Tunisia is a fantastic country for photography, from the picturesque white and blue town of Sidi Bou Said to the depths of Tunis Medina or the rolling sand dunes in the desert. There is a real range of diverse landscapes in Tunisia, and whether you’re here for the architecture, beaches, history or culture there sure is a lot to photograph here!
Why Tunisia is a great place for photography
Tunisia is the perfect place to visit if you’re into photography. Firstly, it’s a relatively cheap country to visit and is very affordable, which means a trip here won’t cost you the earth and you can still get some amazing photos for your Instagram. There is visa on arrival too which makes things a lot easier! Secondly, despite it’s small size the country has such a wide range of architecture. From Islamic architecture to French and even Ancient Roman architecture, there’s so much variety here. The landscapes are just as varied – from the Atlas Mountains in the north to the desert in the south and the perfect resort-filled beaches along the eastern coast.
Tunis, the capital of Tunisia is a really interesting city full of contrasts. At times you’ll feel like you’re in Europe and at other times you’ll be very aware you’re in an Arabic country. Just outside of the walled Medina on Avenue de France and Avenue Habib Bourguiba you’ll find gelato stalls and boulangeries and could for a split second think you were on the continent. Additionally you’ll see European style facades, balconies and porticoes and European influenced architecture styles such as the impressive Cathedral. The architecture in this part of Tunis reminded me slightly of that in Casablanca Morocco, where the French influence is also still evident. The trendy European Quarter in Tunis is referred to as the Ville Nouvelle ‘new city’ as the French built it and settled here during their colonisation in the 19th Century.
Step past the iconic Bab al Bhar gate ‘the sea gate’, also known as the Porte De France (‘gate of France’) at the end of Avenue De France however, and you’ll notice a marked difference. The gate abruptly marks the separation between the more modern European style city and the Medina – the traditional Old City.
Tunis Medina is the Old City of Tunis, founded in the 7th Century and developed throughout The Middle Ages. The Medina (Old City) is a walled quarter and once the whole city was contained within these walls. This was the beating heart of Tunis, but after the French came in the 19th Century many people moved out of the Medina and into the downtown European area Ville Nouvelle.
Walled cities like this are common within many Arabic and Middle-Eastern countries and if you haven’t visited one before you may find it a bit overwhelming or chaotic. Lots of sounds, smells and people everywhere. A myriad of small streets and alleys. You’ll see a few tourists, but mostly locals here and you’ll definitely feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Inside the Medina there are lots of narrow alleyways and you can easily spend an afternoon here wandering the streets and taking photographs, stopping at the coffee shops and browsing the stalls in the souk (bazaar). You’ll find lots of fruit stalls, rug shops, ceramic shops and spice stalls that make for interesting photographs. You’ll almost definitely get lost within the Medina as it is very easy to lose your sense of direction as you wander through the winding streets here – it’s like a maze. Tunis Medina isn’t just about the market stalls though – you’ll find lots of mosques, mausoleums, fountains and palaces and it has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The streets are relatively safe in Tunis Medina, but for your own safety make sure you are out of the Medina by the time it gets dark. There are several gates to the Medina where you can exit. Years ago the gates used to be locked from dusk until dawn but nowadays they are kept open. Scroll down to read important safety information to avoid being a victim of crime here.
If you see anything you would like to buy at the souq, remember to barter. This is part of the game for Tunisians and they will always start with a high price, so tell them at least half of what they are asking for and settle somewhere in the middle.
One tip that a Tunisian taxi driver told me. If you are fluent in Italian or French then speak it here in the market as opposed to English. Most Tunisians are fluent in French (as it was a French colony) and Italian (due to it’s close proximity to Sicily) as well as Arabic. If they think you can only speak English they will try to rip you off as they will think you have a lot of money. As I used to live in Sicily and so can speak Italian, I managed to convince the whole of the Medina that I was Sicilian so they slashed the prices right down for me. ‘You are poor like us’ they would say, until one guy realised I was having them all on. Oh well, it was fun whilst it lasted and it made me realise just how much people take advantage of tourists and hike up the prices.
Tunis Medina Rooftops & Zaytouna Mosque
If you’ve ever visited any of the souks in Morocco, you’ll be glad to know the ones in Tunisia aren’t full of hustlers like in Morocco. Sure vendors will try to get you to come into their shops, but they won’t be rude like you can find in Morocco (that’s when it comes in handy to know bad words in Arabic my friends, so you know what they’re really saying behind your back! I’ll save that for another blog post though).
