Most travellers looking for a long weekend trip from the UK will automatically head to Europe. With Paris, Stockholm, Tallinn or Budapest just a short flight away, it’s no wonder European city breaks have become the default choice for people looking to get away from the rat race for a few days. But cities, while beautiful and fascinating, can also be crowded, expensive, and exhausting. Maybe you don’t want that. Maybe you just want to chill out in the sunshine for a couple of days. And if that’s the case, there’s a solution you might not have considered for your weekend away: Tunisia.
Note: I travelled to Tunisia for a 3-night trip as a guest of the Tunisian National Tourist Office. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I don’t accept freebies or payment in exchange for positive reviews. All prices are correct at the time of writing.
Why You Should Spend A Weekend In Tunisia
Tunisia?! Isn’t that a bit far? Well actually, no. Direct flights from London to Tunis take a little under three hours. Which is roughly the same as flying to Budapest (2.5 hours), Warsaw (3 hours), Tallin (3 hours), Riga (2.5 hours) or Stockholm (2.5 hours).
Admittedly flying to Tunisia is a fair bit more expensive than flying within Europe, but once you get there it’s pretty cheap. You can book a double room in an all-inclusive 4-star resort in Hammamet with a pool, beach and spa for three nights, off peak, for under £300 – which is ridiculous when you consider that also includes all your meals and drinks!
The weather is also much more reliably good than any European capital city. The climate in the north is typically Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot, sunny summers. We went in late September and had three full days of glorious sunshine with temperatures in the high 20s – perfect for chilling out by the pool but also not too hot for sightseeing.
And of course because it’s a little further afield and off-the-beaten path, Tunisia is much less crowded than Paris or Rome. Which as someone who hates crowds and is too impatient for long queues, sounds ideal to me!
Key Facts About Tunisia
You may not know much about Tunisia, or have considered it as a destination for your next trip. So here are some Tunisia facts:
- Location: North Africa
- Capital: Tunis
- Population: 12 million
- Currency: Tunisian Dinar. £1 is about 3 TND
- Time Zone: Tunisia is on the same time zone as British Summer Time. That means that if you travel in summer time there’s no need to reset your watch. In the winter Tunisia is 1 hour ahead.
- Religion: The official religion is Islam. The vast majority of people are Muslim, with small Christian and Jewish communities.
- Languages: Arabic and French. If you can remember some French from school, that’ll go a long way. In tourist areas many people also speak English.
- Top Attractions: Beach activities, water sports, spas, archaeological sites and museums, pretty towns, visiting the desert, desert sports and activities
How To Spend A Weekend In Tunisia
I travelled to Tunisia for a three-night trip. We left on a Monday evening and returned on Thursday morning, but you can do the exact same itinerary over a weekend, leaving on Friday afternoon and returning Monday morning. Of course, if you have a bit more time you can easily stay an extra day or two and turn this into a long weekend instead.
Here’s our Tunisia itinerary.
A Weekend In Tunisia Day One (Friday)
1/ Fly to Tunis
Flights to Tunis from London Heathrow depart at 17.55 on Friday, take just under three hours, and cost around £250-300 return (at the time of writing; I checked prices for October and May).
That means that if you work in or near London you can leave work a little early, and be relaxing with a cocktail at your beachfront hotel by the end of the day.
For more flight options, head over to Skyscanner.
2/ Travel to Hammamet
From Tunis Airport, get a taxi or a hotel shuttle to Hammamet. Hammamet is a clean, modern beachfront city which has become really popular with tourists, not least because of its beautiful white sandy beaches and the warm waters of the Mediterranean. There are around 150 hotels in Hammamet catering for all tastes and budgets, many of which have private beaches, pools, spas, and offer all-inclusive packages at really reasonable rates.
Your hotel may well offer a shuttle pick-up, but if not, a taxi from Tunis to Hammamet takes 70 minutes and costs about £40.
The other option might be to rent a car – the roads in the tourist areas are good and well-marked, though car rental is quite expensive and Tunisian driving is not for the faint-hearted so you’ll need to be a confident driver!
3/ Where To Stay In Hammamet
We stayed at the Holiday Village Manar, which is a 4-star hotel with four pools, a spa, gym and private beach that gets an impressive 8.4 rating on Hotels.com. It costs about £200 a night for a triple room with private pool, all-inclusive, but if you don’t want to pay that much there are certainly cheaper options.
