Fez is the oldest city in Morocco and an absolute must see. With the largest tannery in Africa and a sprawling Medina packed with over 9700 streets, it’s definitely worth exploring for a couple of days. But what should you see and do? Where should you stay? And what should you be aware of? Here are my top tips for how to make the most out of 2 days in Fes.
A Little Bit About Fes
As mentioned above, Fes (also spelled Fez) is the oldest city in Morocco. It dates back to the 9th century and is comprised of three main parts. The Old City is the Medina with its winding streets and alleyways. Middle Town is the Jewish Quarter, and New Town continues to develop today.
Old Town is the highlight of Fes. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also the largest urban car-free space in the world. This is where you will spend the majority of your time as it is of the most interest to travellers and holds plenty of the Fes’s sites and attractions.
Middle Town is worth a visit as well. This is where you can find the Jewish quarter and, just outside, the Fes Palace. It’s much smaller than the Medina area but definitely worth a visit. The architecture is different but there is a busy marketplace, the Synagogue and Jewish cemetery (which you can see from the roof of the Synagogue) and some picturesque streets.
And finally, there is New Town. To be honest, you probably won’t really want or need to spend any time here as its residential. It’s also quite a distance from Old Town so when booking accommodation, keep that in mind.
Fes has a bit of a reputation for scammers and hustlers, which I will talk more about below, but overall as long as you stay aware you will be fine- don’t let the warnings scare you off.
How to Get to Fes
Since Fes is a main city in Morocco, it’s easy to get to by public transit. Fes has both bus and train stations (outside of Old Town/Medina) as well as an airport. Taxis are the best way to get from any of these destinations to Fes City. I didn’t arrive via the airport, so I can’t comment on how much you should pay but I did arrive to Fes both via bus and train. The train station is the closest and locals pay 10 dirhams, tourists usually have to pay around 30 dirham. The bus station is further away but we only had to pay 15 dirhams, to get from Fes Old Town to the bus station. Everyone says make sure to turn on the meter, but most refuse so make sure to haggle. If you aren’t sure, ask at the bus station or accommodation how much you should be paying so you have an idea. We originally paid 50 dirhams from the train station to the Medina and our Riad owner laughed at us (in a nice way) but clearly we were very much scammed.
If you are coming from the airport and don’t want to deal with taxis, you can arrange a private transfer for a reasonable price here.
Getting Around Fes
A lot of the sites and attractions around Fes are very walkable. Especially in the Medina, which is good because walking is your only option there. The Medina is very hilly with plenty of steep spots so take your time and bring lots of water. I should also note that maps- Google Maps, maps.me, iphone maps etc. Do not work in the Medina. They can be useful for making sure that you are going in the right direction, but they don’t show all the tiny streets so pay attention to markers along the way. You can always ask for directions, and many locals will offer, but 95% of them expect payment at the end so be wary of that.
Some of the attractions that are a bit further away, such as the Palace, Jewish Quarter, and Tombs are also walkable and take about 30-45 minutes to reach depending on your walking speed. Of course, you can take taxis as well just make sure to haggle or, if you can, get them to turn on the meter.
Where to Stay in Fes
This depends entirely on you but I highly recommend you stay in the Medina. Keep in mind, the Medina is HUGE so, if you do stay in the Medina, try to pick somewhere close to the Blue Gate so you don’t have to walk down all the tiny, busy streets with all of your luggage. Trust me- it won’t be fun.
Most places within the Medina are Riads or Dars. A Dar is a house and a Riad is a little fancier- they normally have a courtyard or a garden on the inside and are very traditional and beautiful. I recommend Riads when possible, just because it is a different experience. There are riads available for all budgets.
Need some recommendations? Take a look at:
Hostel: Riad Verus (this is where we stayed, they have dorms and private rooms)
Insider tip: Morocco is known for its hard beds, so consider yourself warned. The locals also joke that the Fez Medina is the largest town house in the world- everything is attached, or close and it can be very loud. If you are a light sleeper, consider ear plugs.
