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Tunis: Mediterranean Nights

by Richard Newton

Feb 1, 2019
February 2019

THE ARAB SPRING, the seismic upheaval that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, began in Tunisia. The country still feels the impact, and the cultural and social consequences are far from settled. Conservative Muslim factions continue to attempt to sway the country in their direction, campaigning for, among other things, restrictions on bars and nightclubs. But at heart Tunis is a Mediterranean capital; and as the sun goes down, the city boasts a variety of nightlife.

For a relaxed start to the evening, try the exquisitely picturesque satellite town of Sidi Bou Said, perched on cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Tunis. Whitewashed houses with vivid blue doors line the narrow cobbled streets. In sea-view cafés you can take a mint tea and smoke a narguileh (hookah pipe) while the sea morphs through the colors of dusk and slips into velvet darkness.

With the view gone, Sidi Bou Said winds down. But Tunis itself is stirring. Don’t expect the gaudy attractions of some of the tourist resorts down the coast, but as a modern city with a sizeable population of students and young professionals, it offers plenty of cosmopolitan venues dotted about.

Popular Le Carpe Diem, in the coastal suburb of La Marsa, offers music and dancing into the early hours, fueled by cocktails and snacks. Downtown, the bars of the international hotels present the best option for visitors without inside knowledge (though check in advance if they serve alcohol — not all do). The El Mouradi Hotel Africa, located in the center of the city, features a bustling lobby bar, one of those places around which life seems to revolve.

Best of all, plunge into the ancient Medina. Within its thronging maze of alleys, the shops and stalls stay open for business into the night. It’s a memorable experience and offers perhaps the true face of Tunis nightlife.

Homosexuality is currently illegal in Tunisia, though there are moves, led by the president, to change the law. For now, LGBTQ+ visitors face particular risks and challenges when visiting Tunisia, though the Arab Spring may yet bloom.

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