Visiting Fes is absolutely one of the must-do activities while in Morocco. And yes, it’s spelled Fes, not Fez – the second one is a type of hat. Wandering the narrow, chaotic streets of the Medina is one of the most exciting things to do in Fes, and an experience hard to find anywhere else.
The smell of grilling meats, colours of every hue, and the call to prayer echoing through the stone corridors; these are constants. But no sensation is more familiar — more synonymous with Fes — than the call of the salesman.
Get Lost in the Medina
The best way to explore Fes’ Medina, (or old town), is to simply get lost in it. It’s so easy, you won’t even need to plan the getting lost part, it will just happen. But that’s alright, there will always be someone to show you the way back. If this intimidates you, consider doing a guided day tour with someone who can take you to most of the places listed below. It does make life easier, especially if you only have a day or two to experience Fes.
Even if you are staying a while, having your bearings on the first day makes life a whole lot easier by getting someone to show you around. However, saying that, make sure to get a well-reviewed one, or through a trusted source. So we would suggest going through this reputable company.
The Fes Medina is considered to be one of, if not the, largest car-free urban space in the world!
Sharpen your Bargaining Skills
The biggest draw to Fes is shopping. Navigating the shops here is all about finding true, high-quality goods and working out a deal that both the seller and buyer are satisfied with. But understand that the up-front cost is rarely the final price.
Bargaining is part of the culture, and everyone involved should enjoy the banter. That said, remember to have respect for the quality of the product that you are buying. Often the quality is worth the money they are asking. Many of the goods are handcrafted over many long hours, or days, so be reasonable with your offers. If you have no idea where to start or even how to bargain, Journey Beyond Travel has a great guide for bargaining in Morocco.
Buy a Handmade Moroccan Berber Rug
The best place for this is in Souk Tillisse, the rug market. Go inside the shops, sip a steaming mint tea, and take it all in as the shop owners explain their quality wares. It is quite interesting to learn about the different fabrics these traditional rugs are made from; including sheep wool, camel hair, and cactus fibres.
Prepare yourself for a well-crafted sales pitch. These guys aren’t messing around. It doesn’t matter how many times you remind them you’re “just looking,” they’ll only increase the pressure. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter anyone using dirty tricks or becoming aggressive. If you’re actually looking to buy a Berber rug, even better; the design and quality can be outstanding. Just be sure to know exactly what to look for.
But beware, finding a good and honest shop can be tricky. Many tour guides will take you to a “cooperative” that claims the proceeds go back to the weavers directly. However, after doing a little research, many shops just use this as a sales tactic and are no different than any other shop.
Tour the Fes Tanneries
Experiencing the intriguing sight and nasal-burning smell of the tanneries is a must in Fes. You can get yourself a guide, which will include many other activities, and do a tour like this. Or you can find the tanneries on your own by heading to the leather shops and asking one of the shop owners to let you through their shop. Most will allow you access without a fee, but will expect you to browse their shop during the visit.
To get to the tanneries, just head to Derb Chaouwara and start poking your head into the leather shops. Each shop has a different view, but the one with the best photo spot has a number 10 above the door. Once inside they’ll explain the tanning and dying process and you’ll have the chance to grab a few photos.
If you aren’t planning on purchasing any goods, it’s a nice gesture to tip the shop owner/speaker for their time. As well, to help combat the acrid smell, mint leaves are available for a small fee.
See The Al Quaraouiyine Mosque
One of the oldest universities in the world, Al Quaraouiyine operates as a mosque. Non-Muslims cannot enter the main mosque but can enter the library and gawk at the amazing tile work.
Take Some Great Photos
Dar El Makhzen (The Palace Gates) Although the palace itself is off-limits to visitors, it’s one of Morocco’s most iconic scenes.
Talaa, Fes Bab Boujeloud (The Blue gate)The main entrance to the Medina. The blue (and green) gate is a great place to get photos of the Medina in action.
Get high up – check out any restaurant with a patio or rooftop and see what you can see. Restaurants by the Al Quaraouiyine Mosque have wonderful views inside the courtyard.
Remember to always ask permission before snapping a photo of someone. Doing so otherwise is considered rude, and many Moroccans don’t appreciate being photographed.
Escape the Chaos
Bou Jeloud Gardens – need a break from saying ‘no’ to all the market souks? Get your butt to the gardens and listen to the (almost) silence. Stroll around the gardens taking in the fresh air and beautiful greenery.
Food Markets in the Fes Medina
Get lost in the maze of alleys of the food souks of Fes. Here you’ll find everything from fresh and dried fruit, veggies, fresh fish, meat — including severed camel heads, — baked goods, and sweet treats. Keep an eye out for Moroccan msemen, and watch as one of the thinnest breads on earth is masterfully prepared.
Souk Al-Attarine is a charming colourful market full of spices, dried nuts and so much more. Also the Souk at R’cif Square located on Boulevard Ben Mohammed El Alaoui is worth a look.
Take a Moroccan Cooking Class
The famous Cafe Clock puts on cooking lessons for 600Dh per person in a group or 1000dh for private lessons. It runs for about 5 hours, starting with a tour of the market, where you’ll buy the ingredients, then head back to the kitchen to cook. You’ll learn some fantastic, traditional Moroccan dishes and devour them all!
Check out what you can make with their list of Moroccan favourites.
Other Unique Moroccan Classes
You can also do other classes through Cafe Clock like Oud, the traditional short neck lute with 11-13 strings for 250Dh for a 2-hour lesson.
Or learn the hypnotically beautiful Islamic Calligraphy. Learn to write the alphabet during a cultural lesson. You also get to take home a written piece with your name on it, after the 2-hour lesson. 350Dh per person.
If you do any of these classes make sure to try the famous Camel Burger they serve in their bustling restaurant as well.
Where to Eat in Fes
From the suggestion above, which is more mainstream and touristy to the side streetcars and cafes there is something for everybody in Fes. Our favourite was to rock up to a sandwich cart and order the special of the day; usually ground meat and onions tossed in a spiced tomato sauce. As sketchy as they look, we always went away satisfied with no unfortunate repercussions the next day.
Tarbouche is a restaurant we kept going back to because we fell in love with their salted beef. It’s a popular spot with tourists, but for good reason. The food here is outstanding! We would suggest sitting inside to avoid the people begging for money and food as you eat and to get away from the busy street.
Take a Breath
Fes is a wild and chaotic place; a sensory overload at times. But don’t let it overwhelm you to the point that you miss its incredible beauty and charm. If things get a bit too much, step into a small shop or cafe and take a break.
Remember to relax and breath. And while Fes is one of the distinctly Moroccan experiences, it’s only one small part of a wonderful whole.
Embrace the chaos.