with a magnificent Roman amphitheatre, also called El Djem. But the crowds at this golden UNESCO World Heritage Site are nothing like they were in the past when the building seated 35,000 spectators and staged gladiator shows and chariot racing.
Tunisia Beyond The Beach – A Free Ebook
With so many fascinating secrets hidden in the winding alleys of the medina, with history coming to life under a North African sun, and with colourful glimpses of Tunisian life at every turn, why resist the temptation to open the door to Tunisia with a short break in the capital? And if the above has only whetted your appetite, you can discover more of the country’s secrets by downloading the Tunisia Beyond The Beach Ebook here.
Tunisia Beyond The Beach
Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Carthage and beyond…
*This post was written as part of a paid collaboration with the Tunisian Tourist Board. Images copyright The Family Travel Collective/courtesy Depositphotos