Tunisia is a gem among gems in North Africa. The country enjoys temperate Mediterranean weather, a bounty of amazing Roman ruins, miles of spotless beaches, and abundant wildlife; you won’t get bored during a visit here. The Romans, Turks, Arabs, and French have all left their mark on Tunisia through the ages, and you will be fascinated by the rich and diverse culture that exists and thrives today. Tunisia's long Mediterranean coastline is home to several world class cities, including Tunis (the capital and largest city), Sfax, and Sousse. Tunisia is considered one of the premier destinations of North Africa; make sure to book plenty of time to explore this gorgeous country.
The Top 10: What to Do in Tunisia
Follow in the footsteps of Hannibal, and explore an ancient city destroyed and rebuilt by the Romans. The excavated site is large, but a light rail runs right through the middle of the city, which makes getting about easier. Make sure you check out the National Museum, as well as the amphitheater and the Antonine baths. We recommend setting aside a whole day to explore Carthage.
2. Bardo Museum:
Located just outside of Tunis, the Bardo Museum is considered by many to be the equivalent of the Louvre for mosaics. The building itself is a 13th-century palace, and the Roman mosaics and other Tunisian artifacts it houses are outstanding. The museum is organized according to era, including the prehistoric, Roman, Christian, and Islamic eras, and is easy to navigate. It takes a few hours to see in its entirety, so give yourself a break from the heat and view some of the most beautiful mosaics, artifacts, and architecture of Tunisia.
3. Sahara Desert:
You would be neglectful if you did not visit the Sahara, as it covers much of Tunisia. Travel down to the desert town of Douz, where you can organize a tour of the desert by camel or four-by-four. Of course, you wouldn’t come all this way and miss out on a visit to Luke Skywalker’s hometown, Matmâta: the Berber town, made up of dugout caverns, is where parts of the Star Wars films were shot and is now a popular tourist destination. You can even stay at the hotel that was used as the set for Luke’s home, the Hotel Sidi Driss.
Djerba, an island on the eastern coast of Tunisia, is the largest island in North Africa. Its interior is full of small desert areas, and among the island’s many sites are Roman ruins, an ancient synagogue, craftsmen working in silver and clay, and beautiful fruit orchards. And you can always enjoy a day at the beach, which spills out into the Mediterranean Sea. Get your tanning lotion ready.
5. Lake Ichkeul:
Great for bird watching and getting some exercise, Lake Ichkeul was declared a World Heritage Site in 1980. Every year hundreds of thousands of migrating birds stop at the freshwater lake to nest. Unfortunately, owing to dam construction, the water levels have dropped significantly, and the number of winged visitors to the lake has decreased. The lake and surrounding national park are excellent for hiking and photography, though. Among the bird species are magnificent geese, storks, and pink flamingoes.
Hammamet is the ultimate coastal location for relaxing: on the Cap Bon Peninsula, 40 miles south of Tunis, the beaches of Hammamet are always busy, and the village abounds in splendid architecture and comfortable hotels. We recommend hiring a tour guide to show you around Hammamet; then again, you may just want to stay in the water and go snorkeling or windsurfing.
7. Sidi Bou Said:
There is a special atmosphere in this small Tunisian town. Sidi Bou Said is a village of blue and white buildings, overlooking the Bay of Tunis. It is a fine place to spend an afternoon drinking mint tea and admiring the views. We recommend taking some time to explore the town, buy some souvenirs from local craftsmen, and get lunch from one of the town’s many small cafés. Sidi Bou Said is a rare place for tourists and locals alike to take a breather from the daily grind.
8. Korba Lagoon:
Located near beautiful buildings and Roman ruins, the Korba Lagoon is frequented by many different species of birds during their migratory travels every year. The lagoon happens to be next to beaches as well; it’s worth a visit.
9. Amphitheater of El-Jem:
El-Jem is home to a massive Roman amphitheater rising up from the low-lying landscape of the city. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1979, the amphitheater is the largest of its kind in North Africa, a place where gladiatorial fights and chariot races once were held.
These are definitely the best-preserved Roman ruins in the country, and it is worth your money to hire a guide to show you around the site. Be sure to check out the massive theater built into the hillside, as well as the beautiful Temple of Saturn. If you are around in July or August, come for the Dougga Festival, where you can watch performances in the theater.
When to Go
While the summer is an ideal time to visit Tunisia, considering the weather, expect to be surrounded by tourists. We recommend visiting the country in the spring (March to May), when the weather is still pleasant and there are fewer tourists. Also, if you are hoping to see the Sahara, the spring is a good time to go, as it’s not too hot (for a desert).
There are a number of festivals worth attending. The International Festival of the Sahara
takes place every November and December in Douz. It’s Tunisia’s oldest festival, and you can join thousands to watch camel and horse races, hear traditional music, and see displays of desert life.
In July, the International Festival of Carthage
features a multitude of film, music, dance, and drama performances by Tunisian and other regional artists. The event is recognized as being one of the most respected and oldest festivals in the region.