Kairouan, established in 670 AD by the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi, holds the distinction of being one of Tunisia's oldest cities. From its inception, it quickly became a center of Islamic scholarship, attracting scholars and students from around the Muslim world.
Over the centuries, Kairouan flourished as a hub of learning and culture, epitomized by the construction of its renowned mosques, earning it the title of the "City of 50 Mosques." The city's traditional carpet weaving industry emerged as a significant economic and cultural force, producing intricately designed rugs prized for their quality and craftsmanship.
Throughout its history, Kairouan has faced numerous challenges, including resistance against foreign invaders such as the Byzantines and French colonial forces. Today, Kairouan remains a cultural capital that attracts locals and tourists alike.
WildyNess team has compiled a complete guide for you to enjoy your exploration.
How to Get to Kairouan?
Unfortunately, Kairouan is not connected to the train line in Tunisia, nor does it have an international airport. Therefore, if you're not renting a car to travel around the country, your options are limited to louages and buses as the only available public transportation.
To travel from Tunis to Kairouan, start by heading northeast on the A1 highway towards Gouvernorat de Sousse. Continue on the A1 for approximately 150 kilometers, which should take about 1 hour and 36 minutes. Upon reaching Gouvernorat de Sousse, take the exit from the A1 highway, then follow signs to connect to the C100e road.
Stay on the C100e road until you reach the intersection with the P12 road, where you'll turn left onto the P12. Follow the P12 road until you reach your destination in Kairouan. Keep an eye on road signs and consider using GPS navigation to ensure you stay on the correct route throughout your journey.
If you haven't already come across this information elsewhere, louages are your best option for getting around Tunisia. They're known for being fast, affordable, and comfortable. Simply arrive early at the louage station and familiarize yourself with the available routes. To reach Kairouan, there are louages departing from major cities. From Tunis, Sousse, or Nabeul, the louage fares are 11.2 TND, 4.400, and 8.250 respectively.
Beside being budget-friendly, traveling by bus is safer and more organised as you know beforehand the time of the bus, unlike louages, enabling you to plan your itinerary and day time well. and comfortable. You can easily find a bus to Kairouan at the central station "Bab Alioua" in Tunis, one of the major bus station in the capital where The National Coach Company (SNTRI) operates. For time details, check this page. All you need to do is to fill the departure and arrival stations accurately. The journey takes approximately 3 hours from Tunis and costs 12 TND.
Kairouan Itinerary: Great Things to Do
Stroll in the narrow streets of La Medina
If you're arriving in Kairouan by louage, it's a good idea to kick off your itinerary with La Medina. If you've visited a Medina, an old city, in Tunisia before, you'll know that the best way to explore it is on foot. Like other medinas scattered throughout the country, the main attractions are condensed here, along with the souks and artisan boutiques.
However, it's worth noting that each medina has its own unique charm and history. The Medina of Kairouan is famous among movie buffs as a filming location for Indiana Jones. Its alleys, arches, and whitewashed walls create an ambiance where you can truly immerse yourself as a curious wanderer, exploring distinct architecture while experiencing a culture rich in history and religion.
Don't miss the opportunity to interact with the artisans and discover their unique crafts. Kairouan is renowned for its "hayek," a type of silk fabric traditionally made, and "margoum," rugs crafted by combining traditional weaving techniques with wool designs.
Visit The Great Mosque
One of the must-visit places in Kairouan is undoubtedly the Great Mosque. While non muslims cannot access the prayer hall, they can certainly enjoy the architecture on the outside and from the main courtyard. Another great idea would be visiting the stores in La Medina and ask for access to the rooftop for a mesmerizing view from there.
Usually labeled as one of the most beautiful Islamic buildings in North Africa, and it's definitely worth taking a closer look. The columns in the mosque were brought from Carthage, and the ceiling is made of cedar wood from Lebanon. In the courtyard, you'll notice grooves in the floor for washing before prayers; they're different sizes for camel, dromedary hoofs, or human feet. There's a small platform in the middle of the courtyard with four black pins that show the prayer times based on the sun's position. And if you look at the left column facing the prayer room, you'll see one last black pin marking the night prayer by moonlight.
