What You Need To Know
Tunis is both the capital and the largest city of Tunisia. The greater metropolitan area of Tunis, often referred to as Grand Tunis.
Maghrebi, Mediterranean and European: Tunis is at once complex, hybrid and cosmopolitan, yet remains curiously provincial, charmingly stuck in time.
The laid-back capital of Tunis also has two distinct urban-planning personalities. The new city, created by French colonials in the 19th century, is an orderly European grid, with wrought-iron balconies, cafes and patisseries bordering the boulevards. Its main drag, palm-lined ave Habib Bourguiba, is prime territory for promenading, coffee drinking, gossiping and idly watching the passing human traffic.
The 8th-century, quintessentially Arab medina is the city’s historic and symbolic heart. Here you enter a tangled maze of narrow streets with giant keyhole-shaped doors, scattering cats, artisans’ workshops and swarming souqs. All lanes, however twisted, eventually lead to the Great Mosque.
- The Tunisian dinar is the official currency in Tunisia, subdivided into 1,000 milim or millimes.
The dinar was set out as the new currency in Tunisia in 1958, although it did not start to be used until 1960. Until that moment, the official currency had been the franc and the equivalence to the new currency was of 1,000 francs to 1 dinar.
- You cannot export Tunisian currency, and for that reason your bank cannot order any for you to take with you. Most tourists arrive with no currency – it’s easy enough to obtain it.
The exchange rate is fixed by the Government, and you will be offered that rate at the airport and at your hotel.
You may find it better to exchange some currency at these locations rather than use ATMs. Nearly all banks and credit cards place huge surcharges on overseas transactions.
Again, note that it is illegal to take ANY Tunisian currency out of the country. You must change back ALL currency, including coins, when you leave.
You can still make purchases at the airside shops and cafes, since they take a range of non-Tunisian currencies, notably Euro, GBP and USD.
The Tunisian authorities have the right to search your baggage and spot-searches are common.
They really do mean it – NO currency is to be exported. Before leaving the country you should contact your bank and let them know where you’re going to and for how long, otherwise you could have your card(s) blocked due to irregular spending patterns.
However, a lot of banks just ignore this, so make sure you’ve got your bank’s telephone number written down – you may need it!
Situated within the subtropical zone of the Mediterranean, the Tunisian climate is a mixture of that of the Mediterranean and of Africa. In the south, regions have just two seasons – a long, hot summer followed by a brief season of rain – whilst the rest of the country has a spring and autumn (although these seasons are considerably shorter than those experienced in Europe).
Positioned in the north of the country, Tunis and its immediate surroundings has weather conditions broadly similar to the rest of the Mediterranean, with an average of 10 hours of sunshine in June when temperatures can reach 29°C.
The hottest month of the years is August, which has an average temperature of only 83 degrees. The average high temperature for that month is about ten degrees hotter and the average low about ten degrees cooler. This twenty degree drop from day to night makes the evenings feel enjoyably cool. Visitors should know that there are high levels of humidity which do make the temperature feel hotter than it is.
As for colder days, winter begins in December, with an average temperature of fifty five degrees. The coldest month of the year is February, which has an average low temperature just above forty five degrees and an average high temperature just above sixty degrees. This means that it does not get cold enough to snow in Tunis.
It rains moderately throughout the year, with the rainy season beginning at the end of September and continuing through February. There is moderate rain in the spring and virtually no rain throughout the summer.
In Tunisia, there are primarily three languages used: the local Tunisian dialect, Arabic and French.
Tunisians are adept at languages, and schools promote this study. Modern Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic, is the official language of Tunisia. Important documents are written in Modern Arabic, as well as street signs, shops and restaurants.
Tunisian is also closely related to Maltese, which is not considered to be a dialect of Arabic for sociolinguistic reasons.
Arabic is the language that all literate speakers of Tunisia understand and can speak some of. Classical Arabic, used in the Koran, has been considered the tree of which all spoken varieties of Arabic have branched out from, including Modern Standard Arabic. Tunisian children are taught to speak, read and write in classical Arabic. Arabic is one of the languages of commerce in Tunisia.
Health and security
- According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, which is a Federal Advisory Committee advising travelers about the safety risks of various areas in the world as they apply to United States travelers, Tunis is a travel destination with moderate threat of crime.
The most common crime to affect Tunis tourists is petty theft, which is generally in the form of pick pocketing or purse-snatching. Increasingly common is cell-phone theft, with phones being taken directly from the hands of travelers as they are speaking on them. The area of highest risk of these sorts of crimes is the medina, Travelers, especially when spending time in this area, should remain aware of their surroundings and avoid cell phone use when possible.
The other major threat to safety for Tunis visitors is danger on the road. Tunis drivers are notoriously bad drivers who frequently fail to follow even the most basic of road rules. Because of this, it is strongly recommended that Tunis visitors avoid road travel, walking or taking public transportation as much as possible.
Most medical care in Tunisia is adequate for routine cases, although public hospitals are overcrowded, under-equipped with medical facilities, and specialized care or treatments may not be readily available. Hospitals staff usually can converse in Arabic or French. Tunisian health conditions have shown significant improvement in recent years.
Tunisia is a fast-growing alternative dental tourism destination as it meets quality international standards. Tunisia is favored by French speaking nationals as the majority of the dentists in Tunisia had French medical training.
Gastric diseases are common to foreigners not accustomed to the Tunisian local food. Tap water is relatively safe, although in rural areas it is still advised to boil water prior to drinking or drink bottled water. Also, avoid drinking beverages without ice, eating ice creams, sherbets, raw and undercooked fish or meat. Bringing anti-diarrhea medication is advised.
Tunisian pharmacies are easy to find; medications are readily available over the counter.
Expatriates can call ambulance services in Tunisia by dialing 190. It is important to be alert in cases of emergency as response times for ambulance services may be slow and may not be available outside major urban areas.
- Foreigners are advised to protect themselves from the sun and heat to avoid burn and sunstrokes.
- Tunisia is a Muslim country and it pays to respect the local tradition, customs and religion. During the holy month of Ramadan or when near religious areas, you should take a little extra care not to offend.
- If you‘re coming to Tunisia after spending a little time in France, be aware that topless sunbathing is not acceptable in Tunisia and will cause both offence, and unwanted attention.
- Tunisia has a strong medical system for Tunisian citizens, but not for people who aren‘t. If you do require medical attention in Tunisia, be aware that private hospitals and clinics can be very expensive and payment is required immediately.
- Visit the Impossibly cute, Sidi Bou Said is a cliff-top village with petite dimensions that seem to have fallen off an artist’s canvas. Unsurprisingly, artists have feted this little hamlet for decades. The whitewashed alleyways, wrought iron window frames and colourful blue doors are Tunisian village architecture at their finest, while the Mediterranean backdrop is the cherry on top.
- Even non-museum fans can’t fail to be impressed at the haul of beautiful mosaics in The Bardo. This is one of North Africa’s top museums and it houses one of the world’s most important mosaic collections. It’s a showcase of ancient world artistry that isn’t to be missed in Tunis.