Fes el Bali in the Northeast of Morocco is a prime example of medieval Arabic architecture. This means that there are plenty of things to see in the heart of Morocco’s cultural capital. The city has stood here since the 9th century CE, and is home to the oldest Muslim university in the country.

The main gate in Fez

The main gate in Fes

According to the UNESCO, Fes reached the height of its affluence in the 13th–14th centuries under the Marinids, when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. Many of the principal monuments in Fes medina date from this period. Although the political capital of Morocco is now Rabat, Fes has retained its status as Morocco’s cultural and spiritual centre. Both Ryanair and Easyjet fly direct here and with plenty of things to do nothing should stop you from visiting Fes.

The main points of interest in Fes in Morocco are all inside the ancient Medina. The Medina is basically the old town in Fes, within the city walls – a fascinating place and fortunately 2-3 days is plenty to discover it. Most of the tourist action happens here in Fes: you will see donkeys carting goods up and down the narrow streets and find the best leather goods anywhere in Morocco.

If you want to find out what to see in Fes then scroll down to check out my photos and read my commentary about my recent trip to Fes el Bali. I only spent two nights here as I only had a week in Morocco and wanted to see the desert in Merzouga where I drove in my rental car.

If you prefer not to rush things in Fes, you can spend more time in town, but if you have only one week in Morocco like I did then two-three nights in Fes will suffice.

Read my full one-week travel itinerary for a road trip around Morocco

Fes Medina – Three Day Travel Itinerary

The best thing to do if you are in Fes is to book a room in a Riad in the Medina (old town). Staying in Fes Medina will mean you will never need to walk far as you will be at the center of all the action. It doesn’t matter which order you do the below, the important thing is you don’t miss them out! I can guarantee you will get lost at one point so consider yourself lucky if you’ve managed to tick them all off.

Read: Driving from Fes to Merzouga by car

The moment I entered Fes it felt like stepping into a different world. The main gate to the city is at Bab Mahrouk, just next to the market and a large car park. I parked my car here and paid for two nights. After some haggling I brought the price down to 80 dirhams, which is quite a good price. The car park is very safe and two guards stay around 24/7.

A propped up building in Fez

A propped up building in Fes

The walk from the car park to the main gate in Fes is about 3 minutes. As soon as you enter you will feel like you’ve travelled back 500 years in time! There are cafes on both sides and everyone is trying to sell their wares in the shops. There is a cavalcade of activity and everyone seems to be trying to get somewhere!

As I walked a little bit further down the road I saw some musicians playing their drums and children were dancing around them. On the left a stone mason was just preparing the head stone for someone that died that day, while on the other side a shoemaker was making a leather flip-flop.

Everyone was rushing up and down the streets in Fes el Bali and it all seemed unbelievable. I expected something similar to the Istanbul market but it simply doesn’t compare. I don’t think it is possible to prepare anyone for this, so perhaps best to watch the video below to get a sense of it all.

Things to Do in Fes in Morocco – Video

If you are wondering what to do in Fes and need a little inspiration, watch this short video below. In it you will see the narrow foot paths in the Medina and the donkeys walking up and down the ancient alleyways.

The Hotel Where I Stayed

Riad Tahrya is a typical Moroccan bed and breakfast or youth hostel. It has a covered inner courtyard with a small fountain and a rooftop terrace. The rooms have private showers and windows to the courtyard. I absolutely loved it and would fully recommend it to anyone. The staff were very nice and helpful and they even prepared a takeaway breakfast for me for my last day. If you need directions, the staff will be happy to tell you what to do in Fes el Bali.

Inside a restored villa

Inside a restored villa

Ryad Tahrya is in a secluded sidewalk, which is also a dead-end so it is super quiet. It was a bit of a challenge to find it first but then I realized they had signposts so after that it was much easier to get there.

It is just between Rue Talaa Kebira and Talaa Sghira, which are the two main arteries of the Fes el Bali Medina. There are no cars inside the walled city and the only way to get around is by walking. There are hundreds of streets inside the Medina and many of them are dead-ends so you will spend quite some time walking backwards and forwards finding your way. It is not a challenge to get lost here!

The Labyrinth of the Fes el Bali Medina

If you are worried about never finding your way back to your Riad you can hire a guide in Fes el Bali. I thought it would be a waste of money and they are not cheap at 250 dirham per day so I went it alone. I turned left on Talaa Sghira as I came out of the walkway where Riad Tahrya is. This is where my problems started. I kept walking further down the way and when the road ended I turned left or right or wherever I could. Some of the side streets were only as wide as my shoulder width and it was dark so I didn’t risk those on my first night.

Finding Your Way Around The Old Town In Fes

Talaa Sghira and Talaa Kebira are the main roads of the Medina in Fes el Bali. Most of the shops, cafes and restaurants are along these routes and it is impossible to miss them. Cars and motorbikes are not allowed so prepare for a lot of walking in the Fes heat.

