Tunisia holidays

Experience Tunisia

Best Places to Visit

Tunisia has almost everything a holiday maker could ask for: remains of the great civilisations of antiquity, stunning Mediterranean resorts and beaches, and spectacular landscapes in the country's hinterlands.

The ancient city of El-Djem is the first place tourists go to because here can be found some of the best-preserved remains of the ancient Roman city of Thysdrus. The Roman Amphitheatre is one of the largest in the world and offers a spectacular glimpse at the past. Often compared to the Roman Coliseum in the Italian capital, this UNESCO World Heritage site seated 35,000 spectators and once hosted the bloody entertainment sport that is the gladiator games.

Another Roman site history buffs will appreciate is the city of Carthage. Unfortunately, much of the Roman remains have been lost, but visitors will find a scattered selection of ruins of villas, theatres and baths.

Tunisia naturally has historic sites of great importance to the Islamic world. One of these locations is the holy city of Kairouan, considered the most significant cultural capital for Islamic and Koranic learning in the region.

When people talk about Tunisia's best beaches, Djerba is often the first to be mentioned. The stunning beaches and breath taking sunsets are the main draws here. Beach destinations run along the country's north and east coasts including Hammamet, Sounine, Ghar El-Melh, Sousse and Monastir. Sousse is also known for its medina (old quarter) and its souk (market), while Monastir has more ancient Roman ruins.

For a taste of the Tunisian hinterlands, it does not get any better than taking in the beautiful landscapes aboard Le Lezard Rouge train from Tozeur to M'tlaoui. The train snakes through the Selja Gorges, passing through otherworldly rock formations and tunnels on the way.

Top Landmarks

Tunisia is known today by many UK holidaymakers as one of the best beach destinations in the Mediterranean. However, its wealth of landmarks and relics from the Roman period make it an attractive destination for history lovers. Daily life in the ancient Roman city of Carthage can be imagined by tourists who visit the Antonin Baths, the largest Roman baths outside of ancient Rome. Near the baths are other ancient relics such as graves, kilns, walkways and other stone structures.

Bardo National Museum in Tunis is another top tourist landmark and a national institution. One of the largest museums in Africa, it is home to an impressive collection of Roman mosaics and other important relics from the ancient civilisations that passed through North Africa.

Avid film fans will notice how some of Tunisia's landscapes are similar to those used in George Lucas' Star Wars series. The village of Matmata has become famous precisely because it was here that the opening scene of the film series, featuring the subterranean dwellings of the Berber people, was shot.

The natural landscape surrounding Lake Ichkeul is also noteworthy. A UNESCO World Heritage natural wonder, the lake and surroundings are a major stopover for migrating birds in the Mediterranean.

Another natural wonder worth seeing is the Chott el Djerid, a salt lake in Tunisia's hinterlands which in the dry season becomes a salt flat. Like Matmata, the otherworldliness of Chott el Djerid was also a setting for scenes in Star Wars.

Entertainment

As Tunisia is a destination that has a well-developed tourist infrastructure, western-style pubs, bars and restaurants are easy to find in the major tourist cities. There are venues for live music and in the summer months of July to September, belly dancing. Most of the entertainment is aimed at tourists and young and wealthy Tunisians.

Night-time entertainment in Tunisia for locals often involves cafes where life is centred on the hookah, a water pipe used to smoke flavoured tobacco. Card games are also popular in cafes and curious foreigners are welcome to join in. Cinema is another night-time activity for locals, and movies are usually dubbed in Arabic or French.

Some recommended bars in Tunis are Le Boeuf sur le Toit (the Beef on the Roof), which features food and drinks as well as a DJ and a dance floor, and Bar Jamaica, which is quite popular with both locals and tourists for its live music and outdoor setting.

In the famous beach destination of Hammamet, Calypso is a favourite dance club where internationally renowned DJs often perform. Claiming to be the biggest disco in Tunisia, Cocoloco is another great party venue in Hammamet with two floors and the capacity to hold 4,000 revellers.