Things to do in Fes
If you are looking for a huge list of things to see and do in Fes, you won’t get one. The charm of Fes is wandering around the Medina and taking in the hustle and bustle, the sites, the noise, and the hectic-ness of this city. It can be a bit intimidating, but if you go in with a positive attitude it can also be a lot of fun.
That being said, there are a few specific sites I definitely recommend going to or keeping an eye out for. Mostly because of the beautiful architecture or the views. Here are my favourite things to do in Fes.
Take a Tour of the Medina
Our first day in Fez it was recommended to us to take a tour with a local guide so we didn’t get insanely lost. Also, because being with a local meant we wouldn’t be hassled. It was a good way to start out 2 days in Fez and prepare ourselves a bit for the chaos. Plus, we got to see a more local side of the Medina as well as got some information and stories about the city and the culture. We booked our tour through our hostel and it was 200 dirhams for the private tour (so 100 dirhams each) and it lasted 4.5 hours which included doing a bit of shopping (more on shopping later). Keep in mind though, a local tour probably will not take you to the main sites or attractions, especially the paid ones, so you’ll have to do a bit of exploring on your own as well.
Doors of the Royal Palace (Dar el Makhzen)
This is one of the most photographed sites in Fes, and for good reason. The seven doors on the palace gate are beautiful and the only part of the palace that is available for tourists to actually look at- you can’t go inside. There are a couple other pretty doors along the palace walls but if there are guards in front, you cannot take pictures- they will actually make sure you delete them off your camera.
Bou Anania Madrasa
A Madrasa is like a school or an eduacational institution, and Fes has a few but you can only go into a couple that aren’t in use anymore. The architecture in them are stunning and if you are into photography (or Instagram) you definitely want to visit. This is the busiest one so maybe try to go early to skip crowds. We went around 4pm and it was packed! Cost: 20 dirhams.
This Madrasa is smaller and seemed to be much lesser known (or maybe too far into the Medina?) compared to the Bou Anania Madrasa. There were only a few other people there when we were and it was much easier to take photos. We went around 3pm and unfortunately the lighting wasn’t great, but it was still gorgeous. You can also go up a couple of levels to get views from above into the courtyard. Cost: 20 dirhams.
The Blue Gate
The Blue Gate is the iconic entry way into the Fes Medina. It’s a pretty sight to see though, despite the name, it’s only blue on the outside. If you look at the gate from the inside (the Medina part) it’s actually green.
About a thirty-minute walk from the Blue Gate are the Merenid Tombs. The old, crumbling structures date back to the 14thcentury but little is actually known about them. While the ruins are cool to see, the highlight here are the views over Marrakech old town and the Medina.
This world-famous tannery is an iconic image of Fes and is a must visit. To get to the viewing platform, you will need to go into a leather shop and hear the whole spiel on how it works (which is actually interesting) and you will be invited to shop. Of course, you don’t have to buy (in fact most people recommend not buying from one of these shops so close to the tannery because the leather smells really bad after). I didn’t find the smell as bad as people said (it wasn’t great though) but most places give you mint to cover it. Fun fact: the smell isn’t the leather itself, it’s the pigeon poop mixture that the leather soaks in for 15 days.
The Jewish Quarter (Mellah)
This part of Fes is known as the Jewish Quarter because it was a refugee for Jewish families. However, after the creation of Israel, many families left. According to a local man we met, today there are only about 100 Jewish families left in Fes. Most people come here to see the Ibn Danan Synagogue (20 dirhams).
Other things to do in Fes
I’m not a big museum person, so I didn’t go to any during my 2 days in Fes, however if you are you might want to consider checking out Borj Nord which has lots of weapons and military history or Dar Bartha which has lots of traditional artefacts.
The city of Fes is also full of plenty of mosques and a university that, while beautiful, are not open to tourists and/or non-Muslims. However, keep your eyes out as you’ll get to see the beautiful architecture and maybe get to peek inside if doors are open.
