Tucked into the northern coast of Africa, Tunisia is any traveler’s dream. Promising culture, views, and experiences that will not disappoint, Tunisia is the perfect gateway from Europe to Africa. It packs vibrant cities, mountainous greenery, expansive desert, and sparkling coasts into a small area. This Tunisia travel guide will convince you to plan a trip and tell you how to!
Tunisia is totally a hidden gem. Most people have never heard of the nation, let alone considered planning a trip there. However, as a result, they are missing one of the coolest travel experiences of a lifetime.
Tunisia is among the most rewarding countries I’ve visited, offering a dream under the sun at an incredibly affordable price. Here, you can you get from the Mediterranean coast to the Sahara Desert in just a few hours and drive from one end of the country to the other in less than a day. The country is jam-packed with rich culture and precious scenery that it’s a no brainer to visit Tunisia in 2022.
For travelers who have yet to travel beyond North America and Europe, and are looking for a first foray into Africa, it doesn’t get any better than Tunisia. The North African country is overflowing with natural beauty, architecture, culture, and welcoming locals. Yet, somehow it’s almost entirely untouched by tourists.
The highlights of my trip to Tunisia were days spent relaxing on the coast, strolling through suburban streets, and marveling at urban culture and architecture. What will yours be? This Tunisia travel guide will tell you everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable trip!
Guest Post by Evan Edler
Table of Contents
Where is Tunisia?
Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. It’s nestled between Algeria and Libya with its coastline straddling the Mediterranean Sea. These large neighbors make Tunisia seem somewhat tiny, but it’s larger than most European nations.
Tunis, the bustling capital, sits on the Gulf of Tunis in the northern part of Tunisia. The area around Tunis is verdant and mountainous. Going south, the landscape becomes increasingly arid, and the southern half of the country belongs to the Sahara Desert. Its location makes Tunisia a great connection between Europe and Africa, perfect for travelers going in either direction. Tunis is easily reachable by direct flights from major cities in Europe, including Italy, France, and Spain. It also has flights to much of Africa and the Middle East. Tunisair is the national airline of Tunisia, which provides excellent service to (and around) this country.
Why should you go to Tunisia?
Still need convincing before you book your flights to Tunisia? Before we dive deeper into this Tunisia travel guide, let’s first cover why you should visit the country in the first place.
It’s a budget-friendly Mediterranean destination
Looking for some R&R? Dreaming of sunbathing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain or Italy? Think again! Tunisia boasts a vast selection of coastal destinations, ranging from rural hideaways to busier spots in the capital of Tunis.
Imagine five-star resorts with modern rooms, private beaches, spas, and more amenities than you can count. Now, here’s the kicker: Cut the price tag in half without sacrificing any of the frills. My stay at a 4-star resort in Hammamet cost less than hotels in many European cities, and was absolutely luxurious.
Tunisia is a cultural crossroads
Tunisia’s national identity is compiled from years of influence from various ruling powers, making for a fascinating case study in ancient and modern history. Much of the country’s current culture stems from the rule of Muslim and Arabic forces. Therefore, Islam has a strong hold as the primary religion in Tunisia. Islamic values account for many of the country’s customs, thus connecting Tunisia with its neighbors.
However, Tunisia is considered more liberal and developed than other African nations. This is, in part, due to the country being under French rule from 1881-1956. The legacy of French rule remains, with French still being widely spoken in modern society. As such, Tunisia serves as a bridge between the cultures of Europe and Africa, with its own unique touch. The people of Tunisia are welcoming and friendly, which adds to the appeal of visiting Tunisia.
A wide range of wonders
Travelers who venture off the beaten path into the heart of Tunisia will be rewarded on all fronts. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Tunisia that it’s hard to narrow down the top spots. This includes the beautiful Sidi Bou Said reminiscent of Santorini, the intense desert landscapes that played host to Luke Skywalker, and even the largest Roman amphitheater in Africa. These attractions make for a memorable travel experience that’s tough to rival.
You’ll be the first of your friends to explore Tunisia
For trailblazers, this one of the best reasons to visit Tunisia. It is practically untouched by tourists, and I don’t think this will be the case for long.
As the tourism industry booms, I’m sure this hidden gem won’t remain hidden. But with so much to offer and its convenient location, it’s bound to become a mainstream travel destination soon. So, enjoy bragging rights that you went before it becomes popular!
