1. Lose Yourself in the Fes Medina
The medina of Fes (Fes el Bali) is the oldest and largest in North Africa and dates back to the 9th century! Because of its historical significance, and cultural importance, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It’s easy to see why when you see how well the ancient charms of the medina have been preserved. Discover the roots of Fes by wandering the thousands of alleys here and enjoy the largest car-free urban area in the world!
Because of its narrow streets, it is very easy to get lost, something we experienced ourselves a few times. Make sure to know which signs you should follow before you leave your riad or hotel because even Google Maps can find it hard to navigate in this maze.
If you can, try to choose a hotel inside the medina itself. This is because some gates of the medina will close after 7 pm, which can cause problems when returning to a hotel outside the medina walls.
Tip: Lost? Ask a shop or restaurant owner how to get to your destination. Be aware that lots of children pull scams where they will help you with directions in order to receive some money in the end.
2. Jnan Sbil Gardens (Bou Jeloud)
This peaceful slice of nature is the only public garden in the busy medina. Step inside for a break from bargaining and enjoy the beautiful water features, birds, plants, flowers, and palm tree-lined walkways. Relax, cool down, and watch the Fes locals enjoying the park too. The park is open Tuesday – Sunday between 8 AM – 7.30 PM.
3. The Magical Bou Inania Madrasa
The Bou Inania Madrasa is an iconic religious building in the center of the medina. The building, constructed in the 14th century, was once a school. However, now its extraordinary architecture is on display to the public. Explore its magnificent marble courtyard, intricate wood carvings, and endless mosaic tilework in a variety of greens.
Continuing the color theme is the adjoining mosque, with its breathtaking green minaret that is visible across the medina. There’s no doubt that this madrasa is the grandest in the city! Don’t miss out on this great thing to do in Fes.
Because of its location, it’s easy to visit while wandering through the medina. It’s also one of the few religious sites in Fes that can be entered by non-Muslim people. Visit early or late in the day to see this beautiful space at its quietest. We visited around 4 PM, and there was almost no one!
4. Take in the Smells of the Tanneries
Be sure to check out the world-famous tanneries of Fes! Discover hundreds of earthen pits full of various colored dye, which is used to color animal skins. The tanneries are a unique part of the Fes culture and are one of the best things to do on any trip to Morocco. However, be warned that the smell is quite strong!
Locals will try to offer you “free mint” to help with the smell, but we’ve seen a lot of people paying afterward. Because of this, it’s best to remember to take a bit of mint or a scarf with you instead.
An alternative way to see the tanneries is to find a roof terrace nearby. This way you can get up high for a birds-eye view.
5. Africa’s Oldest University: Kairaouine
The Kairaouine Mosque is known to be the world’s oldest university and is the second-largest mosque in Morocco. It is one of the most important religious buildings in Fes, and as such, only Muslims are allowed inside.
Although tourists can’t access the interior, you can take a glimpse through several of the entrance gates. See the stunning marble courtyard, fountains, arches, tiles, and carvings, and watch as people pray in this holy building, which still operates as a university!
6. Get a Fresh Orange Juice
Orange juice is one thing we love, and Fes do it so well! Grab a cheap, fresh juice every morning for the perfect start to a day of exploring. You can’t miss the orange juice stalls which are situated all over the center of town. Yum!
7. Al Atterine Madrassa
This madrassa may be small, but its beauty is so much more than its size. There is a wonderful courtyard in the center, surrounded by geometric patterned tiles that decorate the walls and floor. Marvel at the intricately wooden carved doors, which truly make you feel transported back to medieval Morrocco.
Don’t forget to look up at the beautiful minaret above! This oasis of calm, amongst the craziness of Fes, is located close to the Kairaouine Mosque and the Chouara leather tannery. A great thing to do in Fes if you have time! The madrassa is open from 8 AM – 6 PM (always check for religious holidays and events, as this can alter times). Entrance costs 20 Dhs (2 USD).
8. Sunset on a Rooftop
Moroccan architecture makes for beautiful earthy-colored houses with flat rooftops. This means it’s a terraced paradise! One of the best ways to see Fes is to find a great rooftop cafe or bar (like Cafe Clock) and enjoy the city from above. Sit here at the end of a day of sightseeing and enjoy the sun setting behind this wonderful city. Bliss!
9. The Royal Palace (Dar Al-Makhzen)
Take a glimpse at the dazzling exterior of the royal palace. The royal family and government still frequently use this building, so sadly, tourists aren’t allowed inside. However, the stunning walls made up of blue mosaic tiles, and the magnificent bronze doors, make it a top thing to do in Fes. Tourists can also wander through the lovely, green palace gardens outside. Adjacent to the gardens is the grand mosque Fes el-Jdid, with the most beautifully embellished minaret!
10. Explore the Maze-Like Souks
The souks are the very soul of any Moroccan city, and the ones in Fes are some of the most impressive. Step back into a medieval time of dusty walled streets, where the only transport is donkey and cart. It’ll be an assault on the senses, with sellers shouting prices and striking hard bargains, aromatic smells coming from every direction, and textile displays in all colors of the rainbow.
The streets in the Fes souks are much narrower than the ones in Marrakech, with many twists, turns, and forks that make it a true maze. To learn a bit more about the center and its highlights, you can also decide to join a guided tour.
11. Buy a Beautiful Fes Carpet
Fes is known for its handicrafts and, most notably, its rugs. Carpet sellers are all over the main streets of the medina, each with stunning Moroccan designs to show. A French woman living in Marrakech advised us to go to a certain shop (across the street from Café El Khmissa), to a shop that’ll give you an honest price.
Where to Stay in Fes
Take the opportunity to stay in a traditional riad in Fes. These are Moroccan guesthouses, normally situated in the older parts of town and centered around courtyards or pools. They’re a great place to stay to find some calm at the end of your busy days in Fes.
Ideally, choose a hotel or riad in the center of the medina to be close to the main sights and to avoid getting lost late at night.
How to Visit Fes, Morocco
Fes is well connected from all directions. You can easily arrive from Marrakech, Rabat, or the blue city of Chefchaouen. From Marrakech, the train takes you to the beautiful coastline of Rabat. This train line then continues on to Fes.
You can also visit Fes as the first stop on a Sahara Desert Tour: an incredible experience that will create lifelong memories.
Bus to Fes
The CTM bus is a great option if you don’t mind a long drive. The buses are clean and drive safely. There are some other companies that offer the same route when the CTM is full, but these buses are a lot more uncomfortable.
Once you’re in Fes, the main sights of the city are walkable. If you’re looking to explore outside of Fes, the best way to get around is to rent a car.
Best Restaurants in Fes
We had the best food at Chez Rachid, which is very close to the popular Bab Boujloud Gate, ‘The Blue Gate’. Cafe Clock is also a great place to grab a bite to eat, with beautiful terrace views. The food here is a bit more Western, with a fusion style.
Best Time to Visit Fes
The best time to visit Fes is in the shoulder seasons of March-May or September-November. In these months it will be beautifully warm and sunny but not too hot. The winter months can still be lovely and sunny and are a great time to visit if you want to see other incredible areas in the country.