We moved from Algiers to Princeton, New Jersey 10 months ago, and as I’ve said, I miss Algiers, Algeria, North Africa, and living abroad in general. Don’t get me wrong, a hundred things about living in comfy and convenient America are aces, but sometimes when I see a friend’s photos of a party shot from a lush Mediterranean backyard, or of the Mars like surface of Sahara Desert, I think “Wow, that was really nice that we had that for a little while.”
I’ve left behind recommendations for every city in which I’ve lived for an extended period of time and wanted to to the same for Algiers, despite it not being a tourist destination in the way that Washington DC, Madrid, Jerusalem, or Rabat were.
This guide is for an intrepid traveler who might want to dip their toe into a country that’s a bit off the beaten path, but totally worth a trip. (Bonus: the Algerian government recently decided a Visa is not needed for foreigners to travel to Djanet, a part of the Sahara Desert that captivated me). This list could also be useful for Algerians who don’t live in the capital city of Algiers, and for diplomats, who just arrived and are finding the city a little hard to interact with, on account of there not being much online (at least in English) about things to do and see. Algeria is very much a word-of-mouth and an “I know a guy” type of place. But once you know the place, once you know the person, you’ll see that Algiers offers so much.
Hot tip that it took me three years to realize: The best Algerian food is served in people’s homes, not in restaurants. If you’re looking to try the tastiest Algerian cuisine, try to get an invite to someone’s home. In Centre Ville, one could walk around and try some local favorites, like mahajib (layered flatbread filled with onions and tomato), square pizza, and sardines, which are available closer to the water, and in the Casbah at a place called Le Repere. (Or hit up my favorite guide Raouf for a food tour. You can find him on Instagram as Abdelraouf.Meraga). Note that all restaurants in Algiers allow smoking indoors, and people sure take advantage of that. If you go to dinner a little earlier, like 6 or 7pm, the restaurants won’t be too smoky. My favorite restaurants in Algiers are (
- El Djanina: Upscale traditional Algerian vibes, good food, nice service, and wine. The restaurant is so pretty, with tile floors, arched doorways, carved plaster work, swords on the wall, vintage coffres, and a view of the bay, if you’re able to snag a seat by the window. They have Algerian classics including several varieties of couscous and French classics like sole meuniere.
- Taj Mahal: This was out weekly go-to, and I miss it terribly, especially the paneer tikka, the dal makani, butter gravy, saag paneer, and hot and springy garlic naan. Locations in Ben Aknoun and Cheraga, both with large multi-floor dining rooms. Ben Aknoun number is 023-384-982 and they speak English (at least one guy does) and they’ll deliver.
- Beijing is a Szechuan restaurant run by a Chinese family, basically out of their home. Go with a group of friends, sit in a private room at a big round table with a Lazy Susan to pass all the food around. Drink your own booze, or order from them as they sometimes have wine. Order the cold mushroom salad; fried eggplant drizzled with honey and loaded with cilantro; the dumplings (veggie and meat options); the green beans (spicy!); and if you’re feeling splurgy, the peel-and-eat shrimp. “Beijing restaurant chinois” in Cheraga comes up on Google Maps and Waze. When maps has you turn up a very bad road and you see a sign for what seems like a different Chinese restaurant, don’t despair, it’s correct. Also: no one here speaks English, French, or Arabic. But there are pictures on the menu.
- Guangzhou: Literally the same menu as Beijing, except the green beans are better here as they have crunchy fried Szechuan numbing peppercorns in them. This restaurant is Chinese banquet style with huge round tables and everything is decorated in red and yellow.
- Al Bustan is one of the half-dozen fancy and reliably good restaurants located on a hill (all of which serve alcohol) just below the Martyr’s Monument. Inside is fancy and buzzy and outside is a spectacular view of the bay. They’re known for their salt-crusted whole fish, which is set on fire at your table.