Visitors spending their summer holidays in Tunisia are in for a treat as many festivals and events happen during this time of the year. The cities of Hammamet, Nabeul and Carthage, are the usual settings for live music festivals featuring local and international performers alike.

Casinos are an option for those staying in the cities of Tunis, Djerba, Sousse and Hammamet. The biggest one, Cleopatra, can be found in Hammamet, while not far behind it in size is Sousse's Casino Caribe.

Dining Out

Tunisian cuisine is very much related to the cuisines of Northern Africa. It features couscous and stews, which are not unlike the famed Moroccan tagine and takes advantage of local ingredients, such as olives, olive oil, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, rose water and turmeric.

Meats such as lamb and chicken and seafood are favourites, especially when baked or roasted. Coucha is a meat dish made of lamb shoulder which is made fragrant and delicious with turmeric and cayenne pepper. For good seafood, it is recommended to head to the coastal cities.

Salads are a staple of Tunisian cuisine, with the most popular being salad Tunisienne, a healthy mix of lettuce, onions, green pepper, olives, radish, tomato and tuna. Harissa is another staple of Tunisian food. It is a potent mix of hot chilli paste and garlic which is eaten with bread and olives as part of every meal.

Having been a French protectorate until 1956, Tunisia features many French influenced pastries and confectioneries. Baguettes, pain au chocolat (chocolate bread) and croissants are common in Tunisia.

The major tourist destinations are the best places to find great restaurants and dining spots. Caf's typically serve snacks, sumptuous cakes and sandwiches to go along their coffee. The best place to sample authentic Tunisian food, however, is in a Tunisian's home. When presented with the opportunity of dining with a local Tunisian family, it is best to seize it.

Beach

Tunisia is a popular travel destination precisely because of its beautiful Mediterranean beaches. With a perfect warm climate year-round, Djerba is one of the most popular beach destinations in Tunisia. Its soft sandy beach and turquoise waters are best found on the northern stretches of the coast. The ritzy resort destination of Hammamet is popular for its Saint Tropez attitude, upmarket accommodation and casinos.

Romance

With beautiful beaches stretching along the coast, romantic getaways are easy to come by in this country. Popular resort destinations for couples are Djerba, Sousse, Port el-Kantaoui and Hammamet. Heading inland, the beautiful city of Tozeur is a favourite place with couples. Partners can walk among palm groves and 1,000-year old mosques and medinas here. The coastal town of Sidi Bou Said is yet another romantic destination, known for its quiet and picturesque white-washed houses.

Family

Unsurprisingly, the most popular destinations for families on holiday in Tunisia are its beaches. In Port el-Kantaoui, not only will children be able to play in the sea, but in the water park of Aqua Palace. Meanwhile, in Djerba, families can visit Djerba Explore, a tourist complex featuring a crocodile park and a museum of Islamic arts, among many other curiosities.

Adventure

Visitors only need to head inland to find some of the greatest adventure experiences in Tunisia. Desert safaris and desert trekking are some of the more popular options in this country which features the Sahara as its main playground. There are tour companies in the cities of Tozeur and Douz that take visitors to the famous, often far-out locations of many Hollywood movies filmed in Tunisia including the George Lucas epic, Star Wars.

Need to know

Language

The official language of Tunisia is Arabic. The dialect of Arabic spoken here is Maghrebi, which is incomprehensible to speakers of standard Arabic. French is the language of commerce and media, a remnant of the country's history as a French protectorate. English is spoken by those working in tourist destinations.

Currency

The local currency is the Tunisian dinar (TND). Dinar can be obtained at exchange bureaux on arrival in Tunisia. ATMs are easy to find in the tourist towns and resorts. It's best to use Visa and Maestro ATMs. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted by most major establishments. Travellers' cheques can be cashed easily in banks and at official bureau de change, with cheques in US dollars and euro the easiest to change.

Visas

Nationals including those from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and many EU countries do not need a visa to enter Tunisia as a tourist for up to three months. A valid passport is all that is required. Nationals of countries which are not included on the visa waiver list must apply for a visa before travel.

