Wandering the streets of Tunis is a full-sensory experience
The clock tower of Habib Bourguiba is a fine place to start your tour. A rather minimalistic metal structure surrounded by a fountain and roundabout and named after the country’s first president who oversaw its launch into independence from colonial France, Habib Bourguiba is essentially at the heart of everything. It’s the main taxi stop, and more or less the de facto meeting point for locals.
A walk along the promenade that runs from the clock into the depths of the city serves as a pleasant introduction -- busy restaurant terraces and shops, families at play, palm trees lining the avenues, and the looming presence of an impressive cathedral. But it’s at the end of this stretch that you’ll come upon perhaps the most important site in the entire city: the Medina.
The markets of the Medina -- an old, walled in, carless district -- extend across kilometer after kilometer of passageways lined with street vendors selling goods that dazzle the eye, and might just fit nicely in your suitcase: tea sets, hookahs, coffee, rugs, and bolts of patterned cloth, leather-goods, shiny touristy things, fruit and meat, spices, and so on. Give yourself a good couple of hours to wander its wares, because you will get wonderfully lost.
The air is richly-scented with spices, old men poised on little stools sip coffee and smoke hookah, venders haggle relentlessly, and with any luck your lost wanderings will lead you into the courtyard of the stunning and historic Zaytuna Mosque, which is nothing short of a masterpiece of Islamic design.
Seek out a café called Panorama Medina. Its prominent sign is placed over a set of nondescript doors, and after entering these if you are put off by the decidedly unbusinesslike atmosphere of the stairway (it feels rather like you’re climbing into someone’s apartment), don’t lose heart. You will be rewarded at the top by a richly mosaiced café offering a stunning 360-degree view of the city.