Secrets of the Inspired Traveler: Tunis

Tunisia should be on the inspired traveler list for anyone who wants a flair for the beautiful and exotic, but doesn’t want to suffer much in the form of creature comforts or fly too far beyond their typical European vacation.

The country’s capital, Tunis, a delightful little city. It’s airport is a 15 minute drive to the city center, which is a surprisingly nice perk, and easily navigable, and the city itself is small enough to be end-to-end walkable, and all its major points of interest are within a pleasant 30-minute walk or 10-minute taxi of one another. There include:

1) One of the most intact true Medinas you will find in an Arabic capital. While it certainly has its tourist elements, the Medina of Tunis has an undeniably local flavor. You can wander its warren of shops for hours, getting lost, in one of the most pleasant ways to spend a morning.

2) Tunisians love their coffee. The long boulevards have excellent street cafes every few feet, where you can get a lovely coffee in the sun. It reminds me of Paris in the 1990s, with a middle eastern flair.

3) Belvedere Park, with its lovely walkways and zoo, and the Marina, both make for lovely afternoon strolls

4) The city is dotted with beautiful mosques, many of which date to different historical eras and have amazing architecture

5) The Bardo Museum, a national treasure, has a collection which rivals that of some of the world’s best known museums, without the crowds and the hype.

Tunis is also very close to a number of wonderful historical sites that span a diverse mix of cultures, some of which can be accessed by the city taxi and some of which make for easy day trips, because the country is small enough that nothing is much further than a few hours driving.

1) The ancient city of Carthage, center of both Punic civilization and later the second city of the Roman empire, has one of the largest archaeological parks in the world. Fans of history can walk for ours among the ruins and, unlike many highly-manufactured experiences like the Parthenon where you feel like you can only go on one very narrow observational walkway, you can really dig in and poke around Carthage. In fact, I had a really fun time walking among the ruins of the Antonian baths, with no one around me, just taking in the fullness of the experience.

2) For day trips, if one likes ancient history, other great sites such as Thugga, El Jem, and Utica all beckon. If one is more drawn to Arabic history, art, and architecture, Kairouan and Sousse are both amazing visits.

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