From rocking an ancient Kasbah to long strolls along the Corniche, here are the best things to do in Algiers, the Algerian capital.

“I’m excited to show you my country!” exclaimed Soumia Kebaili, my guide through the endless maze of ancient streets in the Kasbah of Algiers. “Today we will be walking around Algiers. We will learn about French colonisation in the European neighbourhood, we will see the Martrys’ Houses in the Kasbah, Ottoman palaces and Arab mosques. We will take only slow steps. Slow steps, so we can see everything.”

Claustrophobic, yet strangely enticing, the Kasbah of Algiers is the historic heart of the Algerian capital. It was also my immersive introduction to a city that’s been moulded over millennia by a complex collision of civilizations on the northern shores of Africa. As I would learn from Kebaili – and I do recommend having a tour guide to show you all the hidden nooks and crannies in the city! – Algiers has a history dating back to the indigenous Berbers, possibly some 6000 years ago.

The Phoenicians and Romans came next before the Arab conquests of the 7th century AD swept across North Africa and left the settlement in ruins. In the 10th century AD, Bologhine ibn Ziri of the Berber Zirid dynasty founded modern Algiers, laying the foundations of the Kasbah on the ruins of the Roman city. The Ottomans came in the 16th century, building palaces and mosques before French colonial rule transformed Algiers yet again.

The Martyrs’ Memorial which towers over the city is a lasting concrete tribute to those killed in the fight for independence, which was won in 1962 after a brutal conflict with colonial France that turned the Kasbah’s streets red with blood. From the rubble, the capital was rebuilt into the city you find today, and trust me when I say there are some impressive things to do in Algiers!

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Best things to do in Algiers

I visited Algeria as part of a Lupine Travel tour, and Algiers was effectively our base for an 8-day tour of the country. We started here, we ended here and we returned here twice during the tour on our way through to other destinations. It’s an excellent base for wider travel around Agleria (it is the capital, after all) and there’s much to see in the city itself.

As Kebaili recommended though, it’s best to explore Algiers at a slow pace. Take slow steps through the city, listen out for the call to prayer, follow the scent of fresh baguettes through ancient Berber streets and take in the smell of jasmine in the Hamma Botanical Gardens. Algiers is a big metropolis (it’s home to almost 2 million people, according to Statista), but it’s not touristy, which makes it a breath of fresh Mediterranean sea air compared to other North African cities (I’m looking at you Cairo).

It’s super easy to get around on the new Metro System, but it’s just as easy to get lost in the Kasbah of Algiers. My mobile maps were useless for once, but that’s to be expected when those stone walls were built to withstand sieges! Locals really are friendly here (they’re genuinely curious to see foreigners in their city), but as I said, a local guide really will make your trip to Algiers.

A sweeping view of the Kasbah of Algiers, taken by the author.

1. Get lost in the Kasbah of Algiers

“These streets are the same streets from The Battle of Algiers,” Kebaili said, referencing the iconic 1960s movie that brought the Algerian battle for independence to screens around the world. “Ali La Pointe and the martyrs were killed here. The French asked the fighters to come outside, but they refused, and they were blown up.”

The history of Algiers is troubling at times, but it’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the modern Algerian nation that was born from its colonial struggle. Amongst the narrow streets of the Kasbah of Algiers, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to at least the 10th century AD, Kebaili had shown us to the Ali La Pointe Museum, a poignant memorial to a famed Algerian martyr who fought and died in battle against the French colonial authorities.

It’s one layer of many histories that exist in the Kasbah, making this one of the most important places to visit in Algiers. Amongst the labyrinthine medina, traditional Ottoman-style houses and palaces stand as a living museum of Algerian heritage, while the views from the top of the hill are simply superb.

A craftsman at work in the Kasbah of Algiers.

2.Be humbled at the Martyrs’ Memorial (Maqam E’chahid)

Martyrs are everywhere in Algiers. Their black and white photographs follow you on the Metro, while murals of heroic figures adorn the walls of the Kasbah. And rising high above the city, the Martyrs’ Memorial – known locally as Maqam E’chahid – stands as an immovable symbol of Algeria’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule.

Erected in 1982 on a hill overlooking the city, its towering concrete structure, comprising three stylised palm leaves sheltering an eternal flame, represents the unity of Algerian culture. I was told that each leaf signifies a different aspect of the country’s foundation: agriculture, industry, and culture.

The monument is dedicated to the memory of those who fell during the Algerian War of Independence, serving as a moving reminder of the sacrifices made for freedom that you can see anywhere in the city. The site offers panoramic views of Algiers, but I was surprised that it was the museum (which is located beneath the memorial) that drew in the families and kids.

The museum tells the story of Algerian independence with a distinctively militaristic theme. There are some brutally gory dioramas, and I even saw one old lady gleefully having her photo taken next to a French guillotine!

