Tunis

Tunis (تونس) is the capital of Tunisia. With a population of less than 700,000 (the greater metropolitan area holds some 2,412,500 inhabitants), the entire city feels small and compact. There isn't much in the way of must-see attractions, though the city is an interesting mix of new and old. Moreover the souq is one of the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa and the ruins of Carthage are easily accessed from here.

Understand

View along Avenue Habib Bourguiba

Located on the Mediterranean coast but lacking much in the way of beaches, Tunis has been spared the onslaught of package tourism to the resorts to the north and south. Downtown is located about 10 km from the sea, at the bank of Lake Tunis. Tunis started out as a modest village compared to cities like Carthage, Kairouan and Madhiga. It eventually became the capital of the Almohad Caliphate in 1159, and has been conquered by various Muslim and Christian empires after that. Tunis has been the capital of Tunisia since the independence in 1956, and is today the commercial and cultural heart of Tunisia as well as the most important traffic hub.

Orientation

Tunis is divided into the World Heritage Listed old city, known as the medina, and the new city, or ville nouvelle in French. Ave Habib Bourguiba is the large avenue running through the new city from the clock tower to the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul. It then turns into Ave de France, which runs for a few blocks until ending at the Place de la Victoire and the Port de France, a large free-standing gate that used to be the entrance to the medina. This can be a good landmark for taxi drivers, as some of the smaller streets nearby aren't sure to be known by the driver.

The Port de France also serves as a good entry point for exploring the medina. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna leads past lots of shops to the Zaytouna Mosque, the great mosque of Tunis and the center of the medina. Running obliquely to Rue Jemaa Zaytouna, and also with an outlet near the Port de France, is the Rue de la Kasbah. This runs all the way through the medina to the Place du Gouvernment and the Place de la Kasbah, a huge bleak square fringed by razorwire. It is fairly easy to move between the two streets by cutting through in the labyrinthine medina, and it is easy to keep your bearings and find an exit. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna seemed to be a better entry point from the Port de France at night, remaining relatively well traveled. Rue de la Kasbah, on the other hand, is active after dark on the Place de la Kasbah side, but is extremely dark and almost scary near the Port de France. It is recommended to get a feel for the medina during the day so that you will feel more confident if you find yourself and alone and need to find a landmark at night.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 16.2 16.6 19.8 22.4 26.6 31.2 34.4 34.4 30.2 26.8 21.5 17.5
Nightly lows (°C) 8.5 8.3 10.1 12.8 16.0 19.5 22.7 22.9 20.7 17.6 13.1 9.7
Precipitation (mm) 59.3 57.0 47.2 38.0 22.6 10.4 3.1 7.1 32.5 65.5 56.0 66.8

Source:w:Tunis#Climate

One of the northernmost cities on the African continent, the climate in Tunis is Mediterranean although a bit warmer than on the European side. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures over +40°C not unheard of, although thanks to the sea and the surrounding mountains, it's not as hot as in the Sahara desert. Most of the rain falls during the winter months, but not even those months see more than 8-9 days of rain each month on average. In the winter Tunis occasionally experiences temperatures under freezing and in very rare cases some snow, though on average even nighttime temperatures don't drop much below +10°C; hence, Tunis is weather-wise a feasible destination year-round.


Get in

By plane

Tunis-Carthage Airport

  Tunis-Carthage Airport (TUN), 8 km away from the centre, is small and in reasonable shape with all standard facilities. Free Wi-Fi is available at several of the restaurants, including Caffe Lindo, but is not always working. International flights will arrive on the ground floor of the airport. Toilets are clean but have attendants that ask for change after use. If you don't bring your own, be sure to get toilet paper from the attendant.

Tunisian law requires all currency to be exchanged within the country. It's illegal to bring Tunisian currency with you outside the country or inside, though it can be done at most travel desks if you sign a waiver. The major western carriers who service Tunis-Carthage are Air France and Lufthansa, from Paris or Frankfurt. You can exchange money at the airport or at your hotel. There are several ATMs, but some seem to struggle with international cards. On the ground floor beneath the Banque de Tunise sign and next to the cafe L'Escale there is a reliable one. You should retain the receipt for the transaction; without it, the bank (or another) may refuse to convert unspent Dinar back into your own currency.

