With its white buildings, blue doors, wrought-iron windows, cobbled alleys and gardens overflowing with bougainvillea and other colorful flowers, and an ever pleasant scent of jasmine Sidi Bou Said is easily the prettiest, most picturesque seaside town in Tunisia. This bohemian city can be easily visited on day trips from Tunis – it’s just 18 km away – and though that’s enough to take in the peaceful atmosphere, you will really want to spend a night or two there.
If you are curious to find out more about the blue and white village of Tunisia and are looking for more information that will help you plan your visit, continue reading.
A Quick History Of Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Sidi Bou Said was founded in 1207, when the Sufi teacher Abu Said el Baji settled in the area, soon followed by people who followed his preaching. He is believed to have protected Tunis from attacks coming from the sea, and his tomb – partially destroyed by a fire in 2012 – is still a place for pilgrimage.
The village became known as an artist’s hub in the 18th century, when musicians and writers moved there to follow the Husainid dynasty, which decided to establish itself there.
Fast forward to the 19th and 20th century, and writers and artists such as Flaubert, Simone de Beauvoir and Matisse all visited Sidi Bou Said at some point. Yet the most prominent artist expression was that of Klee, Macke and Moilliet, who in April 1914 made the “Journey to Tunis,” a trip that lasted just two weeks but resulted in an incredible amount of drawings, paintings, sketchbooks and watercolors, an incredible expression of early Modernism.
In 1915, in an effort to be preserved, Sidi Bou Said was given statutory protection (it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site together with the nearby Carthage archeological site) thanks to the pressure of French artist Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, who had been living there since 1907. He made sure that the white and blue pattern that characterizes the village was given proper recognition, too.
To date, the village is still an artists’ favorite, with many galleries and workshops scattered around town.
Sidi Bou Said Today
Now a popular weekend destination for wealthy Tunisians, artists and local families, Sidi Bou Said sits on the Bay of Tunis, right on the shores of the Mediterranean. People go there to enjoy the beach, the shisha cafes, the light breeze, and the peaceful atmosphere that is a much needed break from the chaos of the capital.
Once it was nothing more than a day trip for tourists in the many resorts on the coast, or a shore excursions for cruises, but in recent time this small town became better known and it started being featured more and more in tourists’ itineraries.
What To See And Do In Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Chase all the doors in town
This is inevitable, as it is such an important part of what the village is famous for! Make sure to observe the moucharabiehs, or mashrabiya (a typical decorative element in the Islamic world) – wooden latticework screens placed on balconies and windows to protect them and decorated them, so that windows can be left open for the air to circulate.
Visit Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra
Once the residence of Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, inside you will find a nice display of the Baron’s musical instruments and paintings. The building itself is splendid – the interior is in traditional Tunisian style; the gardens incredibly well kept and with marvelous views over the Mediterraean Sea.
And Museum Dar el-Annabi
If you want to visit a traditional local home and get an idea of the layout and interior decoration, head straight to this place. The ceramic tiles and stained class are truly pretty. Owners still live there, and often invite visitors for mint tea after taking them around the house.
Visit an art gallery
There will be many to pick from. The most famous ones are Ghaya Gallery, in Place de la Gare; and the A Gorgi Gallery, in Rue Sidi El Ghemrini. Both have a strong focus on local artists.
Shop for souvenirs
If you are into shopping, you will have a hard time deciding what to buy. If you want something that is truly local, go to Azouz Samouda workshop to look for the wire bird cages – dome-shaped bird cases that are beautifully ornate in the white and blue colors typical of the village. Hint: you don’t need to cage a bird there!
Take in the views
My favorite place for views is Cafe des Delices – it’s located on a series of terraces, nicely decorated, and it is perfect for some proper people watching too.
Another place for incredible panoramas are the Mausoleum of Abu Said el Baji, which is located below the lighthouse: you can see the Gulf of Tunis, Carthage, La Goulette, and even Tunis from there.
Because it faces west, Sidi Bou Said is not really a good place to admire sunset with a drink in hand. What you can do instead is mingle with the locals in one of the many shisha cafés – the best are in the modern part of town.
If you prefer to stay in the center, Cafe De Nattes is a safe bet for a place that is truly charming, with beautifully decorated interiors in Moorish style and a nice atmosphere. They make an excellent strawberry juice (when in season).
Spend a day at the beach
At the bottom of a steep road, you will find a nice beach that is perfect for a day in the sun, and where you can find anything to make your day more comfortable – sun beds, umbrellas, etc – as well as fun. You can enroll in all sorts of water sports, including windsurfing.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Sidi Bou Said
How to get there
Sidi Bou Said can be easily reached by train from Tunis. The Blue Train leaves from Tunis Marine TGM station in the Ville Nouvelle every 15 minutes and also stops in Carthage, where you can visit the splendid ruins. The ride lasts about 35 minutes.
Guided tours of Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is so pretty that you really should make it a point to spend a couple of days there to take in the lovely atmosphere. If you are short on time, however, you will be glad to know that it is fairly easy to explore on day trips from other locations in Tunisia, such as Tunis and Hammamet. Here are a few guided tours that you can book online:
- Tunis: Carthage, Sidi Bou Said & Bardo Museum Private Tour – an excellent guided tour that goes to the best places to visit in the country, including its most famous archeological site.
- From Tunis: Half-Day Tour to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said – similar to the above mentioned tour but it doesn’t go to Bardo Museum and it is significantly more budget friendly.
- From Hammamet: Day Trip to Sidi Bou Saïd and Carthage – similar to the tour above, but it departs from the lovely Hammamet.
Where to stay and eat in Sidi Bou Said
You will find a very good selection of places to stay in Sidi Bou Said, but keep in mind budget options are somewhat scarce. I have selected a few places for you:
- MAISON DEDINE – This fantastic hotel has very spacious rooms decorated in classic style, all of them with fantastic views of the sea. It’s right by the beach and close to the center of town. Check it out here.
- LA MAISON DE L’ARTISTE – This large apartment in the heart of Sidi Bou Said is perfect for a family or group of friends. It’s beautifully decorated and it faces the sea. Check it out here.
When it comes to food, options are a bit more limited. I found Cafe de Nattes serves good food, and you may also want to try the Cafe des Delices – if anything, go there to try its mint tea with pine nuts (the aux pignons). Local classics include salade tunisienne (actually quite similar to niçoise salad); briks – a phillo pastry that looks a bit like a samosa, and is typically stuffed with tuna and egg.
When to visit
Sidi Bou Said is lovely year round. I visited in May and found perfect weather, with clear skies, warm days and a pleasant breeze. The peak season usually goes from April to June and if you plan to visit then make sure to book your accommodation well in advance. Winter is when the city will be less crowded and visiting less expensive.
Safety in Tunisia
I visited Tunisia in May 2016 for the first time, so after the terrorist attacks that in 2015 killed 22 tourists who were visiting the Bardo Museum. Since then, tourist areas in Tunisia are highly monitored and traveling there is perfectly safe. Make sure to check your government travel advisory for more information, but do so with a grain of salt!
Are you planning a trip to Northern Africa? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 13 Reasons To Visit Djerba Tunisia
- A Fantastic Itinerary For Hiking In Morocco
- Everything You Should Know Before Visiting A Berber Village In Morocco
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the National Authority for Tourism of Tunisia as part of the #discovertunisia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.