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Tunis, Tunisia

Tunis (تونس) is the capital of Tunisia. The entire city feels small and compact. There isn't much in the way of must-see attractions, though the city is an interesting mix of new and old. Moreover, the souq is one of the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa and the ruins of Carthage are easily accessed from here.

Located on the Mediterranean coast but lacking much in the way of beaches, Tunis has been spared the onslaught of package tourism to the resorts to the north and south. Downtown is located about 10 km from the sea, at the bank of

Lake Tunis

. Tunis started out as a modest village compared to cities like Carthage, Kairouan, and Madhiga. It eventually became the capital of the Almohad Caliphate in 1159... Read more

Tunis, Tunisia

Destination:
Tunis (تونس) is the capital of Tunisia. The entire city feels small and compact. There isn't much in the way of must-see attractions, though the city is an interesting mix of new and old. Moreover, the souq is one of the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa and the ruins of Carthage are easily accessed from here.

Located on the Mediterranean coast but lacking much in the way of beaches, Tunis has been spared the onslaught of package tourism to the resorts to the north and south. Downtown is located about 10 km from the sea, at the bank of

Lake Tunis

. Tunis started out as a modest village compared to cities like Carthage, Kairouan, and Madhiga. It eventually became the capital of the Almohad Caliphate in 1159 and has been conquered by various Muslim and Christian empires after that. Tunis has been the capital of Tunisia since independence in 1956 and is today the commercial and cultural heart of Tunisia as well as the most important traffic hub.

Orientation
Tunis is divided into the World Heritage Listed old city, known as the medina, and the new city, or ville nouvelle in French. Ave Habib Bourguiba is the large avenue running through the new city from the clock tower to the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul. It then turns into Ave de France, which runs for a few blocks until ending at the Place de la Victoire and the Port de France, a large free-standing gate that used to be the entrance to the medina. This can be a good landmark for taxi drivers, as some of the smaller streets nearby aren't sure to be known by the driver.
The Port de France also serves as a good entry point for exploring the medina. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna leads past lots of shops to the Zaytouna Mosque, the great mosque of Tunis and the center of the medina. Running obliquely to Rue Jemaa Zaytouna, and also with an outlet near the Port de France, is the Rue de la Kasbah. This runs all the way through the medina to the Place du Gouvernment and the Place de la Kasbah, a huge bleak square fringed by razorwire. It is fairly easy to move between the two streets by cutting through in the labyrinthine medina, and it is easy to keep your bearings and find an exit. 

Climate

One of the northernmost cities on the African continent, the climate in Tunis is the Mediterranean although a bit warmer than on the European side. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures over +40°C not unheard of, although thanks to the sea and the surrounding mountains, it's not as hot as in the Sahara desert. Most of the rain falls during the winter months, but not even those months see more than 8-9 days of rain each month on average. In the winter Tunis occasionally experiences temperatures under freezing and in very rare cases some snow, though on average even nighttime temperatures don't drop much below +10°C; hence, Tunis is weather-wise a feasible destination year-round.

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Tunis, Tunisia: Port Information


Cruise ships arrive at La Goulette, 15 minutes from Tunis center. There are plenty of taxis around and suburban trains depart every ten minutes.

Get around Tunis, Tunisia


Free maps of Tunis and Tunisia are available at the National Tourism Office, to the north-east of the clock tower (directly east of the main Medina gate). The tourist office offers assistance in many languages.

