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Visit Tunis

Tunis is the capital and largest city of Tunisia. The greater metropolitan area of Tunis, often referred to as "Grand Tunis", has about 2,700,000 inhabitants, making it the third-largest city in the Maghreb region (after Casablanca and Algiers) and the sixteenth-largest in the Arab world.

About Tunis

Tunis City is the capital of Tunisia. With a population of around two million inhabitants. There are quite a few must-see attractions, especially if you include the ruins of Carthage, which are easily accessed from here, and the Punic ports are interesting, too. Tunis is an interesting mix of new and old, including colonial French buildings. The souq and the medina are among the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa.

 

Tunis is divided into the World Heritage Listed old city, known as the medina, and the new city, or ville nouvelle in French. Ave Habib Bourguiba is the large thoroughfare running through the new city from the Clock Tower to the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul. It then turns into Ave de France, which runs for a few blocks until ending at the Place de la Victoire and the Port de France, a large free-standing gate that used to be the entrance to the medina. This can be a good landmark for taxi drivers, as some of the smaller streets nearby may not be familiar to the drivers.

 

Geography

Tunis is located in north-eastern Tunisia on the Lake of Tunis, and is connected to the Mediterranean sea's Gulf of Tunis by a canal which terminates at the port of La Goulette/Halq al Wadi. The ancient city of Carthage is located just north of Tunis along the coastal part. The city lies on a similar latitude as the southernmost points of Europe. The city of Tunis is built on a hill slope down to the lake of Tunis. These hills contain places such as Notre-Dame de Tunis, Ras Tabia, La Rabta, La Kasbah, Montfleury and La Manoubia with altitudes just above 50 metres (160 feet). The city is located at the crossroads of a narrow strip of land between Lake Tunis and Séjoumi.

 

Climate

One of the northernmost cities on the African continent, the climate in Tunis is Mediterranean although a bit warmer than on the European side. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures over 40°C not unheard of, although thanks to the sea and the surrounding mountains, it's not as hot as in the Sahara desert. Most of the rain falls during the winter months, but not even those months see more than 8-9 days of rain each month on average. In the winter Tunis occasionally experiences temperatures below freezing and in very rare cases some snow, though on average even nighttime temperatures don't drop much below 10°C. Tunis' mild climate makes it a comfortable destination year-round.

 

History

Tunis was originally a Berber settlement. The existence of the town is attested by sources dating from the 4th century BC. Situated on a hill, Tunis served as an excellent point from which the comings and goings of naval and caravan traffic to and from Carthage could be observed. Tunis was one of the first towns in the region to fall under Carthaginian control, and in the centuries that followed Tunis was mentioned in the military histories associated with Carthage. Thus, during Agathocles' expedition, which landed at Cape Bon in 310 BC, Tunis changed hands on various occasions. According to Strabo, it was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC during the Third Punic War. Both Tunis and Carthage were destroyed; Tunis, however, was rebuilt first under the rule of Augustus and became an important town under Roman control and the center of a booming agricultural industry.

After independence in 1956, Tunis consolidated its role as the capital, first with the establishment of a constitution stating that the Chamber of Deputies and the Presidency of the Republic must have their headquarters in Tunis and its suburbs. In a very short time, the colonial city transformed rapidly. As the city has grown and native Tunisians gradually began to replace the extensive European population, conflict between the Arab city and the European city has gradually decreased with the arabisation of the population.

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Tunis Kasbah Square, the location of the Finance Ministry and other Government Offices, Tunis City, Tunisia
The Street view of Tunis City in Tunisia
The Railway Station Building in Tunis City, Tunisia

Getting In

  1. By Car; Driving is not for the faint-hearted in Tunisia, due to the poor driving habits of many local drivers. However self-hire car is by far the easiest and safest way to travel around Tunisia (north of Gabes). Signage is quite good as it is universally bilingual in French and Arabic script.
  2. By Plane; The major carrier at Tunis-Carthage is Tunisair, serving many destinations. The major western carriers who service Tunis-Carthage are Air France, Alitalia and Lufthansa, from London, Paris, Rome or Frankfurt. Air Malta offers occasional flights to Tunis from Malta, so one can always puddle-jump through the Mediterranean as well. Also, flights from other African cities are common ways to access Tunis if you are traveling to Tunisia from another African destination or vice versa.
  3. By Train; You can travel to Tunis by train from most major cities in the country, the main line going from Gabes via Sousse, Sfax and Gafsa. Trains are run by SNCFT and are generally cheap and comfortable, but if you want to ride first class during peak season, do reserve your seat in advance.
  4. By Bus; Tunisia has over 70 bus lines, with Tunis at the hub. There are two bus stations in town with Gare Routière Tunis Sud (south of Place Barcelone) serving cities and towns in the south and Gare Routière Tunis Nord (by Bab Saadoun) serving those to the north and west.
  5. By Boat; Tunis is the country's major port and there are ferries from a number of Mediterranean ports including Civitavecchia just outside of Rome, Genoa, Livorno, Naples, Palermo, Trapani and the French port of Marseille.
  6. By Louage; Tunis is a major hub for the country's louage (shared taxi) network. Louages connect Tunis with many major cities in Tunisia. There are three main louage stations in Tunis.