The most you’ll get in Tunis Medina is you’ll probably get approached by a man asking you if you’d like to go up onto the rooftop to get a nice panoramic view of the city for a small fee. It sounds dodgy at first and I was sceptical, especially seeing as I was travelling alone and look like an obvious tourist. I saw some other tourists go up so decided to join, I’m a sucker for rooftop views after all – they make for the best photographs!
On the rooftop you’ll find a nice mosaic archway that makes for nice pictures, especially if you come up here around sunset. Colourful mosaics are in integral part to Tunisian architecture.
If you’d prefer to stick to a coffee shop with a big outdoor rooftop terrace, head to Terrace El Bey or Cafe Panorama Medina. They both offer stunning views over the 8th Century Zaytuna Mosque and courtyard (Zaytouna meaning ‘olive tree’). Once you get back to ground level, make sure to check out the mosque (non worshippers can only enter the courtyard and not the Prayer Room)! The mosque looks especially impressive when it gets lit up at sunset.
It can be a little difficult to find the entrance to both coffee shops as they are both unassuming doorways, so just ask a local to guide you – they’ll all know the way. Both coffee shops are very close to each other (a 2 minute walk!) so you can always check out both. Click here to see where they are both located on Google maps. You’ll also see just how close Zaytouna Mosque is.
These are the two coffee shops with the best views, however there are so many other coffee shops here in the Medina where you can get cheap and tasty Tunisian tea (similar to Moroccan mint tea). Lots have seating areas out on the street that are interesting to photograph, and some even offer views looking down into the bustling streets below.
Other points of interest in the Medina that are great for photography includes Tourbet El Bey mausoleum and Dar Ben Abdallah Palace – a fine example of how rich people used to live in the Medina.
Notable places to visit in Ville Nouvelle – the French Colonial part of Tunis, include Place de l’Indépendance (Independence Square). This is the main square in Ville Nouvelle and the only main square in an Arab capital that is dominated by a church (Cathedral of St Vincent De Paul) as opposed to a mosque. You’ll also find the I love Tunis sign here. Place de l’Indépendance lies at the end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba – Ville Nouvelle’s main avenue. This avenue certainly feels a lot more French than North African, with the boulevard of trees going down the middle, but it still has a chaotic Maghrebi touch to it. Things feel a lot more modern here compared to in the Medina.
If you still can’t get enough of rooftop views, located on the 10th floor of El Hana International Hotel on Avenue Habib Bourguiba is the rooftop bar ‘Jamaica Bar’. You can get great views of the city and looking down tree lined Habib Bourguiba – certainly a different view from the rooftop bars in the Medina.
5 kilometres from downtown Tunis is The Bardo Museum which is worth a visit. It is the best museum in Tunis and features one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics. The museum is open 9-5 daily (except Mondays when it is closed) and entrance fee is 11 dinar (£3).
Day Trips From Tunis
From Tunis you can take the train to two very photogenic places nearby: Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. They are both located just north of Tunis and can easily be visited on a day trip or half day excursion.
Both Carthage and Sidi Bou Said are on the same train line – the TGM light rail, with Carthage (15km from Tunis) being closer to Tunis than Sidi Bou Said (18km from Tunis). Take the TGM light rail train from Tunis Marine (located at the end of Habib Bourguiba) and not Gare de Tunis. A single ticket costs 0.7 dinar and the journey from Tunis to Carthage takes around 25 minutes (35 minutes to Sidi Bou Said).
Firstly visit Carthage – but there are several Carthage stations so you need to make sure you get off at the right one! Get off at CARTHAGE HANNIBAL train station as this is the closest station to all the ruins. Don’t get off at Carthage Salammbo or Carthage Bysra, which are the 2 stops before Carthage Hannibal (there are also 2 Carthage stops after Carthage Hannibal when you continue on to Sidi Bou Said). Once you have finished in Carthage get back on the train and continue up to Sidi Bou Said. Trains run until midnight.
The ancient city of Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians (from modern-day Lebanon) almost 3,000 years ago. Carthage was the most important city in the Mediterranean at the time, until it fell to the Romans in the Third Punic War in 146 BC. The Romans then destroyed and rebuilt Carthage.
Carthage is a very impressive place and is one of the highlights of many people’s trips to Tunisia. The area is full of Ancient Roman ruins: an ancient amphitheatre, baths, basilicas and necropolis and is a delight to photograph. The ruins are surrounded by lots of greenery and overlook the sea: they are located in a perfect position. Despite previously living in Rome and seeing my fair share of Roman ruins, I was very pleasantly surprised and really impressed with Carthage. I was also amazed by the sheer lack of tourists – I literally had the whole place to myself!
