TunisUnjustly overlooked by travellers en route to Tunisia's celebrated seaside resorts, the nation's capital certainly deserves more than a just a quick glance outside the shuttle bus window. The city lives and breathes history, and has a lot to offer in the way of art and culture. Ancient Roman ruins, palpable traces of French colonial presence and an Oriental flair well-preserved in the Medina all constitute major elements of Tunis' eclectic charm.
The CityThe historic Medina dating back to the 8th century and the "Ville Nouvelle" are two worlds that represent two very different epochs - those of Arab roots and French colonial presence of the 19th century. The mix of Maghrebi and European heritage reflects in today's layout of Tunisia's capital, and the two parts of the city couldn't be more different. The Medina, a maze of narrow streets brimming with life and packed with historic monuments, remains the primary tourist attraction. Unlike the newer part of the city, the Medina still preserves an Oriental charm that takes travellers on a journey through Tunisia's glorious past - historic mosques, private homes-turned-museums, old Islamic schools as well as limitless shopping opportunities await visitors to the area at every turn. The "ville nouvelle" still bears resemblance to central districts of many modern-day French cities. Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main artery of Tunis' "centre ville", is where one will find the National Theatre, housed inside a beautiful art nouveau building. The avenue is lined with outdoor cafes, fixed-price stores and has a pedestrian walk running straight through it. Travelers to the area must keep in mind, however, that as of 2015 a sequence of curfews has been imposed in Tunis in response to a number of tragic terror episodes, which resulted in the city now being completely deserted after 9pm. Visitors must familiarize themselves with the current curfew regulations prior to traveling.
Do & See
Get lost in the maze of the Medina's windy streets, occasionally stopping to marvel at the work of craftsmen or admire local art and architecture. Pay a visit to one of the former Islamic schools (many of them have been turned into cultural centers), and remember to stop for a glass of traditional hot mint tea. Only a few kilometers west of the city centre lie the coastal suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa and Gammarth, where most holiday resorts and luxury hotels are located. While La Marsa and Gammarth are known for their vibrant nightlife, Carthage (former seat of the powerful Carthaginian Empire) with its ancient Roman ruins is a must to explore for history lovers.
Tunisian cuisine, much like Tunisian culture, is a blend of culinary traditions from various parts of the world, from indigenous nomadic populations to Arabic, French, Turkish and Italian influences. Some of the dishes you are likely to find on a menu are "tajin" (frittata-style dish), "couscous" (not just as a garnish, but a full dish with meat and vegetables), "shakshouka" (ratatouille prepared with eggs and tomatoes) and much more. Tunisian food tends to be spicier than that of other North African countries, so make sure to ask for your desired level of heat prior to ordering.
Dates, nuts and honey are the three ingredients that feature in most traditional Tunisian desserts. Makroudh and Baklawa are the two most common ones, along with powdered donuts sprinkled with nuts and honey. Seasonal fresh fruit is often served as dessert after a meal, and is well expected when dining out. There is no shortage of European-style pastries and sweets in the Tunisian capital either - small bakeries dot the new part of the city, and French-looking cafes offer all sorts of desserts and pastries such as crepes, croissants and cakes.
Bars & Nightlife
Tunis may not have much in the way of nightclubs, but the nation's capital certainly boasts a few enticing spots for an evening drink. Most hotels feature adjacent bars and lounges, some with superb views - such as the Sky Bar of the Novotel, for example. The Jamaica Bar at El Hana Hotel is another establishment with a fantastic view that serves drinks and draws an international crowd. The seaside areas of Marsa and Gammarth are known for their luxury hotels, most of which have their own tourist-friendly bars and clubs. Female travelers to the area must be warned that quite a few establishments outside of big hotels still only cater to men, and going out solo at night is highly advised against.
The number one shopping spot in the city of Tunis is, of course, the Medina and its endless narrow souqs, most of which specialize in a particular product - whole streets here are devoted to books, spices, textiles, ceramics, natural cosmetics and other goods. Haggling is expected here, so the first price you hear may be eventually decreased to a mere fraction. If haggling becomes overwhelming, head to the new part of town, or "nouvelle ville", where most shops sell a very similar array of goods but offer fixed prices and are pleasantly air-conditioned. Those with a sweet tooth should stock up on "candy" made with dates, boxes of which make good edible gifts and souvenirs.