JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH EMNA TOUIL FROM TUNIS, TUNISIA !
Emna Touil is a 27-year-old Tunisian blogger. She loves sharing with everyone special moments of her trips and good advices to make yours even better. She likes to take shots of colourful and historical places wherever she goes and especially in Tunisia. She looks forward to telling you a lot about her city, because she knows that hearing from locals is always the best answer to our questions when traveling.
Tunisia, a North African country, is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It is the land of ancient mosques and palaces, Phoenician fortresses and forts, Roman ruins, colonial era buildings, magnificent coastal landscape, hammams and colourful bazaars. The huge Sahara desert occupies almost 30% of the country. The Atlas Mountains begin here and go along the Moroccan coast to Algeria. It was in Tunisia that the episodes of the famous saga Star Wars were filmed and until now its film sets are popular tourist attractions.
Tunis is Tunisia’s largest city and the capital of Tunisia. Divided into the old city, known as the Medina, and the new city, or Ville Nouvelle in French, Tunis is small and compact. It extends along the coastal plain and the hills that surround it. The Ville Nouvelle is transversed by the grand Habib Bourguiba Avenue from the clock tower to the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul. An hour outside of the city there are white sandy beaches flanked by turquoise waters.
Although Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956, you can see a lasting French influence on its culture. A vast majority of Tunisia’s population speak Arabic and French but the original language of the country is the Berber language. Shops, menus and road signs in Tunis use Arabic alongside French.
Please tell us something about life in Tunis.
Tunis is a city that is known for its warm and kind people, magnificent crystal blue seas, golden beaches, sunny weather and especially an iconic history.
In Tunisia many civilizations have succeeded each other – the indigenous Berbers, Phoenicians who founded Carthage, the Romans who occupied Tunisia for more than 800 years and finally the Muslims arrived around the year 697. Hence, Tunisia is an open sky museum that will make you travel through its monuments by the Punic, Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine period.
Moreover, life in Tunisia is very affordable and you will be more than welcomed by locals if you need any help.
As a local, when do you think is the best time to visit Tunisia ?
Tunisia is a country that has a temperate weather so if you choose to come to Tunisia either in winter or summer or spring it won’t be too cold or too hot, so weather is not a problem while organizing your trip, but I would recommend you to visit our country in summer so that you would be able to enjoy our sandy beaches and dreamy Mediterranean coastlines.
What is the most convenient and favoured transport of Tunis?
The public transport system in our country is unfortunately not that developed, so in my opinion I will recommend you to take a taxi during your stay, since the taxi drivers will be more than happy to take you around the city (Make sure that the taxi meter is on). But trying our buses, metros or ‘louages’ (local mini-vans) cannot be a bad idea for some of you and maybe you will be pleasantly surprised by our culture. The light-rail transit Métro Léger de Tunis, has 66 stops around the city.
We only have one airport in Tunis called Tunis-Carthage international airport, once you arrive you can easily find a taxi in front of it and safely start your journey. It is located 8 km away from the centre. Since, Tunis-Carthage is served my major air – carriers, flights arrive in Tunis from cities like Paris, London and Frankfurt also.
Most major cities of Tunisia are reachable from Tunis’s main train or bus stations, but taxi would be your best bet.
According to you which are the top three places to visit in Tunis ?
Sidi Bousaid (17 km. NE of Tunis) : Also known as the blue and white village or as the Mediterranean pearl, this place took my heart from my childhood, it is a charming and an authentic area where you will know more about Tunisian culture and our food. You surely have to eat Bambalouni while in Sidi Bousaid and don’t miss the wonderful view of the sea throughout your walk with the superb smell of Jasmin. Moreover, I would advise you to walk through the hidden streets of Sidi Bousaid so that you will discover more beautiful places.
How to Reach : There is a direct train departing from Tunis Marine and arriving at Sidi Bou Saïd. Services depart every five minutes, and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 36 min. Transtu Tunisia operate buses departing every 20 minutes each day, journey takes approximately 40 min. However, the quickest way is to hail a taxi which takes around 18 min.
Carthage (16 km. NE of Tunis) : Situated in the Tunisian coast, it was considered a long ago as a major Mediterranean power and a rival to Rome. Built by Didon (Elissa) a Phoenician princess after she escaped from her home because she refused to marry the ruler of Phenicia, the archeologic site of Carthage is very wide and rich in history. It’s been listed since 1979 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will get to discover and admire the ruins and Romains remains, so be sure to get you camera prepared!
How to Reach : Carthage is just 2 km from Sidi Bou Said. There is a direct train (TGM) departing from Sidi Bou Saïd and arrives at Carthage Présidence every five minutes operating every day. The journey takes approximately 3 min.
