From the ancient ruins of Carthage to the labyrinthine alleys of the Medina of Tunis, here are the best places to visit in Tunisia.
Home to legendary ancient cities like Carthage and Roman ruins that can rival anywhere in Italy (seriously, check out El Jem!), I’m always surprised at just how few tourists make it to Tunisia.
There are a total of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore, ranging from the Great Mosque of Kerouane to the bird-filled shores of Lake Ichkeul, and if you cross the Atlas Mountains and venture deep into the Sahara Desert, you can even stumble upon a few Berber settlements that became Star Wars filming locations.
The North African nation serves up fiery cous cous, is lined with white sand beaches, produces stellar wine, and offers everything from historic boutiques to big all-inclusive hotels, and yet, visit historic sites like Dougga or Kerkouane, and you’ll have two-thousand-year-old ruins all to yourself.
From the labyrinthine medinas of Tunis and Sousse to the Mediterranean architecture of Sidi Bou Said, get ready to explore a destination that embraces its location at the crossroads of the African, European, and Arab worlds. Keep reading, as I countdown the best places to visit in Tunisia.
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Places to visit in Tunisia
Tunisia’s tourism industry has been incredibly unfortunate in the last decade. Although tourism kicked off in the 1950s, with sunseekers flocking to the beaches of Tunisia’s long Mediterranean coast, the sector took a beating in the wake of the 2015 terror attacks that targeted hotels in Sousse.
Considering more people were killed in terror attacks in Paris in the same year, European governments were all too quick to put a ban on travel to Tunisia, a ban which hit Tunisia’s economy hard. COVID-19 rubbed salt into the wounds, and unfortunately, the industry has been in recovery mode ever since.
Give Tunisia a chance, though, and you’ll find a fascinating country that in many places is still devoid of tourists. With one week to explore, you can hit up the main sights in the north, including the Medina of Tunis, the ruins of Carthage and Sidi Bou Said, before catching a train or Louage (a local minibus) south to Sousse, from where you can visit El Jem and Kairouan.
With two weeks in Tunisia, you can venture further south to Djerba (Tunisia’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site) and on into the Sahara Desert, where Berber villages, oases, and Star Wars filming sets await you.
The capital city of Tunisia, Tunis is both a political hub and a rich historical centre. Wander through the city, and you’ll quickly realise that Tunis is a place where different eras of Tunisian history collide. The Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers a maze of narrow lanes and souks filled with shops that sell everything from spices to intricate crafts. Here, you can also visit significant buildings like the Zitouna Mosque and the Dar Hussein Palace, which now functions as an art school.
The scenery changes dramatically when you head to the Ville Nouvelle (the ”New Town’), which is pervaded by French colonial influence, featuring wide avenues and European-style cafes. Don’t miss the Bardo National Museum, home to one of the world’s most important mosaic collections, while Belvedere Park and the Municipal Theatre are highlights of any trip to Tunis, too.
Read more: 15 Things to Do in Tunis, Tunisia
In the northern suburbs of Tunis, you’ll find Carthage, an ancient city whose significance is hard to overstate. As the centre of the Phoenician and then the Roman empire in Africa, Carthage has seen empires rise and fall, leaving an indelible imprint on Mediterranean history in the process.
Today, you can explore the expansive ruins that serve as a window into the city’s unfortunate past. This was a city that was raised to the ground on countless occasions by the Romans, Vandals and Arabs. The best sites include the Antonine Baths, one of the largest Roman bath complexes ever built, and the Carthage National Museum, situated on Byrsa Hill (although the museum is currently undergoing renovations, the ruins around it are still open).
3. Sidi Bou Said
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, Sidi Bou Said is known for the distinctive blue-and-white colour scheme adorning its buildings and cobblestone streets. This coastal town has long been a magnet for artists, writers, and intellectuals, drawn for decades to its laid-back atmosphere and sea vistas.
While the town is relatively small, its narrow lanes are packed with opportunities to experience Tunisian craftsmanship, particularly in the form of ornate wrought-iron railings and traditional blue doors. Cafes such as the renowned Café des Delices offer the perfect vantage point to sip mint tea while taking in views of the Gulf of Tunis, making Sidi Bou Said a satisfying blend of culture and coastal beauty.
4. La Marsa
Located to the north of Tunis and known for its sandy beaches, La Marsa is the old seat of Tunisian royalty. The city is a favourite among those looking to bask in the sun, and it’s still popular with the Tunis elite today.
But La Marsa is not just about the sea; the town is equally enriched by its cultural offerings, including street food (try the Brik) and the remains of a royal palace.
The architecture is a blend of traditional Tunisian and colonial French styles, offering an interesting backdrop as you stroll through the city and onto the Corniche.
Read more: 14 Best Historic Sites in Tunisia
Situated in the northernmost tip of Africa, Bizerte was originally founded as a Phoenician port. The coastal town has passed through the hands of many different empires, leaving behind an old harbour and Medina that is evocative of Bizerte’s ancient past.