Immerse Yourself in the World of Carpets in Maison de Gouverneur
While exploring Kairouan, make sure to visit Maison de Gouverneur, a fascinating glimpse into the past. This former residence of a local governor boasts 18 rooms that once accommodated him, his four wives, and their 21 children. Despite its unassuming exterior, the interior is adorned with exquisite details, offering a beautiful and intricate design.
Today, the building serves as a carpet shop, known as 'Tapis-Sabra,' where carpets of all shapes and sizes cover every inch. Watch as women skillfully work on the looms, capturing memorable moments through photos, while an elderly guide provides insights into the history of the house.
Don't forget to browse the impressive collection of carpets and get yourself one as a souvenir, adding a unique piece of local craftsmanship to your journey.
Take a Weaving Workshop in La Medina
During your trip to Kairouan, don't miss the chance to immerse yourself in Tunisian craftsmanship with a weaving workshop in the heart of the city. Led by master artisans in the historic Medina, this hands-on experience offers insights into the cultural significance of carpet weaving in Tunisian society.
From selecting the finest wool to creating intricate patterns, participants actively engage in every step of the process, culminating in the creation of their own small carpet—a cherished reminder of their journey into the world of Tunisian craftsmanship.
Visit the Mosque of the Three Doors
Another mosque to make sure to check out : the Mosque of the Three Doors. It boasts one of the most stunning facades in Tunisia. While you can't go inside as a tourist, you can still admire its classic Arabian design from the outside. Built in 866, this mosque showcases typical Islamic architecture, featuring three arched doorways decorated with ancient Kufic inscriptions, which is the oldest form of Arabic calligraphy.
Check the Basins of Aghlabides
Not far away, you find an open-air water reservoirs called the Basins of Aghlabides, three cisterns from the 9th century. As its names suggest, These cisterns were built by the Aghlabids in the 9th century and show off some smart ancestral engineering deemed as a masterpiece of Arab engineering. The uniqueness in them is the engineering from way back.
Water from the hills 36 km away was brought through an aqueduct to a smaller basin, then into a big one that was 5 m deep and 128 m in diameter. In the middle of the main pool, there's a pavilion where rulers chilled on summer evenings. A guided tour is a good idea for history and architecture fans.
A Quick Visit to Bi'r Barouta
Bi'r Barouta is where the city of Kairouan was first founded. It's said to be connected to the ZamZam well in Mecca, making it one of the holiest spots in town for Muslims. A camel powers the well pump. Inside, there's a cozy café serving coffee and tea.
Visit The Barber’s Mosque
It’s true that most attractions in Kairouan lie within the medina walls, but there are a few ones scattered away that worth the visit. If you have ever wondered about how spiritual places look like in North Africa, this mosque, also known as the Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, give you a glimpse about this.
Housing a monastery and Islamic school, It’s more than a mosque for prayer. The Barber’s Mosque, erected in the 17th century atop the 7th-century tomb of one of the prophet Muhammad's companions, stands as a testament to the city’s rich history. Renowned for its stunning interior adorned with impressive tiles, this sacred complex offers a captivating experience. Visitors are amazed by the elaborate mosaics, colorful stuccoes, and intricate ceramics, adding to the charm and significance of this cultural landmark.
What to Eat in Kairouan
Don’t let the numerous monuments decide your quick lunch. Kairouan is brimming with unique culinary dishes worth the try. Besides the famous Tunisian dishes like couscous, Ojja and tomato pasta, Kairouan has two unique dishes that you shouldn’t leave without trying.
Kafteji is a staple of Tunisian street food, often considered a humble dish enjoyed by the masses. It consists of various vegetables fried separately and then mixed with an oozy fried egg, all chopped together with a large knife. Ingredients typically include butternut squash, potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.
Kafteji is commonly eaten with bread or as a sandwich, making it a convenient and satisfying street food option. Originating in Kairouan, it has become one of the country's most popular dishes. The Kafteji in Kairouan is a bit different from the one found elsewhere. That’s why, we believe it’s a must-try in this city.