- Tantra, also located on “Monument Hill” is a great date spot and a great group-of-friends for a birthday party spot. Very good seafood, especially the merou and the seafood risotto. Lots of hard-to-find imported (likely in a suitcase) products here and prices to match.
- Potager transports you to a stylish European cafe with its small cute indoors and serene garden space. The fish of the day is always good, the veggie burger is super satisfying, the fries are crispy McDonald’s style, there’s always a good pasta dish on the menu. Great lunch place.
- El Marsam is located on a hillside in Sidi Yahia, up above the main street, but at the base of some apartments. It’s a bit hard to access via car if you’re using maps, but it’s worth it to find. It’s a large and stylish brunch/lunch spot, with lots of trendy people sipping fresh juices, coffees, and eating pretty decent salads. Also good are their tartines (open faced sandwiches).
- Galateé might be the closest thing to an American restaurant in Algiers (burgers, great salads, pancakes) but the problem is this tiny little restaurant was closed at least half the time we tried to go there. Try anyway, but if it’s closed, go to Dos Hermanos across the street, which is as close to Mexican as you’ll get in Algiers. (If Dos Hermanos has grilled tuna on the menu, get it! It’s served fajita style with fresh tortillas, a little guac, and veggies).
- Arabesque: A casual diner downtown that serves good Syrian/Lebanese food and shawarma. I would order their dips (mutabel, hummus, muhamara, labneh) for parties and work events.
- La Madrague Restaurants: La Madrague is a port east of the Bay of Algiers. The port ain’t exactly pretty – with old rusted out boats, some offending smells, and giant cinderblocks barrier – but after a few visits, you start to see the charm: A little beach where boys swim and snorkel, an area to walk and for kids to drive tiny motorized cars, but mostly, lots of great seafood restaurants. Chez Saveur and Le Cercle Nautique serve wine. Chez Saveur is a kind of old school white tablecloth joint located above several poissonneries. The old man servers will bring you fluffy pita and spicy hamis, and you should order a bottle of Algerian white wine or rosé, which aren’t bad, especially if you top it with Ifri sparkling water and make a spritz. Get the house speciality: spicy fried splayed merlan (which is whiting in English). It tastes like a spicy chicken sandwich. If they have it, get the fried calamari too, it’s as good as in Greece. Cercle Nautique has especially good moules and sometimes even has those giant lobsters. Sit outside if the weather’s nice — their white vinyl-sided patio gives off some “American backyard” vibes.
- Le Normande is super cozy, located in a historic Centre Ville building, decorated with a big French mural and old restaurant accoutrement (like an ancient cash register). The waiters are so kind, and the food is good too! The menu is a mix of Algerian and French and their baked camenbert and fresh fish are pretty good.
- Zohri: A charming little Italian place with good brushetta, pastas, and fish. A decent wine list too, and I hope you don’t do what I did and accidentally order a Brunello for $280, mistakingly thinking it was $28.
There are only a handful of “bars” in Algiers and all of them are actually restaurants. There’s L’Etalon and it’s trendy and very fun (karaoke on Sunday nights – heavy on the French ballads!) but also so smoky and unventilated you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. I highly recommend the Moroccan restaurant Dar Gnaoua, which has live music on Tuesdays and Fridays. There is also a “club” called Cosmopolitan but I’ve never been. Restaurant de L’Université on Didouche Mourad gets an honorable mention because if you’re walking around downtown on a hot day, it sure is nice to stop inside and get a cold beer. If you’re a tourist and you want to “go out on the town”, I’d recommend going to dinner at any of the restaurants on monument hill. Those include Tantra, El Bustan, Les Orientalist, and Piano, Piano and then hopping around in that area). While we lived there, art space AlphaTango would occasionally host live music events as well.