For history lovers, the Kasbah, a fortress that dates back to the 9th century, and the Alexander Nevsky Church, a relic from the colonial era, are must-visit spots. Yet, Bizerte is not stuck in the past; the city has been undergoing revitalisation, especially along the corniche where new restaurants and cafes offer views of the Mediterranean.
6. Lake Ichkeul
Lake Ichkeul, located close to Bizerte in the north of Tunisia, is a significant ecological reserve recognised by its UNESCO World Heritage status. The lake is a crucial stopover for migratory birds travelling between Europe and Africa, making it a dream destination for birdwatchers.
Species such as the pink flamingo, the Eurasian teal, and the Northern shoveler are commonly sighted here, especially during the winter months. The lake is also home to a variety of flora and fauna – including water buffalo – which contribute to its rich biodiversity.
Surrounding the lake are hiking trails that offer an opportunity to engage with this unique ecosystem. For those interested in ecology, wildlife, or simply the serene beauty of nature, Lake Ichkeul is one of the best places to visit in Tunisia.
Dougga, situated in the northwestern part of Tunisia, is one of the country’s most impressive Roman sites, with its isolated location atop a hill providing a panoramic view of the surrounding plains.
The ancient town has been remarkably well-preserved and is still home to an impressive range of significant structures, including the Capitol, a Roman theatre, and several temples.
What sets Dougga apart is its quiet atmosphere, unhurried by large crowds, allowing visitors to absorb the history at their own pace. The site provides a compelling glimpse into ancient life and architecture, making it an essential stop for anyone keen on Roman history.
8. Cape Bon
The Cape Bon peninsula is known for its diverse landscapes that include sandy beaches, fertile plains, and rolling hills. It’s a region rich in history, where traces of Roman and Arab civilizations can be explored in sites such as Kelibia Fort and the ancient Punic city of Kerkouane.
However, Cape Bon is perhaps best known for its agricultural abundance, particularly in citrus fruits, olive groves, and vineyards. This is a place where you can enjoy nature walks through lush orchards or take part in wine-tasting tours before heading home to a luxury hotel.
Hammamet is a coastal town located in the northeastern part of Tunisia, famous for its expansive beaches and crystalline waters. Often considered one of the country’s premier holiday destinations, it provides a mix of relaxation and activity.
The old Medina, enclosed by 15th-century walls, is a focal point, where visitors can explore narrow lanes filled with shops selling local crafts. Close by is the Kasbah, a historic fort offering panoramic views of the sea. While the town is modernising with new hotels and resorts, it still retains a sense of its past, making it an ideal destination for those seeking both leisure and a dash of culture.
Read more: 14 Things to Do in Hammamet, Tunisia
Sousse, one of Tunisia’s oldest cities, is an unusual melange of history and hotels. As you explore its ancient streets, the city’s significant Islamic and Roman roots become apparent, often side by side. The Medina of Sousse, enclosed by fortified walls, holds a mix of colourful souks and historical landmarks, most notably the Great Mosque and the Ribat, a fortified Islamic complex.
For those interested in history, the Sousse Archaeological Museum provides enlightening displays of artefacts. Yet, Sousse is not just a haven for history enthusiasts. The city boasts excellent beaches and all-inclusive hotels, where relaxation and poolside beers are the first order of the day.
Read more: 13 Things to Do in Sousse, Tunisia
Monastir, situated on Tunisia’s eastern coast, is a city that seamlessly blends the ancient and the modern. One of its most iconic landmarks is the Ribat, a fortress that has stood since the 8th century and offers sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
The Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, the founder of modern Tunisia, is another must-see, with its impressive architecture and historical significance. However, Monastir is not just a place for history enthusiasts; the city boasts some of Tunisia’s best beaches, to the south of Sousse.
12. El Jem
I was astounded by El Jem, simply astonished by its sheer Roman presence, and delighted by its lack of tourists. Located an hour’s drive from Sousse, El Jem is home to a colossal Roman amphitheatre, which is on par with Rome’s Colosseum (but there are no queues!).
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world and could hold up to 35,000 spectators. Walking through its ancient corridors and arena, you can almost hear the echoes of the gladiatorial contests and grizzly public executions that took place here.
The town is also home to an archaeological museum displaying artefacts unearthed in the region, offering further insight into its Roman past. Though El Jem is a small town, the enormity and impressiveness of its amphitheatre make it an unforgettable addition to your Tunisia itinerary.
Sfax is Tunisia’s second-largest city, and because it’s the country’s industrial heartland, few tourists ever make it here. However, Sfax offers more than just commercial activity to those stepping off the beaten track.
The city’s Medina, though less visited than those in other Tunisian cities, provides an authentic experience of traditional crafts and architecture. Sfax is also home to the Dar Jellouli Museum, which showcases regional art and folk traditions, offering a glimpse into the local culture, and the Sfax Archeological Museum.
