Close to vital shipping routes along the North African coast, many have recognised Tunis’s strategic importance including the Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French.
Its varied control and influences throughout the centuries are evident in the mix of architectural styles. There are two distinct areas of the city: the ancient medina to the west, with traditional souks and mosques; and the modern New Town to the north and east, with an air of elegance reminiscent of Tunis’ French colonial rule.
Recent revitalisation and growth in Tunis has transformed the city into an important centre of commercial, economic and political activity.
At the centre of the Tunisian capital, the medina’s maze of narrow alleyways are crammed full of shops, palaces and mosques. One of the most widely known is the Zaytouna Mosque, and although visitors are not able to go inside, you can get a closer look from the courtyard viewing gallery.
Dar Ben Abdallah is considered one of the medina’s finest former palaces, now home to the Dar Ben Abdallah Museum. Inside, rooms depict scenes of life in the 19th century offering a glimpse into how the wealthy lived in the medina.
The New Town, or ‘Ville Nouvelle’, is a sharp contrast to the historic medina. Cafés dotted along the pavements and tree-lined streets give the area a distinctly Parisian feel. In fact, the Avenue Habib Bourguiba has been likened to Paris’s Champs-Élysées.
The National Bardo Museum houses one of the world’s largest mosaic collections. As a former palace, be prepared to be impressed with the interior as well as the exhibits on display.
Carthage is a suburb of Tunis but demands its own standing in terms of historical and archaeological importance. It is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site and history enthusiasts can take a tour of the Roman ruins.
Tunisia’s Mediterranean climate and sandy shores have long established it as a destination for beach getaways and winter sun escapes. There are plenty of opportunities for a spot of swimming and sunbathing during your stay in Tunis.
Head north on the TGM to picturesque Sidi Bou Said, about 20 minutes from the capital, with views over rooftops and tree tops to the turquoise water of the Gulf of Tunis. Known for its medley of white-washed villas and blue ornate doors, wandering this enchanting town you will quickly understand what inspired the many artists who have visited here.
Check out the chic, seaside summer hangouts at nearby La Marsa and Gammarth.
You may find the range of dining options in Tunis surprising, with a mix of boutique hotels, established restaurants and local cafés to choose from.
At Dar Bel Hadj and Dar el Jeld, savour the traditional setting of a former mansion while dining on Tunisian classics including seafood, lamb and cous cous. If you’re looking for French cuisine, there are plenty of brasseries along Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Street food is also popular, with soups and grilled meat dishes featuring on most menus.
For a lively night out, try the Calypso Club or Bar Jamaica, which offers panoramic views of the city to accompany your drink. The suburb of Soukra is also a popular nightspot, where you can enjoy dinner and drinks, and then dance the night away to live music or DJs.
If you are inspired by the Roman ruins of the medina, visit El Jem in central Tunisia. Under three hours by train, it is home to one of the best preserved amphitheatres. The impressive structure transports you back in time and offers a window into the era of the gladiators, with several scenes filmed here for the 2000 epic, Gladiator.
Tozeur makes a good base for a day trip into the Saharan desert or to explore the region’s famous salt lakes, the most visited being Chott el-Jerid. This oasis town attracts visitors chasing mirages and spectacular sunrises over the desert. Buses leave daily from Tunis and the journey takes around seven hours.
From Al Mitlawi (Meltaoui) station, about 40km north east of Tozeur, you can take a memorable journey through Tunisia’s Atlas Mountains on board the vintage Red Lizard train. Get up close to the red and pink rocks of the Atlas range on what used to be an early 20th century mining train. Make sure you check the operating times before you visit.
Less than an hour’s drive from Tunis Airport on the north-eastern coast, Hammamet is one of the first established tourist resorts in the country. Visitors are drawn to its sandy beaches and clear waters and it is a favourite among water sports enthusiasts. Further south, the lively seaside town of Sousse has retained much of its Arabian character, and its attractive beaches make this another popular destination.