There is a feel of Europe-meets-the Middle East at some of Algiers’ classic cafes. Sort of Euro-style cafes that serve cappuccinos and pastries, but are frequented mostly by men (but women, by all means go! I did). No trip to Algiers is complete without visiting the Emir Abdelkader statue smack in the center of Centre Ville, and directly across from that is the iconic, Milk Bar which is where Algerian heroine Zohra Drif exploded a bomb at the start of the Algerian Revolution. Sit on the terrace at Cafe Tantonville and sip a cappuccino next to the bouganvilla-draped National Theater and watch the passersby. Cafe Eddy on Didouche Mourad is nice and has good desserts, as does the place right across from it, La Renaissance. But for American-approved honest-to-goodness good coffee served in an “American style” coffee shop, it’s El Hyl, 100 percent. El Hyl is owned by an American (well co-owned, as Algerian law allows up to 49 percent foreign ownership). It’s Algiers’ trendiest coffee shop, probably has more female patrons than male ones, and it’s very good.
Things to Do
Algiers does have a few worthwhile museums, but museum-going isn’t part of the culture. Still, the Museé des Beaux Arts is very much worth seeing, especially the collection of Algerian miniatures and the modern art section. I recommend a guided tour by Rayan, aka Ze Art Nerd. Also, the fine arts museum has a stunning balcony overlooking the Jardin d’Essai, which is also worth many a stroll-through. The tiny Museé des Antiquities is worth a visit for its impressive mosaics, roman statues, and old ass toilet (an antiquity not a working toilet, but I’d venture a guess the working toilet ain’t much better). The Opera d’Alger gets some good acts, so you should follow them if you’re into live music. A casbah tour is a must for any new arrival, but be warned: You’ll leave a little confused as to why such an important part of history is essentially crumbling down into the sea. In general, the guided tours never explained as much as I would have liked. (Again: Raouf was my go-to tour guide. He’s a font of Algeria knowledge, a very smart and cool guy, and speaks perfect English). There’s also a company called Adventurable (056-001-7977) that does okay tours and good “experiences” especially the one that takes you to a crumbling mutli-level Casbah home with balconies and a beautiful rooftop view Casbah and Bay of Algiers. This is a MUST for an iftar during Ramadan. Which is another thing to do: Algerian Ramadan is very special and you simply must go to a few Ramadan dinners to experience the culture along with locals. To me, a better walkabout than the Casbah would start with the Grande Poste (stunning old post office but not open to the public) and walking around Centre Ville, which is just gorgeous, with French colonial buildings, billowing blue and gray striped drapes blowing in that Mediterranean breeze, and lots of stunning views of the bay. (In fact, this view – Centre Ville/Casbah rising up from the bay — is spectacular. There was briefly a little boat that took you out to L’Espadon aka Party Island, but it went out of business. If you get the chance to go on a boat in the Bay of Algiers, do it!) Blue Dream yachting leaves from a different port (La Madrague) but is a wonderful summertime in Algiers activity. It’s a daylong cruise with an excellent lunch, swimming, stand-up-paddleboarding, and even tubing from an ancillary speed boat. Plan a trip with a big group! Speaking of summertime activities, you’re on the Med, so take advantage of the beach, but keep your expectations a little low. There’s crowds, there’s trash. But still, it’s the Med! Les Canadiennes beach is by far the most popular with the diplomats, but it’s about a 50-minute drive from Algiers. If you go all that way, eat at Le Turquoise for lunch and get the calamari if they have it. If you’re out that way and it’s summer and you see men selling tuna on the side of the road, what the heck, take a chance and buy some steaks. Closer is the beach at the Sheraton Hotel but the water is not as nice there. And this isn’t in Algiers, but for my money, an ideal summer weekend would be driving to Tipaza, staying at a night at the Corne D’Or the much larger CET (right across a little bay) and enjoying the cute and very swimmable little beaches there (and you can rent kayaks and SUPs). Next day, visit the Tipaza ruins, the shops, eat at Le Dauphin (order the fried calamari, the garlic shrimp, the grilled sardines, the grilled swordfish. You cannot go wrong. Le Dauphin is a gem of a restaurant. On your way out, visit the Royal Mausoleum of Mauritania (aka, the round pyramid, but you can’t go inside so it’s really just a photo op, but do visit the pure white camel who hangs around) and if you’re feeling real energetic, the wicker store Chez Djalal.
