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!
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”.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
There are several amazing museums to explore in Fes but these three were our favorites:
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.