Discover Tunis, the pearl of the Mediterranean.

After a visit to Tunisia, Mahmoud Darwish asked the world, “How do we heal from the love of Tunisia?”. His poetic question reverberates through time, reflecting the profound impact this North African gem has on its visitors. Affectionately nicknamed “Tounes Al-Khadhra” or Green Tunisia, the country remains one of the Arab region’s most impressive destinations. To discover the vibrant capital of Tunisia, KHAMSA is guided by none other than journalist and founder of KAÏA olive oil, Sarah Ben Romdane.

Sarah paints Tunis as a city steeped in history, culture, and culinary delights through this travel guide. She recounts the captivating history of this Mediterranean treasure and uncovers its cultural landmarks, hidden gems, and authentic culinary experiences.

Must Visit Cultural Places?

When in Tunis, you must visit the Medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The numerous palaces, mausoleums and mosques testify to the grandeur of Tunis’s past and history. Make sure you visit the Zitouna Mosque, Dar Hamouda Pacha, Dar Lasram, the Souk el Attarine quarter, Souk el Chaouachine quarter and simply wander through the magical alleys. In the Medina, some contemporary artistic initiatives have also emerged such as “L’Art Rue” and the festival “Dream City”.

In Tunis, the iconic Bardo Museum is a must-see but it is unfortunately closed at the moment. However, a new contemporary art space called 32bis has opened downtown.

Visiting the ruins of Carthage (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site!) should be on the list: check out the Baths of Antonius (the largest set of Roman baths built on the African continent), the Amphitheatre (which hosts a music festival in the summer), the Roman Villas and the Byrsa Hill, to name just a few.

No visit to Tunis is complete without a lazy walk around the neighborhood of Sidi Bou Said, named after a Sufi saint. It’s a postcard-pretty white and blue village where Azzedine Alaïa built his house in 1986 and came to relax and rejuvenate. Make sure you visit the Palace Ennejma Ezzehra, try a Bambalouni (the local donut), stop for tea at Café des Délices, check out the Alaïa Foundation.

Make sure you also spend some time in La Marsa, the neighborhood is home to a number of cult restaurants and cafés. If you want to act like a local; sit at the 19th century Saf Saf café for some tea and people-watching. Have a look at the inside and side areas too and you’ll probably find cute old guys playing cards or backgammon.

Check out Yosr Ben Ammar gallery. For a more experimental art space, check out the B7L9 Art Station founded by the Kamel Lazaar Foundation, which is also behind the art festival JAOU Tunis.

Best beaches in the city?

Tunis is a coastal town with seaside neighbourhoods like Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, La Marsa, Gammarth, and La Goulette. Most Tunisians usually leave the capital for summer swims, but La Marsa remains a good beach spot! If you have a car and are looking for a quick getaway, you can drive 1 hour North to Bizerte and Ghar el Melh (book lunch at Cheeky Monkey) and 1 hour South to Hammamet (book lunch at Sindbad) for a full beach day.

Must-do activities?

The daily market at Marché Central de Tunis is a beautiful communal ritual. It’s colourful, cheerful, and most importantly flavourful. If you’re a foodie and love market vibes, don’t miss this one.

The Theatre Municipal de Tunis built in 1902 in Art Nouveau style is an architectural jewel which has hosted some of the biggest stars of music and theater and continues to develop a rich programming.

The public hammam is still a major part of Tunisian culture, but for a more elevated experience, don’t miss the heavenly Hammam and Spa experience at Dar el Jeld Hotel in the Medina. Stay for a golden hour drink on their rooftop for the most magical medina views.

In the summer, Tangerine rooftop is the most Instagrammable bar in town. In the winter, dance the night away at its sister-club Gingembre. Expect a mix of old school hiphop, raï, pop, and disco.

For a drink and tunes in a nice and serene outdoor area, head to Molo!

For old-school house, African disco, soulful lives and electronic music, head to Habibi. For electronic music and techno, Yüka is your spot. Most clubs are in the Gammarth neighborhood.

For outdoor activities, Le Lemon Tour organises guided tours by bike. You can for example visit Carthage while cycling through their itinerary.

“Tunisian Campers” also organizes a bunch of guided hikes and wellness-oriented camping trips around Tunis, always with sustainability in mind.

At the Nautical Club of Sidi Bou Said, you will find sailing lessons as well as paddles and kayaks classes or available to rent.

Best places for shopping?

Supersouk is a concept store spotlighting the best of Tunisian talent and craft, in fashion, art, interior, jewelry and food.

The boutiques at hotels Dar el Jeld and Fondouk el Attarine also showcase local savoir-faire and rising local designers

The antique boutique EDDAR in the Medina not only sells the most amazing Tunisian crafts but also captures Tunisia’s rich and diverse heritage.

There is a huge second-hand culture in Tunisia, but Tunisians don’t buy vintage because it’s cool, but because it’s cheaper. The vintage markets are called “Fripe” and resemble to souks. If you’re patient, you’ll find some vintage designer gems for just a few dollars. Check out the Bousselsla fripe in La Marsa or Hafsia fripe, around the Medina.

For handcrafted Kaftans, check out Etandart and El Hanout in La Marsa and Carthage.

For contemporary ready-to-wear, check out the brand By Aura‘s store.

