Tunisia

Visit Kairouan, Tunisia – a UNESCO Holy City

Last Updated on 15/05/2024 by kami

Kairouan, Tunisia, is one of the most important places to visit in North Africa. With its UNESCO title, numerous historical sites (including one of the holiest places in the Islamic religion), and medina, among other Kairouan attractions, this is one of the must-sees on every Tunisian itinerary.

visit kairouan tunisia

I visited the city on a day trip from Sousse and enjoyed all of the best things to do in Kairouan (but didn’t manage to go to the places a bit further from the center). I was very impressed with all the city offers, especially its historical importance, and the vibrant atmosphere. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Tunisia, and I hope you will decide to go there, too.

If you are considering visiting Kairouan, I put together this small guide to help you plan a trip to Kairouan and enjoy all its attractions. Read on and visit Kairouan soon.

visit kairouan tunisia

Where is Kairouan, Tunisia

Kairouan, a city of around 187.000 inhabitants, is located in the northeast part of Tunisia, around 160 km south of Tunis, the capital. Sousse, the third-largest city in Tunisia, is 55 km from Kairouan.

visit kairouan tunisia

A brief history of Kairouan

Kairouan was founded in 670 by the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi, who chose this location for the military post to protect caravans on their way to conquer the West. This is also when the Great Mosque, the biggest attraction of Kairouan, was built.

The golden era of Kairouan happened between the early 9th and the early 10th centuries when the city was under the rule of the Aghlabid dynasty. After this period, the town slowly lost its importance. Eventually, in 1057, it was severely destroyed by the Banu Hilal tribes.

Kairouan never regained its former status, but it played an essential role in the culture, religion, and education of the region. Today, this is a busy city, packed with historical sites and attractions, a member of the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

visit kairouan tunisia

How to get to Kairouan

The best way to reach Kairouan is by louages (a local version of a minibus that can fit up to 10 passengers and depart whenever they are full); they connect the city with numerous destinations all over Tunisia.

I arrived from Sousse; on this route, louages depart every few minutes as they fill up quickly; each time, I waited maybe five minutes for the ride. When I visited Tunisia, the ticket for the Sousse-Kairouan (and in the reverse direction) was 6,200 TND. You must buy the ticket before boarding the car; friendly locals will surely show you the way.

The louages station in Kairouan is located around 15 minutes walking distance from the Old Town.

things to do in sousse tunisia

Kairouan tours

If navigating public transport sounds like a challenge (and I admit, it can be a bit overwhelming) or you want to visit Kairouan from a bit further destination but only have one day for this trip, there are some highly rated tours that you can take. Here are some of the best options:

visit kairouan tunisia

Where to stay in Kairouan

I spent only one day in Kairouan, but to be honest, I would have gladly given this city more time; I didn’t expect it to be that interesting. If you decide to stay overnight in Kairouan, here are some recommended accommodation options:

visit kairouan tunisia

What to see in Kairouan

The biggest highlight of Kairouan and one of the top tourist attractions in Tunisia is the Great Mosque, one of the holiest and most important places in Islam.

The first mosque here was built in 670, shortly after Muslims arrived in North Africa, but it was destroyed not long after. The new mosque was built in its place in 863. It quickly became the most significant place in Islam; seven pilgrimages to Kairouan’s Great Mosque equals one visit to Mecca.

Besides being a holy place, the Great Mosque is also open to tourists who can wander around its premises and peek into the temple’s prayer hall (where the entrance is restricted only to Muslims). It is a stunning place, well worth the visit. It might not be as jaw-dropping as mosques in Iran or Uzbekistan, but I was still impressed with its beauty, significance, and history – it is mindblowing to think of how old this site is.

The courtyard is surrounded by picturesque and symmetrical columns and arches, many of which were brought here from ancient Carthage. In the middle of the courtyard, you can find the tiny platform – be sure to climb to it to see the sun clock with four black pins that indicate the prayer time. Even if you can’t enter the prayer hall, you can still see its stunning interior – another marvelous place about the Grand Mosque of Kairouan.

To visit the Grand Mosque, you need to pay a small fee – it was 12 TND when I visited. The ticket allows you to enter five other sites in Kairouan (Sidi Abada Mausoleum, Rakkada Museum, Basins of Aghlabides, Sidi Abid Mausoleum, and Abi Zamaa Mausoleum). Remember, this is a holy place for Muslims, so treat it with respect and wear modest clothes; women need to cover their hair. It is possible to take pictures everywhere, including of the prayer hall.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

While the main reason to visit Kairouan is the Great Mosque, I really enjoyed wandering around the narrow streets of medina. This is a truly wonderful place, surrounded by majestic 3,5-km long walls with only a few gates allowing people to enter its magic world.