By train
Tunis is well-served by a convenient five-line light metro system run by Transtu. The interchange hubs for all lines are in the center of town at Place de la République and Place de Barcelone. 
The TGM suburban train line, starting at Tunis Marine station on Lines 1-4, connects to La Goulette (ferries), Sidi Bou Saïd, Carthage and the beaches of Marsa. At Tunis Marine, be aware that there is an extreme dearth of signage. No obvious signs even say TGM, and on the maps on the trains themselves the station is marked as Tunis Nord. If you arrive at the station on the Tunis Metro, the TGM platform will be perpendicular to the metro cars and is easily accessed across the tracks. Tickets are sold at the end farthest from the metro stop.
Signs for station names along the TGM differ slightly from what appears on the onboard map, but if you can see the signs from the train and it is free of graffiti, a not uncommon problem, it is easy to tell where you are. It is not unusual for the trains to stop and wait on the tracks after leaving Tunis Nord or upon return. This usually does not last an extraordinary amount of time, and you will likely be better off not following the example of the optimistic youths that decide to leap from the car and walk along the tracks into the city.
Many stations along the TGM don't have full-time ticket vendors, so if you are making several trips along the line while visiting Carthage or Sidi Bou Said, you might be forced to risk traveling without a ticket. The guidebooks say that officials will sometimes get on the train and check tickets, so travel without a ticket at your own risk. It might be safest to buy a return to your farthest destination. The price difference should be minimal, and that way you might plausibly just have boarded the train, and your ticket will be valid for wherever you get on. The safest option will be to check with the ticket vendors or buy a ticket if you can find them.

By taxi
Taxis are also a good option if you need to go a bit farther than the metro. It's a better idea to hail one on the street; there are a lot of them so you don't need to search for one very long. Assuming they are honest, the meter is a good way to go. Only try to negotiate a price if you know what you are doing and are sure of the value of the trip. Taxis are generally safe.

By bus
Transtu operates a public bus network as well. Bus fares depend on how far (how many zones) you will travel.
Otherwise, louages (shared taxis) are the most flexible of all options. The minivans with 8 passenger seats take off when they are full and therefore run on no particular schedule. Prices tend to be a little bit higher than buses, but the difference is usually negligible. The North louage station is in the parking lot of the North bus station. The South louage station is across the street from the South bus station.

By car
Driving is not the best idea for getting around; street signage is faulty, there's a lot of traffic and locals rarely follow traffic rules. Driving is particularly dangerous at dark. Traffic jams are common and around

Habib Bourguiba Avenue

and Victory Square traffic often come to a total standstill.

What to see in Tunis, Tunisia


Buildings
  • Non-Muslims may not enter Islamic monuments such as mosques.
  • Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul (Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Paul), Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Built in 1882, this is the largest surviving building from Tunis' colonial era, in the neo-Romanesque style. It was named after St. Vincent de Paul, a priest in the region who was sold as a slave and fought slavery after he was liberated. The facade is decorated by a golden mosaic of Jesus and two trumpet-playing angels. 
  • Al-Fateh mosque (Mosquée Al-Fateh), Avenue de la Liberté (Métro République). White, large mosque north of downtown. 
  • Chambre des conseillers. This building used to house the upper house of the Parliament of Tunisia, until it was disbanded in 2011. 
  • Grande Mosquée Zitouna, Rue Tourbet El Bey. The largest mosque in Tunisia and an important landmark, this Aghlabite mosque dates back to the 8th century, although the distinctive square minaret is a much later 19th-century addition. Modest dress essential, but non-Muslims can only enter a viewing platform on the edge of the courtyard, not the mosque itself. Closed to visitors after the 2010 revolution. 
  • Sidi Youssef Dey mosque (Mosquée Sidi Youssef Dey), Souk Trok. Has a beautiful minaret. 
  • Medersa Bachia, Souk El Belat. Quran school from the 18th century, a monument since 1912. Non-Muslims may not enter. 
  • Théâtre municipal, 2, rue de Grèce (avenue Habib Bourguiba), +216 71 259 499. A pretty white Art-Deco building. 
  • Bab El Bhar (Porte de France), Place de la Victoire. The Gate to the sea, which remains unchanged since its erection in 1848. It can be found on the Avenue de France. Before it was built it was an empty space where you could see the Mediterranean on one side and Lake Tunis on the other. 
  • Bab Saadoun, Rue Bab Sadoune. Another gate, constructed originally in 1350 with one arch, then rebuilt in 1881 with three arches to facilitate commerce. 
  • Tourbet el-Bey, Rue Tourbet el-Bey. An impressive 18th-century mausoleum, the final resting place for over 160 princes and ministers and their families. The eight-pointed star inside represents the doors to paradise. 
  • Tunis Clock Tower, Place du 14 janvier. The iconic clock tower is one of the city's most visible landmarks. 
  • Hôtel de Ville. Not a hotel, but the city hall with interesting architecture and plenty of Tunisian flags. 
Museums
  • Bardo Museum