Medina of Tunis : For so long it was the most important city of the Islamic world. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the medina is an open sky historical museum, where you have the chance to discover more than 700 hafsids monuments beginning with the great mosque of Zitouna, fountains, museums, palaces etc.
You can also enjoy walking through the alleys of the old town, discovering the traditional souks, buying souvenirs, or drinking a green tea in one of the cafes right there, offering you a panoramic monochromatic view of the medina.
Great Mosque or Zitouna Mosque : In the city of Tunis you can visit the Great Mosque or Zitouna Mosque, built in 732. It is the biggest monument in the Medina which is located in the heart of the old town. You can also visit the the National Bardo Museum, which has interesting collections of objects of Arab culture. Kahwet Panorama is a terrace in the Medina where you can have a panoramic view of the Medina and almost all the city.
What are the most popular day trips for nature, culture and history from Tunis?
Oudhna/Uthina (28 km. South of Tunis) : It is an archeologic site, situated at 30 Km from Tunis, with Romans remains of a fortress, a theatre, an amphitheater, aqueduct etc. The amphitheatre is said to be the third biggest in the world after Rome and El Gem in Tunisia. They are spread out in the circumference of three miles.
How to Reach : The quickest way to get from Tunis to Uthina / Oudhna is to taxi which takes around half an hour.
Zaghouen (60 km South of Tunis) : You can take a tour in the famous and authentic old town of Zaghouen or spend the day in Dar Zaghouen a familiar guesthouse with a little charming farm. It is located 100 miles away from the capital. Zaghouan supplied fresh quality water to the city of Carthage through a long aqueduct.
How to Reach : The cheapest way to get from Tunis to Zaghouan is to train which takes 1h 15m, while the quickest you can get there is by a taxi (around 50 min).
Zriba el alia (55 km SE of Tunis) : It is a wonderful deserted Berber village that is going to help you know more about our origins. It is is located about three kilometers south of Hammam Zriba while the hammam of Zriba attached to Zaghouan is located about 60 kilometers south of Tunis. You can enjoy the view of the Jebel Zaghouan, the second highest peak of Tunisia, from the village.
How to Reach : The quickest way to get from Tunis to El Alia is to taxi which takes 35 min.
Benzart/Bizerte (70 km NW of Tunis) : Bizerte is the oldest city of Tunisia and the northernmost in Africa. An hour away from Tunis, this city is very special and authentic, don’t forget to eat grilled fishes right there, it is very famous.
How to Reach : There is a direct train departing from Tunis Ville and arriving at Bizerte. Services depart three times a day, and operate every day. The journey takes around 1h 50m. However, the quickest way to get from Tunis to Bizerte is to taxi which takes around an hour.
Morneg (21 km SE of Tunis) : Located 45minutes away from the capital, it is the perfect place to be if you are searching for some chill and calm while enjoying the view of mountains. It is one of the richest plains of Tunisia and is known as the wine region of Tunisia. It is the largest of the seven French designated Appellation D’origine Contrôlée of the country.
How to Reach : The quickest way to get from Tunis to Morneg is to taxi which takes around 45 min.
Hammamet (70 km SE of Tunis) : Beautiful beaches , luxurious hotels and crystal blue seas are all waiting for you in this resort city. With houses less than the height of cypress trees, Hammamet attracts tourists for its interesting architecture. Places of interest being the Villa Sebastian built by Georg Sebastian which has been passed to different owners since his death. After it was bought by the city administration, the villa has been changed into the International Cultural Centre. Adjacent to the villa is the amphitheatre, which hosts international cultural festival in the months of July and August.
How to Reach : The cheapest way to get from Tunis to Hammamet is to train which takes 1h 10min. Train departs from Tunis Ville and arrives at Hammamet. Services depart six times a week, and operate Monday to Saturday. The quickest way to get from Tunis to Hammamet is to taxi which takes 50 min.
Tunisia is one of the African countries with the most marinas. Which are the best marinas to visit in/near Tunis?
Marina of Sidi Bousaid under the picturesque settlement of Sidi Bou Said. It is the closest marina to the city of Tunis and where all the affluent Tunisians keep their yachts. Other popular ones being Marina of Sousse and Marina of Hamammet.
Are there any events or festivals in Tunisia around which tourists should plan their holiday to feel the local culture?
We have Aid AlFuter, Aid el Edhha, the Islamic New Year, the Independence Day and a lot of other special days, where you will feel our local culture and traditions.
During Mawlid al nabi al sherif (the birthday of the Islamic prophet), it is very common here in Tunisia to go to Kairouan to feel the local culture.
We also have the national festival of Testour (taking place during October) situated in Beja, it is very famous here. You will have the opportunity to attend a folklore horse riding show, to go to our traditional music shows: Hadhra and Malouf and finally you will find several stands of local artisans and fruit vendors. Indeed, Testour is the third largest fruit producing city in Tunisia.
