The unexpected city break: Why Tunis should be your next Paris or Rome
Words by Monica Price, and all images by Jules Annan
Tunisia beckons us to visit – and with flights now operating from the UK for the first time since the 2015 – they are welcoming us with open arms.
A short 2 and a half hour flight with no time change at the moment (thanks to BST) sees you arrive at Tunis Carthage International Airport to the sun and warmth of this beautiful country.
However, even the sun cannot outshine the warmth of the people here. They truly know the meaning of the word “welcome”.
I was a little apprehensive about travelling here but from the moment you arrive the genuine smiles of the Tunisians embraces you and makes you feel instantly safe and secure.
French, Arabic and English are the spoken languages, and even if their English isn’t good, they are desperate to learn and will try hard to speak it.
This trip was all about the capital Tunis, a bustling and vibrant city with over 2 million residents. You’d be mistaken to think you have arrived in Paris due to the influence of the French culture and architecture. A former French colony until 1956 allows you to believe you are strolling down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées when in fact you are on the main Avenue HabIb Bourguiba.
This city has style and culture, but also means business. This is a city that has many hotels, a frequent tram service, designer shops, tourist attractions and tons of cafes where you see businessmen at work or locals and tourists sipping coffee and watching the world go by. You could use the words “Tres Chic”.
An absolute must to go to is the Central Market. Situated at the entrance to the Medina in the modern town it opens every day from 6am – 2pm. It will overload your senses with the smells of fresh bread, fish, meat, spices, cheese, flowers and a vast array of fruits and vegetables as far as the eye can see. This is a place to capture local people going about their everyday lives. Its loud, vibrant and busy – and I loved it!
The Bardo National Museum
This is a spectacular museum representing all periods of the Tunisian heritage and is the place to go to learn about the history of Tunisia.
Security is tight here now of course but it doesn’t spoil your visit.
The large mosaics housed here are some of the oldest in the world and friendly Guides (which are free – just tip them at the end) are on hand to give you a tour. I would recommend you have a Guide,
I did, and it gave me a real insight into the history and traditions of this country.
Medina of Tunis
This is the Medina in the old town of Tunis and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It doesn’t disappoint with its cobbled alleys, tiny pathways, fountains and mosques. Every time I turned a corner a tiny alley or open space would greet me.
There are lots of local sellers trying to entice you into their shops to buy trinkets, bags, pottery or rugs.
This place is steeped in history and you could spend all day here wandering around and you still wouldn’t see everything.
The place to eat here is Fondouk El Attarine where you enter through a huge glass door that opens up into a beautiful courtyard area – an oasis to rest and revive with the most incredible food.
Heaven. Everything was freshly cooked and tastes amazing. Local fish, meats, rice, cous cous, pasta and a huge array of vegetables and fruits.
The dates are to die for and once you have tasted one you can’t stop.
You don’t see salt and pepper on the tables – all the spices have been added and Tunisians believe it should all be added at the cooking stage.
No fast food chains here – the Tunisians are very proud of their own traditional fast food.
I travelled to see the world famous Tunisian Chef Rafik Tlatli at his restaurant Slovenia, Hotel Les Jasmins, Avenue Hedi Nouria in coastal Nabeul and it was well worth the trip – the food was out of this world.
Be prepared to try new foods – you won’t regret it.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Hotel Africa, a tall elegant hotel along Avenue Habb Bourguiba right in the heart of the city with excellent Wifi.
The staff are on hand 24 hours a day to help you and the rooms here are large and spacious, tastefully decorated with Tunisian mosaic tiling in the bathrooms and windows you can open to allow you to feel real air instead of your AC.
The Tunisian Dinar (TND) is the local currency, but you won’t be able to buy this in the UK. You will have to wait until you arrive at Tunis Airport where there are several places to exchange your money into local currency.
You can also use Euros everywhere, but you will get a much better deal with the Dinar.
Hot tip – make sure you spend all your Dinar as strangely you can’t use it at the Airport to buy duty free or even a coffee – they only accept Euros or credit card.
Everything here is so inexpensive – food, transport, attractions, shopping – and once you get used to the currency you will see what I mean.
How to get there
I flew with Tunis Air from London Heathrow and the cost can vary depending on when you travel but start at £190 return. You can also fly from London Gatwick and other regional airports.
Duty free is some of the cheapest I have seen – so make the most of it.
The trip to the town centre in a taxi takes about 20 minutes and costs around TND 5 (there is a 50% surcharge added if you travel after 9pm)
Buses leave the Airport every half an hour and will take you into the city centre stopping on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. This takes about 30 minutes and costs around TND 1 each way.
Tunis has a great public transport system and its very easy to get around the city.
The tram network and the bus service runs the entire central area and also the areas on the outskirts of town. Either of these options are inexpensive and easy to use.
You will see the official yellow taxis everywhere. These have meters so make sure the driver turns this on before setting off. You won’t find an Uber here – so don’t try!
Tunisian Tourist Board – discovertunisia.com