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Tunis
capital of Tunisia
Africa > North Africa > Tunisia > Northern Tunisia > Tunis
Tunis (تونس) is the capital of Tunisia. With a population of around two million inhabitants. There are quite a few must-see attractions, especially if you include the ruins of Carthage, which are easily accessed from here, and the Punic ports are interesting, too. Tunis is an interesting mix of new and old, including colonial French buildings. The souq and the medina are among the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa.
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. The city center is located about 10 km from the sea, on the shores 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 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 thoroughfare 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 may not be familiar to the drivers.
The Port de France also serves as a good entry point for exploring the medina. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna leads past many shops all the way to the Zaytouna Mosque, the great mosque of Tunis which sits at 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 subject to heavy security. 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 seems 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 rather menacing 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
Tunis
Climate chart (explanation)
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Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation+Snow totals in mm
Source:Wikipedia
Imperial conversion
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Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation+Snow totals in inches
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 below freezing and in very rare cases some snow, though on average even nighttime temperatures don't drop much below 10°C. Tunis' mild climate makes it a comfortable destination year-round.

Get in
By plane
Tunis-Carthage Airport
The major carrier at Tunis-Carthage is Tunisair, serving many destinations. The major western carriers who service Tunis-Carthage are Air France, Alitalia and Lufthansa, from London, Paris, Rome or Frankfurt. Air Malta offers occasional flights to Tunis from Malta, so one can always puddle-jump through the Mediterranean as well. Also, flights from other African cities are common ways to access Tunis if you are traveling to Tunisia from another African destination or vice versa.
Tunisian law requires all currency to be exchanged within the country. It's illegal to take Tunisian currency (DT) outside the country, though it can be done at most travel desks if you sign a waiver, but this is not advisable as Customs Officers will force you to change the dinars to hard currency before permitting you to travel if they find the currency. You can exchange money at the airport or at your hotel. There are many currency exchange booths with quite OK rates. You should retain the receipt for the transaction; without it, the bank may cause difficulty converting unspent dinars back into your own currency.
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 may not allow you to board your second flight with it. For the same reason, insist on a printed receipt.
1
Tunis-Carthage Airport (TUN IATA) (8 km away from the centre, but well within urban Tunis). Airport is small and in a reasonable shape with all standard facilities. There is a free airport Wi-Fi, as well as in the several restaurants, including Caffe Lindo, but it doesn't work often. International flights will arrive on the ground floor of the airport, where there are lots of ATMs and cafes, but no luggage storage facilities. Toilets are clean but have attendants that rarely ask for change after use.
(updated Nov 2018)
Getting to the airport:
A taxi into the city center — insist on the meter — should cost around 5-7 DT during the day and around 10 DT 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 DT 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. A one-way ticket from the airport to Tunis Marine costs 0.470 DT.
By train
The central railway station
You can travel to Tunis by train from most major cities in the country, the main line going from Gabes via Sousse, Sfax and Gafsa.
Trains are run by SNCFT and are generally cheap and comfortable, but if you want to ride first class during peak season, do reserve your seat in advance. Check train timetables on the SNCFT website before traveling as trains run at non-regular intervals throughout the day.
The rail service from Annaba in Algeria is the only international service. There is one daily departure, expect on Sundays. Additionally, there are plenty of trains from the main border city of Ghardimaou.
2
Tunis central railway station (Tunis Gare Centrale) (In front of Place de Barcelone). There is a left luggage office hidden behind police office, 8:00-22:00, 3-5.5 DT per locker. The station has an easy interchange onto the light metro.
(updated Nov 2020)
By car
Driving is not for the faint-hearted in Tunisia, due to the poor driving habits of many local drivers. However self-hire car is by far the easiest and safest way to travel around Tunisia (north of Gabes). Signage is quite good as it is universally bilingual in French and Arabic script. Driving at night is doable, just look out for defiant drivers heading the wrong way on dual carriageways without lights. Outside of the city nighttime driving is safer. The freeway/motorway A1 from Gabès, Sfax, Sousse and Tunis is in a reasonable shape, and the tolls very cheap.
The best place to rent a car is the airport. 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 Routière Tunis Sud (south of Place Barcelone) serving cities and towns in the south and Gare Routière Tunis Nord (by Bab Saadoun) serving those to the north and west. Buses are run by SNTRI at both stations — see their website for schedules and fares.
By louage
Tunis is a major hub for the country's louage (shared taxi) network. Louages connect Tunis with many major cities in Tunisia. There are three main louage stations in Tunis.
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: Italians GNV and Grimaldi Lines, French SNCM [dead link] and Tunisian CTM amongst others. Voyages from southern France or northwestern Italy take about 24 hours. A quicker way to get to Tunis is to (a) charter a boat, (b) hop on a ferry, or (c) travel on a cruise line, all of which can be done from Malta in a few 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
Map of Tunis
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. Ticket prices are dependent on how many sections of network (zones) traveled through. Single way 1-section tickets cost 0.320 DT. Most tourist attractions are within two sections of the city centre and single way 2-section tickets cost 0.470 DT.
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 0.680 DT 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 and cheap option if one need to go a bit farther than the metro, though cabs picking up in front of nice hotels will charge much higher rates. These taxis will quote 2-3 times the metered fare, so you should insist on using the meter . Should they will refuse then get out. It is much better to walk away from the hotel and hail one on the street.
