7 cultural sights to lure you from your lounger in Tunisia

Olly Beckett

Olly Beckett

With the warm Mediterranean Sea melting into wide sun-baked beaches, tempting people away from Tunisia's coastal resorts would take some impressive sights.

Ruins of the Roman Baths of Antoninus, Carthage
Ruins of the Roman Baths of Antoninus, Carthage © WitR - Adobe Stock Image

Thankfully, owing to whopping Roman ruins, colourful historic towns and markets promising a sensory overload, Tunisia* has plenty to show off away from its sand and sea. Read on for a collection of enticing destinations sure to lure you from your lounger.

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If you're staying in resorts near the Tunisian capital of Tunis, such as Hammamet* and Port El Kantaoui*, you'll be within an easy one-day tour of ancient Carthage.

Spread across a wide area north of Tunis, Carthage is filled with the ruins of a civilization that ruled the Med from the 4th century BCE. Sit in a Roman amphitheatre where Carthaginians once cheered on gladiators, walk through a vast bathing complex and marvel at intricate mosaics. Employing the services of a knowledgeable guide is highly recommended.

Nearby resorts: Hammamet, Yasmine Hammamet*, Port El Kantaoui, Sousse


Described as the fourth-holiest site in Islam, the Great Mosque of Kairouan is blessed serenity amidst the throngs of Kairouan's medina.

About two hours' drive inland from Sousse*, it is absolutely worth the journey not just to wander around the medina, but to see the colonnade-wrapped courtyard and cavernous prayer hall of the 1,550-year-old mosque, which date from the 9th-century CE.

It was once a major centre of scholarly activities and, standing beside intricate panels and tiles from Iraq and Syria, you can easily imagine worshipers from previous millennia stepping in from the desert for their regular calls to prayer. Don't forget to bring appropriate clothing.

Nearby resorts: Sousse, Monastir, Port El Kantaoui

El Jem

The pun is too obvious, yet incredibly apt: El Jem really is a gem of a place. Dating from the 3rd century CE, it is, like many of the locations I've mentioned here, UNESCO-listed.

After Rome's Colosseum, this is considered the second-largest Roman arena in the world, where up to 35,000 spectators once filled the oval edifice. Despite its age, El Jem Amphitheatre is remarkably well-preserved.

Magnificent UNESCO site of El Jem amphitheatre
Magnificent UNESCO site of El Jem amphitheatre © Skazar - Adobe Stock Image

You can walk through tunnels where people and exotic animals were funnelled into the arena, sit on the stone benches and climb stairs up to the highest tiers from where you can look over the town to the desert beyond.

So large is this amphitheatre that even when crowded with tourists, it's still possible to find a quiet spot to sit and picture yourself taking in a day of theatre and circus with fellow Roman citizens.

Nearby resorts: Sousse, Monastir, Djerba, Port El Kantaoui, Mahdia, Yasmine Hammamet, Hammamet

Tunis medina

Narrow flagstone alleys thread maze-like through the centre of Tunis, where walking in a straight line from A to B is an impossible task. The medina in Tunis is a cornucopia of tiny shops, fragrant bakeries and restaurants with seating for just a handful of customers.

Devle into the Medina in Tunis
Devle into the Medina in Tunis © Travel-Fr - Shutterstock.com

Without a guide you will probably get lost, but that also allows you to explore twists and turns and happen across unexpected delights. Look out for bakeries selling bambalouni, doughnuts sprinkled with sugar or soaked in honey.

Nearby resorts: Hammamet, Yasmine Hammamet, Sousse, Port El Kantaoui

Sousse kasbah

Standing high above Sousse's sloping old town medina, the kasbah is a crenellated treasure of antiquity that provides a fascinating distraction from the nearby beaches for a couple of hours. Inside, it's also a cool contrast to the searing Tunisian heat.

You'll find a museum displaying artefacts from the many civilisations that once called this part of the world home. Don't miss the view from the 9th-century CE tower, from where you can see over the labyrinthine medina towards the invitingly blue Mediterranean Sea.

Nearby resorts: Sousse, Port El Kantaoui, Monastir

Ribat of Monastir

The long beaches of Monastir pause briefly to let the city's old town spill down to the sea. Here, where history meets the water, rises the Ribat of Monastir. "Ribat" is an Arabic term for a defensive fortification, and Monastir's was built by Muslim conquerors in 797 CE to watch for attacking Byzantines.

The 8th-century CE Ribat of Monastir
The 8th-century CE Ribat of Monastir © Sergey Yeliseev - Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over its long history it has also hosted travellers, scholars and worshipers. Now it's mainly tourists scaling its caramel-coloured walls, perhaps trying to spot where scenes from Monty Python's Life of Brian were filmed.

Nearby resorts: Monastir, Sousse, Port El Kantaoui, Djerba


This one is for Star Wars fans or anyone who likes their dusty desert dwellings dug deep into terra firma.

The Berber people created these below-ground homes to keep as cool as they could in the heat of the Maghreb sun (a high of almost 50°C has been recorded here).

A roughly four-hour roundtrip on the road, tours from Djerba will take in other desert sights such as the salt lake of Chahbania and Berber village of Chenini.

Nearby resort: Djerba

Sidi Bou Said

The white-washed buildings with their studded blue doors and window frames may have you thinking that you're on a Greek island, but Sidi Bou Said is distinctly Tunisian thanks to the intricate tilework, souvenir ceramics and restaurants offering harissa-laced tajines.

Beautifully blue-and-white Sidi Bou Said
Beautifully blue-and-white Sidi Bou Said © Lizavetta - Adobe Stock Image

A classic view of the town can be drunk in on the terraces of Café des Delices and Sidi Bou Said's huge draw for artists is evidenced in its many galleries.

Nearby resort: Hammamet, Yasmine Hammamet

Climate in Tunisia

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows you the climate in Hammamet. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the climate in Tunisia.

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Olly Beckett

Olly Beckett

Posted on Thursday 16th May 2024 in: Africa Culture Excursions Winter sun

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