Bizerte’s Arab medina (old town) wraps around the picturesque vieux port (old harbor) area and is a bustling hub of traditional craft work. Within its labyrinth of narrow alleyways and covered souks are the workshops of metalworkers and carpenters, and the stores of butchers and grocers. The streets are named after the craftsmen who live and work there: the smiths in the Rue des Forgerons, the armorers in the Rue des Armuriers, the carpenters in the Rue des Menuisiers, and the butchers in the Rue des Bouchers. A meandering stroll through the highly atmospheric lanes here is top of Bizerte’s things to do. Here, unlike inside the medinas of Hammamet and Monastir, the alleys have not been flashily restored, so it still oozes with all the exotic charm of the Orient.
The kasbah district lies just on the north side of the vieux port. Its walls (open to the public) allow you fine views of the old harbor if you climb to the top. The kasbah’s interior is occupied by houses and contains a 17th-century Hanafite mosque. Its fortifications sit on foundations that began life as a 6th-century Byzantine fort, but the building works you see today were constructed during the 17th century under Ottoman rule. Opposite the kasbah walls is the much smaller Fort Sidi el Hani.
Bizerte’s vieux port
Jam-packed with colorful fishing boats, Bizerte’s vieux port (old harbor) is linked by a canal to the large outer harbor (avant-port). The Phoenicians were the first to build the canal here, linking the lake of Lac de Bizerte to the sea. The harbor here has been an important part of Bizerte’s economy for centuries, and the town became a naval base in 1881 under the French Protectorate. Today, the outer harbor continues to be one of Tunisia’s main ports, but the lovely old harbor is a tranquil world apart, only used by local fishermen bringing in their daily catch.
To Bizerte’s north, the coastal road (known as the Corniche) skirts a series of long sandy beaches lined by hotels, restaurants, holiday apartments, and elegant villas. Although Bizerte is lesser known as a seaside resort than Sousse and Djerba, many European operators are beginning to discover the attraction of the town’s mile-long white-sand beaches. If you’re looking for a sandy spot that has been less built up, head to the south. The beaches of R’Mel, Ras el Djebel, Raf-Raf, and Sidi Ali el Mekki are among the most beautiful stretches of coast in the area and have yet to see any resorts creep onto their sand.
Between Bizerte’s kasbah and Fort Sidi el Hani lies the Quartier des Andalous (Andalusian Quarter), established during the 15th and 16th centuries by the Muslims who settled here after being expelled from Spain. Only a few of the charming and highly photogenic old lanes, boasting characteristic blue wrought-iron window grilles and doors, have been preserved, and the neighborhood can look rather rundown in parts, but the alleys that do hold onto scraps of their former style ooze quaint, old-world atmosphere.