Best Things to do in Sfax, Tunisia

Wall and towers of the Sfax medina of Sfax in Tunisia

Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, is a vibrant and captivating destination that seamlessly blends ancient history with modern charm.

This hidden gem, often overlooked by tourists, offers a unique and authentic Tunisian experience that is both enriching and memorable.

The city has embraced eco-conscious practices, such as promoting flightless, carbon-offset trips and setting ambitious goals to achieve net-zero emissions.

Sfax’s Historical and Cultural Treasures

The Medina: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

At the core of Sfax’s historical allure lies its magnificent Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that exemplifies the grandeur of medieval Arab urban planning and architecture.

You’ll be greeted by towering crenelated ramparts and the awe-inspiring central Great Mosque. The Medina’s narrow, winding streets are lined with traditional souks and trade quarters, each with its unique character and charm.

Archaeological Sites

Sfax is a treasure trove for history buffs, with several significant archaeological sites that shed light on the city’s ancient past.

The Thyna Ruins, located just outside the city, showcase the remnants of an ancient Roman city, complete with well-preserved mosaics, bathhouses, and an impressive amphitheater.

These ruins offer a glimpse into the sophisticated urban planning and architectural prowess of the Roman Empire.

Another notable archaeological site is the Fossa Regia, an ancient Roman frontier that marks the boundary between the Roman province of Africa and the kingdom of Numidia.

Here, you can explore the remains of ancient baths, houses, and a Christian church, all of which highlight the complex history and cultural diversity of the region.

Sfax’s Rich Heritage Through its Museums

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Sfax boasts an impressive array of museums that showcase the city’s rich historical and cultural heritage. The Archaeological Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in Tunisia’s ancient past.

This museum houses an extensive collection of Roman sculptures, intricate mosaics, and rare artifacts. For a more intimate glimpse into the city’s history, head to the Dar Jellouli Folk Museum.

This beautifully restored 17th-century mansion offers a rare opportunity to step into the opulent world of Sfax’s upper class during the Ottoman era. The museum’s exhibits include traditional costumes, furniture, and household items.

Another essential stop is the Kasbah Museum, located within the walls of the city’s ancient citadel. It showcases the evolution of the city’s traditional architecture, with displays of intricate tilework, carved woodwork, and ornate stucco designs.

Religious Landmarks

Sfax is home to several stunning religious landmarks that testify to the city’s deep spiritual roots. The Great Mosque, an architectural marvel with a history dating back to the 9th century, is the crown jewel of the region’s religious sites.

Other notable religious landmarks include the Assallemi Mosque and the Grande Mosque, both of which boast exquisite architecture and intricate decorative elements. These mosques serve as important centers of worship and community gathering.

Exploring Sfax’s Other Historical Gems

Beyond its major historical sites, Sfax is dotted with numerous other gems that are worth exploring. The Ribat, an ancient fortress that once served as a defensive outpost, now houses a museum that showcases the city’s military history.

You can climb to the top of the fortress’s minaret for breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. Another iconic landmark is Bab Bhar, the impressive main entrance to the old city.

Shopping and Local Experiences

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Souks and Markets

For those seeking an authentic taste of Tunisian culture, try the local markets and shopping. The Souks Mosque, a bustling marketplace in the heart of the Medina, offers a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells. Some notable markets include:

  1. Sfax 2000 Market: The Sfax 2000 Market offers a variety of goods, from fresh produce to traditional handicrafts, providing a glimpse into the everyday life and commerce of the city’s residents.
  2. Traditional handicrafts and local goods: Local markets in Sfax offer a variety of goods, from fresh produce to traditional handicrafts, providing a glimpse into the everyday life and commerce of the city’s residents
  3. Wooden crafts: Visitors can purchase unique wooden crafts in Sfax and Kerkennah, reflecting the local culture and artisanal skills.
  4. Pastries: Sfax is known for its delicious pastries, made with local ingredients like olive oil and almonds.
  5. Natural sponges: Kerkennah is famous for its natural sponges, which make for unique souvenirs

Sfax for Culture Enthusiasts

As you wander through the souk’s narrow alleys, be sure to take a break and enjoy a cup of local tea. This time-honored ritual is an essential part of Tunisian culture and provides a perfect opportunity to connect with locals and fellow shoppers.

Cultural Experiences Galore

Escaping to the Kerkennah Islands

Just a short ferry ride from Sfax lie the beautiful Kerkennah Islands, a cluster of small islands known for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and traditional fishing villages.

These islands offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, with plenty of opportunities for relaxation and adventure.

