Three Days In Algiers – What To See. Algiers has no must-see monument such as the Eifel Tower, Machu Picchu, or Angkor Wat, but is more of an atmospheric city. Algiers is the capital of Algeria, a city of 3 million people, located on the Mediterranean Sea. Algiers was originally settled over 1000 years, was at one time part of the Ottoman Empire, and then colonized and was part of France from the mid-1800s to 1962. Algeria won its independence from the French in 1962. Algeria was ravaged by a brutal civil war in the 1990s, where over 100,000 perished. Today, Algeria is a republic with the military holding strong influence.
Today, Algiers is an attractive city set on the azure sea, with faded colonial French architecture and undulating hills.
It is a lively and active city. I felt safe and secure while alone in the city. There is a lack of western tourists, and I only encountered a handful over several days. I spent three nights exploring the city and will share with you the highlights of my visit, and here you can find some practical advice about traveling in Algeria.
Rue Didouche Mourad
This is the equivalent to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue or Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, albeit with a lot less glitter and neon. Mixed in with the local cafes and restaurants, one could shop at Timberland or Swarovski Crystal. The French influence is very evident when walking this main thoroughfare, with a mixture of French and Arabic script visible on most store fronts.
Are we in Paris?
On my first day, I partook on an impromptu walking tour of this area. I good starting point is the La Grand Poste, a well-known landmark. This impressive structure dates back to the early 20th century. Unfortunately, it is currently closed but you can still appreciate the Moorish inspired façade.
Next to the post office is the sloping garden named, Jardin de L’Horloge Fleurie including a monument to Algerian independence.
This area is perfect for people watching, sipping tea at the cafes and having a bite to eat. As an aside, I was a bit apprehensive in regard of taking photos since friends had warned me of difficulty with the police. I was not stopped once by the police in Algiers and had no difficulty taking photos of buildings even while inadvertently capturing the occasional omnipresent police in the city.
The next day was spent with local tour company, Fancy Yellow. They are a good resource and I would recommend them.
Hanging out with the crew at Fancy Yellow.
Our first visit was the Casbah, a historic part of the city. This crowded hillside neighborhood is crammed with 80,000 people and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Twisting stone paths create a labyrinth-like maze for the uninitiated. And it is easy to get winded racing around this old quarter as you climb hills. White vaulted stucco houses creep over alleys and roads.
And unfortunately, the Casbah is subject to decay, as these homes are literally collapsing and killing their occupants. The construction of the outer walls and gates of the Casbah date to the early 16th century. And this area was famed for its plethora of European hostages which were kept here and ransomed back by the local pirates. The Casbah was also a hotbed of Algerian resistance against French colonialism with some street art remembering those heroes.
Within the Casbah, you will encounter local markets, artisans, mosques, and the occasional local who will oblige for a photo. I visited on a Friday morning, and the Casbah was eerily quiet since it was Muslim’s day of prayer.
I went to visit the next day with my taxi driver and found a much more active neighborhood. But the most memorable part of my visit was meeting an octogenarian named Monsieur Didou. My taxi driver did not speak English, and I no French, so we were forced to rely on Google Translate. This is one of those experiences where you give yourself over to travel. Somewhat befuddled, I followed my taxi driver into the darkened lobby and promptly noted the unique decorations. We hopped up a flight of stairs, and he knocked on the door. A fit but elderly man replete with cap and scarf and dangling cigar opened the door with a wide smile. The three of us smiled, took photos, and feigned conversation for a half of hour. His compact apartment to say the least was rainbow-bedazzled, with the pictures explaining it better than my prose. I was able to deduce that M. Didou in his day was a minor celebrity. There were several newspaper articles on the wall as well as some old black and white photos. He was a boxer.
Guidebooks, Trip Advisor Forum, and others say do not enter this area without a guide. I visited twice with a local, so not sure of what my experience would have been independently. Supposedly, some locals are not fond of tourists.
Basilique Notre Dame d’Afrique
Perched on one of Algiers many hills and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is the 19th century Basilique Notre Dame d’Afrique. It was constructed while Algeria was under occupation of the French. An inscription within the church states: “Notre Dame d’Afrique priez pour nous et pour les Musulmans”, which means “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims”.
Cimetiere Europeen de St. Eugene
At the bottom of the hill is the Cimetiere Europeen de St. Eugene, an interesting landmark that tells the history of Algiers. One section of the cemetery is reserved for the Jews of Algiers. Many Jews escaped Portugal and Spain in the 15h century to escape persecution. Now, some of them rest in Algiers, including those that fell in war.
Another section includes French soldiers who fought in Algeria.
And also French citizens of Algeria are buried.
Monument of Martyrs
Resting on top of another Algiers hill is the Monument of Martyrs. This concrete structure opened in 1982 on the 20th anniversary of Algerian independence. Algerians waged a war of resistance from 1954-1962, when Algeria gained its independence from France. It is a very noticeable landmark in the city. Underneath the monument is the Museum of the Mujahid, which traces the fight for the bloody fight for independence. And adjacent to the monument, is a large plaza, to relax and watch the world glide by. Make sure you ride the cable car up to the monument.
And, as I mentioned there is a strong influence in Algiers, including the cuisine. So, when Algiers, make sure you have a crepe. When in Algiers …
Three Days In Algiers – What To See.