While it may not have the tourist-centric atmosphere of other destinations, Sfax’s charm lies in its busy, real-world energy and understated historical elements, making it an interesting stop for those keen to see a different side of Tunisia.
Kairouan holds a unique status as an Islamic cultural centre and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s best known for the Great Mosque of Kairouan, one of the oldest and most important Islamic landmarks in North Africa.
The city also features other historically significant sites, such as the Aghlabid Basins, ancient cisterns that once served as a sophisticated water storage system.
Beyond its religious and historical importance, Kairouan is famous for its carpets, crafted with intricate designs that have been passed down through generations (and yes, I was convinced to buy a carpet, which now decorates my home in England!).
Djerba, an island off the southeastern coast of Tunisia, is the country’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for its beaches and crystal-clear waters, it’s a popular getaway for Europeans looking for sun, sea and sand.
Yet, Djerba is not just a beach destination; it’s also rich in history and culture. The island is home to El Ghriba, one of the oldest synagogues in Africa, and Houmt Souk, a lively market town where you can haggle for local crafts and spices. Djerba also has its own unique style of architecture, typified by cube-shaped white houses and now recognised by UNESCO.
Matmata gained international attention as a filming location for the iconic Star Wars franchise, specifically as the backdrop for Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. While the southern town has become a pilgrimage site for Star Wars fans eager to visit these otherworldly sets, Matmata offers more than cinematic nostalgia.
The town is famed for its troglodyte dwellings – underground homes built into the soft rock to escape the region’s extreme heat. These unique structures have been used by the Berber community for centuries and offer an intriguing insight into a form of architecture shaped by environmental necessity.
17. Chebika Oasis
Chebika, located near the border of Tunisia and Algeria, is the ‘Oasis of the Mountains’. Situated at the base of the Djebel el Negueb Mountains, this former Roman outpost transforms into a lush oasis after the seasonal rains, with fresh springs feeding palm groves and verdant foliage.
Visitors come for the scenic hikes that lead to panoramic views and small waterfalls, providing a striking contrast to the surrounding desert landscape. Chebika offers more than just natural beauty; the ruins of its ancient settlement offer a glimpse into the area’s rich history, too.
18. Jebil National Park
Jebil National Park, situated in the southern part of Tunisia, is a protected area renowned for its stark desert landscapes that showcase the natural beauty of the Sahara. The park is largely characterised by its sand dunes, some of which rise dramatically to considerable heights, as well as its rocky plateaus.
It’s a destination for those seeking adventure and solitude; opportunities for four-wheel driving and trekking are plentiful here. The area is also rich in fossil beds, providing a geological history of the region. Animal life is sparse but adapted to the harsh conditions, with species like the fennec fox making an occasional appearance. Jebil National Park offers an untouched and rugged view of the Saharan wilderness.
Map of the best places to visit in Tunisia
Here’s a map of the best places to visit in Tunisia:
FAQ: The best places to visit in Tunisia
Here’s an FAQ on the best places to visit in Tunisia:
Q1: What are the top cities to visit in Tunisia?
In Tunisia, cities like Tunis, the capital, stand out for their cultural and historical richness. Sidi Bou Said is another must-visit locale, celebrated for its blue-and-white architecture and artistic heritage. For beach enthusiasts, Hammamet and Sousse offer a combination of sun, sea, and history. Monastir, too, is known for its historical landmarks and Mediterranean charm.
Q2: Are there any UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tunisia?
Yes, Tunisia is rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include the ancient city of Carthage, the Medina in Tunis, and the archaeological remains at Dougga.
Q3: What natural attractions are worth visiting?
Lake Ichkeul offers a unique opportunity for birdwatching, being a significant stopover for migratory birds. If you’re adventurous, Jebil National Park showcases the rugged beauty of the Sahara, and Chebika is a lush oasis set against the backdrop of mountains, offering scenic hikes and waterfalls.
Q4: Are there any unique attractions?
Matmata stands out for its troglodyte homes, which are unique underground dwellings. This location was also used as a filming site for Star Wars, making it popular among fans of the franchise.
Q5: Where can I enjoy Tunisia’s beaches?
Hammamet, Sousse, and Monastir are among the popular choices for beach holidays. Djerba Island also offers a variety of water sports along its sandy shores.
Q6: Are there opportunities for adventure tourism?
Absolutely, Jebil National Park is a prime location for those who enjoy off-road driving and trekking, while the mountainous areas around Chebika provide excellent hiking trails.
Q7: What are some of the local crafts to look out for?
In Kairouan, you can find some of Tunisia’s finest carpets, while Sidi Bou Said is a good place to shop for traditional ceramics and wrought-iron work. The Medinas in Tunis and Sousse are excellent places to explore local crafts, including textiles and spices.
There we go! The best places to visit in Tunisia. What will you add to your North African bucket list?