Should you visit Tunisia or Morocco?
When American and European travelers make their first leap into Africa, the natural choice is often Tunisia’s western cousin, Morocco. After all, it’s a beautiful country – deeply rich in culture and history, and is sure to make a wonderful trip for any tourist. However, I’m going to argue that Tunisia beats out Morocco in a few ways. In my experience, Morocco is flooded with tourists while Tunisia is not – which has many benefits from a tourism perspective.
In Tunisia, there are fewer tourist traps on the streets and in the Medinas, giving the cities a more authentic and immersive feel. Another consequence of this is that Tunisia is significantly more affordable, and everything from food and drink to accommodation is cheaper. In fact, various sources put the cost of living in Tunisia at anywhere from 20% to 40% less expensive than that of Morocco. Not too shabby!
Logistical guide to Tunisian travel: money, language, etc.
With significant influence from both Africa and Europe, some of the specific details of travel in Tunisia can seem confusing. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it!
Currency in Tunisia:
When in Tunisia, you’ll be using the Tunisian Dinar. At the time of writing this the Tunisian Dinar is worth 0.31 Euros, so a conversion rate of about 3 Dinar to 1 Euro or US Dollar is a good estimate. Instead of 100s, like the Euro and Dollar, the Dinar is divided into 1,000s (milim), and coins range from 1 milim to 5 dinar, and banknotes go up to 50.
Changing money in Tunisia:
The Tunisian Dinar is considered a “closed currency,” which essentially means it’s illegal for the currency to leave the country. That’s easier for you! Don’t worry about cash until you get there. You can exchange cash at hotels, banks, and other places at a government fixed rate, or you can use ATMs at risk of a small fee.
Language in Tunisia:
Tunisia’s singular official language is Modern Standard Arabic. However, the country’s linguistic landscape is much more diverse than it may appear on paper. The dialect of Arabic spoken in Tunisia is called Tunisian Arabic, also known as Derja. Due to the country’s colonization by France, French is also spoken by over half of the population, especially in large cities and tourist destinations.
Power outlets in Tunisia:
Both type C and type E power adapters will work in Tunisia – so adapters for mainland Europe among other places can be used!
Time in Tunisia:
Tunisia is in the Central European Time Zone, the same as major cities such as Paris, Berlin, and Rome. However, Tunisia does not observe Daylight Savings. This means that in the summer, when much of Europe sets their clocks forward, Tunisia is in line with the UK & Ireland.
Trying to figure out the best ways to book and plan your next trip?
What’s the weather like in Tunisia?
Tunisia’s climate is relatively predictable, which makes it easy for travelers to pack and prepare. Along the coast, and in the north, it follows the same patterns as most other Mediterranean spots. Winters are warm, and summers are (very) hot. Late autumn and winter are the rainiest season, with spring and summer being quite arid.
Further south, Tunisia’s climate falls in line with its desert landscape. In hotter seasons the desert can exceed 38°C or 100°F, and is prone to sandstorms. Overall, any trip to Tunisia is going to be warm, so you’ll want to leave behind your jackets and bring lightweight clothing – and sunscreen.
Looking to cool off after a hot trip to Tunisia? Read next: Top Cold Plunge Tubs
The history of Tunisia
This Tunisia travel guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the history of the country. Here, we’ll look at the history of Tunisia starting in the 12th century BCE. Before then, the area (like the rest of North Africa) was inhabited by native populations known as Berbers. In the 12th century, Phoenician peoples (coming from modern-day Lebanon), began to arrive and create their own settlements. One of these settlements was known as Carthage.
By the 7th century BCE, Carthage emerged as the most powerful kingdom in the region. It was wealthy and powerful, and rivaled Rome in guts and glory until the 1st century BCE, when the Romans took Carthage. As a result, they introduced Christianity to the region, and left behind numerous Roman sites that remain to this day.
The Roman rule of Carthage crossed into the centuries AD, and remained until the Muslims conquered the land in the 7th century AD. This brought Islamic and Arabic culture to the land, which remains a major cornerstone of Tunisian culture. They retained rule until the Ottoman Empire conquered it in 1546. The Ottomans ruled over Tunisia for the next 300 years.
Tunisia’s more recent history
In 1881, the Ottoman Empire was weakening, and the French conquered Tunisian lands. Starting in 1942, Tunisia was taken by the German forces of the Second World War. It was the site of a 6 month campaign between the Axis and Allied forces, and the Allied victory marked the end of WWII’s battles in Africa. Independence was finally granted to the new Tunisian Republic in 1956.