Taxis are plentiful so the search shouldn't be longer than a few minutes, even during busy periods. The minimum charge is 0.500 DT at daytime and 0.750 DT on evenings/nights (rates per April 2019). Assuming the driver operates per regulations, 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.
Watch out for the bright red/green light in the windscreen. The red light means the taxi is available and the meter is working. Green means it has been hired. Avoid any taxi that does not have this light.
The Bolt app for smart-phones works in a similar way to Uber. Rates may be more than double the metered fare, but will get you a taxi if you are somewhere that you do not want to hail one in the street.
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 DT for a short ride.
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. This is a suitable transport medium for young people, but definitely not recommended if you have children with you as the minivans can be quite oppressive. Driving style tends be the 'flat-out' variety. 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 a practicable idea for getting around, as long as you are an experienced and confident driver, street signage is good in Arabic and French, but there's a lot of traffic in Tunis and locals follow traffic rules in an informal style. Driving is more dangerous in the dark as many vehicles have faulty lights. Traffic jams are common in Tunis generally, and around Habib Bourguiba Avenue and Victory Square traffic often comes to a total standstill. In Tunis the "Central Parking" multi storey car park just off Clocktower roundabout, is convenient and cheap for parking. Avoid in the streets red/white markings on the kerb as the wardens trucks WILL come and tow you away. Car hire direct at the airport is convenient - local firms usually a bit cheaper than Hertz/Sixt, etc., but car might have some bits missing!
See
Courtyard of the Zitouna Mosque
House of El Monastiri, in the Medina
Porte de France
Medina
Non-Muslims may not enter Islamic monuments such as mosques.
New town
Elsewhere
Hôtel de Ville, the city hall
Further away
Uthina amphitheater
19
Uthina. 09:00 - 17:00, it closes 2 hr later in summer. It was an ancient Roman-Berber city. Now it features remains of a fortress, cisterns, an aqueduct, a triumphal arch, a theatre, an amphitheater, a basilica with a circular crypt, and a bridge. Many mosaics are to be found there as well. 7 DT.
(updated Nov 2018)
Do
Simply wandering around Tunis can be an interesting experience, especially around the medina with its ancient buildings including mosques, gates and market stalls. All types of commodities including slaves used to be traded here, but today's market is mainly that of day-to-day goods, with many 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 Master card and Visa cash-points around the city. However, ATMs are not generally found in hotels, even the major ones.
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.
Learn
The Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages, Av. de la liberté, 47, Tunis, ☏+216 7183 2418, +216 7183 2923, fax: +216 7183 3684. 08:00 to 13:15. Offers intensive summer sessions in July and August for anyone interested in learning Modern Standard Arabic or Tunisian dialect. In the 2005 summer session, there were over 500 students of all ages from throughout the world. This includes students from the USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Turkey, Japan, China. Several students complained about the lack of cleanliness in the student dorms. Some students stayed in a hotel and then rented a beach-side apartment for the month. It's usually easier to negotiate rental prices once you are in Tunis. 
Eat
Typical low-end eatery
Most hotels include breakfast, and some include dinner. There are countless coffee shops with bitter coffee, other drinks and French-style 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 difficult to find an open restaurant during daytime.
If you want alcohol when eating go to a hotel as most serve beer/wine, as do some upmarket restaurants in the Berges du Lac area of Tunis.
Budget
Mid-range
Couscous is a dish common all over North Africa, in Tunisia too
Splurge
Drink
Avenue Habib Bourguiba at night
Be careful about what bars you frequent, ladies should perhaps try to bring a man out with them. 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. Alcohol is mostly only served in hotel bars. The Lac 1 and Lac 2 areas do not permit alcohol to be served.
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
1
YHA Tunis Auberge Medina, 25 rue Saïda Ajoula, ☏ +216 98 578 638. Also referred to as Auberge de Jeunesse and Tunis Youth Hostel. Buried deep within the Medina and a bit of a challenge to find, although there are intermittent signs along the way. During the day you can just push through the crowd of shoppers straight up the Rue de la Kasbah from the Port de France until you see the signs pointing to your right, just after the restaurant Dar Slah, although this route might be intimidating after dark. This former palace of a sultan is architecturally impressive. Rooms are basic and cooled only by fan. The included evening meal is filling. Breakfast, a simple affair of French bread and coffee, is a bit ropey and is served in the large open courtyard. The communal bathrooms, however, are not cleaned regularly, and may border on offensive. The shower times are limited to an hour in the morning and at night, though hot water may not be available at these times. Plan on using the local hammams for all hot water and cleaning needs. 8 DT incl. breakfast. 
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 DT 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.
Be aware of possibilities of fake guides trying to either scam you, or lure you somewhere less safe, 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. Later that year, a terrorist opened fire against tourists in Port El Kantaoui. The government has tried to give tourist areas higher profile policing to reassure visitors.
Stay healthy
As with Tunisia in general, medical staff are skilful and highly educated, but the public hospitals are usually fairly basic. If you get ill, try to get to a private clinic — these are better-equipped and more modern - charges are modest by European/USA standards.
Other information
Barbershops (for men) can be found widely, and there are women's hair salons commonly. Many of the nicer hotels also have spas, and fitness centres (open to visitors)
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
This city travel guide to Tunis has guide status. It has a variety of good, quality information including hotels, restaurants, attractions and travel details. Please contribute and help us make it a star!

Last edited on 25 January 2021, at 13:04
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