If you haven’t visited the city of Tunis yet, then it might be time to think about planning your next trip. One of the best things to do in Tunisia is to spend time exploring this incredibly historic, varied city.
When it comes to North Africa, Egypt and Morocco get much of the attention, but Tunisia is often overlooked. Are you intrigued by this North-African country? Read on to discover a little about its rich history, and then find out about all the things you just can’t miss when you’re there.
A very brief summary of the history of Tunisia
We haven’t got anywhere near enough space to do justice to the history of Tunisia and its capital, Tunis. But here’s a brief summary for you.
It’s a Mediterranean country at the northern tip of Africa, not far from the islands of both Sardinia and Sicily, part of Italy. Its strategic location meant that it was fought over by the great ancient Mediterranean powers.
The city of Carthage, the ruins of which are now on the outskirts of Tunis, was founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC. They were defeated by the Romans in 146 BC, and this area was then governed by the Romans for over 500 years.
The Arabs invaded in the 7th century, bringing Islam with them. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, until the French took control in 1881. Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, but French is still widely spoken by a lot of the population.
That tumultuous history left its mark on the country, and some of the best things to see in Tunisia are the ruins and buildings left behind by each of these cultures.
Best things to do in Tunisia
Fancy discovering them for yourself? Treat yourself to a trip, and don’t miss out on these places to see in Tunisia.
Interesting places in Tunisia: Carthage
As you might have already guessed, Carthage is at the top of our list for the best things to do in Tunisia.
There’s a huge amount for you discover at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you really want to see it all, then you’ll need to set aside a couple of days to fit it all in. There are ruins here from both Phoenician and Roman times, covering a large area to the east of Tunis itself.
Don’t miss out on the National Archaeological Museum, which includes exhibits that will explain a lot of what you’ve seen around the archaeological sites.
A city tour of Tunis
One of the best things to do in Tunisia is to go on a free walking tour in Tunis. There’s plenty of choice of tours, and it will help you get your bearings and figure out what you want to go back to and see more of. Your guide will tell you stories about the fascinating, long history of this city, and you’ll probably start to worry that you haven’t planned enough time to enjoy it.
If you’re going on a Tunis city tour and want to get an understanding of Tunisia culture, then you can’t miss the Medina. This was the beating heart of Tunis for over 1,000 years and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in the 7th century by the Arabs.
The Al-Zaytuna Mosque is one of the highlights. The name means olive tree (any language buffs will appreciate that the Spanish for olive is aceituna – and came from the Arabic word), as legend has it that the founder of the mosque had been given lessons under an olive tree that stood on this spot. Non-Muslims can only enter the courtyard.
Craftsmanship in Tunis really is something to behold, and you’ll find plenty of it in the souks in the Medina. One of the best is the Blacksmith’s souk, south of the mosque, which is less touristy. Explore the winding streets and head up to one of the rooftop cafés for views over the city.
You also shouldn’t miss the Bardo Museum and other Tunis neighbourhoods like the beautiful Ville Nouvelle, which was the colonial French quarter. You’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d somehow taken a wrong turn and ended up in Paris.
Top things to do in Tunisia outside of the city
Once you’ve explored everything that Carthage and Tunis have to offer, there are plenty more things to see in Tunisia to keep you busy.
Sidi Bou Said is a stunning Andalusian-esque seaside village of blue and white houses perched on the shores of the Mediterranean. First made famous by artists who captured its beauty over a hundred years ago, it’s now a popular Bohemian, weekend spot. Wander its streets and admire that view.
On the coast, you’ll also find Monastir and the island of Djerba, which is still a pottery-making hot spot. Moving to the city of Djem, you’ll find the Thysdrus Amphitheatre, which is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the whole of Africa. The caves of Matmata are another big attraction, carved out of a Mars-like landscape. You might recognise them from the Star Wars films.