Fez, or Fes, often considered the cultural and spiritual heart of Morocco, is a city that transports you back in time with its rich history and vibrant culture. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fes boasts the oldest and largest medina in North Africa, filled with winding alleys, ancient buildings, and bustling souks. If you’re planning a visit, here’s a guide to the best things to do in this mystical city.

Immerse Yourself in the Medina of Fes

The medina of Fes, known as Fes el Bali, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys dating back to the 9th century. It’s the largest car-free urban area in the world, making it a unique place to explore on foot. As you wander through the medina, you'll encounter centuries-old mosques, madrasas, and vibrant souks.

Getting lost in the medina is almost inevitable, but it’s part of the charm. To make the most of your visit, consider staying in a riad within the medina. This way, you’re always close to the action and can avoid the inconvenience of gates closing after 7 pm. If navigating the maze seems daunting, hiring a guide can be a great way to uncover the hidden gems of the medina.

Medina of Fez

Jnan Sbil Gardens: A Peaceful Retreat

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the medina, the Jnan Sbil Gardens offer a tranquil escape. These public gardens are a haven of greenery with beautiful water features, palm-lined walkways, and a variety of plants and flowers. It's the perfect place to relax and cool down while watching locals enjoy the serene environment.

The Magical Bou Inania Madrasa

The Bou Inania Madrasa is one of the most iconic religious buildings in Fes. Built in the 14th century, this former school now stands as a stunning example of Islamic architecture. The madrasa features a magnificent marble courtyard, intricate wood carvings, and beautiful mosaic tilework. Visitors can also see the adjoining mosque with its striking green minaret.

Open to non-Muslims, Bou Inania Madrasa is a must-visit. To avoid crowds, try visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The entrance fee is 20 Dhs (about 2 USD), and it’s open from 9 AM to 5 PM, except during prayer times.

Bou Inania Madrasa

Take in the Smells of the Tanneries

Fes is famous for its tanneries, where leather is processed and dyed using traditional methods. The Chouara tannery, the largest and oldest in the city, is a fascinating but pungent place to visit. The sight of hundreds of earthen pits filled with colorful dyes is truly unique. While the smell can be overwhelming, a bit of mint or a scarf can help mitigate it.

To get a good view of the tanneries, head to one of the nearby rooftop terraces. This vantage point allows you to watch the tanning process without getting too close to the strong odors.

Tanneries in Fez

Visit Africa’s Oldest University: Al-Qarawiyyin

Founded in 859, the Al-Qarawiyyin University is the oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world. Though only Muslims can enter the mosque, visitors can peek through the gates to see the beautiful marble courtyard, fountains, and intricate tilework.

To get a closer look at the architecture, find a rooftop café nearby and enjoy a drink while admiring the view of the mosque’s minaret and the surrounding area.

al-Qarawiyyine university

Enjoy Fresh Orange Juice

One of the simple pleasures in Fes is enjoying a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Vendors throughout the medina offer this delicious and refreshing drink, making it a perfect way to start your day of exploration.

Al-Attarine Madrasa: A Hidden Gem

Another architectural marvel in Fes is the Al-Attarine Madrasa. Although smaller than Bou Inania, its beauty is undeniable. The courtyard is adorned with geometric patterned tiles, and the intricately carved wooden doors are a sight to behold. Located near the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and the Chouara tannery, this madrasa is worth a visit. It’s open from 8 AM to 6 PM, and the entrance fee is 20 Dhs (about 2 USD).

Al-Attarine madrasa

Watch the Sunset from a Rooftop

Fes’s flat rooftops provide excellent spots for watching the sunset. Find a rooftop café or bar, such as Café Clock, and enjoy the view of the city as the sun sets. It’s a perfect way to relax after a day of sightseeing and soak in the beauty of Fes from above.

The Royal Palace (Dar Al-Makhzen)

While tourists cannot enter the Royal Palace of Fes, its exterior is stunning. The palace’s walls are decorated with blue mosaic tiles, and the grand bronze doors are truly impressive. Adjacent to the palace are lush gardens and the grand mosque Fes el-Jdid, which features a beautifully embellished minaret. The palace area is an excellent spot for photos and a pleasant stroll.

The Royal Palace (Dar Al-Makhzen)

Explore the Maze-Like Souks

The souks in Fes are some of the most vibrant and bustling markets in Morocco. These narrow, winding streets are filled with shops selling everything from spices and textiles to ceramics and leather goods. The sights, sounds, and smells of the souks are an assault on the senses, but they offer an authentic experience of Moroccan culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about the souks, consider joining a guided tour. This can help you navigate the maze-like streets and discover the best places to shop.

Bab boujloud in Fez

Buy a Beautiful Fes Carpet

Fes is renowned for its handmade rugs and carpets. The medina is dotted with carpet shops where you can find stunning Moroccan designs. While haggling is expected, it’s part of the experience. If you’re unsure where to go, ask for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to take your time finding the perfect rug.

Where to Stay in Fes

Staying in a traditional riad in the heart of the medina is a fantastic way to experience Fes. These guesthouses often feature beautiful courtyards and provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling city streets. Staying in the medina also means you’re close to the main attractions, making it easier to explore without getting lost.

How to Visit Fes, Morocco

Fes is well connected to other major Moroccan cities like Marrakech, Rabat, and Chefchaouen. The train from Marrakech to Fes passes through Rabat and offers a scenic journey along the coastline. If you prefer a longer, more adventurous route, consider taking a CTM bus. These buses are clean and safe, making them a reliable option for travel.

Once in Fes, the best way to explore the city is on foot. The main sights are within walking distance, and the narrow streets are best navigated without a vehicle. If you plan to explore outside the city, renting a car is a good option.

Best Time to Visit Fes

The best time to visit Fes is during the shoulder seasons of March-May or September-November. During these months, the weather is warm and pleasant without being too hot. Winter can also be a lovely time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds and explore other areas of Morocco.

Fes is a city that captures the heart with its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. Whether you’re wandering through the medina, visiting ancient madrasas, or enjoying a fresh glass of orange juice, Fes offers an unforgettable experience. So pack your bags and get ready to discover the magic of this enchanting Moroccan city.

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