The hotel is family friendly, with some adjoining rooms, and loads to entertain the kids including a separate pool with water slides, an aerial adventure climbing course, and water sports. For the adults there are four bars including a beach bar and pool bar, and a spa. All the rooms have balconies, and some of the rooms on the ground floor even have their own swimming pool!
If this hotel doesn’t suit you, or isn’t available, here are some other hotels in Hammamet.
A Weekend In Tunisia Day Two (Saturday)
Saturday is for relaxing in your lovely beachfront holiday resort. Have a lie-in, enjoy the HUGE breakfast buffet, relax on the beach or by the pool… there are plenty of options!
However if you’re like me, and get bored of sitting around after about 5 minutes, here some of the sights and activities that we explored during our trip to Tunisia.
4/ Visit Nabeul
Hop in a taxi and head to Nabeul, just a 15 minute drive along the coast from Hammamet. Nabeul is a bustling market town known for being Tunisia’s first seaside resort. It’s home to the small Roman archaeological site of Neapolis, an archaeological museum featuring some stunning Roman mosaics, and several different souks, or markets.
Nabeul is mainly famous for two things: it’s said to be the birthplace of harissa, and if you like this fiery North African spice paste you’ll certainly enjoy the stuff they sell here. It’s also celebrated for its pottery and there are several artisan pottery manufacturers, hand-crafting beautifully painted ceramic dishes in every size and shape. If you fancy a stunning addition to your home, make sure you save some space in your luggage!
We headed to the Société L’Artisan, an enormous two-storey workshop and showroom bursting at the seams with colourful dishes, wall tiles, bowls, jugs and plates. The potter, Sammy, told me he’d been working there for 30 years, and that every single thing you can see in the shop was handmade by him and his colleagues. Sammy said he can make up to 200 objects a day, and he never gets bored because every day he moves on to something different. He can make anything, so if you want something bespoke, just ask!
5/ Nabeul Market
Leaving the workshop, head down the road for a wander through the souks. Nabeul has a bustling market selling everything from clothes and handcrafted leather bags and shoes to aromatic spices, sticky chunks of nutty nougat, pottery and silver jewellery. As we wandered through, people said hello, and a man offered me a handful of mint tea leaves to smell. But the tone there is friendly and not aggressive – a simple no thank you and they leave you alone.
There are some more unusual items for sale too, including live tortoises and framed scorpions which I don’t recommend you buy. These guys were selling snails – which they eat just as the French do – and they had a constant job trying to keep them all from escaping.
Nabeul market has separate indoor areas for meat, fish and vegetables. In the fish market everyone was incredibly welcoming. One man told me it cost 10 dinar (about £3) to take a photo and I immediately backed away, shocked at the price. But he laughed and explained that he was only joking, before encouraging me to take as many photos as I wanted. No charge, obviously.
On Fridays Nabeul hosts a weekly Camel Market, where traders come for miles to barter not just camels, but other livestock and goods. It’s a riot of colour, sounds and smells that would be well worth a look if you can manage to come out a day earlier.
6/ Hammamet Kasbah and Medina
Once you’ve seen enough of Nabeul, take a taxi back to Hammamet and check out the Old Town.
Passing though a gateway in the the town’s original 15th century walls, you come to Hammamet’s medina, and in one corner, the kasbah (fort), built in 893 to defend the Tunisian coastline. It was later extended in the 15th century and in the 19th century was used as military barracks.
Paying the princely sum of just 3 dinar – about 80p – gets you access to a quiet and peaceful courtyard with steps leading up to the ramparts. From here you can either visit the cafe for a tea or an ice cream away from the bustle of the streets, or wander along the walkway to enjoy the views out to sea and across the town. After a quick visit inside, take a wander through the medina, admire the individually-designed studded doors, and pick up some souvenirs before heading for lunch.
7/ Where to have lunch in Hammamet
We ate at Chez Achour, a charming restaurant about 8 minutes walk from the medina, where tables covered with crisp white cloths fill a walled terrace dripping with bougainvillea.
After all our sightseeing we were pretty hungry, so the typical Tunisian welcome snack of baskets of crusty bread accompanied by fresh tomato and cucumber salad and local harissa with olive oil went down a treat. Afterwards I ate a Tunisian speciality called a brik – a crisp triangular pastry parcel filled with lightly-cooked egg and prawns – and then fresh grilled fish (making the most of being by the sea) accompanied by Tunisian wine.
And when lunch was done, it was time to head back to the hotel to relax.
8/ Enjoy the Spa
You’ve probably had a busy week, and after a morning’s sightseeing now’s the time to make the most of your beachfront hotel. Have a swim in the pool or the sea, chill out on the beach, or if your hotel has a spa, treat yourself to a massage.