 

Getting Around

Free maps of Tunis and Tunisia are available at the National Tourism Office, to the north-east of the clock tower (directly east of the main Medina gate). The tourist office offers assistance in many languages.

  1. By Train; Tunis is well-served by a convenient five-line light metro system run by Transtu. The interchange hubs for all lines are in the centre of town at Place de la République and Place de Barcelone. Ticket prices are dependent on how many sections of network (zones) traveled through.
  2. By Taxi; Taxis are also a good and cheap option if one need to go a bit farther than the metro, though cabs picking up in front of nice hotels will charge much higher rates.
  3. By Bus; Transtu operates a public bus network as well. Bus fares depend on how far (how many zones) you will travel.
  4. By Car; Driving is a practicable idea for getting around, as long as you are an experienced and confident driver, street signage is good in Arabic and French, but there's a lot of traffic in Tunis and locals follow traffic rules in an informal style
The Carthage International Airport in Tunis City in Tunisia
Attractions (What to See)
  1. Tunis Medina (Médina de Tunis); The world heritage listed old town is a must-see colorful, crowded labyrinth of decorated old houses, vaults and street vendors. You can move around by foot only. You get a feel of medieval life.
  2. Avenue de France; One of the busiest streets of Tunis. It is bordered with shops and eateries and several architecturally interesting buildings.
  3. Bab El Bahr (Porte de France), Place de la Victoire; The Gate to the sea, which remains unchanged since its erection in 1848. It can be found on the Avenue de France. Before it was built it was an empty space where you could see the Mediterranean on one side and Lake Tunis on the other.
  4. Place de la Victoire; A lively square at the entrance to the medina. Bordered with shops, cafés and the ornamented building which houses the High Commission of the United Kingdom.
  5. Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, Avenue Habib Bourguiba; Built in 1882, this is the largest surviving building from Tunis' colonial era, in the neo-Romanesque style. It was named after St. Vincent de Paul, a priest in the region who was sold as a slave and fought slavery after he was liberated. The facade is decorated by a golden mosaic of Jesus and two trumpet-playing angels.
  6. Théâtre Municipal, 2, rue de Grèce (avenue Habib Bourguiba), A pretty white Art-Deco building, worth seeing in its own right even if you're not going there to see a play or concert.
  7. Tunis Clock Tower, Place du 14 janvier; The iconic clock tower is one of the city's most visible landmarks.
  8. Al-Fateh Mosque (Mosquée Al-Fateh), Avenue de la Liberté (Métro République); A large white mosque north of downtown.
  9. Bardo Museum; Occupying the 13th century palace of the Ottoman-era bey (ruler) and renowned for its extensive collection of Roman mosaics, although the (huge) collection covers Tunisia's entire existence from the prehistoric era until the Ottoman days. Exhibits from Carthage, Mahdia, Sousse, many from the Roman period in addition to presentations of Arabian culture old and new. It can be mercilessly hot and stifling in the museum, so bring water. The only bathrooms are on the ground floor, and have attendants asking for change. The museum is segregated into old and new, so be sure to walk around a fair amount looking for new passages to be sure you haven't missed any major areas.
  10. Parc du Belvédère, Avenue Taieb Mehiri (métro Palestine); A large park created during the French rule and featuring palm trees, mimosas and azaleas and a great view of Tunis and the lake. Sadly, the park has seen better days and graffiti is commonplace. Still, it's a popular place for locals to escape the heat and noise of the city.
  11. Hôtel de Ville. Not a hotel, but the city hall; The building was inaugurated in 1998 and is a combination of traditional and modern architecture with large windows, Middle Eastern patterns and arches. The city hall also features a lot of Tunisian flags, and has a striking flagpole structure on the square in the front of the main entrance.
  12. Chambre des Conseillers; Finished in 2005, this building used to house the upper house of the Parliament of Tunisia. It didn't serve this purpose for very long; after the 2011 revolution the Tunisian parliament was made unicameral and the counselor chamber has been empty ever since.
  13. Uthina; It was an ancient Roman-Berber city. Now it features remains of a fortress, cisterns, an aqueduct, a triumphal arch, a theatre, an amphitheater, a basilica with a circular crypt, and a bridge. Many mosaics are to be found there as well
  14. Tourbet el-Bey, Rue Tourbet el-Bey; An impressive 18th century mausoleum, the final resting place for over 160 princes and ministers and their families. The eight-pointed star inside represents the doors to paradise

