If you can only visit one city in Morocco, I would choose Fes over Marrakech every time. In my opinion it is one of the best places to visit in Morocco. While Marrakech is a large, cosmopolitan city, it can also be a little touristy. Whereas Fes feels much more authentic.
Clearly there are still tourists, but the cultural heritage of Fes really shines through. It is a place where you will want to spend your time in the medina, instead of the New City. It is all about the cultural immersion and the richness of the experience.
If you want to see the best of the city, be sure to follow this list of things to do in Fes.
Things to do in Fes
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Taste your way through the Souk
We kicked off our three days in Fes with a Tasting Trail food tour with Plan It Morocco. Since Fes was the second stop on our Morocco itinerary, it was a perfect way to get an introduction to Moroccan food and explore the souk.
I’m pretty sure we would not have been brave enough to sample the food from some of the vendors had we not taken this tour. And we certainly wouldn’t know which stands are good and safe and which weren’t.
Our three-hour tour included stops for bread, dates, olives, meat sandwiches, soup, pastries, freshly-made cheese, and 11 types of honey. We also had the best Moroccan mint tea of the trip at a cute little tea shop in the souk. The best bite was a crispy fritter with potato, vegetable, and harissa that we got from the soup vendor.
My only word of warning would be that this is not a good tour for vegetarians, vegans, picky eaters, or those with sensitive stomachs. Germaphobes also beware. While our guide supplied sanitizer, wipes, and everything else we needed, the conditions of some of these food stalls is rather eye opening.
Snap your way through the Medina
If you enjoy street photography, the ancient medina of Fes (Fes el Bali) is a perfect canvas. There are so many ways to capture the culture and essence of the city and its people. Since I’m working on my photography skills, I booked a photography walking tour with Omar through Airbnb Experiences.
We headed out from my hotel to explore the more residential parts of the medina that I probably wouldn’t find on my own (at least without getting seriously lost!) Omar guided me on how to capture people and life in the medina, while still being respectful of social norms and non-invasive.
He can help even if you only have a smartphone, but if you are looking for tips on how to use your specific camera, this probably isn’t the tour for you. It is more about shot composition than the technical aspects of photography.
Tour the Historical Sites
Fes is the cultural and religious center of Morocco and you really need a full day to explore it all. The Fes medina was first built in the 9th century and is home to over 150,000 people, making it the largest car-free urban area in the world. The medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You could visit some of the sites in the medina and New City on your own, but you will definitely get more out of it with a guide (and driver if you have one!). We took a full-day guided tour, arranged through Epic Morocco, the company that booked our whole trip.
We started off by visiting the Bou Inania Madrasa, which was founded in the 1300s. You can only visit the courtyard if you are a non-Muslim but the architecture is worth the small entrance fee.
In the medina, we also took a peek inside Al Quaraouiyine Mosque, which is on the site of the oldest university in the world (and founded by a woman!)
It was fun to see the different markets within the medina that specialize in metals, textiles, leather, honey, produce, and other specialty goods.
We exited through the Blue Gate (Bab Bou Jeloud), which is green on the inside of the medina and hopped into a car to head over to the Royal Palace.
After taking some pictures, we walked over to the Mellah, or the old Jewish Quarter, to tour the Ibn Danan synagogue. Inside the synagogue, you can also climb up to the roof to see the views over the medina and into the Jewish cemetery.
Because our tour included use of our car/driver, we were also able to go see Fes from above (more about that later.)
Watch Potters at Work
As you walk around the souk, you will see plenty of pottery, but be careful because some of that might be imported from China. If you want the real deal and you want to support the local artisans, plan to visit the Pottery Quarter, outside of the Medina.
You will get a tour of the workshop from a local guide and see everything from the kiln to the potter’s wheel, to the detail artists. It is amazing to see the skill that goes into each piece. We saw an artisan that was building a mosaic, from behind where all you can see is the plain back and he memorized the placement of all the pieces. Amazing!
Afterwards you will be left in the shop, where of course you will be tempted to make some purchases. Remember to negotiate and don’t worry about fitting it in your suitcase, they can also ship.
See Fes from Above
There are two great viewpoints over Fes, offering different views of the city. We visited the Borj Nord Fortress and Mount Zalagh on our day tour of Fes, since we had a driver. Both are fun places to climb around, take in the views, and enjoy a breath of fresh air away from the medina.
Pose by the Palace
There are royal palaces located all throughout Morocco. The Royal Palace in Fes is called the Dar el Makhzen. While you can’t go inside, you can take pictures outside of the beautiful Golden Gates.
Don’t worry if there are some people there. Give it a few minutes and you should be able to get the picture without other tourists around.
Tour the Tanneries
Chouara Tannery is the most famous of the tanneries in Fes and they offer free tours, of course with an expectation that you will buy something, although it is not required. When you go in, they will hand you a spring of mint to hold under your nose because of the smell. If it isn’t too hot, the smell won’t be too bad.
Seeing the physical labor involved makes you appreciate the cost of leather goods a little bit more. They offer beautifully crafted jackets, purses, belts, wallets, shoes, and household decor. You can definitely bargain here and the more you buy, the better the price gets. Needless to say we came home with a bagful of souvenirs.
Relax at the Riad
Staying at a riad in the medina will give you a chance to step out your door and start exploring. We really enjoyed our stay at Riad Fes. While it is possible to take day trips from Fes, we spent our free time relaxing. Riad Fes offers a full spa, but we spent our day enjoying the peace and quiet at the pool.
Riad Fes was definitely the most luxurious of the riads that we stayed at on our trip. The lobby is stunning, the service was great, and the restaurant gave us a nice break from eating traditional Moroccan food in the medina. The high ceilings and elaborate decor make it feel like you are staying in a grand palace. (Check rates and reviews)
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