    (Le Musée National du Bardo), Le Bardo-2000 (nearest station Bardo on Metro line 4), 1 513-650, fax: 1 513-842. September 16 to April 30: 9:30-16:30. May 1 to September 15: 9:00-17:00, Tuesday to Sunday. Nearest metro station is Le Bardo on line 4. Then walk toward the fenced compound to the north and walk clockwise around it until you find the unmarked gate. Count the stops, as signs are often missing, or ask someone on board if you are unsure. Coming from Place de Barcelone, it is the first stop after you go briefly underground for the second time. Occupying the 13th-century palace of the Ottoman-era bey (ruler) and renowned for its extensive collection of Roman mosaics, although the (huge) collection covers Tunisia's entire existence from the prehistoric era until the Ottoman days. Exhibits from Carthage, Mahdia, Sousse, many from the Roman period in addition to presentations of Arabian culture old and new. It can be mercilessly hot and stifling in the museum, so bring water. The only bathrooms are on the ground floor and have attendants asking for change. The museum is segregated into old and new, so be sure to walk around a fair amount looking for new passages to be sure you haven't missed any major areas. 
  • Dar Ben Abdallah (Musée du Patrimoine Traditionnel), Rue Sidi Kassem. Tu-Su 9:30 AM–4:30 PM. A small but interesting folk museum within an 18th-century palace in the medina, covering the everyday life of a rich merchant in the Ottoman era with exhibits including faience, stucco ornament, costumes, and furniture. 
Other
  • Avenue de France. One of the busiest streets of Tunis. It is bordered with shops and eateries and several architectonically interesting buildings. 
  • Place de la Victoire. A lively square at the entrance to the medina. Bordered with shops, cafés and the ornamented building which houses the High Commission of the United Kingdom. 
  • Parc du Belvédère, Avenue Taieb Mehiri (métro Palestine). A large park created during the French rule and featuring palm trees, mimosas and azaleas and a great view of Tunis and the lake. Sadly, the park has seen better days and graffiti is commonplace. Still, it's a popular place for locals to escape the heat and noise of the city. 
  • Tunis Medina (Médina de Tunis). The world heritage listed old town is a colorful, crowded labyrinth of decorated old houses, vaults, and street vendors. You can move around by foot only. 

What to do in Tunis, Tunisia


One nice activity is just wandering around Tunis, for instance, why not take a stroll around the ancient buildings, mosques, and gates of the medina? All types of commodities including slaves used to be traded here, but today's market is mainly that of day-to-day goods, increasingly produced in mainland China, and a shrinking quantity of local handicrafts. Shopping and haggling at this colorful place is certainly an experience different from what you may be used to at home. Another good place for a walk is Tunis' largest park, Belvedere Park, which houses the Museum of Modern Art and the municipal zoo (closed Mondays), and overlooks Lake Tunis.
The Théâtre municipal de Tunis is more than just a sight. If interested in classical culture you can go and see an opera, ballet, or other production there.
Hammams (traditional public steam baths) are common in the Muslim part of the Mediterranean and also in Tunis. Formerly the only place for all but the upper classes to clean themselves, hammams are still a part of the local culture — so bathing in one of these is a cultural experience in itself. They are often located near mosques as people used to wash themselves before prayer; ask a local where the nearest hammam is (the medina is the easiest place to find one). Remember that a hammam is either men or women only or open to men in the morning and night and to ladies in the afternoon. Bring spare underwear, flip flops, soap, and a towel.

What to eat and drink in Tunis, Tunisia


Eat

There are countless coffee shops with delicious drinks and French pastries to enjoy, as well as sandwich shops. Count yourself lucky if you find a dish that does not include canned tuna! Know that during Ramadan it's impossible to find an open restaurant during the daytime.

