Things to see and do in Tunisia
Attractions in Tunisia
Bask in the glory of El-Jem
For many visitors the UNESCO World Heritage-listed El-Jem Colosseum is Tunisia's historical highlight. Built in the 3rd century, this mammoth structure once held crowds of up to 35,000 and today towers over the modern surrounding town. The largest amphitheatre in North Africa and modelled on Rome's own Colosseum, it's an example of just how far the mighty long Roman arm reached – to the very centre of Tunisia.
Cruise over sand dunes
The dramatic sand dunes of the Grand Erg Oriental ripple out in waves across the horizon. This hypnotic landscape was used in the movie The English Patient and has since become one of the most famous corners of the Sahara. From the dusty desert outpost of Douz you can organise camel treks or 4x4 trips to the dunes. Dune skiing and desert dune-buggy trips are also available.
Delve into the ruins of Dougga
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of North Africa's best-preserved ancient ruins. Although most of the surviving monuments here are from the Roman period, Dougga's history stretches right back to the 6th century. With its dramatic hilltop position and ample monumental buildings and temples, it is one of Tunisia's most impressive tourist attractions.
Discover the town of Sidi Bou Saïd
Gorgeously quaint and stunningly picturesque, Sidi Bou Saïd is a vision of white-and-blue buildings perched above the Mediterranean. Wander the cobblestone alleyways through the village, stop for syrupy Arabic coffee at a cliff-side cafe, and then unwind on the charmingly old-fashioned beach. It's an easy day-trip from Tunis.
Find the Force in Chott El Jerid
Stretching for 5,000 sq m (53,819 sq ft) the salt pan of Chott El Jerid has a mesmerising otherworldliness which was used to great effect in the Star Wars films. In summer, the dry salt crust blisters and shimmers in the heat, while in winter sections of it flood and have to be traversed by boat. To visit the Chott El Jerid, most people stay in Tozeur.
Get back to nature in Lake Ichkeul
In the far north of the country, World Heritage-listed Lake Ichkeul is a haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers. The best time to visit is between the months of December and March when thousands of migratory birds – including flamingos, egrets and storks – descend on the wetlands to pass the winter.
Golf your way around Monastir
Monastir is famed for its impressive seafront rabat, or fort, which was used in Monty Python's Life of Brian, as well as the sumptuous interior of Habib Bourguiba's mausoleum. But the seaside town now also attracts golf-tourism with championship courses Palm Links, El Kantaoui and the Flamingo Golf Course all in the vicinity.
Have it all on Cap Bon Peninsula
There's something for everyone on the Cap Bon Peninsula. Sun and sea-seekers will love the resort amenities at Nabuel, culture vultures can explore Kelibia's fort, the old Roman quarry at Ghar el-Khabir and the Punic ruins of Kerkouane, and everyone can enjoy El Haouaria's lovely strip of beach.
Show solidarity at Bardo Museum
One of Tunisia's most important museums, Bardo was the target of a terrorist attack in March 2015. It held a reopening ceremony a week later (with beefed-up security) coinciding with a huge solidarity march through Tunis. The museum remains an essential guide to the country's multi-faceted history, with a superlative collection of mosaics and a comprehensive range of artefacts from countless ancient sites.
Soak up cool vibes in the capital
Shaped over the centuries by a mixture of Ottoman, Arabic and French-colonial influences, Tunisia's capital is a wonderful muddle of old and new. In the shady medina back alleys, old men puff on shisha and play backgammon, while along the broad French-style avenues of the modern town, the cafes brim with bright young things toting laptops and chattering on their mobiles.
Steam with the locals in a hammam
One of Tunisia's essential experiences is to visit a hammam, a traditional 'Turkish' bath that's a mix between a public bath and a sauna, typically in a lavish, old-tiled setting. The practice dates back to Roman and Punic times, when natural hot springs were much sought. Today there are five-star spa experiences, while traditional hammams such as El-Kachachine endure as dilapidated architectural gems.
Step back in time at Bulla Regia
The semi-subterranean Roman ruin of Bulla Regia is one of Tunisia's most impressive archaeological sites. The Romans used underground architecture here to escape the brutal heat, but the unusual design also preserved the city from eroding over time, offering a rare chance to explore complete Roman villas.
Like Bardo, Sousse was subject to a terrorist attack in the summer of 2015. Before then, it was a vibrant seaside town, especially Boujaffar Beach with its long stretch of white sand and lively nightlife strip, but tourism has naturally taken a hit. But Sousse has a long resilient history dating back to the Phoenicians, under whom it was an important coastal town. It will recover.
Take it easy in Djerba
The chilled-out island of Djerba is a Mediterranean idyll with its whitewashed villages, craft markets, and postage-stamp sized beaches shaded by palm trees. It's a wonderful place to relax in, doing little more strenuous than browsing the shops, enjoying leisurely lunches of fresh seafood and lounging on the sands.
Venture into the Sahara
It seems a shame to come to Tunisia without getting a taste of the dramatic desolate horizons that make up the country's southern half. A number of companies organise Sahara trips, which range from a couple of hours on a camel to a full-on voyage into the sands.
Venture under the sea around Tabarka
Tabarka is Tunisia's top spot for snorkelling and diving. The town itself is a gentle-paced seaside resort which oozes old fashioned style, and it's a lovely stop off if you want to recharge your travel batteries. Not far from shore is the magical underwater world of the Galite Islands, which are the main draw for scuba diving fans.
Visit a galaxy far, far away in Matmata
Due to a prominent role in the first Star Wars film, Matmata's subterranean dwellings, first dug out by the Berbers over 1,000 years ago, attract hundreds of visitors each day. The main attraction here is Hotel Sidi Driss, used as the cantina in Episode IV:A New Hope, and still home to plenty of Star Wars paraphernalia. You can even sleep here, troglodyte style, if the fancy takes you.
Wonder at sacred Kairouan
Kairouan's skyline of minarets is packed to the brim with beautiful Islamic architecture, not least the breath-taking 9th-century Great Mosque. Founded in 670, the city dates back to the beginning of Islam in the Maghreb and is seen as the religion's fourth holiest site. Aside from sacred landmarks, you'll spend hours exploring the labyrinthine medina, full of spindling alleyways backed by crumbling pastel-hued houses.
Tunisian National Tourist Office in the UKAddress: 111 Baker Street, London, W1U 6SG
Telephone: (020) 7224 5561