Africa’s largest country lies just a short hop from Europe. The north, with its snow-flecked mountains and stunning coastline, is home to urbane and charismatic cities such as Algiers and Constantine, as well as some of the most magnificent Roman sites in existence including Timgad and Djemila, both vast, perfectly preserved Roman towns with barely another tourist in sight.
Algeria’s other big draw is its extraordinary Saharan region. Whether it’s a glimpse of the sand seas that surround Timimoun, or the burnt-red mountains of the far south, these are the desert landscapes of legend.
But, for all its peach-coloured dunes and grand ruins, it's perhaps the Algerians themselves, who welcome visitors with warmth and curiosity, that are the real highlight of this nation. For accessible adventure and a complex, enthralling cultural odyssey, head for Algeria.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Algeria.
One of the finest Roman sites in existence, the ruins of Timgad stretch almost as far as the eye can see over a plain that in winter is cold and desolate and in summer hot and tinder-dry. Its perfect preservation has made it a Unesco World Heritage Site – take the time to walk around slowly, inhabit the place and Timgad will spring to life.
The spectacular ruined Roman town of Djemila (or Cuicul as it was then known) is small enough to breeze around in half a day. But spend longer here, linger in the temples and markets, stroll through the bath chambers, or just lie down in the shade of villa walls and conjure up the sounds and sensations of those long gone days; one of the world's great archaeological sites will come alive.
The vast ruins of the ancient Roman city of Hippo Regius, also known as Hippone, are among the most evocative in Algeria, stretched across a rolling site, full of flowers, rosemary, olive trees, birds and sheep, and overlooked by the imposing, colonial-era Basilica de Saint Augustine.
Lambaesis once served as the capital of Roman Numidia and was, for a long time, the partner and sometime rival of nearby Timgad. Yet the site has disappeared from most itineraries and, if seen by visitors at all, it is usually glimpsed from the window of a car or bus as they shuttle between Batna and Timgad. A shame because this is a quiet, melancholic site that in the spring is ablaze in wild flowers.
Djemila Museum, which is within the ruins complex, is best visited before the ruins. It contains many of the wonders dug out of the ground here but the real highlight are the extraordinary number of beautiful mosaics (around 1700 sq metres of them, which together cover all the floors and walls of the museum). Among their number are some considered to be among the finest yet found in North Africa.
The founders of Tipasa (as Tipaza was known during the Roman era) obviously had an eye for aesthetics. The town rolls gently downhill through pine trees to a small beach and a blue silvered sea. It's this natural beauty, as much as the honey-toned sandstone walls, the amphitheatre where naval battles were re-enacted and the remnants of markets where fish were gutted and sold, that really makes Tipasa stand out as one of North Africa's finest Roman sites.
This central museum is one of the better museums in Algeria and it alone justifies a stop in Sétif. Displays are well laid out, lit and labelled (in French). There are cabinets filled with pottery and lamps from Roman Sétif, but the real stars are the mosaics in the ground floor central court, which are among the best you will see in Algeria.
This museum houses some of the finest sculptures and mosaics in the country. Among the highlights are marble busts of the royal family of Juba II, a rare portrait of Juba's mother-in-law, the famous Cleopatra of Egypt, and a statue of a naked Apollo in white marble, a copy of a 5th-century BC Greek original. The collection of mosaics includes a scene of Odyssesus and his followers passing the sirens, and a remarkably vivid portrayal of agricultural scenes.
Hovering on a barren mountain slope, some 30km from Constantine, the ruined Roman town of Tiddis is perhaps the most impressively situated of all Algeria's Roman sites. However, the ruins themselves are fairly weather beaten and cannot compare with some of the more famous Roman cities around these parts.