Exploring Sidi Bou Said: Tunis' Picturesque Seaside Suburb
Impossibly picturesque, Sidi Bou Said is Tunis' bohemian seaside suburb, full of photo-perfect whitewashed buildings with wrought-iron window dressings and sky-blue wooden doors. One of the most popular things to do here for tourists is simply kick back with a cappuccino and enjoy watching the world stroll by. You can also wander amid the quiet back streets (cars are banned) and take a cue from the relaxed ambiance. With its credentials as a hip hangout for those of an artistic nature, this is also one of Tunisia's top spots to pick up the ceramic work for which the country is famed.
It was here in around 1207 that the Sufi teacher Abu Said el Baji established his Sufi order and settled, attracting many admirers and adherents to his preaching. When members of the Husainid dynasty took up residence here in the 18th century, they brought with them many leading musicians and writers of the day. This laid the foundations for Sidi Bou Said's reputation as an artists' village. Thereafter, it soon developed into an internationally known haunt of artists. Thanks to the efforts of the French artist and musicologist Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger, author of a six-volume encyclopedia on Arab music, the village was given statutory protection in 1915 to ensure that it would be preserved in its original state.
Sightseeing in Sidi Bou Said is more about the atmosphere than a list of monuments and attractions, but don't miss a coffee or tea at Café des Nattes (upper end of the main square), where time has done little to change the exterior or interior of this typical Moorish coffeehouse. If you're looking for the best views, stroll up to the Mausoleum of Abu Said el Baji (below the lighthouse) from where there are incomparable views of the Gulf of Tunis, Carthage, La Goulette, and Tunis itself.
Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra
This lovingly restored old residence was once home to French painter and musicologist Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger, who produced a multi-volume work on Arab music's history. The house now hosts the Center for Arab and Mediterranean Music, with a fine display of instruments in its salons. Even if you're not particularly interested in musical instruments, the house is worth visiting for its well-preserved traditional interior decoration and its lovely gardens with views over the sea.
Address: Rue du 2 Mars
Museum Dar el-Annabi
This is a great chance for a peek inside a traditional-style Sidi Bou Said house. The family that live here have opened up some of the rooms, so that visitors can view the typical design and layout of local houses. Some rooms contain rather dusty dioramas depicting local life, but the true highlight here is simply viewing the interiors with their colorful ceramic tile and stained glass details. After a visit, tea is usually offered in the courtyard by the family; a great chance to chat to Sidi Bou Said locals.
Address: Rue Habib Thameur