This area is as old as the Grand Mosque, and over the centuries, not much has changed in its urban planning. You can stroll along picturesque lanes, with arches connecting the brightly painted houses, stumbling across old mosques and other places of historical significance. You can also visit covered bazaars that cater mainly to local needs.

This was probably my favorite medina I visited in Tunisia. It was not overly touristy, and even if there were souvenir shops around, no one was very determined I needed to buy something there.

Unfortunately, my only unpleasant experience during my trip to Tunisia also happened in Kairouan’s medina, when a young man kept walking along with me, insisting on showing me the way, even if I said multiple times I didn’t need him to. After a few minutes, a local seller saw the interaction, started yelling at him, and drove him away. I didn’t feel like I was in danger; I was more annoyed, so I was glad the unpleasant situation was over so soon.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

When exploring the medina of Kairouan, there are a few places that you should not miss.

The Mosque of the Tree Doors, from the 9th century, is one of the earliest examples of richly decorated facades in Islam. Still today, it impresses with its beauty.

visit kairouan tunisia

Not far from it, you will find the Governor’s House with its beautiful interior. Today, the place serves as a carpet shop, but despite the obligatory carpet tour, it is still worth visiting.

visit kairouan tunisia

Another highlight of Kairouan’s medina is the Sidi Abid Mausoleum (included in the Great Mosque ticket). Originally from the 14th century, it served as the Koranic school; today, it impresses visitors with its interior, especially its beautiful tiles and mosaics. Near the mausoleum, you will find Bir Barouta – a 17th-century well that is another holy site in Kairouan. The legend says that the underground channels connect it with the Zamzam spring in Mecca, which is believed to quench the thirst of Ishmael, the son of Prophet Abraham.

visit kairouan tunisia

If you get hungry when wandering around the medina of Kairouan, you can stop in Dar Abderrahman Zarrouk – a restaurant located in the traditional house that serves local dishes. Not only will you try some delicious Tunisian food, but you will also see yet another beautiful interior in Kairouan.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

While most of the Kairouan attractions are located inside the medina walls, there are more interesting places to see in the city. The Barber’s Mosque was built in the 17th century over the 7th-century tomb of one of the companions of the prophet Muhammad. The holy complex is worth visiting for yet another stunning interior in Kairouan, including impressive tiles.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

From here, it’s a short walk to Basins of Aghlabides – a complex of three cisterns from the 9th century. At first, the place might not look very special, but it actually is remarkable, considering the impressive engineering work that was done here such a long time ago. You can use the Grand Mosque ticket to enter the site.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

The New Town of Kairouan, located just outside the medina walls, is a nice place to wander around, too. You will find more coffee shops and souvenir shops here; a stroll in this area is also a perfect opportunity to observe the bustling city life of Kairouan.

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

visit kairouan tunisia

Where to go next

Once you explore Kairouan, you can continue your journey to Sousse with its bustling, UNESCO-listed medina, excellent Museum of Archeology, and long and sandy beaches, or to El Jam to visit the spectacular Amphitheater. Or you can venture further into the country, as Tunisia has much to offer.

Further reading

I published many articles about Tunisia that you might find useful when planning your trip there. Here are some of them:

If you are looking for articles about a specific destination – check out the map with all the articles I’ve published (and their locations).


Travel Resources

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Tunisia

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Tunisia here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


For the end I left a few announcements that might interest you:

  • Sign up to my newsletter or follow me on Bloglovin to get updates about the new posts
  • Join my Facebook group about Eastern Europe, the Balkans and former USSR and connect with fellow travellers and enthusiasts of these regions – just click here!
  • I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to Tunisia too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. Thank you!

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visit kairouan tunisia


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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Fahd
    02/12/2023 at 07:15

    Impressive!
    I can tell that it’s not the first helpful article to read on your website.
    Also I’d like to draw your attention that Kairouan’s Grand Mosque isn’t holier than other Masjids in Islam, and the phrase “seven pilgrimages to Kairouan’s Great Mosque equals one visit to Mecca.” isn’t correct at all.
    Kairouan’s Masjid is no doubt so important and has a significant status in Islamic history yet almost all Masjids in Islam are equal except for Al Masjid Al Haram in Makkah, the Prophet’s Masjid ( al masjid an nabawi) in Medina and the Aqsa Masjid in Palestine.

    • Reply
      kami
      30/12/2023 at 07:26

      Thank you for your feedback, Fahd!

      • Reply
        Md Rafiqul Islam
        25/04/2024 at 15:34

        Thanks for taking the feedback positively. I am also a world traveller. Going Tunisia as my 58th country.

        I like your write up. Rafiqul (A Bangladeshi-German Traveller)

        • Reply
          kami
          11/05/2024 at 12:40

          Thank you. I hope you enjoyed your time in Tunisia! All the best!

    • Reply
      Md Rafiqul Islam
      25/04/2024 at 15:32

      Thanks Fahd. I also wanted to mention this.

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