The country of Tunisia was led by various rulers until a decline in living and working conditions led to the 2011 Tunisian Revolution. This period of civil unrest caused an upheaval of the political system. Since then, Tunisia has been led by a democratically elected president, and has adopted a constitution granting Tunisian women more rights than most other African populations.
What’s the mythology of Tunisia’s past?
Not into the historical nuts and bolts? Here’s the mythological retelling of Tunisia’s history. If you’re a fan of Greek and Roman history or mythology, you’ve probably heard of Carthage. The city-state of Carthage was a rival of Athens and Rome for centuries, but was an important part of their mythology.
Let’s take a look at Carthage through the lens of one of the most important mythological texts: The Aeneid, Virgil’s epic poem. The Aeneid tells the story of the hero Aeneas, whose adventures throughout the Mediterranean lead to the foundation of the city of Rome. In the Aeneid, Aeneas meets and falls in love with Dido, the Queen of Carthage.
Dido fled her family and found herself in North Africa, where she decided to start a kingdom of her own. Legend has it that she made a deal with a local king. He gave her a bull’s hide, and said that she could rule the land that it covered. Clever as she was, Dido strung the hide out into a thin string, and encircled a large portion of land on the coast. This land was to become her very own kingdom of Carthage – and much later on, Tunisia!
Where should you go in Tunisia?
You’ve decided to head to Tunisia and want to make sure you see all of the key sites in the country. Where do you start? Well, with this travel guide to the best destinations in Tunisia!
Tunisia’s most accessible and most popular spot is also one of its best – the nation’s capital, Tunis! Tunis itself has lots of important sites and easy day trips, so let’s get into them! This travel guide will cover some of the best sights and activities in Tunisia’s lively capital, but there is plenty more to explore.
Tunis’s Medina is one of the most famous in Africa, and for good reason. It is a seemingly endless maze of shops and stalls (partially covered). This makes it easy to dive into the heart of the Medina, because the area will envelop you – just make sure you’re able to find a way out!
Here in the Medina of Tunis, you’ll find clothes, food stalls, and more. My favorite stop was the rooftop of a carpet shop with unbeatable views of the surrounding city. It’s not uncommon for people on the street to offer you rooftop views for a small fee – for the views and the architecture (photo opportunities, anyone?) I’d say it’s definitely worth it!
Sidi Bou Said
When asking for recommendations for my trip to Tunisia, the first thing anyone said was to go to Sidi Bou Said. And it’s not hard to see why! Sidi Bou Said is a neighborhood of Tunis just a train ride away from downtown, but it feels like a different world. Its white stones and blue accents make it a sister to Santorini or Mykonos.
The streets overflow with with tourist shops offering handmade goods, and every turn is more picturesque than the last. Highlights of this stop include Museum Dar El-Annabi, a wealthy household turned into a beautiful museum with great views, and the Café des Délices, a wonderful restaurant with immaculate views over the coast.
Another neighborhood within Tunis, and also reachable by train, Carthage is well worth a trip. The neighborhood is gorgeous, and I highly recommend spending some time strolling the old town, admiring the architecture and the flowers. The most important site here is the archeological attractions of Byrsa Hill. A short walk up this hilltop will lead you to the stunning facade of the Acropolium church. Behind lies the Carthage National Museum, with ancient ruins on the property. With its incredible architecture and ambiance, it’s no wonder Carthage is a huge part of Tunisia tourism.
Other top stops in Tunisia
Sousse is a coastal city, the third-largest in Tunisia. It’s one of the most popular resort areas in the country where you can find any luxury you desire. It balances beach vibes with a historical town center, where you can see architecture and art to your heart’s content. Hammamet may be a better bet for a strictly beach vacation, but Sousse’s cultural advantage is worth considering to get the best of both worlds.
Widely considered to be the third-largest Roman amphitheater ever built, the El Djem (alternatively spelled El Jem) is a site worth seeing. It rivals the Colosseum in Rome, but without the crowds of tourists. You can get to the amphitheater on guided tours or on your own from nearby cities like Sfax or Monastir (also worth trips in their own rights). If you’re using guided travel groups in Tunisia, make sure to stop here!