Soumia Kebaili, my guide in Algiers, stood in front of the Martyrs’ Memorial.

3. Visit the Great Mosque of Algiers (Djamaa el Djazaïr)

Djamaa el Djazaïr, also known as the Great Mosque of Algiers, stands as a modern architectural symbol of the city, as – like the Martyrs’ Memorial – it literally towers over the city. Completed very recently and only opened in 2019, the mosque combines Islamic heritage with contemporary Algerian design.

This is one of the largest mosques in the world (currently, it’s the third largest after mosques in Saudi Arabia), featuring a towering minaret that reaches towards the sky and room for 120,000 worshippers at any time. A cultural hub that’s home to a library and teaching rooms, if you’re not a Muslim, make sure to visit outside of prayer times if you want a peek inside!

Read more: 13 Best Places to Visit in Algeria

4. Stroll through the European Quarter

The European quarter offers a fascinating glimpse into the colonial legacy that’s still prevalent in Algiers. This area is adjacent to the much older Kasbah, and it’s best known for its French and European style architecture. Indeed, the French bulldozed large parts of the Kasbah to make way for their new, planned streets, which are now taken over by market stalls, cafes, and large apartment blocks.

I was shocked when Kebaili told me that in the French colonial era, she wouldn’t have been allowed into the European Quarter. “We were a threat to them,” she said as we walked through the wide boulevards. “You see the Milk Bar over there? That was the site of one of the first bomb attacks during the war for independence.”

In a way, the European Quarter reflects the complex and often tumultuous relationship between Algeria and France. As you walk through the wide, tree-lined streets, you’re transported to a bygone era, with grand, ornate buildings that house cafes, museums, and administrative offices. Key sites include the Post Office (La Grande Poste) and the National Museum of Modern Art of Algiers (MaMa).

Algiers’ European Quarter.

5. Visit Martyrs’ Square (and Ketchaoua Mosque)

Not to be confused with the Martyrs’ Memorial, Martrys’ Square (I did tell you that Martyrs are remembered everywhere in Algiers) is located at the foot of the Kasbah. If you’re visiting the Kasbah, the Metro station here is incredibly convenient!

But don’t just skip through, because there’s a lot of history here and in the close vicinity of Martyr’s Square. There are ongoing archaeological excavations in the square (I think they’re possibly Ottoman era, but they could be even older), there are some excellent date sellers offering plenty of free samples, and you’ll spot Djamaa el Kebir, an 11th-century mosque that’s now dwarfed by more modern minarets.

A short walk away is the astounding Ketchaoua Mosque. Blending Byzantine and Moorish styles, Ketchaoua Mosque has stood as a symbol of religious and cultural fusion since its construction in the 17th century. Originally built by the Ottomans, it was converted into a cathedral during French rule and then restored to a mosque after Algeria gained independence. You can’t miss the cathedral-like facade and twin minarets.

Seeing the distinctive facade of Ketchaoua Mosque is one of the best things to do in Algiers.

6. Browse through the galleries at the Museum of Modern Art of Algiers (MaMa)

The Museum of Modern Art of Algiers (MaMa) is located within the European Quarter, and it’s a beacon of contemporary art and culture in Algeria. Established in the early 21st century, MaMa occupies a refurbished colonial-era building that juxtaposes its modern artistic contents with historical architecture, creating what I think is a dynamic dialogue between past and present.

The museum’s collection spans a wide array of mediums, including painting, sculpture, video, and installation art, showcasing the work of Algerian and international artists. MaMa has quickly become a pivotal space for contemporary artistic expression in Algeria (a rare space, I should add), offering a platform for dialogue, innovation, and reflection on societal issues through the lens of art.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Africa? Everything You Need to Know.

7. Get cultural at the National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions

“Many tourists simply prefer going straight to the deserts, where they can see the ancient rock paintings, art and petroglyphs,” I was told by Omar Zahafi, the founder of FancyYellow Travel, a local tour company. “The desert is so different from Algiers, but you have to spend at least a few days in the city first!”

Zahafi had pointed out, too, that there’s plenty of art to be found in Algiers, including the surprisingly intriguing National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions which is hidden inside a 16th-century Ottoman palace in the maze of the Kasbah. The museum offers a deep dive into the rich relics of Algerian society, through its extensive collection of artefacts, textiles, jewellery, musical instruments, and traditional costumes that are as ethnographic in appeal as they are artistic.

The inner courtyard of the beautiful National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.

8. Enjoy the views of Notre Dame d’Afrique

The Algerian population almost exclusively identifies as Muslim (largely Sunni), but the International Center for Law and Religious Studies does note a population of around 100,000 Christians. One of the last Christian bastions left in Algiers is Notre Dame d’Afrique, which you’ll find perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (the views are excellent!).

