Exploring Sidi Bou Said: Tunis' Picturesque Seaside Suburb

Written by Jess Lee
Nov 17, 2020

Sidi Bou Said - Street scene
Sidi Bou Said - Street scene

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 ambience.

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.

Artist wares on sale
Artist wares on sale

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

History of Sidi Bou Said

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.

Interior Courtyard
Interior Courtyard

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.

Sights of Sidi Bou Said

Ornate Doors
Ornate Doors

Sightseeing in Sidi Bou Said is more about strolling the lanes while soaking up 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

Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra
Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra | Suzanne / photo modified

This lovingly restored old residence dates from the early 20th century, when it was built for the French painter and musicologist Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger who is renowned for his multi-volume work tracing the history of Arab music.

The Baron's vast collection of traditional musical instruments are on display inside, as are some of his paintings. The real reason for a visit here though is to view the interior, with its intricate craftwork features that cherry pick the best of traditional Tunisian architecture, and to see the gardens with their magnificent views across the Mediterranean.

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

Art Galleries in Sidi Bou Said

Continuing Sidi Bou Said's artistic heritage, today there are several small art galleries here focused on the artwork of contemporary Tunisian painters.

The two best are the Ghaya Gallery (Place de la Gare) and the A Gorgi Gallery (Rue Sidi El Ghemrini) who both spotlight local artists with a schedule of rotating exhibitions.

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