A taxi into the city centre insist on the meter should cost around 3-5 dinars during the day and around 5 dinars at night. Alternatively, buses depart fairly regularly during the day (but not at night) and charge a fraction of the price. Beware of the taxi drivers. At night some will ask up to 40 TD depending on where you are going. In a struggling economy business has become even more competitive. An unspoken rule is the first taxi driver who grabs your luggage and places it in the trunk of his car makes the contract for your transportation. It's not uncommon to be barraged with over ten taxi drivers at once as you walk outside the terminal. They can reach for your bag aggressively—not to steal it, but to make an attempt at winning your business. Some meters may have been tampered with. If you don't trust the taxi's meter, then negotiate a price to where you are going before you leave the front of the terminal. It may be advisable to ask for an average taxi rate from your hotel front desk before leaving.

Some people have suggested taking the escalator up one floor and waving down a taxi that's just dropped someone off for a departing flight at the arrivals platform. This is more difficult to accomplish at night time, but the advantages are finding a more professional driver. In the afternoon it is extremely simple to accomplish this.

There is a public bus service (bus no. 635) to the city centre outside the Arrivals Hall, at the same place as the bus that goes to Bizerte. The bus stops at a small bus station near the Tunis Marine metro station.

If you are departing and making a connecting flight, do not accept duty free alcohol that is not in a sealed bag - the intermediate airport will not allow you to board your second flight with it. For the same reason, insist on a printed receipt.

By train

The central railway station

Tunis Central Station is near Place de Barcelone for easy interchange onto the light metro. You can travel to Tunis by train from most major cities in the country, the main line going from Gabès via Sousse, Sfax and Gafsa. Trains are generally cheap and comfortable, but if you want to ride first class during peak season, do reserve your seat in advance. Trains are run by SNCFT.

The rail network is connected to the one in Algeria, and there's a direct train from Algiers, the Maghreb express Tunis. Rails go all the way to Morocco, but the land border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed since 1994.

By car

It is not highly recommended to drive in Tunisia, due to the poor quality of roads, driving habits, and signage. It is also more dangerous to drive at night, and outside of the city and major tourist areas. The freeway A1 from Gabès, Sfax, Sousse and Hammamet is in a good shape, though, but traffic is very busy.

If you want to rent a car, the airport is the place to go. Local rental companies usually have lower rates than the international ones.

By bus

Tunisia has over 70 bus lines, with Tunis at the hub. There are two bus stations in town, with Gare Bab el Fellah (in the Bab Saadoun neighborhood) serving southern destinations and Gare Bab Saadoun (south of Place Barcelone) serving those to the north. Buses are run by SNTRI at both stations — see their website for schedules and fares.

By boat

Tunis is the country's major port and there are ferries from a number of Mediterranean ports including Civitavecchia just outside of Rome, Genoa, Livorno, Naples, Palermo, Trapani and the French port of Marseille. There are plenty of operators: Italian GNV, French SNCM and Tunisian CTM, Grimaldi Lines amongst others. Voyages from southern France or northwestern Italy take about 24 hours.

Most ferries arrive at La Goulette, 15 minutes from Tunis centre. There are plenty of taxis around and suburban trains departs every ten minutes.

Get around

Free maps of Tunis and Tunisia are available at the National Tourism Office, to the north-east of the clock tower (directly east of the main Medina gate). The tourist office offers assistance in many languages.

By train

Tunis is well-served by a convenient five-line light metro system run by Transtu. The interchange hubs for all lines are in the centre of town at Place de la République and Place de Barcelone. Single trips cost 0.430 TD.

The TGM network (click to enlarge the picture)

The TGM suburban train line, starting at Tunis Marine station on Lines 1-4, connects to La Goulette (ferries), Sidi Bou Saïd, Carthage and the beaches of Marsa. Tickets cost 680 millimes each way. At Tunis Marine, be aware that there is an extreme dearth of signage. No obvious signs even say TGM, and on the maps on the trains themselves the station is marked as Tunis Nord. If you arrive at the station on the Tunis Metro, the TGM platform will be perpendicular to the metro cars and is easily accessed across the tracks. Tickets are sold at the end farthest from the metro stop.