Completed in 1872 during French colonial rule, the basilica is a masterpiece of Neo-Byzantine architecture, its façade and interiors adorned with mosaics and inscriptions that evokes a sense of spiritual contemplation and artistic appreciation.

The phrase Notre Dame d’Afrique priez pour nous et pour les Musulmans (“Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims”), inscribed within, speaks volumes about the basilica’s role as a beacon of peace and coexistence in a land marked by diverse cultures and religions.

Notre Dame d’Afrique is one of the last Christian churches left in Algiers.

9. Cool off in Le Jardin d’Essai du Hamma

The Jardin d’Essai du Hamma is Algiers’ botanical garden (just call it the Hamma Botanical Gardens in English!). Established in 1832 during the French colonial era, this expansive garden spans over 32 hectares and serves as both a research institution and a public park.

It houses a diverse collection of plant species from around the world, meticulously arranged in sections that include tropical greenhouses, French-style gardens, and an arboretum. The gardens also offer a surprising insight into Algerian culture. Kebaili told me, for example, that lots of couples visit the gardens on romantic dates. “They aren’t supposed to be seen in public unless they’re married,” she said. “But these perceptions are changing, as you can see with all the young couples here!”

We stopped for lunch in the gardens at Restaurant Traiteur, where the Algerian-style pizza was on point. Further along, we also stumbled upon the filming set of the Great Algerian Bake Off. Yet another cultural insight I wasn’t expecting.

Le Jardin d’Essai du Hamma.

10. See European artworks at the National Museum of Fine Arts

The Musée National des Beaux-Arts (National Museum of Fine Arts) is located within the large palatial building at the top of the Hamma Botanic Gardens, and below the Martyrs’ Memorial. It’s a cornerstone of fine arts, but interestingly, several Algerians I spoke to have never been. They say the focus is too European, rather than Algerian.

For art lovers though, the museum’s credentials are up there with the best in Europe, and the collection spans a broad spectrum of international art, from classical to modern and contemporary works. Established in 1930, the museum’s holdings include over 8,000 pieces, showcasing a rich array of paintings, sculptures, and graphics that tell the story of artistic evolution and cultural exchange across centuries.

The National Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best things to do in Algiers if you love art!

11. Delve into history at the Palais des Raïs (Bastion 23)

Palais des Raïs (also known as Bastion 23), is a historic architectural complex located on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Algiers. This ensemble of Ottoman-era palaces, dating back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, is among the few surviving examples of the city’s coastal fortifications.

The site has played a significant role in Algiers’ history, serving variously as a residence for Ottoman dignitaries, a military bastion, and now as a cultural heritage site. After a meticulous restoration, Bastion 23 opened to the public as a museum and cultural centre, and it’s now known as one of the most popular things to do in Algiers.

Read more: How Many Countries in North Africa? Everything You Need to Know.

12. Dig into the past at The National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts

The National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts stands on a prominent hilltop as a custodian of Algeria’s rich historical and cultural heritage. Established in 1897, this museum is the oldest in Algeria and occupies a neo-Moorish palace, embodying the architectural elegance that characterises much of Algiers’ urban landscape.

The museum’s extensive collection spans several millennia, from prehistoric artefacts to Islamic art, offering a comprehensive narrative of Algeria’s history through its material culture. Among its exhibits are Roman mosaics, Berber jewellery, Ottoman manuscripts, and intricate Islamic calligraphy, each piece telling a story of the civilizations that have flourished on Algerian soil.

Ancient relics abound in Algeria!

13. Step back in time at The Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography

The Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography is located right next to the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts, giving you a full day of museum hopping if – like me – you can’t get enough of history!

This museum is dedicated to the prehistoric past that defines Algeria, and it’s housed in a striking 19th-century Moorish villa on a hilltop. The Bardo explores the human history and ethnographic heritage of Algeria from the earliest inhabitants to the present day, and it’s home to a comprehensive collection that includes remarkable prehistoric artefacts, such as tools, weapons, and art, providing insights into the lives and innovations of ancient peoples.

14. Take a stroll along the Corniche (and stop for some Couscous)

The Corniche of Algiers is a picturesque coastal road stretching along the Mediterranean Sea. One of the capital’s most scenic routes, it’s a great place to get some fresh Mediterranean sea breeze! The route passes by beaches, parks, mosques, harbours, and more, offering blistering views along the North African Coast and across the Mediterranean.

One of my favourite restaurants in Algiers is on the Corniche too. You’ll find Sapori in an old vault built into the walls opposite the port, where the Corniche begins to merge with the Kasbah of Algiers. They’re famed for their Couscous, an Algerian national dish you have to try when you’re in the city. Dig in, you’ll have earned it after that walk!

Vegetarian Cous Cous as served at Sapori, Algiers.