Which are the must try local dishes of Tunis? Any recommendation on popular local places to try them?
Tunisia is one of the countries that is famous for its cooking. You can’t visit us without eating our couscous or our street famous food: Lablebi (Tunisian chickpea broth), Kafteji (Tunisian fried vegetables), Brik (Berber thin pastry), Plat Tunisien, Fricassee.
Moreover, when it comes to sweet and especially if you love the oriental taste, you are going to be more than feasted, so make sure to not miss Baklawa, Jwejem, Zgougou (Tunisian dish of honey, smen and semolina) and a lot of other Tunisian sweets.
If you go to Habib Bourguiba avenue, you will find a lot of popular street food right there.
In the old town of Tunis, you can find a lot of famous sweet stores.
If you are searching for a luxurious restaurant with local food and Tunisian music then you can go to Dar Jeld restaurant, it is situated in the medina. You can also try our food in Safsaf, a restaurant that is located in La Marsa, with more modest prices and very delicious food.
Finally, don’t forget to eat Bambalouni, traditional doughnuts, in Sidi Bousaid.
Are there any popular weekend, night or flea markets in the city which tourists must visit? Anything that one must bring back home from Tunisia?
You can find a lot of souvenirs and local products in these souks:
Souk of the medina of Tunis – Located in the Medina of Tunis, you will find shops here displaying Tunisian crafts, filigree, rugs, copperware and perfumes etc.
Souk of Beb Bhar – Bab el Bhar, also known as Porte De France or the Sea Gate, is a city gate in Tunis. It separates the Medina of Tunis and the Ville Nouvelle.
Souk of Sidi Bousaid – Sidi Bou Said has a small year round souk which sells basic commodities year round.
If looking for specialised markets you can visit Souk El-Nhas (The Souk of Copper), Souk El-Chawachin (The souk of Tunisian Caps), Souk El-Berka (The Souk of Gold).
If you are searching for something more modern to buy, you can head to one of these malls:
Tunisia Mall, situated in les berges du lac, this area is very beautiful with a direct view of the lac and a lot of good restaurants and cafes.
Géant, where you can find a lot of stores and if you love watching films, then you will be surely happy to find the famous cinema Pathe out there.
Where in Tunis can tourists experience the booming street art scene?
You can easily find art street in the old medina of Tunis or in Sidi Bousaid.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems that local use? Any do’s and don’ts in Tunisia that one must respect and follow?
Have you ever heard of the application AroundMe? It is a very famous app that is going to help you around almost every city you visit in the world. You can find bars, restaurants, theatres, hostels, cafes, almost everything that is around you.
You can also use Google maps to find your way it is very helpful here in Tunis.
Finally, you can use Vynd app, to find restaurants, bars, cafes, everything with menu and prices.
I would recommend you to be careful of robbers especially when in crowded places, avoid walking in dark alleys on your own in late night, and lastly, intimate contact between couples are not accepted in public places.
THINGS TO KNOW :
Visa : Citizens from 97 countries can visit Tunisia visa-free for up to 90 days. Citizens of Germany and Canada can visit without a Tunisian visa for up to four months. Visitors from Bulgaria can spend up to two months in Tunisia and Greek citizens can stay for up to a month visa-free.
Currency : Tunisian dinar
HOW TO REACH
By Air : Flights to Tunisia are operated by the national airline, TunisAir. Tunisia is directly connected to Europe and from Europe flights connecting to the other parts of the world.
By Rail : There is a rail connection between Tunisia and Algeria, but services are not operational.
By Sea : There are many regular ferry services between Tunis and different Italian ports as well as the port of Marseilles in France.
By Road : There are many daily bus services from Tunis to Annaba and also some shared taxis between the Tunis medina and various towns in eastern Algeria. These include Annaba and Constantine. The best route is through the coast road from Gabes to Tripoli in Libya stretching via Ben Guerdane and RasAjdir. Shared taxis also ply between Gabes and Medenine.
WHERE TO STAY
Habib Bourguiba Avenue contains almost all the big hotels in Tunis.
Tourists also choose Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, La Goulette, Marsa, Lac, Manar or Menzah for a stay.
Nightlife in Tunis: If you are looking for nightlife in Tunis so Gammart will be your favorite destination in the city, there is a lot of famous bars, clubs and luxury restaurants with a view right there.
Tip: Gammart is not far from Carthage, Sidi Bousaid and La Marsa, so you can organize your day according to that.
IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING TO TUNISIA OR WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT EMNA’S TRAVEL EXPERIENCES THEN BE SURE TO FOLLOW HER ON INSTAGRAM
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