Tunis itself has all the charm you need for a short break, but if you’re staying longer, the city makes a great base for exploring the north and central parts of the country. From vast ancient Roman cities and crumbling Berber hilltop towns to hot springs, wild beaches and rolling countryside dotted with vineyards and olive groves, a warm welcome awaits whichever route you decide to take.
Whether you’re a culture vulture, beach bum, nature lover or shopaholic, you can be sure of a great day out just a short journey from Tunisia's capital.
Best day trip for history and culture: Dougga and Testour
An easy two-hour drive west of Tunis, the verdant countryside of the Testour region makes for a picture-perfect road trip. Unesco awarded World Heritage status to the sprawling Roman town of Dougga, and it’s not hard to see why: a morning wandering through the best preserved Roman site in North Africa will leave you pondering why it’s so obscure compared to the Forum in Rome or the Greek Acropolis. Dougga, an important town long before the Romans developed it, has archaeological artefacts that date back to 139 BC, but it is the remarkably intact Roman Temple of Jupiter and intricate mosaic floors that will leave you open-jawed.
Unlike Roman sites on the other side of the Mediterranean, you can explore Dougga close up and often alone, providing a prime opportunity to meander through the old streets and imagine how life used to be. The entry fee is surprisingly minimal at 7DT.
Once you're done exploring, head 30 minutes east of Dougga to the charming town of Testour, with a stop at Verger de Montagnes to refuel after the morning’s adventure. This Tunisian-style farmstay offers sumptuous lunches on the vine-covered veranda using homegrown produce and homemade cheeses, as well as spaces to spend the night if you can’t pry yourself away. Call in advance to book in.
Walk off the feast in the unusual Andalusian-inspired Testour, which has beautiful architecture and, unlike most towns in Tunisia, a Spanish-style main square. The city’s Great Mosque is thought to be the only one with two Stars of David in the minaret’s design, paying homage to the Jewish community that was also forced to flee from Spain and helped their neighbours build this mosque. Unusually for a mosque, the minaret also features a clock that is in reverse and goes backwards, which according to local legend shows the refugees’ desire to turn back time.
Best day trip for getting away from it all: Korbous and Foret de Meroua
Korbous lies across the sea from Tunis on the Cap Bon peninsula, and it's just a short journey to its famous hot springs. But this isn’t the only reason to pack your swimmers and head southeast. The rolling hills make for a dramatic entrance to the region with stunning endless sea views. Active travellers should park up a few miles out and hike the paths down into the village. There are a few hot springs in the main town, but ignore these and instead follow the stream of people along the coast road to the ones that tumble down the rocks into the sea, a much cooler and more picturesque option. Signage is limited, but friendly locals will point you in the right direction. After a dip in the springs, head to Crique de Robinson, a simple, rustic eatery serving good grub on its roped-off terrace, to take in the deep blues of the sea in a near private beachfront setting. Be sure to book in advance.
After lunch, continue driving to the Foret de Meroua and rest on a deserted wild beach where grass blows through seemingly never-ending sand dunes that stretch on uninterrupted for miles. The openness means it can be windy here and the sea rougher, but the joy of having such a stretch of beach to yourself is worth it. If not in a 4x4, it’s best to leave the car parked further away from the beach, before the tracks turn to sand. Bring a picnic to accompany the sunset. For the more adventurous, pop up a tent and enjoy a night of wild camping to the sound of the ocean.
Best day trip for beaches: Ghar El Milh and the Raf Raf peninsula
Beloved by locals, the hilly stretch of coastline from Ghar El Milh to Cap Angela ranges from rugged cliffs to calm turquoise lagoons. Dotted with lovely restaurants, old forts and plenty of walking trails, this northeastern point just over an hour from Tunis makes for an easy day trip from the city. The old Barbary pirates' base of little-visited Ghar El Milh retains its local authenticity despite being home to attractions that should draw more tourists, such as old Ottoman fortresses and the picturesque ancient port. The town may have waved off the pirates, but life at sea is still a huge part of everyday life here. Fishing is still one of the main sources of income, which means plenty of excellent seafood restaurants are strung along the coast at the water’s edge. A few miles north, the long beaches of Sidi Ali El Mekki and Cap Farina are home to stretches of white sand and crystal-clear shallow Mediterranean waters.
