two of the main options for day trips outside of Tunis are Carthage and Sidi Bou Said — they’re actually right next to each other so you can probably do both in one day, but i only have time while workationing for one at a time.
Carthage has long been one of those names that evokes empires and civilizations long past — indeed it was the base of the Carthaginian Empire and subsequently changed hands several times and ending up under this rule or that. perhaps its most famous native son was Hannibal, a military commander who clashed with the Romans several times. today, it’s a suburb of Tunis and easily reachable by suburban train (the TGM line). there are several stops in Carthage proper, but only one, Carthage-Hannibal, is of particular interest as it’s pretty central to the main group of ruins.
it’s totally doable on your own as long as you don’t mind walking a fair amount in hilly terrain. the longest distance between the Carthage-Hannibal set of sights is probably less than a mile (uphill, through windy streets). it’s best to have a map (Google Maps works well) to guide you. the historical sites open at 8:30 (8 in the summer months). there is one admission ticket for the museum and another combined ticket for most of the rest (11 dinars each including photography fee). i have a feeling the museum might be included in the combined ticket since there’s a spot to be marked that says “Musee de Carthage” so it’s worth investigating so you don’t pay for two tickets like i did.
take the TGM train from the Tunis Marine stop, located past the flower stalls to the east of the big clock tower at Place du 14 Janvier 2011. the ride to Carthage should cost less than .7 dinar each way. there is a first class ticket but that doesn’t get you much except for perhaps a slightly less crowded car. for the most part, it’s standing room only in whatever class of car you’re in. at the Tunis Marine stop, the station manager (i guess?) told me to get into the 1st class car even though i only had a 2nd class ticket — i rode 2nd class on the way back and it’s pretty much the same, so your mileage may vary (the price difference is negligible). he turned away others (even some people who, i think, were trying to pout their way in), so i’m not sure why he let me (nice to visitors, perhaps?).
as you can see from the map in the train, Carthage is a little more than halfway down the line. (note that there’s only one line on the TGM.) the first stop, Le Bac, is quite far from Tunis Marine (called Tunis Nord in the maps in the cars), as it’s located on the other side of the lake. don’t be alarmed; the rest of the stops are much closer.
some of the local rabble-rousing teens may take the opportunity offered by a crowded car to ride hanging out the open door. this looks really dangerous!
i followed the short itinerary on the Carthage Wikitravel page, but it does help to have a map, or even better, a mapping app like Google Maps installed to help you navigate and get your bearings.
in brief: the museum was ehhhh but the views were quite spectacular. the Roman amphitheater was being prepped, it looked like, for some sort of concert, as it’s still in use to this day. there didn’t seem to be any admission fee — just walk right in? the ticket booths in front seem to be for event tickets (and were closed when i went). there is, however, a spot on the combined ticket for it, so i dunno. the Roman villas: only a small section is of much interest (photo below), but it’s a pretty cool place to just wander and imagine what life was like back then. the Antonine Baths, though, were the highlight. the largest Roman baths outside Rome, it unfortunately is only a set of ruins today. the grounds cover quite a bit more than the baths themselves, be sure to wander around and discover what lies hidden in the little trails through the site. (hint: find the small underground chapel.)