Budget
  • Atlas le Resto, Rue Mustapha M'barek (directly across from the Grand Hotel de France). Very friendly owner and his cook speak some English. Delicious iftar (breaking of the daily Ramadan fast) of fish soup, bread, harissa, a fried pastry with tuna and a softboiled egg, minced cabbage, grilled chicken and fries, a spicy olive paste, and a lime Bogo.
  • Abid, 6 Rue de la Liberté, +216 71 240 480. Good food, specializing in lamb dishes and spicy dishes from the Sfax region. A popular place for locals. 
  • Restaurant Les Étoiles, 3, Rue Mustafa M'barek. Very cheap and filling food such as couscous and salads. 
Mid-range
  • L'Orient, Rue Ali Bach Hamba, 7 (close to Porte de France), +216 71252061. The steaks are bland, the fish good and local food such as Berber Lamb is excellent. The service is prompt. 
  • La Mamma, Avenue de Carthage, +216 71340423, e-mail: lamamma@planet.tn. Very cozy restaurant on several floors. Good Italian inspired food. Has live music and is open to 3 AM.
  • El Khalifa, Rue d'Iran (close to Metro stop Nelson Mandela), +216 22428470. Open for lunch only until 3 PM, Monday through Saturday. Delicious West African food at very reasonable prices, popular with employees of the African Development Bank. Far tastier and friendlier than the typical mediocre Tunisian restaurant experience. 
  • Café de Paris Brasserie, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, 071 256 601. A good restaurant with a beautiful interior and some outdoor tables. You can choose among pizza, couscous and a variety of salad. Also serves alcohol. 
  • Le Malouf, Rue de Yougoslavie (downtown), 071 254 246. Mo-Sa 11:30-15 and 19-midnight. The place to go if you'd like Italian food. Large menu to choose from, sometimes live music. 
  • Peppino, Avenue Ouled Haffouz (Hotel Golden Tulip El Mechtel). Italian restaurant, with a wide variety of pizzas. 
  • Flore, Avenue Ouled Haffouz (Hotel Golden Tulip El Mechtel). Tunisian cuisine and buffet. 
Splurge
  • Dar el-Jeld, 5-10 rue Dar el-Jeld (near the Prime Minister's residence, and the Youth Hostel), 71 560 916. Perhaps the best of the restaurants in Tunis, this restaurant pays attention to every single detail. You don't even open the door - just knock on the large yellow door, and they open it (this gives it the appearance of not being open). The food is excellent, and the management speaks English and French fluently and can recommend various dishes. The menu is a bit complicated, with price categories, rather than prices, listed (check the last page for what each price category costs). The physical setting is inside a beautiful, tiled covered courtyard, and has private areas off to the side. Everything is recommended, though the couscous is simply good, but not incredible. 
  • Lucullus, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, 1 (in the harbor), 071 737 100. Luxurious seafood restaurant with a large terrace surrounded by palm trees. 

Drink

Ladies, try to bring a man out with you and be careful about what bars you frequent, because many are frequented only by men and prostitutes, and can get a bit rowdy. Local beers are Celtia and the elusive Stella, which is rarely seen but exists on RateBeer. Both are lagers. Local liqueurs include Boukha ("boo-k"), usually taken straight or with coke, and Thibina, which is usually taken straight with a single ice cube.
  • Le Boeuf sur le Toit, 3 avenue Fatouma Bourguiba (in La Soukra 10km northeast of downtown). The name means The Ox on the Roof, and trendy people come for food, drinks, live music, DJs, and a dance floor. 
  • Bar Jamaica, 49 Avenue Habib Boutguiba. On the 10th floor of the Hotel el-Hana International, this is a funky and popular destination for locals and foreigners, with music and outdoor seating available. 
  • Hotel Africa Lobby Bar, Avenue Habib Bourguiba. A bit smoky, but has all of the local drinks save Stella and is one of the few places that serves alcohol during Ramadan. 
  • Brasserie les 2 Avenues, Ave Habib Bourguib (Hotel el-Hana lnternational). Great location with views over Avenue Habib Bourguiba. 
  • Piano Bar, Avenue Mohamed V, 45 (Hotel La Maison Blanche). A good place for a drink, located in a 5-star hotel. 
In addition to these, some major beach bars and clubs are located in La Marsa, about 15 km to the northeast.
Cafes
  • Café M'Rabet, Souk Trok (in the Medina). Cafe and restaurant. 
  • Café de Paris, Avenue Habib Bourguiba. 06-24. One of the major cafes along the avenue, very popular and lively.