Shopping in Fes
Fez is known as the craft centre of Morocco, and for good reason. From the leather shops to the rugs, silver work to ceramics there are plenty of beautiful things to see and, potentially, buy. However, there are also a few things to look out for as well and, of course, you need to haggle. Never pay full price.
I bought a couple things in Fez; a leather pouf and some woven blankets made out of cactus. As mentioned earlier, we went on a guided tour with a local who took us to family run shops owned by Berbers, not just the stalls in the Medina.
The leather shop we went to was located close to the small tannery, and had every leather product you could imagine. I immediately fell in love with a royal blue leather poof with a hand stitched design on top in red and yellow. I asked the price and he told me 1900 dirhams. I balked, because I read online that you could get leather poofs for around $40 USD (just under 400 dirhams). I told him this and he showed me the difference and what I could get for that budget. Cheaper leather, not as well dyed, and no stitching. The one I wanted was kid leather, dyed with indigo, and hand-stitched so the difference in craftsmanship and material alone was very different. In the end, I got him down to 1000 dirhams for it (nearly half of the original asking price). It was more than I expected to pay from what I read online, but after visiting another tannery and seeing what was for sale for cheaper in the Medina, I have no doubt that I got a much better quality which, really, is what I wanted.
The blankets I got were silky, dyed bright pink and green, and woven from cactus. I was told they took about a week to make each. The original asking price was 850 dirhams for 1. I got two for that price- though it was definitely a bit of a battle (I was convinced I was walking away with nothing).
Back at the hostel I asked the owner and his wife (Moroccan and Canadian) how I did and explained what I bought. They both said I did really well (his wife actually joked I should go shopping with her). Given how much they teased us about over-paying that first taxi-fare, I trust them and am happy with my purchases especially given that I did opt for high quality.
Food and Drink in Fes
Fes has no shortage of restaurants and yes, many are catered towards tourists. There are plenty of spots around the Blue Gate and the main streets in the Medina offering Moroccan dishes and some more western options. Keep your eyes up and look for terraces on the rooftops if you want to relax and take in the views. Most meals we had cost between 40-70 dirhams for a plate, and portions were huge. Water in a restaurant should cost around 10 dirhams (small bottle) to 20 dirhams (big bottle), though a big bottle will only cost you 6 dirhams in the street. Alcohol was not common on the menus we saw, however that may be because we arrived right before Ramadan and they stop drinking a week before. That being said, I did see a couple tourists with beer so it might be worth asking.
Scammers and Cat Calls in Fes
When I was planning my 2 days in Fes, I got tons of warnings from tourists and locals alike that I needed to be extra cautious and careful because the city is known for its scammers. However, after my visit, I think there was a bit too-much fear mongering here. Yes, there are scammers so keep an eye on your belongings, don’t trust everyone you meet, and know that if you are a woman you will (very) probably be harassed. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad (in my opinion) as people made it out to be.
The cat calls were annoying, but I was never actually scared. It was a lot of “beautiful”, “will you be my wife”, “how many camels” etc. It’s not fun and I did find Fes the worst for harassment in Morocco, but it was pretty harmless. Nobody grabbed or touched us though I did get one sexual comment and I called him an asshole. He deserved it.
The people in the street will constantly try to get you into their shops or lead you somewhere. Just say no thank you or la-shukran (no thank-you in Arabic) and most of them will leave you alone. If they keep pushing, don’t be afraid to raise your voice and sound angry if you have to.
For both the cat calls and hasslers, you can often ignore them by continuing to walk past. This is obviously easier if you are with someone that you can talk to but if you are alone try putting headphones in or pretending to talk on your phone. For women, I highly recommend wearing dark sunglasses as well to avoid accidentally making eye contact which, for me at least, seemed to serve as an invitation for them to talk to me.
Final Word on Fes
I wasn’t sure what to expect in Fes, especially after all the warnings, but I did really enjoy it. Yes, you do need to be aware of yourself and your surroundings and, women especially, will probably feel like they need to be on guard but give it a chance. It’s a pretty unique place and 2 days in Fes is absolutely worth your time.