Planning a trip to Tunisia? Good choice. Both an African and a Mediterranean country, Tunisia has the best of both worlds. From amazing historical sites to beautiful beaches, this is a country that has something for everyone. There are also a surprising number of movie filming locations for you film buffs out there.
Best of all, it is incredibly easy to visit with a tourist visa for Tunisia. It’s as simple as filling in an online form and getting your authorization to enter the country by email.
So, what are the best places to visit in Tunisia? Here are some of the most interesting, iconic, relaxing, and “must-see” places that the country has to offer.
El Djem Amphitheater
One of Tunisia’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the El Djem (or El Jem) Amphitheater does not disappoint. The enormous Roman arena is one of the biggest and best-preserved in the world.
You may well have seen the Djem Amphitheater before — it has appeared in movies such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian as well as TV shows and commercials.
Thought to have held 35,000 spectators, you can imagine the dramatic battles fought between gladiators in ages past when you stand inside the magnificent stone structure. Its immense arches rival even the Colosseum in Rome.
We couldn’t talk about the best places to visit in Tunisia without mentioning the capital. As you might expect, the city of Tunis is a hub of culture and commerce, with the grandeur that typically comes from being the capital of a nation.
However, it is not its status that makes Tunis fascinating. The city is a coin with 2 distinct sides, which makes visiting a unique cultural experience.
On one side, you have the French influence. Wide avenues lined with trees, grand gothic cathedrals and churches, and coffee shops with sidewalk terraces give parts of Tunis a somewhat Parisian flavor, stemming from when Tunisia was part of the French Colonial Empire (1881-1956).
The other side of the city is distinctly North African, with bustling souks (marketplaces), hawkers selling spices, and the aromas of shisha and tangines.
Another historically important UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of Carthage are what remains of the ancient city-state and rival to Rome.
The Carthaginian culture was once the dominant power in the Mediterranean until a series of wars with Rome, including one in which the city’s general Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with an army and war elephants to attack the Romans on their home turf. Carthage ultimately lost and was destroyed.
The ruins are incredibly atmospheric and serve as a reminder that even the mighty can fall. Located by the sea in the suburbs of Tunis, Carthage is a must for anyone interested in history.
If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, try the island of Djerba. Beautiful Mediterranean beaches, palm trees, and laid-back summer days make for the perfect sun-sand-and-sea getaway.
The old town of Houmt Souk provides a bit of culture and history to make Djerba the complete package. You’ll find pretty, whitewashed houses, colorful bazaars, Turkic mosques, and the medieval Bordj el Kabir fort, which protects the harbor.
Sidi Bou Said
Incredibly, the blue-and-white buildings and cobbled streets of Sidi Bou Said are not on a Greek island, but here in Tunisia. The town, just 20 minutes from the capital, feels more like Santorini than Sousse.
Interestingly, the trend was started by French musicologist Rodolphe d’Erlanger in the early 20th century and the town now has a museum dedicated to him located at his former mansion.
Sidi Bou Said is a piece of art come to life and it will be of little surprise to you that it is very bohemian in character. It is a great place to find artisan and handicraft shops and stalls, as well as to snap the perfect photo with a Mediterranean backdrop.
An incredibly important city in Islam, Kairouan is a treasure trove of intricate architecture and culture. From a skyline adorned with minarets to the ancient alleyways of the medina (walled old town), the entire city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Key sights in Kairouan include the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, the Mosque of the Three Gates, and the Mosque of the Barber. But it is also a city you should spend time just exploring. The labyrinthine streets, crumbling brickwork, and vibrant souk of old Kairouan are truly enchanting.
Historically a center of learning and scholarship, international visitors might recognize parts of Kairouan from the silver screen — it was used as a stand-in for Cairo in the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark.
If history is not your thing, don’t worry. Hammamet is THE place to go in Tunisia for sun, sand, and sea.
Full of Mediterranean charm, the white beaches and azure waters of Hammamet are perfect for relaxing, sunbathing, and letting the stress just wash away.
Take a gentle stroll through the old town in the evening and maybe swing by the marketplace for some shopping, but there’s no pressure to do anything! Hammamet is all about relaxing.
The Sahara Desert
You can’t take a trip to Tunisia without at least considering an excursion to the world’s largest desert. The Sahara covers much of the south of the country and is fairly easy to visit.
Numerous tour companies offer trips to the desert, either as a jeep safari or on camelback. There is something about riding a camel across the sand dunes that captures the imagination of and it is certainly an experience worth having while in Tunisia. Saharan excursions generally leave early in the morning or in the afternoon.
With little vegetation and few animals, the Sahara is eerily beautiful in its solitude. Watching the sun rising or setting over the desert is a sight to behold.
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
Who would have thought that a vacation in Tunisia would turn into a trip to the planet Tatooine? As many fans of the wildly popular Star Wars franchise know, the country was used for filming scenes in the original 1977 film and a number of its sequels and prequels.
If you want to visit the spaceports of Mos Eisley and Mos Espa, see where Obi-Wan Kenobi rescued Luke Skywalker from the Sand People, or stay in the Lars Homestead where the lead character grew up, Tunisia is the place to go.
Of course, not all the sets are still in good condition and some have been lost to the desert. However, Ong Jemal in the Tozeur desert is home to a well-preserved and extensive part of Mos Espa from The Phantom Menace and the Sidi Bouhlel ravine, which was used for so many scenes it has the nickname “Star Wars Canyon” remains a natural monument to the film series.
While the exterior of the Lars Homestead, the location of the iconic shot of the dual sunset, is hard to reach in the middle of a salt flat, the interior can be found in the small town of Matmata and, incredibly, you can spend the night there. It has been the Sidi el Driss hotel since before the original Star Wars was shot and retains its appearance from the films.