Signs for station names along the TGM differ slightly from what appears on the onboard map, but if you can see the signs from the train and it is free of graffiti, a not uncommon problem, it is easy to tell where you are. It is not unusual for the trains to stop and wait on the tracks after leaving Tunis Nord or upon return. This usually does not last an extraordinary amount of time, and you will likely be better off not following the example of the optimistic youths that decide to leap from the car and walk along the tracks into the city.

Many stations along the TGM don't have full-time ticket vendors, so if you are making several trips along the line while visiting Carthage or Sidi Bou Said, you might be forced to risk traveling without a ticket. The guidebooks say that officials will sometimes get on the train and check tickets, so travel without a ticket at your own risk. It might be safest to buy a return to your farthest destination. The price difference should be minimal, and that way you might plausibly just have boarded the train, and your ticket will be valid for wherever you get on. The safest option will be to check with the ticket vendors or buy a ticket if you can find them.

By taxi

Taxis are also a good option if you need to go a bit farther than the metro, though cabs picking up in front of nice hotels will charge much higher rates. It's a better idea to hail one on the street; there are a lot of them so you don't need to search for one very long. Prices are displayed as 3.700 for 3.7DT. Flagfall is .400. (.4 DT). Assuming they are honest, the meter is a good way to go. Only try to negotiate a price if you know what you are doing and are sure of the value of the trip. Taxis are generally safe.

By bus

Transtu operates a public bus network as well. Bus fares depend on how far (how many zones) you will travel, starting at 0.320 TD for a short ride. Here is a map of the bus lines in and around Tunis.

Otherwise, louages (shared taxis) are the most flexible of all options. The minivans with 8 passenger seats take off when they are full and therefore run on no particular schedule. Prices tend to be a little bit higher than buses, but the difference is usually negligible. The North louage station is in the parking lot of the North bus station. The South louage station is across the street from the South bus station.

By car

Driving is not the best idea for getting around; street signage is faulty, there's a lot of traffic and locals rarely follow traffic rules. Driving is particularly dangerous at dark. Traffic jams are common and around Habib Bourguiba Avenue and Victory Square traffic often comes to a total standstill.

See

Courtyard of the Zitouna Mosque
Hôtel de Ville; the city hall
Porte de France

Buildings

Non-Muslims may not enter Islamic monuments such as mosques.

Museums

Other

House of El Monastiri, in the Medina

Do

One nice activity is just wandering around Tunis, for instance why not take a stroll around the ancient buildings, mosques, and gates of the medina? All types of commodities including slaves used to be traded here, but today's market is mainly that of day-to-day goods, increasingly produced in mainland China, and a shrinking quantity of local handicrafts. Shopping and haggling at this colorful place is certainly an experience different from what you may be used to at home. Another good place for a walk is Tunis' largest park, Belvedere Park, which houses the Museum of Modern Art and the municipal zoo (closed Mondays), and overlooks Lake Tunis.

The Théâtre municipal de Tunis , mentioned in See above, is more than just a sight. If interested in classical culture you can go and see an opera, ballet, or other production there.

Hammams (traditional public steam baths) are common in the Muslim part of the Mediterranean and also in Tunis. Formerly the only place for all but the upper classes to clean themselves, hammams are still a part of the local culture — so bathing in one of these is a cultural experience in itself. They are often located near mosques as people used to wash themselves before prayer; ask a local where the nearest hammam is (the medina is the easiest place to find one). Remember that a hammam is either men or women only, or open to men in the morning and night and to ladies in the afternoon. Bring spare underwear, flip flops, soap and a towel.

Buy

The Souq

ATMs are a convenient way of getting money without going to a bureau de change and there are many Visa cashpoints around the city.

There are little stores near every hotel in Tunis, where you can buy everything you need, but their prices are high. So it's better to go shopping to other parts of the city. Approximately 90% of goods presented in Tunis are of local origin. There are networks of state supermarkets Monoprix and General in the capital.

Eat

Typical low-end eatery

Most hotels include breakfast, and some include dinner. There are countless coffee shops with delicious drinks and French pastries to enjoy, as well as sandwich shops. Count yourself lucky if you find a dish that does not include canned tuna! Know that during Ramadan it's impossible to find an open restaurant during daytime.