Parks and Trails
One thing I came to really appreciate is the 1960s Soviet-style creepy-yet-charming Ben Aknoun Park and Zoo. I’d usually park at “Giraffe Parking” or at the Mouflon D’Or hotel and do a jogging or hiking route from there. All the animal enclosures are kind of sad, but I’d say don’t miss the lions and hippos, and you have to see the abandoned train cars and the defunct Hotel Moncoda, both of which could be sets for Wes Anderson movies. (Note: Women running solo: Stay on a path with other people. Do not go off the beaten path!). Jardin d’Essai is more of a family stroll-about than a running spot, but there are some runners there on Saturday mornings. The sablette, the path that hugs the sea, is an okay jogging and walking spot, but it’s not as pretty as you might expect (lots of construction equipment) and it’s very rare to see a woman running there by herself, so dress as modestly as you can muster and put in your headphones to drown out any rude comments. For the sablette, park in the giant parking lot with the arches (across the highway from the mosque). Bainem Forest has a good hiking and mountain bike trail and views of the sea. Bouchaoui Park is a flat, dusty, tree-lined park where it’s much more common to see women running and working out.
Shopping and Souvenirs
My favorite boutique – great for modern clothing made by Algerian designers, small home decor items, and jewelry is Boho Concept Store, owned by Lila. Medina Mood is also very nicely curated, but expensive. Handmade Art DZ always has cute and colorful things, as does Le Dwira Chic. YK Interiors, which is owned by designer Karima, just opened a new location and is chic and totally infused with Algerian style (great fabrics in her designs). I actually ordered a custom sofa from Karima during COVID times and it’s very unique. The famed Boumehdhi family make the most beautiful handmade tiles and ceramics, a visit to their atelier is a must. The best place to buy smaller handmade things is at bazaars, either at embassies, the Sofitel, or sometimes at artisan events organized by the Algerian government. And although this isn’t in Algiers, I always enjoyed strolling on the main “shopping” street in Tipaza for art, small furniture, and rugs.
There are no good rug shops in Algiers, to my knowledge. I recommend going to Tipaza and walking on the one little street right outside the ruins. (Make a day of it and see the ruins, shop, eat at Le Dauphin, the best seafood restaurant around; or if you want wine, Romana; if you want views Fontaine D’Or.) But, one guy who owns a rug store in Tipaza has had all his best rugs in the El Aurassi Hotel for some time. (You can text him at 055-774-6777 and ask to see photos if you’d prefer to shop from home!) His cousin Redha is usually in Tipaza and has his own shop. His number is 078-238-7388 if you’re having trouble finding it). The Embassy sometimes hosts Hocine Bazine of Berber Art, who has many rugs, mostly from Ghardaia and you can text him at 055-630-2954 and see his selection, and he can also make you something custom). If you’re truly in search of the biggest rugs for the best value: Get thee to Ghardaia, where you can buy an 11×13 vintage rug for $150. Have it wrapped up in a neat package and check it as a bag on your flight back to Algiers. I would say most folks who buy rugs and handicrafts in Algiers do it at embassy sponsored bazaars. The U.S. Embassy has been known to host these from time to time and the French Embassy hosts a massive Christmas bazaar with all the Algerian vendors.
