When you think of Morocco, you might immediately think of Casablanca, Marrakech, or Chefchaouen (the “Blue City”). But, have you ever heard of Fez? Fez is an intriguing and little-known city, with more than 1,500 years of history. Today it’s considered the capital of Islam in Morocco, and the labyrinthine streets of its Medina are reminiscent of the days of sultans and conquests. The city is like an immersive open-air museum bathed in the intense aromas of spices and leather. Fez is pretty small so it’s easy to see the essentials in a day. Perfect for getting a taste of Morocco, but cheaper than its more famous counterparts! Let’s find out what we can see in Fez in a day.
Getting to Fez
Most visitors traveling to Morocco usually fly into Marrakech or Casablanca and then make a circular route that goes through Chefchaouen, Fez, and Merzouga. However, if you’re short on time, you can also just do half of the route, such as Marrakech-Merzouga-Fez or Casablanca-Chefchaouen-Fez. Either way, you’ll want to make sure Fez is on your itinerary!
There are also fairly cheap flights that go directly to Fez if you’re flying from somewhere relatively close to Morocco. The Fez-Saïss international airport is located in the town of Saïss, 15 kilometers from Fez. The easiest and most comfortable way to go to Fez from the airport is to hire a private transfer. A driver will be waiting for you upon arrival and will take you to your hotel or Riad without you having to carry suitcases or look for the location of the accommodation on your own. If you prefer though, there are also buses. However, their infrequency and the fact that you have to book them in advance make them the more complicated option.
Staying in Fez
There are two neighborhoods of Fez that we recommend staying in. The first is the Medina, or Fes El Bali, to enjoy the experience of sleeping in a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an inner courtyard). The average price to stay in a good quality riad is around 80 euros. In this neighborhood, you’ll get a more traditional Moroccan feel as you’ll be right in the middle of the maze of the Medina.
If you’re more of a hotel person though, we recommend Ville Nouvelle, the modern quarter. The price per night for a double room usually starts from 50 euros at the cheaper accommodations. Getting around this neighborhood is less of a hassle since the streets are more organized. However, you won’t be in the middle of the action like you would be in Fes El Bali.
Top Tip: For travelers staying in the Medina, the most comfortable option is to walk. But, if you’re in Villa Nouvelle, it’s better to take a cab or bus, since it’s a more remote area. If you opt for a cab, always remember to ask the driver to activate the meter, and if he refuses, change cabs. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to negotiate the price at the end of the trip.
To discover the essence of Fez, there’s nothing better than getting lost in the Medina. Visit spectacular places like the Royal Palace and its seven magnificent gates or the Bab Bou Jeloud Gate, which leads to the old city. With the incessant movement of people, carts, and donkeys transporting products on their way to the souk, this is one of the liveliest areas of Fez. It’s worth going up to the terrace of one of the nearest restaurants or cafes to admire the bustling life of the surrounding streets from above. Book this private tour of the Medina of Fez and experience the lively streets for yourself!
Other must-sees in Fez are the impressive madrasas, which are ancient Koranic schools with hand-carved walls, marble fountains, and intricate tile designs. Highlights include the Attarine Madrasa and the Bou Inania Madrasa. These elegant and beautiful buildings are a testament to the wealth and majesty of the legendary Fez.
And, of course, there are many beautiful mosques in Fez. However, these places are sacred and those who don’t profess the Muslim religion aren’t allowed in. So, non-Muslim tourists must settle for a glimpse from the door. The best-known mosque is the Al Karaoudine Mosque, which houses the oldest university in the world!
Visiting the Tanneries
If there’s one thing Fez is known for, it’s its tanneries. The Chouwara tannery is the most famous of the four that are scattered throughout the Medina. Here you’ll find vivid colors and smells created by the pits in which natural dyes are produced. A list of what to see in Fez wouldn’t be complete without checking out these fascinating tanneries!
Enter one of the adjoining stores and go up to the terrace to enjoy a unique view of Chouwara. They’ll even give you bouquets of mint to try to neutralize the intense smell. And, of course, while you’re in the area you have to browse the many colorful leather goods–such as bags, slippers, or vests–and pickup a unique artisan souvenir! Or, if you’re looking for something other than leather, head to the souks that sell all kinds of products such as cosmetics, spices, wooden crafts, or food.
No visit to Morocco is complete without trying the intense spices and flavors of Moroccan gastronomy. In Fez, you’ll find all the typical dishes, just like in other cities of Morocco. Most tourist restaurants usually offer 3-course menus ranging from as low as 80 dirhams all the way up to 220 dirhams. The most traditional and best-rated restaurants are located inside the Medina Fes El Bali and around the Bab Bou Jeloud Gate.
Among the most typical dishes are couscous and tajine, a beef, chicken, or turkey stew cooked in the same clay dish where it’s served. Lamb skewers and Moroccan salad, which is made with typical Mediterranean vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, are also common.
And, to end your meal on the perfect sweet note, have some Moroccan sweets, which are usually made up of honey and nuts, accompanied by a delicious Moroccan coffee or mint tea!
Fez beyond the Medina
If you have time to spare, we recommend taking a day trip from Fez (on your own or with a guided tour). Visit Meknes, one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, and the fascinating ruins of Volubilis, an important ancient Roman city that was abandoned in the 18th century. It’s worth getting lost among the ruins and discovering the baths, the forum, the arch of Caracalla, and the beautiful mosaics of Volubilis. Take this tour to Volubilis, Mulay Idris, and Meknes and don’t miss a thing!