TOP THINGS TO SEE IN FES
Fes, also spelled Fez, (multiple spellings are quite common in this city) seems, at first glance, to be quite similar to other large cities in Morocco. And it is fairly large – with over 1.1 million people calling it home, it is the second-largest city in Morocco. It has a centrally located “medina” (which is a word used to describe a walled old city with maze-like streets), pretty doorways, souks selling a variety of souvenirs, a royal palace, and several lush gardens.
But once you spend some time in Fes, you’ll begin to see some distinct differences. For starters, the medina of Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is free of pesky cars or motorbikes. In fact, it is believed to be one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas. But you’ll still have to get out of the way of the occasional donkey cart barreling through. 70,000 Fasis (people from Fes) choose to live in this confusing, ramshackle area of the city. It will have you feeling like you’ve transported back in time.
Read on to discover the best things to do in the fascinating city of Fes, Morocco!
Languages Used in Fes
There are a number of languages in Morocco but the two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). The second language for most Moroccans is French. You’ll also find that many people speak at least a little English.
Learn a few phrases in Arabic to get around! “Al Salam Alaikum” (pronounced sall-em wall-a-come) is a nice way to say “hello”. “Shukran” (pronounced shoo kran) is “thank you”. “Ma’-Elsalama” (pronounced ma sell lem-a) is “goodbye”. And “La” is “no” – use it when approached by touts! If you would prefer to speak in French, “Bonjour” is “hello”, “Merci” is “thank you” and “S’il Vous Plaît” is “please”.
Best Time to Visit Fes
Fes has a reasonably temperate year-round climate but you’ll find that summer can be incredibly hot. June through September see average temperatures ranging from 82°F – 95°F. Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons to visit Fes with temperatures in the mid-70°s. Clear skies and sunshine will allow you to take advantage of your hotel pool. You can sit outside at one of the many terrace cafes.
The winter months of November through March are the coldest of the year with average temperatures in the 50°s. February sees the most rain so either avoid visiting during that time or bring an umbrella.
The Best Things to do in Fes, Morocco
1 – Take a Walking Tour of the Old Medina
The Old Medina of Fes is a maze of small alleyways jutting off of the main street that runs down the center. The medina is on a slope. The best way to tackle a walking tour is to start at the top and make your way to the bottom. Then, hail a taxi to head back home. Unlike other medinas in Morocco, this one is only for pedestrians so you don’t have to worry about making way for motorbikes.
Have your taxi drop you off at Bab Boujloud, the impressive archway that leads into the Old Medina. Stop here and snap a few photos before heading inside. Immediately, you will join the crowd of tourists and locals making their way through the narrow streets. You’ll feel overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of this ancient wonderland!
2. Visit the Bou anania Madrasa
Your first stop in the Old Medina will be a turn-off of the main street to visit the Bou Inania Madrasa (entrance fee: 20 Dhs for adults, 10 Dhs for children 12 and under). Built in the 14th century, this gorgeous former Islamic university has a large central courtyard surrounded by stunning hand-carved plaster, large intricate doors, and ornate lattice screens. It operated as a school until the 1960s when restoration work began which allows the public to enjoy its original beauty.
Along the way, you will pass by a few beautiful mosques. Non-Muslims cannot enter the mosques in most of Morocco, including Fes but you can peek your head in or take a photo from right outside. Zaouia de Moulay and Al Quaraouiyine Mosque are two that are worth stopping along the way to take a look at.
3. Tour the Al-Attarine Madrasa
Similar to the Bou anania Madrasa, the Al-Attarine Madrasa (entrance fee: 20 Dhs for adults, 10 Dhs for children 12 and under) also consists of a large courtyard surrounded by intricate carvings and impressive doorways. The black and white tile on the ground is an interesting contrast to the stone and marble facade.
4. See the Coppersmiths and Tanners Hard at Work
Check out how the Moroccan souvenirs that you’ve been eyeing in the souk are made! First is the coppersmiths in the Place Seffarine where shop owners are pounding designs into copper and buffing them smooth. And then the Chouara Tannery which is the most iconic site in Fes. It is the oldest tannery in the world and it smells terrible so be sure to grab some mint to rub under your nostrils on your way in. It’s quite impressive that all of their leather dying is still done entirely by hand!