Budget

Mid-range

Couscous is a dish common all over North Africa, in Tunisia too

Splurge

Drink

Avenue Habib Bourguiba at night

Ladies, try to bring a man out with you, and be careful about what bars you frequent, because many are frequented only by men and prostitutes, and can get a bit rowdy. Local beers are Celtia and the elusive Stella, which is rarely seen but exists on RateBeer. Both are lagers. Local liqueurs include Boukha ("boo-k"), usually taken straight or with coke, and Thibina, which is usually taken straight with a single ice cube.

In addition to these, some major beach bars and clubs are located in La Marsa, about 15 km to the northeast.

Cafes

Sleep

Illuminated clock tower, a good landmark

Most tourists will be interested in accommodation in either the Medina or in Ville Nouvelle. The medina includes the youth hostel and several other budget accommodations, and the high end Dar El Jed. The Ville Nouvelle offers a large number of budget and mid-range accommodation, many grouped within a few blocks of each other north of Place Barcelone. Some places expect couples to present some sort of proof of marriage in order to rent a two-person room.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

View of Tunis from the medina

Touts and unofficial "guides" hang around near tourist spots. Shoo them off if they start to launch into a spiel on the architectural wonders of this or that, or they will expect to some baksheesh (payment) for their unwanted efforts.

One thing that can get really annoying in Tunis is the number of "friends" a tourist will attract. There is a decent number of men who hang out on avenue Bourguiba, the main drag in Tunis. They work individually. They approach tourists and start talking to them. The tourist may think that this person is just being friendly, but don't buy it. Also beware of teens approaching you on or around av. Habib Bourguiba. They often "prey" on male tourists and try to talk you into joining them to the cinema. Later on your new "friend" will ask you for 10 Dinars or a pack of Marlboros or this or that. It is best to just avoid these people or to shoo them off. They also have different techniques to get your attention. They include: asking for a cigarette, asking for the time, asking for a lighter, bumping into you on the street. The most common one seems to be when they ask you for a cigarette or a lighter. It is wise to get rid of anyone who tries to just bluntly start a conversation with you on the street. Chances are that they have no good intentions involved whatsoever. Tunisian people are nice and curious towards strangers, but avoid the ones who seem too friendly - a good phrase to use could be the French "Monsieur, je connais bien Tunis." (Monsieur, I know Tunis well.)

Non-French speakers might have luck with a simple "non, merci," repeated several times and without giving them any additional acknowledgment. Some, however, are persistent in spite of this and will not leave you alone. If you can manage to not bring a backpack or large back, this seems to make you less of a target and attracted fewer hangers-on.

One visitor was approached at night leaving Hotel Africa, a popular tourist hotel, and was accompanied by an unwanted visitor down the Ave Habib Bourguiba, plying him for information. Several blocks after being left alone, another person approached them on the street and "coincidentally" mentioned he used to work at Hotel Africa, and then tried to get the tourist to follow him into the Medina. The odds of this are extremely low, and it was likely a coordinated scam. Be aware of such possibilities and use your common sense.

Sadly, terrorist attacks are also possible. In March 2015, 24 people, mostly tourists, were killed when ISIS-affiliated terrorists opened fire in the Bardo National Museum.

Stay healthy

As with Tunisia in general, medical staff are skilful and highly educated, but the hospitals are usually badly equipped and in a state of decay. If you get ill, try to get to a private clinic — these are comparatively better equipped and more modern.

Cope

Barbershops can be found in the medina, and there are women's hair salons throughout the city. Many of the nicer hotels also have spas.

Embassies

Go next

Carthage
Sidi Bou Said

Suburbs

Reachable by the metropolitan train service, Métro Léger de Tunis. Tickets are less than one dinar and service is frequent, but busy during rush hour. The station is located a few hundred metres to the east of the clock tower and the raised Trans-African Highway No. 1 directly east from the main drag (Avenue Habib Bourgouiba; the one with the main Medina gate - just keep walking away from the Medina). The station is impossible to miss - it's a large building parallel to the road on the south side. Note that if you're heading out this way, there is also a national tourism office on the north-east side of the clock tower (that effectively demarcates the edge of Tunis' larger buildings before the highway), and they provide free maps and advice regarding Tunis and Tunisia.

Further away

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