Tunisians have a strong pride for this city, as it’s the fourth-holiest in Islam. Kairouan is a site of pilgrimage, and in the Islam faith seven trips to Kairouan can equal one trip to Mecca. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. The main attraction is its medina and its numerous mosques. The city also hosts incredible architecture and is a popular shopping destination – especially for carpets.
Check out some of the other top historical sites in the world!
For travelers who have not yet been to the African continent, the Sahara Desert may seem like a dream destination. Tunisia’s claim of the Saharan landscape is a great asset to its tourism industry, and you should take advantage of it! The best way to see the desert is to take an organized tour throughout the desert. Any good tour will show you some natural wonders, local culture, and probably some filming sites for the Star Wars movies!
Travel Guide within Tunisia: How to get around
Trying to figure out how to get around Tunisia? The country’s bus and train networks are expansive, and are well worth a look. They can also be overwhelming (especially for travelers who can’t read a lick of Arabic). But there are plenty of other ways to get around this small country.
Firstly, if you plan to do an organized tour, they should account for all transportation, which is nice if you’re not keen on figuring it out yourself. Though the most reliable and comfortable way to travel is by car. You’ll find car rental companies in Tunis and in other large cities.
You can also hire cabs and private drivers. While more expensive than other options, they are cheaper when compared to other countries. And best of all – you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck without the stress of navigating Tunisian traffic.
What to eat in Tunisia
The most popular food in Tunisia’s diverse culinary pallet is couscous. Couscous is typically served as a type of pasta served with stew, but varieties differ across North Africa. You might also encounter masfouf, a sweeter variety of couscous.
For breakfast, try a local chakchouka (also spelled shakshouka). This dish consists of poached eggs served in spicy sauce accompanied by various vegetables and spices. Finally, you can (and should) order traditional mint tea when given the option. It is a staple of Tunisian diets lasting from ancient history, and you can’t eat in Tunisia without being offered a sip at least once.
Where to stay in Tunisia
The best home base for any trip to Tunisia is undoubtedly Tunis. As the largest and capital city, it has the most hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, and other tourist amenities. It’s also most easily connected to the rest of the country and the world, making it ideal to travel into and out of. There are a number of neighborhoods that are good options for tourists. Here’s a guide to some of the best spots to stay when traveling in Tunisia!
Here are some amazing stays in Tunis:
The bustling heart of Tunis’s city center, the Medina area is the best to stay in to be fully immersed in urban Tunisian life. Here you’ll have easy and convenient access to almost anywhere you’d like to go, and an array of amenities geared for locals and tourists alike.
For the best experience, I’d recommend staying at Dar El Jeld. It’s one of the nicest hotels (and restaurants) in Tunisia, so is pricier than some neighbors, but relatively affordable by most American and European standards. Suites start at $140 a night. This hotel is absolutely luxurious, and any services you could possibly need are available. The rooms are huge and opulent, and the location is ideally situated on the edge of the Medina. If you’re looking to splurge anywhere in Tunisia, this is the place!
If you’re traveling on a budget, check out the hostel Auberge el Medina. It offers traditional architecture and food, as well as a comfortable stay for cheap. Dormitory-style rooms hold 4 beds each, at $15.50 a night for one bed. You can also book all four beds to turn any dorm room into your own personal room. Hostels are much less common in Tunisia than in most of Europe, so this is a rare find and a great bet for young travelers who want the most bang for their buck!
Sidi Bou Said
Tunis’s own Santorini, Sidi Bou Said is one of the most popular spots in the city for tourists. Outside of the Medina proper, it’s a calmer home base with plenty of restaurants and shops. Plus, the views over the Mediterranean are simply unbeatable. Dar Said is a great option in this village, overlooking the gulf. Rooms equipped with double beds start at just over $100 a night. Guests can take advantage of a number of offerings, including breakfast, a swimming pool, and gardens. This hotel in Tunis is a quiet recluse in a bustling city!
Here are some amazing stays in Sidi Bou Said:
La Marsa and Gammarth
A different option for lodging in Tunis is to hug the shore – literally. La Marsa and Gammarth are two neighboring villages that share long coastlines with idyllic sandy beaches. This is where you’ll find many all-inclusive resorts and coastal getaways.
Because of its setting, this area is home to lots of luxury (ex: the Four Seasons Tunis). If it’s luxury you’re looking for, I recommend the The Residence. A plush stay with private pools, multiple restaurants, and a beautiful beach, this is the place to be pampered in Tunis. Rooms here (and in most of its competitors) start at around $300 a night.