The sites in Carthage are a bit spread out so there is a fair bit of walking when you get off the train at Carthage Hannibal. But Carthage is a lovely upper class area and you’ll see lots of big fancy houses here as you walk between the attractions so it’s a nice walk! A multi-entry ticket to all the attractions costs just 12 dinar (£3.35) – bring cash.
These are the main sights to cover and it will take you a few hours to get round all of them!
The main archeological ruins of Carthage are located on Byrsa Hill, which was where the Ancient City of Carthage was built around. You’ll need to walk uphill from the train station to get here but the views are incredible and there are lots of great things to discover here.
Very close to the ruins at Byrsa Hill lies the Acropolium of Carthage. Whilst not an ancient ruin, it is a very impressive and extremely large old 19th Century Roman Catholic Church (Saint Louis of Carthage Cathedral) located on top of the hill and is worth a little look. Nowadays it is no longer used as a church, instead it is used as a music concert venue.
From Byrsa Hill stroll 1.5km or take a taxi over to the Roman Amphitheatre, constructed in the first century AD. The Carthage Amphitheatre was one of the largest amphitheatres of the Roman Empire – able to hold 35,000 spectators! You can wander around the amphitheatre although a lot of it is in ruin as people took the materials for other buildings in the past. You can even go into the underground parts where the animals would have been kept.
Head downhill from the amphitheatre towards the Punic Port, 2 km away. The Punic Port was built by the Phoenicians and then reshaped into a crescent shape by the Romans. This was the ancient port of Carthage and was very important during it’s day. There are some ancient ruins here and it is nice and peaceful to stroll around here.
2.5 km from the Punic Port is the Antonine Baths, also known as the Antoninus Baths or the Baths of Carthage These. Construction started under Emperor Hadrian and finished under Emperor Antoninus. These 2nd Century Roman baths are the vastest Roman Thermae built in Africa and the third largest in the Roman Empire. They are very imposing and incredibly impressive to see.
This was my favourite part of Carthage as the ruins were a lot more intact than the others and you could really use your imagination here. That being said, when the baths were built they were 3 levels high and adorned with cupolas. Now only the lower level ruins remain but you can still get a really good feel of the grandeur and size of it. The Carthage Baths are located on the shore and you can wander round, explore and take endless photos. There is signage explaining things and also there are lots of surrounding gardens to stroll round after.
Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is a small town with picturesque white and blue buildings that can easily be compared to the more famous Chefchaouen in Morocco or Santorini in Greece. Sidi Bou Said is a picture-perfect town and is one of the best places for photography in Tunisia. You’ll find many Instagrammable places just walking along the streets and it is very popular with both locals and tourists. There are many unique and elaborate doorways, bougainvillaea flowers climb the walls of the buildings, and the market stalls at D’Art Lella Salha & Des Metiers are idyllic, selling a variety of handmade items, clothes and paintings.
Sidi Bou Said sits on a cliff hugging the coastline and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There are stunning sea views here and the sunsets are particularly impressive. There are lots of cute rooftop cafes along Rue Habib Thameur such as Dar Dallaji where you can look down onto the white and blue buildings below.
The best place however to come for a tea and watch the sunset over the harbour is the iconic Cafe des Delices. Click here to view it’s location on Google maps. The prices are a bit higher than other cafes in the area but it is worth it for the view!
The museum of Dar El-Annabi is definitely worth stopping at as it is really interesting and provides a look at how life was in Tunisia many years ago. The entrance price is low and you’ll be given a cup of Tunisian mint tea to enjoy as you wander round.
Located just past Sidi Bou Said is La Marsa – the fancy part of town. Lots of expats live here and you’ll find lots of bars that serve alcohol. Perfect for a night out.
Other Places in Tunisia Good For Photography
Sousse Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the narrow alleyways are full of life. You’ll find many photogenic white and blue streets, similar to that of Sidi Bou Said.
El Jem is home to the world’s third biggest Roman amphitheatre. The Amphitheatre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unlike the Carthage Amphitheatre is very much intact. Plus you’ll probably have the whole place to yourself, unlike the Colosseum in Rome!
In the north of Tunisia lie the Atlas Mountains – the mountain range that spans Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. A trip up here provides you with unforgettable views and ample photo opportunities.
There are lots of beautiful beaches in Tunisia that are perfect for photography! The soft white sand contrasting with the turquoise waters makes for some perfect photos. Djerba Island is especially known for it’s beautiful beaches.
Tunisia is home not only to Arabs, but also to Berbers – the local native indigenous people that were here long before Arabs came along. Berber people are native to North Africa, are also known as Amazigh and have their own language.