If you’re living in Algeria, and you’ll be leaving with a shipment of your things, then you must buy a Berber coffre – the handcarved, rustic, wooden chests (with legs) that are very special and unique to Algeria. Also, if you’re looking for fabulous, modern furniture for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S., have a custom dining table, sofa, or chairs made from the wonderful female-own Kutch. For handmade and stylish wicker and rattan furniture, check out Osier et Rotin Chez Djalal, which is in the town of Kolea, not far from Algiers. There are many antiques stores (called Brocantes) in Algiers, but most of them carry mostly Louis XIV style furniture, and thus I always found them too ornate. There’s an antique store on Rue Sidi Yahia, on a little inset street not far from the $$$ Roche Bobois, that has a pretty good selection, perhaps if only for browsing. Algiers is a good place to finally get that ratty sofa/chair recovered, as Youcef the Retappisser (055-539-7876) does excellent work. He worked in London for decades but has returned to Algiers. You may have to order the fabric yourself though, as fabric selection is rather limited in Algiers (and almost exclusively on Didouche Mourad). Chic Deco in Cheraga has a fab selection of designer knock-off light fixtures and dining chairs, desk chairs, barstools, small tables, and more.
While I am savoring getting in my car and driving to Trader Joe’s and Wegmans, I honestly miss the way I grocery shopped in Algiers. It was old-fashioned, very neighborhoody and charming.. My fave superette is Superette Chetaouni (in Sidi Yahia) but I went to the one by the Embassy, Superette La Colonne, very often and it’s good for cheese, milk, eggs, peanut butter, spices, smoked salmon, canned tuna, bread /tortillas, tp, paper towels, cleaning products. La Presqu’isle in Sidi Yahia was my favorite fishmonger, and they always have salmon (from Norway), sometimes have cod, and often have shrimp, dourad, sardines, and lots of prepared things like shrimp bourek and fish soup. Premier Mai, the large indoor market (located in a concrete parking-garage type building painted in pastel colors) is a don’t-miss Algerian experience. Mostly its all the things you’d get at smaller stores in one place (tons of fruits and veg, butchers, seafoods, some dry goods). Americans especially like the booth that sells Asian sauces and dried ingredients (at a huge markup) and sometimes tofu. Right across from that stand is a produce stand that often has Asian vegetables like Chinese eggplant and bok choy. Rumored to once have had kale. You might come to mostly rely on your neighborhood boulangerie/patisserie but La Fourneé Gourmand is THE BEST BAGUETTE IN ALGIERS, no question.
While Algeria sadly lacks a thriving art scene (blame the government control of…well everything) it does not lack for talented artists. This is a wonderful place to buy art and we happily grew our collection quite a bit during our three years in Algeria. Follow ceramicist Belaid or check him out at all the major arts markets (such as the annual Christmas market at the French Embassy); Munia Lazali for colorful abstract paintings of Algiers cityscapes and sensual portraiture; Narimene Mezghiche for beautiful watercolors of Algerian architecture; NerOneArt for psychedelic, colorful dreamscapes; MOHIC for colorful, modern murals; and Mizo for edgy, fashiony photography. The gallery Bloom, The Art Factory features up-and-coming artists like painter and ceramicist Kenza Daoud and Billel Decherani (an artist from Madea with major Matise vibes). Nothing tops the large-scale, surrealist paintings of El Meya and if you have the chance to purchase from her, do it, but she’s rather famous now. A quick note on Baya (1931-1998), Algeria’s most famous painter: If you find an “original Baya” in an antique store, be very skeptical. But many artists copy her style so you can certainly leave Algeria with a beautiful Baya-esque piece of art.
Odds & Ends
For floral arrangements, Flowers by Saida B cannot be beat. If you just want to bring a bouquet to someone’s house, I like the flower shop close to the U.S. Embassy, next to Superette La Colonne where you can pull from their nicely organized buckets and make your own, or ask them to make one for you. For buying plants, flowers, and herbs, Pepiniere Garden Center in Cheraga has an enormous selection, but I’d stay away from their made-in-China painted pot selection (very expensive) and focus on their locally made terracotta pots if you’re looking for pots. For framing, I loved Art & Decor on Chemin Sidi Yahia. (Hot tip: pull up Framebridge or Minted on your phone and show them how you want things framed. They do have options, but they’re not so great with suggestions, so try and show them a pic of the framing style you want). Back in the U.S. you practically need to take out a loan to get a piece of art framed, so get it all done when you’re in Algeria! (If you live there).