15. Go to a bar! (Yes, there are bars in Algiers)!

Yes, hidden away behind black-out blinds and shrouded in lingering curtains of cigarette smoke, there are indeed several bars in Algiers. Drinking alcohol is, of course, frowned upon, but when you’re on a day trip from Algiers to archaeological sites like Tipasa, you’ll notice plenty of vineyards along the road!

Drinking happens discretely. As our Lupine Travel tour guide, Sean Connolly, warned me when we were out on the streets hunting down a bar: “You can drink in Algeria, but you can’t be drunk on the streets. That’s illegal.”

There are several bars along Rue Didouche Mourad, the main boulevard that leads through the European Quarter and towards the Kasbah. Now, the bars aren’t advertised, but that kind of makes them even easier to spot. Just look for the blacked-out windows and unusually busy premises. The beer (Beaufort was the most popular) is okay, and the wine is surprisingly delicious!

Spot the bars as you wander around Algiers.

Map of the best things to do in Algiers

Here’s a map of the best things to do in Algiers:

FAQ: Best things to do in Algiers

Here’s an FAQ on the best things to do in Algiers:

Q1: What are some must-visit historical sites in Algiers?

Algiers is home to several historical sites that offer a glimpse into its rich past. The Kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a historic citadel that showcases traditional Algerian architecture and winding streets. Notre Dame d’Afrique, a basilica perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, is known for its stunning architecture and panoramic views. The Ketchaoua Mosque, located at the heart of the Casbah, is another landmark that reflects the city’s diverse religious heritage.

Q2: Can you recommend any museums for understanding Algerian culture and history?

The Museum of Modern Art of Algiers (MaMa) and the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts are excellent starting points. MaMa offers insights into contemporary Algerian and African art, while the National Museum houses artefacts that span Algeria’s history from the Roman era to Islamic art. The Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography is also worth visiting for those interested in the prehistoric and ethnographic aspects of Algeria.

Q3: Where can I enjoy Algiers’ natural beauty?

The Jardin d’Essai du Hamma is a breathtaking botanical garden that offers a peaceful retreat with its diverse plant species and landscaped gardens. For stunning sea views and a refreshing walk, the Corniche along the Mediterranean coast is highly recommended.

Q4: Are there any architectural must-sees in Algiers?

Yes, Algiers boasts several architectural marvels that reflect its historical layers and cultural influences. The Palais des Raïs, also known as Bastion 23, is a well-preserved Ottoman-era palace complex that now serves as a cultural centre. The Grand Post Office is another iconic building, known for its magnificent neo-Moorish architecture.

Q5: What are the best places for shopping and leisure in Algiers?

For shopping and leisure, the streets and markets of Algiers offer a variety of local crafts, spices, and souvenirs. The Algiers Opera House and the Central Post Office area are great for leisurely walks and experiencing the city’s lively atmosphere, as is the Corniche.

Q6: Is Algiers suitable for family vacations?

Algiers offers numerous attractions that can be enjoyed by families. The Jardin d’Essai du Hamma, with its lush landscapes and picnic areas, is perfect for a family day out. The city’s beaches along the Corniche provide opportunities for swimming and relaxation. Museums like the Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography offer educational experiences for children and adults alike.

Q7: What are the best ways to explore Algiers?

Exploring Algiers can be done in various ways. Walking tours, especially in the Kasbah, offer an intimate glimpse into the city’s history and architecture. For a broader overview, bus tours can provide access to further-flung attractions. Hiring a local guide can also enhance your experience, offering deeper insights into the city’s culture and hidden gems.

Q8: How can visitors experience Algiers’ culinary scene?

Algiers boasts a rich culinary scene that blends Berber, Arab, and French influences. Visitors can sample traditional dishes like couscous, tajine, and chorba at local restaurants. Street food, including sweets like baklava and pastries, offers a taste of local flavours. Participating in a cooking class is another way to delve into Algerian cuisine.

Q9: What cultural experiences should not be missed in Algiers?

Attending a traditional music performance or visiting during a cultural festival can provide a unique insight into Algerian culture. The Festival of Algerian Music and Dance, held annually, showcases the country’s musical heritage. Art galleries and exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art of Algiers (MaMa) present contemporary Algerian art worth exploring.

Q10: Are there any day trips from Algiers worth taking?

The Roman ruins at Tipasa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are an excellent day trip for history enthusiasts. The botanical gardens and royal palaces of Blida, nestled at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, offer natural beauty and historical interest. For beach lovers, the coastal towns of Ain Taya and Zeralda provide lovely seaside escapes.

Q11: What tips do you have for first-time visitors to Algiers?

Learning a few phrases in Arabic or French can greatly enhance your experience. Dressing conservatively is advisable, especially when visiting religious sites. Be prepared for busy traffic and consider using public transport or taxis for convenience. Lastly, always carry some water and sun protection, as Algiers can be warm, especially in the summer months.

There you have it! The best things to do in Algiers. When will you be travelling to Algeria?