Finally, you’ll pop out at Place R’cif where you can cross under the arch and hail a taxi home. If you haven’t had enough of the medina, turn around and go back through the way you came but be ready for an uphill climb.
6. Dine on the Delectable Cuisine
The food in the Old Medina of Fes is absolutely incredible! There are a lot of restaurants to choose from but these four were our absolute favorites:
- The Ruined Garden – this darling garden setting is like an oasis in the middle of the hectic medina. Try the cauliflower salad and the kefta meatball tajine, you won’t be disappointed! Reservations are recommended for dinner during peak season.
- Fez Café – with a rotating menu that changes daily and a large selection of wine, it is a must-try restaurant while visiting Fes. Sit in the courtyard to enjoy the lush vegetation and the fresh air.
- Café Clock – this darling restaurant has quaint seating areas in creative nooks throughout the house. If the weather is nice, be sure to head all the way to the roof for spectacular views of the city and colorful cushioned seating. Have mint tea and the tapas platter for an afternoon snack!
- Chez Rachid – offering the best location for people-watching in the old medina and serving up a delectable chicken, almond, and plum tajine, this is a must-visit restaurant in Fes!
6. Snap a Photo of the Golden Doors at the Royal Palace of Fes
The Royal Palace of Fez (Dar al-Makhzen) is not open to the public but the massive golden doors at the entrance are reason enough to visit. Have your taxi drop you here as this will be the start of your walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. While gated, the guards will allow you to enter the courtyard to snap photos.
The Royal Palace was built in the 1960s and if the brass doors are any indication of what the interior of the palace is like, we have no doubt that it is stunningly beautiful!
7. Stroll Around the Jewish Quarter
Head through the “Mellah” or Jewish Quarter to the Jewish Cemetery (entrance fee: 10 Dhs/person) to see the rows of whitewashed above-ground graves. You can also catch a few of the cemetery from above on the roof of the Synagogue Ibn Danan (entrance fee: 20 Dhs/person).
Cross the street to see the Bab Lamar gate at the entrance to Alaouites Garden. Don’t spend too much time here, it is less of a garden and more of a public toilet. A more impressive park in the area is Jardin Jnan Sbil where you’ll find cobblestone footpaths through lush greenery, and even a small lake offering beautiful reflections on clear, sunny days.
8. Get a History Lesson at the Museum
There are several amazing museums to explore in Fes but these three were our favorites:
- Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts – this museum is truly stunning and not-to-be-missed! Not only are the traditional wooden artifacts spectacular but the ornate 4-story building that they housed in is a wonder all on its own. Head to the rooftop cafe for views of the medina below! While most museums in Morocco only include descriptions in French and Arabic, this one offers English as well. (Entrance fee: 20 Dhs/person. Open all days from 10:00 – 17:00)
- Batha Museum – this former palace became a museum in 1915. Museum rooms surround a beautiful sunken garden with raised walkways in the center. The artifacts aren’t nearly as interesting as the garden area. (Entrance fee: 10 Dhs/person. Open Wednesday through Monday from 9:00 – 17:00, closed Tuesdays)
- Borj Nord Museum – this fort was established by the Saadi dynasty in the 16th century and is now open to the public as a Weapons Museum. The spectacular views of the city alone make a visit worthwhile. (Entrance fee: 20 Dhs/person. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 17:00, closed Mondays)
9. Shop in the Souk
Morocco is world-renowned for its leather goods, spices, ceramics, colorful blankets and rugs, and metal lamps. While you’ll find many similar souvenirs in almost every souk in Morocco, the souk in Fes sells leather goods that are actually hand-made at the tannery in the medina! You can feel the difference in quality here and you will have the opportunity to see products being made in their small workshops.
Fes is the best place to stock up on gorgeous bags of all sizes. Check the stitching and the lining to make sure they’re high quality and ask if the bag is made of goat, cow, or camel. Leather cushions referred to as “poofs” are also popular to purchase in Fes. Haggling is expected and welcomed in all of Morocco so when shopping in the souk you should never accept the first price offered.
Don’t take the negotiations too seriously and be sure to have fun with it. And be willing (and able) to walk away. My advice is to counter with a price that is half of their initial offering and plan on meeting somewhere in the middle. So about 3/4 of their initial asking price.