Climate

The Northern Mediterranean regions of Tunisia enjoy a temperate climate with mild and occasionally wet winters. The coast is where most tourists head in the summer. June, July and August are the peak season for Tunisia's coastal and beach areas but the warm spring period from mid-March to mid-May is pleasant. The southern regions facing the Sahara feature semi-arid environments, which heat up in summer and mean autumn is the best time to visit this part of the country.

Main Airports

The main gateway into Tunisia is Tunis-Carthage International Airport, which services Tunis, the country's capital, and Carthage, a major tourist destination. It is connected to many flight hubs in Europe and the Middle East. Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport is the secondary airport and the destination for many charter flights servicing holiday destinations in the country. Another airport of note is Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport, which is fast becoming the preferred destination for European flights to Tunisia.

Flight Options

The primary carrier in Tunisia is Tunisair, with its main base Tunis-Carthage International Airport. It connects the country with major airports in Europe including London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick. Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport has direct flights to London Gatwick with Monarch Airlines and Nouvelair. Nouvelair charter flights as well as Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways scheduled flights travel from London-Gatwick to Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport. A typical flight from London to Tunis takes about 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Travel Advice

Tourist season in Tunisia picks up in the summer months of June, July and August. Those who come earlier, in spring, or later, in autumn, may find cheaper flights as well as more affordable accommodation, not to mention cooler temperatures. Tourists arriving at Tunis-Carthage International Airport should be wary of overpriced local taxis. The drive to Tunis city centre from the airport takes about 20 minutes.

Other Transport Options

Ferries run to Tunisia from Marseille in France, Naples and Genoa in Italy, Malta and to Sicily. Visitors from the UK can take the Eurostar from London to Paris, followed by a high-speed TGV train to Marseille to connect with a ferry to Tunisia.

Getting Around

Tunisia is a small country so travelling overland is easy. Buses and shared taxis, called louages, are good options. The major cities along the coast are connected by a reliable railway, car rental is widely available, and domestic flights are frequent, but not the usual choice.

Car

Car hire is widely available, with local and international chains clearly represented in the main cities, tourist centres and at airports. While it is relatively expensive to hire a car, it is a good option as road conditions are generally good and the major cities are well connected by highways. Caution must be taken, however, as local drivers often have little regard for the road rules.

Train

The main rail provider in Tunisia is Societe National de Chemin de Fer de Tunisiens (SNCFT). The trains are comfortable and modern, with routes running from the capital, Tunis, south to Sousse, Monastir and Sfax, and terminating in Gabes, while the northern route goes to Bizerte. The Tunis to Gabes route takes about 6 hours while the Tunis to Bizerte route takes just 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Air

The country of Tunisia is relatively compact so while flights are common and prices are reasonable, travelling by air is not the preferred means of getting around the country. The leading domestic carrier is Sevenair, formerly Tuninter. It services the major cities of Monastir, Gafsa, Djerba, Gabes, Tozeur, Tabarka and Sfax.

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FACTS

  1. The highest point in Tunisia is Jebel ech Chambi, which reaches 1,544m.
  2. Kairouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, dating to 670CE, has 414 columns, although it used to be forbidden to count them, with those who did attempt it risking blinding as punishment.
  3. In 2014, Tunisia exported over 95,000 tonnes of Deglet Nour dates, destined for Europe, the USA and Asia. Although over 150 varieties are grown in Tunisia, only four date varieties Deglet Nour, Allig, Khouat Allig and Kenta, are grown commercially.

FACTS

  1. The highest point in Tunisia is Jebel ech Chambi, which reaches 1,544m.
  2. Kairouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, dating to 670CE, has 414 columns, although it used to be forbidden to count them, with those who did attempt it risking blinding as punishment.
  3. In 2014, Tunisia exported over 95,000 tonnes of Deglet Nour dates, destined for Europe, the USA and Asia. Although over 150 varieties are grown in Tunisia, only four date varieties Deglet Nour, Allig, Khouat Allig and Kenta, are grown commercially.

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