The Kerkennah Islands offer various activities, from swimming and sunbathing on the islands’ unspoiled beaches to exploring the rich marine life through snorkeling or diving excursions.

Natural Attractions and Leisure Activities

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Beaches and Parks are Oases of Relaxation

Sfax is blessed with several stunning beaches and parks that offer the perfect escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Sfax Beach, with its pristine white sands and turquoise waters, is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

For those seeking a more active beach experience, Chaffar and La Marsa Beaches offer a range of water sports and activities, from jet skiing and windsurfing to beach volleyball and paddleboarding.

For some green space and tranquility, head to Parc Tyna, a beautiful urban oasis that offers a welcome respite from the city’s concrete jungle.

This well-manicured park features lush gardens, shady trees, and plenty of benches and picnic areas where you can relax and unwind.

Kerkennah Islands are Haven for Nature Lovers

In addition to their cultural and historical significance, the Kerkennah Islands are a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The islands’ crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs are home to a diverse array of marine life, making them a prime spot for snorkeling and diving.

For a more laid-back experience, take a stroll along the islands’ sandy beaches, where you can observe traditional fishing methods and spot flocks of migratory birds.

Family Fun at Sfax Land

If you’re traveling with children, be sure to visit Sfax Land, a family-friendly entertainment venue that offers a wide range of rides, games, and attractions. From thrilling roller coasters to gentle carousels, there’s something for kids of all ages at this amusement park.

Exploring Beyond Sfax

While the city itself has plenty to offer, the city also serves as an excellent base for exploring the surrounding region. Here are a few of the top day trips and excursions to consider:

El Jem Amphitheater: A Marvel of Roman Architecture

Just a short drive lies the El Jem Amphitheater, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. The structure, once up to 35,000 spectators, shows the grandeur and engineering prowess of the Roman Empire.

The site also features a museum that houses an impressive collection of mosaics and artifacts found in the area, providing a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the ancient Romans.

Matmata: A Troglodyte Village and Star Wars Film Location

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For a truly unique experience, head to the troglodyte village of Matmata, famous for its unusual underground homes. Be sure to visit the Hotel Sidi Driss, which served as the interior of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home in the original Star Wars film.

Affordable Day Trips

Sfax’s central location and excellent transportation links make it an ideal base for exploring Tunisia’s rich cultural and historical heritage.

From the ancient ruins of Carthage to the stunning mosaics of the Bardo Museum in Tunis, there are countless affordable day trips and excursions to choose from.

Authentic Experiences and Practical Information

Accommodation and Dining

Sfax offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From luxurious beachfront resorts to charming mid-range hotels like Les Oliviers, there’s something for everyone in this welcoming city.

For a truly immersive experience, consider staying in a traditional guesthouse or vacation rental in the heart of the Medina. These unique accommodations offer a chance to live like a local and experience the city’s rich culture and hospitality firsthand.

When it comes to dining, Sfax is a food lover’s paradise. The city’s restaurants offer a tantalizing array of local specialties, from fresh seafood dishes like grilled fish with charmoula to hearty meat stews and fragrant couscous.

Be sure to sample some of the city’s famous pastries and sweets, such as baklava and makroudh, which are often flavored with local almonds, dates, and honey.

Getting Around

Sfax is a relatively compact city, with many of its top attractions within walking distance of each other. For longer distances, taxis are readily available and offer an affordable and convenient way to get around.

If you’re planning to explore beyond the city limits, Sfax is well-connected by a network of trains, buses, and ferries. The city’s main train station offers regular services to Tunis and other major cities, while the bus station provides connections to smaller towns and villages in the region.

For a truly unique experience, consider taking a car ferry to the Kerkennah Islands or exploring the countryside by bike or motorbike.

Experiencing Authentic Tunisia in Sfax

One of the greatest appeals of the city is its authenticity and lack of mass tourism. Unlike some of Tunisia’s more popular destinations, Sfax offers a genuine and unspoiled taste of Tunisian life, with fewer crowds and a more relaxed pace of life.

Wrap-Up

Sfax is a Tunisian hidden gem destination that caters to diverse interests, from history enthusiasts to beach lovers.

Its blend of ancient history and modern culture, combined with its commitment to sustainable tourism, makes it an appealing choice for travelers seeking a unique and eco-conscious experience.

With its rich cultural and historical attractions, beautiful beaches, and vibrant local economy, Sfax offers a comprehensive and engaging experience for visitors looking to explore Tunisia’s heritage and contemporary offerings.

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