There is a steep hill at the centre of Fes and whichever way you go you will need to climb it at least twice. It is pretty much impossible to orientate yourself so just give yourself a day to find your feet. The important sights and things to do are at the centre of Fes, so just walk towards the hilltop’s direction from any gate.

A dead-end in Fez, Morocco

A dead-end in Fez, Morocco

Bab Boujloud: This is the main entrance gate to the Medina. If you park at the main car park outside the walls, the gate will be on your right. You can reach both Talaa Sghira and Talaa Kebira from here.

Religious Sights in Fes, Morocco

Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin: It is one of the major mosques in the Medina. Entrance is not allowed for non-muslims but you can peek inside through the arches.

Medersa el-Attarine: It is also a major religious site and for muslims only but you can peek through the doors.

Al Karaouin University: Dating back to 859 Morocco claims this is the oldest university in the world. This is disputed by the Egyptians so I will just say this is the oldest university in Morocco. Entrance is again only allowed to muslims but you can see the courtyard from the entrance gate. The great Jewish sage, Rambam (Maimonides) also studied here.

Medersa Sahrij: This Medersa has stood here since 1321. The medersa is famous for its white and green minarets on top of the structure. As with most medersas, the Sahrij Medersa has a paved courtyard and the interior has some of the most exquisite cedar wood and stone carvings.

Related: Scenic Drive: Sale to Volubilis

Unique Points of Interest in Fes – Morocco

Moulay Abdellah Quarter: This is where most of the leather tanneries are – prepare to choke from the stink. The only way to see the tanneries is from atop of the surrounding buildings. Problem is, you can only enter the buildings through the ground floor shops and they will keep pestering you to buy something. If you don’t want to buy anything just give 10 or 20 dirham to the shopkeeper and exit.

Fondouk el Nejjarine: It is an 18th century roadside inn which now functions as a museum. Exhibits include traditional Moroccan wooden arts and crafts. There is also a rooftop cafe, providing an amazing vista of the surrounding area. I went up here on my second day in Fes and it felt so fascinating to emerge from the city. By then I felt slightly odd not having seen the sky in two days – surrounded by narrow lanes and walls closing up above my head.

The main square at the old gate

The main square at the old gate

The metal-workers district: Walking around in this district you can find the most interesting objects made from copper and brass. The best is that the craftsmen make them right in front of you. Definitely worth a visit.

The weavers’ district: Lo and behold, this is where you can buy all sorts of textiles and clothing, all hand-made right on site.

Bab Rcif: It is another gate in the Medina, surrounded by a major square. This is where the vegetable market is and during the evenings most locals gather here to catch up.

Read: Merzouga and the Erg Chebbi Desert Dunes

Hammams: the local bath houses can get pretty crowded with locals but if you are interested in mingling with them it is definitely worth an evening visit.

The Mellah (Jewish Quarter)

Walk over here from the Medina by crossing the main square and road just outside Bab Boujloud. There are various synagogues here open to the public for a 20 dirham fee. Beware that some of the teenage and middle age men might come up offering to show you the Mellah. Just say politely you are not interested – if you are lucky they will leave you alone. It is quite a hassle and can be very annoying when people are pestering you non-stop. Unfortunately it is something that most tourists just need to get used to.

Eating and Drinking in Fes – Morocco

Eat or drink at pretty much any of the restaurants and cafes in the Medina. They are all safe and have menus with the price – if they don’t just look for another place. These are family run places, often the mother and father cooking and the children serving up the food. I picked a restaurant near Bab Boujloud and also had dinner at another close to the Fondouk. All names and exact location duly forgotten.

Inside a restored villa

Inside a restored villa

The Labyrinth of the Fes el Bali Medina

If you are worried about never finding your way back to your Riad you can hire a guide in Fes el Bali. I thought it would be a waste of money and they are not cheap at 250 dirham per day so I went it alone. I turned left on Talaa Sghira as I came out of the walkway where Riad Tahrya is. This is where my problems started. I kept walking further down the way and when the road ended I turned left or right or wherever I could. Some of the side streets were only as wide as my shoulder width and it was dark so I didn’t risk those on my first night.

The receptionist told me not to talk to the young boys offering a tour or to take me back to the riad as they might be pick pockets. So instead of asking for help I just kept going. This went on for about two hours at which point I was about to faint. I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since I checked in so I sat down in one of the small cafes. As it turned out a Polish girl was a regular here, she owns her own Riad in Fes. We started talking and then she pointed me to the right direction to find my hotel.

Sleeping

I stayed at the Riad Tahrya for three nights. The staff were amazing and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I particularly loved sitting on the rooftop in the evenings, listening to the birds chirping away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.