Shopping in Tunis, Tunisia


ATMs are a convenient way of getting money without going to a bureau de change and there are many Visa cashpoints around the city.
  • The souq in the Medina makes for a fascinating stroll. Tiny shops overflowing with stuff; people selling, buying, milling about; skeletal cats lurking in the shadows; the smells of essential oils, spices, frying food and rotting garbage; the sounds of the muezzin, raï, football on the radio, Arabic and French... The Tunis medina's main routes are labeled "touristique", but even a few steps off the beaten track it's a real, working market. Behind the often scruffy façades hide old palaces, mosques, Islamic schools. Compared to Morocco or even Sousse you will not be hassled here. Bab El Bahr (The large stone-arch "French Gate" at the head of Avenue DeFrance) is a good starting point for the Souk. The goldsmiths are close to Bab Bnet. Haggle if you wish to buy anything. If you are unsure, try getting a first estimate from several vendors before you buy. As always, if you give a price and they agree, you will be expected to pay.
  • Halfaouine. A cheap, traditional food market, located at Place Halfaouine, near the railway station. 
There are little stores near every hotel in Tunis, where you can buy everything you need, but their prices are high. So it's better to go shopping in other parts of the city. Approximately 90% of goods presented in Tunis are of local origin. There are networks of state supermarkets Monoprix and General in the capital.

Safety in Tunis, Tunisia


Touts and unofficial "guides" hang around near tourist spots. Shoo them off if they start to launch into a spiel on the architectural wonders of this or that, or they will expect to some baksheesh (payment) for their unwanted efforts.

One thing that can get really annoying in Tunis is the number of "friends" a tourist will attract. There is a decent number of men who hang out on Avenue Bourguiba, the main drag in Tunis. They work individually. They approach tourists and start talking to them. The tourist may think that this person is just being friendly, but don't buy it. Also, beware of teens approaching you on or around av. Habib Bourguiba. They often "prey" on male tourists and try to talk you into joining them to the cinema. Later on, your new "friend" will ask you for 10 DT or a pack of Marlboros or this or that. It is best to just avoid these people or to shoo them off. They also have different techniques to get your attention. They include: asking for a cigarette, asking for the time, asking for a lighter, bumping into you on the street. The most common one seems to be when they ask you for a cigarette or a lighter. It is wise to get rid of anyone who tries to just bluntly start a conversation with you on the street. Chances are that they have no good intentions involved whatsoever. Tunisian people are nice and curious towards strangers, but avoid the ones who seem too friendly - a good phrase to use could be the French "Monsieur, je connais bien Tunis." (Monsieur, I know Tunis well.)

Non-French speakers might have luck with a simple "non, merci," repeated several times and without giving them any additional acknowledgment. Some, however, are persistent in spite of this and will not leave you alone. If you can manage to not bring a backpack or large back, this seems to make you less of a target and attracted fewer hangers-on.

Be aware of possibilities of fake guides trying to either scam you, or lure you somewhere less safe, and use your common sense.

Sadly, terrorist attacks are also possible. In March 2015, 24 people, mostly tourists, were killed when ISIS-affiliated terrorists opened fire in the Bardo National Museum. Later that year, a terrorist opened fire against tourists in Port El Kantaoui. The government has tried to give tourist areas higher profile policing to reassure visitors.

Language spoken in Tunis, Tunisia


Literary Arabic is the official language. Tunisian Arabic is the national language. Most of Tunisians speak French. You can also find people who can speak English.

LOCAL TIME

9:32 am
June 20, 2019
Africa/Tunis

CURRENT WEATHER

31.46 °C / 88.628 °F
overcast clouds
Fri

34.55 °C/94 °F
moderate rain
Sat

26.3 °C/79 °F
scattered clouds
Sun

27.55 °C/82 °F
sky is clear
Mon

27.45 °C/81 °F
sky is clear

LOCAL CURRENCY

TND

1 USD = 0 TND
1 EUR = 0 TND
1 GBP = 0 TND
1 AUD = 0 TND
1 CAD = 0 TND

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