Here are more amazing stays in La Marsa and Gammarth:
Looking for some rest and relaxation to work on your physical and mental health?
Itinerary ideas for a trip to Tunisia
Booked your flights to Tunisia? Time for my favorite part of this Tunisia travel guide. Let’s look at a few itinerary options. I’ll base these on a week of travel, although I recommend staying longer if you can!
Bustle to beach
To ensure a good mixture of adventure and relaxation, split your visit to Tunisia between city and sand. Start in Tunis, where you’ll explore the heart of the city. Take trips to Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, and the Medina. This is your time to shop in streetside stalls or get souvenirs for friends and family! Then make your way down to Hammamet, the resort capital of the country.
Spend a few days in a resort of your choice, at a fraction of the cost that you’d find on the other side of the Mediterranean. Enjoy the wonderful beaches and the inviting ocean, and make sure to venture into the picturesque town center. Once you’re properly pampered, head back to Tunis to fly home (or further on!).
If you’re looking to make the most of a short trip, rent a car and get ready to race through all of Tunisia’s top sights. First, spend at least two days in Tunis. This will give you plenty of time to see Sidi Bou Said and Carthage, as well as the Medina and city center. Then, drive south. Stop in Hammamet and Sousse, two wonderful coastal towns. Explore the El Djem amphitheater, the largest in Africa and third largest in the world.
If you have time, head down to the major port city of Sfax for its architecture and culture. You can also drive further south to reach the tip of the desert! Head back up to Tunis, and stop in Kairouan – the fourth holiest city of Islam and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now you’ve seen practically the whole country!
Follow the Force (guided travel through Tunisia)
One of Tunisia’s greatest claims to fame is its prominent features in the Star Wars series. Whether you’re a superfan or you’ve never seen them, an organized tour through these sites can be a great way to explore the southern and Saharan parts of the country! This is also one of the easiest ways to travel through Tunisia, as there are a number of tour companies that will organize an entire itinerary for you, with a variety of durations and prices. Some of the most popular (and reputable) companies include Silverscreen Tours and StarWars Tours.
Tunisia Travel Trivia: fun facts!
About to head off to Tunisia and want to learn some more? On your way back and looking for some facts to impress your friends? This Tunisia travel guide wouldn’t be complete without some fun facts. How many of these Tunisian tidbits did you know?
- Tunis, when it was known as Carthage, was founded and ruled by Dido. According to the mythology of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido was forced out of her home and looked to found a new kingdom. She bartered into a deal that she could rule however much land she could cover with the hide of a bull. Cleverly, Dido cut the hide into thin strips and formed a strategic circle that she then made into the city of Carthage.
- Tunisia has been a go-to filming location for the Stars Wars franchise ever since its origins! Numerous Star Wars films have shot in Tunisia, taking advantage of its somewhat other-worldly landscape.
- Tunisia is home to Islam’s 4th most important city! The first three you probably know: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. But next in line is Kairouan, Tunisia! The city is a site of pilgrimage for many as well as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The northernmost point in Africa is in Tunisia. Cape Angela is a rocky landmass jutting into the Mediterranean, farther north than other places such as Tangier or Algiers.
- The El Djem amphitheater in Tunisia is the largest ancient amphitheater in North Africa, and one of the largest in the world. You may have even seen it in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian or a Nike commercial!
Tunisia travel guide summary
If you’re a particularly adventurous traveler, you might have booked your flight into TUN before you even finished this article! If not, head from this tab to Skyscanner or Google Flights. By now you’ve read about the history and culture of Tunisia, but there’s no way to appreciate it without visiting and experiencing it. The pictures I’ve included of major attractions do not do them justice. And, of course, your own journey to Tunisia will include surprises you can’t predict!
I hope this article on Tunisia tourism has put a new wonderfully hidden gem on your bucket list, and that you’ll keep Tunisia on your radar for future trips. You can’t ask for a better destination to dip your toes in the (metaphorical) waters of Africa, and the (literal) waters of the Mediterranean at the same time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Evan B. Edler is a full-time student and part-time traveler born in Amsterdam, raised in Boston, and currently living in Dublin. A first-year in university, he explores Europe on the weekends and books flights during class. You can (try to) keep up with his adventures at @evanbedler.