WHERE TO STAY

Best boutique hotels to stay at?

La Villa Bleue and Maison Dedine are the best boutique hotels in Sidi Bou Said, with outstanding sea views.

Dar el Jeld, Fondouk el Attarine and Dar Ben Gacem are beautiful locations in the Medina. But just keep in mind that moving around to other neighborhoods from the Medina is not the easiest.

The best area to rent a house/airbnb?

Best area to rent an Airbnb is La Marsa (around the Safsaf, Marsa Corniche and Marsa Plage).

WHERE TO EAT

Top must-visit food spots?

In Tunisia, fish is often at the center of the dish. Couscous is obviously a staple and comes in many iterations, but pasta is as common. No meal is complete without chili peppers, which are eaten as a side, but also found in classic dishes like Mechouia salad or Chakchouka. Food is usually spicy in Tunisia, so If you don’t like spicy at all, mention it! Fun fact: Tagines are not a thing like they are in Morocco, and actually—Tagine in Tunisia is a frittata!

Bleue Deli, Sidi Bou Said : brunch vibes, fresh juices and delicious cakes.

Bar Ezzit, La Marsa : a very simple artisanal street food stand that sells delicious handmade traditional Mlawi bread, filled with ricotta and honey or grilled veggies.

For a lunch in a beautiful traditional courtyard, head to Fondouk el Attarine.

If the weather doesn’t allow for an outdoor lunch, head to Dar Slah. For a Medina dinner in a sumptuous décor, book a table at Dar el Jeld. Menus vary with the seasons but both restaurants serve traditional local food.

For a casual lunch spot serving authentic local food at La Marsa, head to L’arbre à Couscous or El Mida.

For a more elevated lunch with a sea view, book a table at the institution Le Golfe – make sure you get fried fish and sea food to start and a fish pasta as a main. Good for dinner too.

If you’re looking for something fancier for food and drinks, you should go to La Closerie, the only restaurant in Tunisia that has made it on the regional 50 best restaurants ranking!

For Italian food, head to Casa Lico. For an ice-cream on the Marsa corniche, head to Petit Salem.

For a delicious Mediterranean bistronomy lunch by the sea, book a table at Les Dunes in Gammarth.

For an international gourmet lunch or dinner in Sidi Bou Said, book a table at Villa Bleue.

Make sure you try a Bambalouni when in the area!:

For a simple and quiet lunch in Carthage, just next to the Baths of Antonius ruins, have lunch at Neptune. It has a retro-tinged cachet I really appreciate. Order Tunisian classics like anchovies, fried or grilled fish, brique and mechouia salads. Cash only.

La Goulette is a nostalgic neighborhood where Muslims, Jews, Sicilians and Maltese lived together until the 70s. There is a bubbly restaurant scene in the area that’s all about fish. The vibes are simple, unfussy and authentic.

Have dinner at La Spigola. Get classic starters like fried rougets, sauteed calamari and briques and whatever sounds delicious to you. As a main, ask to pick a fish for the table, and order a “Fell” pasta dish to share. Fell is a traditional small tube pasta and a local’s favourite. It should be slightly spicy, and the fish should be served as filets on the side. Fries and tastira (a chakchouka variant) should come with it. End the meal with a lemon sorbet!

What’s your favorite thing about Tunisia?

Tunisia has always been a home to a myriad of civilizations and you can sense the influence each has had on the local culture. I like that it is profoundly Mediterranean, and that the ambiance is slow and casual. Tunisia is unfussy and unpretentious, which is what makes it charming in my opinion, but don’t expect extra sophistication and bling. I think Tunis is an under-rated city—it holds many secrets, is cheaper than any other Mediterranean capital and just a 2-hour plane from Paris. Come say hi!

What should you avoid ?

When you’re travelling out of Tunis, avoid the all-inclusive hotels and go for what we call Maison D’hôtes (check out the website maisonsdhotesentunisie.com). Some of my favourites are Dar Ben Gacem and La Chambre Bleue in the Medina, Dar el Kif in La Marsa, Cheeky Monkey in Ghar el Melh, Villa Maamoura in Nabeul, Dar el Bhar in Hammamet, Dar Lella Khedija in Mahdia, Borjerrass, Dar Oomi in Zarzis, Dar Dhiafa and Dar Nael, in Djerba, Dar Tozeur in Tozeur

Unfortunately, starting from the 80s/90s, Tunisia decided to develop a low-cost all-inclusive tourism model. This has had terrible consequences on the country and people: not the best reputation in terms of the service standards, and a culture of low-cost that has become mainstream in the country. Most importantly, because tourists are trapped in their hotels, Tunisians have not been encouraged to showcase and spotlight their heritage, culture and identity and feel proud about it. Locals have not sufficiently developed local businesses around craft, terroir and food and have therefore not economically benefited from this broken system. They have in turn internalized the idea that anything Tunisian is inferior. All of this explains the difficult economic and identity crisis the country is going through and why so many young Tunisians are sadly leaving.

What to pack?

The weather is super warm starting from June to September. Its remains warm and sunny in the fall and spring and gets chilly in the winter. Pack dresses, linen trousers, swimsuits, beach bags, and sandals. And whatever the season, make sure you pack your sunglasses!

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