Walking trails from this area lead up past a delightful old whitewashed temple and around the cliff edges of Raf Raf. The hikes in this area offer verdant scenery and dramatic cliffs, particularly outside of the peak summer season, when the weather is cooler and the beaches much quieter. In summer, boat tours are offered to Cani Island with Bichi Bizerte for snorkelling in the intense blue waters of the grottoes. Nearby Bizerte has plenty of character, with crumbling French-style villas and a pretty old port, and is always worth a wander. Walks from the town also offer views of the old shipwreck just off the coast. From Bizerte, it is just a 30-minute drive to Cap Angela, where trails lead out to the northernmost edge of Africa.
Best day trip for avoiding the crowds: Zaghouan, Zriba and Uthina
Pack up a picnic and head to the crumbling hilltop Berber town of Zriba for lunch in the midst of an abandoned town. There a number of different routes to Zriba from Tunis, but the back lanes through Zaghouan are sumptuous in spring, when a blanket of yellow wildflowers spreads between the olive groves to the backdrop of Jebel Zaghouan, the highest peak in the area. The town of Zaghouan itself, known by the Romans as the Temple of Water, is home to the start of the ancient aqueduct network built by Hadrian in the 2nd century. Some of this impressive engineering still remains and can be easily visited. For experienced hikers and mountaineers, there are a number of difficult climbs and walks around the mountains of Zaghouan, rewarding your efforts with incredible views. Serious climbers will find a number of lines available. For those less experienced, a number of hiking and adventure clubs can help show you the way.
Abandoned by residents in the 1960s, the hilltop town of Zriba is serenely beautiful. The stone used for the buildings merges the village seamlessly into its rocky mountainous surroundings. Although in various states of disrepair, it is still possible to get a sense of how life was here and envisage the town in its former glory. A wander through the ruins and the surrounding countryside makes for a great morning out: find a good spot, set your picnic on a fouta (traditional Tunisian blanket) and enjoy views for miles. On the way back to Tunis, make a detour to Uthina, an impressive Roman site with a wonderfully restored amphitheatre where you can explore the symmetrical and slightly eerie underground chambers in solitude.
Best day trip for shopping: Nabeul, Hammamet and Takrouna
The coastal region of Nabeul has much to offer shopaholics and is easily reached by public transport or car. Nabeul's bustling Friday market is famous for brightly painted Tunisian pottery at great prices. After bartering for ceramics, head south along the coast to the old medina in Hammamet. It’s possible to follow the walls of the old fortress to take in views of the bay before getting lost in the pale blue and white streets of the old town. The residential area is calm and a joy to walk around, out of view of keen market vendors. For art lovers, there are a number of tiny galleries to be found, tucked away in small medina houses where generations of families have put brush to canvas.
For a luxurious afternoon of relaxation, head for a pamper at La Badira or hang with trendy locals on the beach at the Sindbad. For those keener on culture (or more shopping), a taxi can take you up the winding lanes to nearby Takrouna. This hilltop Berber village is home to a few remaining families whose main source of income is the brightly woven rugs they sell. These charming women will happily share some homemade bread and tea whilst telling stories of life in the village. At the top of the hill lie the mausoleum and the arty Le Rocher Bleu cafe, a perfect spot to cool down with a fresh citronade and take in the endless panoramic views.
Make it happen
Whilst trains, buses and louages (shared taxis) run to these towns, it's best to hire a car or join a guided tour for the majority of these journeys. Boats with captains are available for private hire for up to seven people from Sidi Bou Saïd Harbour to Korbous for 1000DT per day.