If your Tunisia travel itinerary allows, head down to the Berber speaking town of Matmata in southern Tunisia. Here you’ll find Berbers who still live in traditional underground houses and are happy to entertain tourists.
During my time in Tunisia I found the local people to be very welcoming, especially the women as they could see I was travelling alone. You’ll find many very open minded Tunisians who seem very Westernised, and you’ll also find more traditional Maghrebi people. You’ll see some females wearing a headscarf and some not (mostly the younger generation) – although this is mainly in the big cities. As you venture further away fro the cities people will generally be a lot more conservative.
Photography Don’ts of Tunisia
- Aerial photography (drones) are not allowed in Tunisia.
- Don’t take photographs of Embassies, Government buildings and military units.
- Don’t take photos of strangers. Ask for permission if you would like a photo of someone.
What to wear in Tunisia
Obviously Tunisia is a Muslim county and women especially should dress conservatively. This means covering your arms and legs and wearing loose fitting clothes. I even recommend you to bring a scarf to cover yourself if necessary. On my first visit to Tunis Medina I wasn’t wearing a headscarf – I just kept it in my bag. But I felt so many males looking at me that I just put it on to stop people looking at me. Whilst it is completely not necessary to wear a headscarf in Tunisia, I often feel more comfortable in Muslim countries wearing a scarf as it makes me stand out less and is a sign of respect.
When is the best time to visit Tunisia?
Tunisia is in Africa but it has a Mediterranean climate similar to southern Italy and Spain and so has 4 seasons. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Tunisia as the weather isn’t too hot and the streets aren’t too crowded. It may be a little bit cold first thing in the morning or during the evening though so bring a jacker. During the summer months temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Perfect beach weather, but if you’ve come to Tunisia specifically for photography and will be staying mostly in the cities it might be a little bit too hot. During winter temperatures might drop as low as zero degrees.
How to get to Tunisia
Since the terrorist attacks of 2015 there have been significantly less tourists coming to Tunisia, therefore less flights operating to and from Tunisia. Tunis Air flies to many places in Europe, although flights aren’t always daily. Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Air France and Lufthansa amongst other airlines also fly to Tunis Carthage (TUN) Airport.
Tunis Airport is very close to the city of Tunis and therefore a taxi to your accommodation is the most economical and convenient option. Taxi men will try to approach you as you exit the airport – just ignore these men as they are illegally trying to charge you 5 or 6 times the fare! Instead, go left as you exit the airport, cross the street and get in a taxi there. These taxis should charge you 4 dinar (just over £1!) and not the 20-25 dinar like the other taxi men will try to! As long as the driver has the taxi metre running you won’t get ripped off as taxis here in Tunis are very cheap.
Is Tunisia safe?
Despite the recent terrorist attacks in Sousse, the touristic areas of Tunisia remains fairly safe. Apart from the odd male approaching me on the street and wanting to talk to me I didn’t feel intimidated or unsafe when I was here. As with any foreign country though, exercise common sense. Sadly these days you won’t see many tourists in Tunisia as the terror attacks really crippled the country, but tourist numbers are slowly starting to increase. I was surprised at how few visitors there were at major tourist attractions such as Carthage – they were very very quiet. Don’t think however that the lack of tourists mean Tunisia is unsafe.
I had been warned by locals never to walk the streets of Tunis Medina after dark. After dark the narrow alleyways in the Medina are deserted, except for opportunists. Petty crime (bag/phone snatching etc) becomes very common after dark in the Medina. Often 2 or 3 guys will be working together and so if something happens to you, even if you chase them it will be impossible to catch them. They know these labyrinth of alleyways like the back of their hand and will always out run you, so don’t run the risk and don’t put yourself in that position. You never know if they are carrying a knife or something. The worst thing you would want is to get injured.
Female Solo Travel in Tunisia
Tunisia is relatively safe for female solo travellers providing you dress respectfully and don’t walk on the street alone after dark. Whilst in many parts of the world it is ok to walk on the street by yourself in the evening as a woman, in Tunisia and many Muslim countries a woman seen walking alone at night can be deemed a prostitute/easy pickings. I know this sounds hard to believe to many people who aren’t used to this kind of culture, but this is how things are here. Don’t risk something happening and don’t put yourself in a situation that could easily be avoided. If you need to go somewhere after dark always get a taxi. Taxis are very cheap in Tunisia so there is not excuse. Safety first.
For more tips about travelling around Arabic countries as a solo female traveller check out my article Travelling Solo Around Arabic Countries As A Western Woman.
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