Our hotel offered a range of treatments from mud wraps and massages to thalassotherapy (which uses the benefits of warm seawater to treat muscle and joint aches and aid relaxation). I enjoyed a wrap, a salt scrub, and a full-body massage, which left me feeling very relaxed indeed.
And after the sun’s gone down, enjoy dinner in your hotel washed down with a well-deserved cocktail. You won’t believe you’ve seen and done so much in just one day of your weekend in Tunisia.
A Weekend In Tunisia Day Three (Sunday)
It’d be easy enough to stay in your lovely resort another day – but you’ve come all the way to Tunisia for the weekend, and there’s loads more to see! So on Day Three it’s time to check out of your Hammamet hotel and hop in a taxi to Sidi Bou Said.
9/ Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is an Instagrammer’s dream: a picture-perfect seaside town perched on a hillside just north of Tunis. With its bright white houses with vivid blue doors and windows, adorned with clusters of pink and purple flowers, this charming town is a must-visit on any trip to Tunisia.
As you might expect, the main streets are full of tourists and tourist shops selling souvenirs, but step away down a side street and you’ll soon have the place all to yourself. Go first thing in the morning before it gets too hot and crowded, enjoy a stroll through the picturesque streets, or step into one of the many art galleries to admire the work of local artists attracted to the town by its colourful streets and laid-back vibe.
10/ Ennejma Ezzahra Museum
Absolutely not to be missed in Sidi Bou Said is this stunning former home of Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, a French painter and musicologist who built it over 10 years in the early part of the 20th century. Perched on a clifftop amidst peaceful gardens, with magnificent views over the Gulf of Tunis, this gleaming white-and-blue mansion may look fairly plain from the outside… but don’t be fooled.
Inside, the decor is a masterpiece of Arab-Islamic architecture, with every surface covered with exquisite carvings. At one end of the house, red-draped skylights lend a warm glow to the rooms below – which contain their original early 1900s furnishings.
Upstairs, the Baron’s painting studio is filled with his artworks, and there’s a private hammam and an exhibition of historic musical instruments.
Having never heard of Baron d’Erlanger or his house, I really wasn’t expecting much from this place, but I absolutely loved it. The decor and the light inside are fantastic, and the whole complex has a wonderful sense of airy peace away from the crowds.
An hour should be enough time to enjoy the house and its views, before heading for lunch.
11/ Tunis Medina and Lunch
Grab another taxi and drive the 20 minute back to Tunis. Ask the driver to drop you by the City Hall so you can take a quick look, and then turn 180 degrees and dive into the medina.
Tunis Medina was founded in the 7th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a colourful and chaotic maze of narrow streets, filled with houses, shops, restaurants, palaces, mosques and monuments. It’d be all too easy to spend a day getting lost in here, but sadly on this visit you won’t have time to do that. Have a quick wander down a few streets to get a feel for the place, and then it’s time for lunch.
Tucked away down one of the many alleyways is Dar Belhadj, another of Tunisia’s many hidden jewels. Its entirely uninspiring entrance gives no clue to the gorgeous interior: where a simple staircase takes you up to a fabulous high-ceilinged room walled with glossy painted tiles in shades of orange, pink and yellow.
We ate enormous plates of mixed Tunisian mezze: crispy pastry parcels filled with tuna, soft egg frittata and fresh cucumber and tomato salad, followed by a choice of fish, lamb, or seafood couscous and a traditional Tunisian custard dessert topped with ground pistachios. Sadly they don’t serve alcohol here, but there’ll be more opportunities for drinking later!
12/ The Bardo Museum
After lunch, stroll back through the medina to the main road, and then grab a taxi (about 10 minutes) to Tunisia’s most famous museum, the Bardo.
The National Bardo Museum is considered to be the second most important museum in Africa (after the Egyptian museum in Cairo). It’s home to the very best artefacts from Tunisia’s history, with a huge collection of over 50,000 objects including statues, coins, jewellery, manuscripts and furniture.
These are impressive enough, but what the Bardo is really famous for is its huge collection of stunning mosaics from Carthage and several North African Roman sites. As you wander through the first floor, there’s room upon room of these intricate designs, all astoundingly well-preserved and carefully brought here and mounted so you and I can admire them.
From tales from Roman mythology – like the coronation of the goddess Venus or the god Dionysus defeating some pirates…
… to everyday designs like fish, birds and animals.