Another culinary delight originating from Kairouan is Makroudh, a North African sweet pastry filled with dates and nuts or almond paste. Its diamond-shaped characteristic gives it its name, and the dough, made from a combination of semolina and flour, offers a unique texture and flavor.
Throughout the Medina, you'll find numerous shops boasting their version of the best Makroudh in Kairouan. While sellers may compete for the title, the truth is that they all offer equally delicious variations of this beloved treat.
Where to Eat in Kairouan?
In Kairouan, there are several restaurants that cater to both locals and tourists, offering a variety of delicious meals in inviting atmospheres,
Dar Mima Chez Mamie
Dar Mima Restaurant warmly welcomes visitors to enjoy a diverse menu of meals and delightful hot and cold beverages in the company of friends and family. Set against a backdrop of stunning views, this restaurant promises a wonderful dining experience for anyone visiting Kairouan.
Dar Abderrahman Zarrouk
This spacious restaurant is renowned as one of the region's finest dining establishments. Its exquisite decor, reminiscent of the Andalusian era, features ornate golden inscriptions and domes adorned with beautiful drawings. Guests can dine in the inner courtyard, surrounded by benches and a charming water fountain, or in one of the elegantly appointed indoor halls. The menu boasts a wide selection of traditional Tunisian dishes, including couscous with vegetables, shrimp salad with eggs, fried mashed potato rolls, rice, and grilled meats, complemented by a variety of traditional desserts and refreshing beverages.
As one of Kairouan's beloved local eateries, Kafteji Boudissa offers a range of oriental kofta dishes seasoned with flavorful spices. Visitors can indulge in traditional Tunisian dishes prepared according to authentic home recipes, such as charcoal-grilled chicken, shish kebabs, and Al-Mandamah Tawook accompanied by fresh, hand-made salads. Known for using the finest local ingredients to create dishes bursting with flavor, Kafteji Boudissa provides a wonderful dining experience at reasonable prices.
Where to spend the night
While accommodation in Kairouan may be slightly more expensive compared to other cities, the unique ambiance and cultural richness of this ancient city make it worth the investment. Whether you choose Hotel Continental, Dar Alouini, Maison d’hôte Chama, or La Kasbah Hotel, you're sure to find comfort and hospitality during your stay in Kairouan.
Situated in a central location, Hotel Continental provides cozy accommodations and modern amenities for travelers. Its convenient placement allows easy access to Kairouan's main attractions, making it an ideal choice for visitors looking to explore the city.
Tucked away in the historic Medina, Dar Alouini offers guests a traditional Tunisian experience with its beautifully decorated rooms and tranquil ambiance. This guesthouse provides a peaceful retreat after a day of sightseeing in Kairouan.
Maison d’hôte Chama
Maison d’hôte Chama is a welcoming guesthouse that offers comfortable rooms and personalized service. Located in a serene setting, it provides a relaxing atmosphere for guests to unwind and enjoy their stay in Kairouan.
La Kasbah Hotel
La Kasbah Hotel boasts a blend of modern comforts and traditional architecture, providing guests with a luxurious experience in Kairouan. Its spacious rooms and upscale amenities ensure a memorable stay for visitors seeking a touch of elegance.
Nearby Destinations after Kairouan
Check out Sousse
It's a cool coastal town with awesome beaches and lots of fun things to do. You can soak up the sun, take a stroll along the promenade, and check out the old fortress called Ribat. It's a great spot for beach lovers like you!
Head Northwest to Kesra
If you're up for an adventure, Kesra is the place to go! Surrounded by mountains and stunning scenery, it's super peaceful and has a real Tunisian vibe. You can explore old ruins, go for a hike, and get a taste of local life away from the crowds.
Don't miss the El Jem Amphitheater
It's like stepping back in time! This ancient Roman amphitheater is seriously impressive. You can imagine the gladiator battles and big shows that happened here. If you're into history and cool old stuff, you'll love it!
Kairouan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth the visit
As travelers depart this ancient city, they carry with them not just memories of its landmarks and landscapes, but a deeper appreciation for the enduring legacy of Kairouan in Tunisia's cultural fabric.