|Why 16? Each of Algeria's 48 wilayas, or regions, has an assigned number for its license plates. Because plates on every car registered in Algiers end in 16, the number has become synonymous with the city.|
One thing I've learned: there is lots to do here! (Not a surprise in a Mediterranean port of 4 million people that is also the capital of Africa's largest country, and yet its reputation sadly suggests otherwise.)
Distilling all the Algerian capital's unique sights, culture, and activities into one brief not-to-be-missed list isn't easy, but summer tourism season is upon us, and I have to try something to get more of you to visit! (Plus, the country's tourism officials don't seem likely to try it anytime soon.) So without further ado, here is my selection of 16 essential activities that every visitor to Algiers should experience:
1. Climb the Casbahthe heart and soul of the Algerian capital's traditional culture, one of its most picturesque sectors, and also an essential yet imperiled piece of the city's heritage that may not be around forever. The Casbah is a highlight of many visitors' trips to Algiers, but there is no self-guided option; navigating the warren of steep stairs and alleys requires a knowledgeable local guide. It's a hike, so don't forget comfortable shoes. (Also see: "Come with me to the Casbah")
2. Hop the télépherique to Madame l'Afrique
3. Enjoy the best classic cuisinesEvery Algérois (resident of Algiers) will tell you that the best food around is always home cooking, but even the most discerning of critics grudgingly admit that Djenina—the capital's best traditional restaurant—makes top-notch couscous, tajine, mechoui, and other traditional dishes. The historic restaurant's ornate Mauresque interior and impeccable service are an added bonus. For even better tchekhchoukha (my own personal favorite among Algerian dishes), head down the street to another, much cheaper traditional restaurant, Khaymat Essaoura, outfitted to look like the interior of a Saharan nomad's tent.
4. Send a postcard from the Grande Poste
5. Celebrate the Fennecs"In Algeria, a Historic World Cup Already")
6. Savor fresh seafood
7. Shop the boulevardsWhile they may not stack up to the great avenues of Milan, Paris, New York, or other major fashion centers, Algiers' main shopping drags bring plenty of historical charm. Rue Didouche Mourad, Place Audin, and Rue d'Isly have been window shoppers' and people watchers' paradises since colonial times, and remain so today. Besides the standard clothing and shoe sellers, curio shops sell wonderful oddities (e.g. lizard purses, with head and feet still attached), and it's easy to lose oneself amid the antique shops and used booksellers. Just don't forget to look up—these streets have some of the most ornate and well maintained façades in town.
8. Stroll the Jardin d'Essai
9. Marvel at the MAMA
10. Sip a sunset cocktail at the Aurassi
11. Scarf the local street foodMany visitors to Algiers, expecting traditional Middle Eastern fare, are surprised to learn that few Algerians know what hummus or falafel are. Instead, the local grub of choice for students, laborers, and anyone else on a budget is garantita—a warm chickpea-based mash spread on a baguette and topped with spicy red harrissa sauce. The best companion for it is Algeria's national drink, Hamoud. (Try the apple-flavored dark Selecto version for a true authentic experience.) The whole meal, for you and a few friends, shouldn't set you back more than a buck.
12. Dance to chaabi music
13. Get stuck in traffic"Around Algiers: Navigating the Invisible City")
14. Hit the beach
15. Slurp espressos with the boysCafés in Algiers tend to be smoke-filled, male-dominated affairs. That said, the occasional local woman does duck in for a coffee, invariably served here from a traditional Italian espresso press. Spend enough time here and you, too, will learn to crave that small cup of black magic, thick as motor oil—or, in my case, two—each morning. (For the faint of heart, café au lait is available. Or try another local favorite—mint tea flavored with rose water from the shaker on the bar). If you're downtown, pick up bragging rights by sampling a historical café like the Milk Bar or Tantonville.
16. Get lost"Walking the Hillsides of Algiers")
Now, who wants to come for a visit?
Note: Assembling this list was difficult—not because of how little there is to do in Algiers, but how much. Identifying another 16 worthy experiences should be feasible. Have suggestions? What did I miss here? Let me know your thoughts on this list, and what I should include next time!