The Bardo museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm in summer and 9.30 to 4.30 in winter. Entry to the Bardo costs 13 DNR (about £3.70).
Finally, after a busy but brilliant day, hop in another taxi and head to your hotel. There are dozens of great hotels in Tunis, but we headed out of the city and drove to Carthage.
13/ Where to stay in Carthage
Carthage is just a 20-minute drive from Tunis, right on the coast. There are three reasons to stay here rather than in the capital itself:
- It’s by the sea, so you get beaches and sea air away from the crowded city.
- It’s very close to the airport if you have an early flight (as we did).
- If you do have time before your flight, it’s home to one of Tunisia’s most famous ancient sites.
There are loads of hotels in Carthage but we had to be up early for our flight the next morning, so we stayed quite near the airport at the Ramada Plaza. A double room here costs about £80 a night including breakfast – but this ain’t no ordinary airport hotel. The Ramada not only has super comfy rooms with balconies (I LOVED the bed here!), but also an enormous pool with sun loungers so you can have one last dip before you fly home.
Head through a gate at the back of the property, and a boardwalk leads through the trees and down to the beach, where there’s even a pool bar.
Some areas of the hotel were a little bit run down, but the rooms were very smart and clean, and a stroll on the beach and a little paddle in the warm waters of the Gulf of Tunis were a lovely way to end the day.
A Weekend In Tunisia Day Four (Monday)
Our three-day trip ended on a Thursday, so our flight was at 7.45 am. That meant a 5.30 am departure time and back in London by 11 am.
But if you’re doing this as a long weekend, then the Monday morning flight is at 13.25 – allowing you plenty of time to see the famous ruins of Carthage before you fly home.
14/ The Ruins of Ancient Carthage
Carthage was founded by a Mediterranean people called the Phoenicians about 3000 years ago and was the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, which spread across the coast of Northwest Africa and parts of what are now Spain and Portugal. After several wars the city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. Later they rebuilt it and Carthage became the third largest city in the Roman Empire, before eventually being destroyed by the Arabs in 692 AD.
Today you can still see the remains of the Roman Baths, a cemetery, the residential district, and a religious sanctuary. There’s also a museum containing sculptures, mosaics, and artefacts found during the excavations.
After a couple of hours exploring Carthage, it’ll be time to hop in a taxi and head the 15 minutes back to the airport.
Has this itinerary for a weekend in Tunisia whetted your appetite? Click here to check out flights to Tunisia!
And now for some FAQs…
Is It Safe To Visit Tunisia?
Political tensions and two terrorist attacks in 2015 have badly damaged Tunisia’s tourist industry. The FCO warns that ‘terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia’ and advises people to be vigilant, especially in tourist areas.
I found the parts of the country we visited to be very safe and welcoming. I live in London, where we have also had terror attacks, so going to Tunisia is not really any more dangerous than staying at home. My view is that life has its risks – even walking around in the UK every day I risk being hit by a bus or involved in a car accident. You can stay at home and never take any risks, or you can get out there and live every day to the fullest. And that’s what I choose to do.
Is Tunisia safe for gay or lesbian couples?
Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia. However LGBT rights are a hot political topic and there are several advocacy groups fighting for decriminalisation. As with visiting any traditional Muslim country, discretion is advised, but as long as you don’t engage in public displays of affection you shouldn’t encounter any problems, especially not in the tourist areas.
Top Tips For Your Weekend In Tunisia
- The Tunisian Dinar is a closed currency. That means it’s technically illegal to bring it into or out of the country, though you can buy dinar in the airport (but you will get a terrible rate). There are lots of cashpoints at Tunis airport, so the easiest way to get money is just to withdraw some when you arrive. However, you need to make sure you spend it or change it back before you go through security, as dinar are not accepted once you are airside (i.e. you have ‘left’ Tunisia). I didn’t realise this and now have £50 of dinar sitting in a drawer. Guess I’ll just have to go back someday!
- British passport holders do not need a visa to enter Tunisia. You do, however, need 6 months validity left on your passport.
- Make sure you allow plenty of time when heading back to Tunis airport – security is slow there!
- Tunisia is a Muslim country so it’s a good idea to dress modestly. In touristy areas bare knees and shoulders are fine though.
- If you visit during Ramadan be prepared to find lots of businesses closed during the day.
- Power sockets take the 2-pin plugs, the same as in most of continental Europe.
And that’s it! Have you been to Tunisia? Do you have any other recommendations for ways to spend a weekend there? Please comment below!