 

Things to Do

Simply wandering around Tunis can be an interesting experience, especially around the medina with its ancient buildings including mosques, gates and market stalls. All types of commodities including slaves used to be traded here, but today's market is mainly that of day-to-day goods, with many local handicrafts. Shopping and haggling at this colorful place is certainly an experience different from what you may be used to at home. Another good place for a walk is Tunis' largest park, Belvedere Park, which houses the Museum of Modern Art and the municipal zoo (closed Mondays), and overlooks Lake Tunis

A beautiful view of Tunis City Building designs
The Tunis Municipal Theatre Building in Tunis City, in Tunisia
Ruins of the Baths of Antoninus in Carthage, in Tunis City, Tunisia
Statue of Ibn Khaldoun in Independence Square in Tunis City, Tunisia
Where to Stay (Accommodation)

Budget:

  • YHA Tunis Auberge Medina, 25 rue Saïda Ajoula; Also referred to as Auberge de Jeunesse and Tunis Youth Hostel. Buried deep within the Medina and a bit of a challenge to find, although there are intermittent signs along the way. During the day you can just push through the crowd of shoppers straight up the Rue de la Kasbah from the Port de France until you see the signs pointing to your right, just after the restaurant Dar Slah, although this route might be intimidating after dark. This former palace of a sultan is architecturally impressive.

 

Mid-Range;

  • La Maison Doree, 6 bis rue de Hollande, This hotel captures a slightly faded, colonial era charm. Rooms are basic (the hotel building is old) but clean. Excellent restaurant with bar (2.5 TD Celtia) that provides room service. Breakfast is included in the price, and the croissants are better than average. Rooms come with ensuite sink and shower, but shared toilets - a room with a toilet is an extra 10 TD. Some rooms overlook the local tram, which can be excessively loud - you may want to look out the window to the street below, and possibly listen to the noise of the passing tram. Located half a block north of Place Barcelone.
  • Hotel Transatlantique, Rue De Yougoslavie 106; Ground plus four levels, the first three accessible by lift. Nice mosaics. Lots of lounge space near the lobby. A little noisy, but nicely located. There is a roof accessible on the fourth floor (turn left after climbing the stairs, walk to the end, and open the unlocked door to your left): good for fresh air or some sun, though the view is not brilliant.
  • Grand Hotel de France, Rue Mustapha M'barek, Located in a neat old building with marble staircases and a friendly staff. They do not speak English, although it was no problem. Free wifi in the lobby and courtyard, two communal computers, but cannot comment on price or quality, although one had a webcam attached. Breakfast was coffee and Croissant and Pain au chocolat. Easily accessed by taxi from the Port de France, where Rue Mustapha M'barek is just a quick left off of the main road running south past the front of the gate.

Splurge;

  • Dar El-Medina, 64 Rue Sidi ben Arous (It's a few blocks' walk from Place du Government on the West side of the Medina). A luxury hotel in a century old mansion in the Medina, with beautiful court yards, a roof too terrace offering views over the Medina, and breakfast included. The rooms are decorated in traditional Tunisian style.
  • Sheraton Tunis Hotel, Avenue de la Ligue Arab, Modern hotel overlooking the entire city. Located in the Central Business District.
  • Hôtel Golden Tulip El Mechtel, Avenue Ouled Haffouz El Omrane (métro Bab Laassal), Probably a hotel you should watch out you don't end up staying in. The hotel is large and modern, however overpriced. Staff is reportedly unfriendly and repeatedly tries to overcharge you for products and services.
  • La Maison Blanche, Avenue Mohamed V, 45. Pretty rooms and a nice Art Deco piano bar.
  • Hôtel Africa, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, 50. A modern business hotel in downtown with large rooms.
  • Hotel Diplomat, Avenue Hedi Chaker, Rooms are equipped with modern TVs, Internet (costs extra) and minibar
A night view of Tunis City, Tunisia

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