Welcome to Fes – the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco. It’s hectic, chaotic and intense in every possible way, and you’ll either find it thrilling or extremely exhausting. However, it’s a city of well-preserved traditions and handicraft industries and one of the most exciting places to visit in Morocco. One day in Fes will be a perfect trip for first-time visitors to explore its frenetic Medina, immerse themselves in the local way of life and, finally, leave with some very strong impressions.
What’s the best time to visit Fes?
Morocco is a year-round destination, which means you can visit Fes pretty much whenever you want. However, when it comes to the weather conditions here, some months can be more enjoyable for your stay than others. The period from November to March is likely to be chilly, especially at night, but it’s still a great time to escape cold European winters and enjoy temperatures of up to 18°C (64°F) during the day. Pleasant average temperatures occur from April to June and September to October. Summer can be unbearably hot, so in case you cannot stand extremely high temperatures, don’t even think of traveling then.
Traveling at the time of Ramadan (the ninth month in the Islamic calendar), when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, can bring you a slightly different experience since many restaurants and bars operate on a different schedule at that time.
A few facts about Fes
Fes is the second largest city in Morocco, located in the northern inland part of the country.
The city was founded in the 8th century by the Idrisid dynasty. In the 11th century it already had a great reputation for its madrasas (religious schools) and merchant activities. A century later, the expansive population growth made Fes the largest city in the world, with the number of people living there reaching 200 000. From the 13th to the 15th century, Fes regained the status of the country’s capital. Many of the city’s most famous landmarks, mosques and palaces were built during that time. During the 15th century, the Jewish quarter Mellah was built, since many Jewish migrants found their home in Fes. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city lost its influence and was no longer the capital.
Today, the medieval Medina (Old Town), known as Fes el Bali, is one of the best preserved old towns of the Arab-Muslim world, listed as a World Heritage Site.
One Day in Fes Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Fes.
Enjoy the best breakfast in town
There’s no better way to start your morning than eating a delicious breakfast. Out of many restaurants scattered around the city, one small eatery stands out. Made in M is a charming and cozy place with outstanding décor and peculiar ambience offering several breakfast options. Their food can be described as a fusion of European and Moroccan. It’s more of a tourist spot than a local place, but expect nothing but great food and extraordinary hospitality.
Wander the streets of Fes el Bali
Nothing beats the atmosphere of the streets in Fes Medina. The fusion of sounds, aromas and colors – it’s almost enough just to wander its labyrinths and do nothing but indulge in all that scenery. Fes el Bali is one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones, which means you don’t have to worry about cars. However, the streets are narrow and crowded and besides all the tourist and local crowds, bikes and scooters, you’ll find mules and donkeys transporting goods like in the old times. It’s really not hard to get lost in the medieval labyrinth layout of the Old Town, so in case you want to stay on a familiar route stick to the two main shopping streets – Talaa Seghira and Talaa Kebira.
In case you’re wondering about the souks (markets), they are everywhere around you. Discover the local craftsmanship and buy unique Moroccan souvenirs like colorful carpets, ornate pottery, natural beauty products, argan oil, Moroccan spices and leather babouche slippers among many others. Products are similar to those in Marrakesh souks, but can be purchased for lower prices. Some products can be found at fixed prices, but buying at the souks usually requires some haggling skills.
Pay a visit to one of the Madrasas
Besides mosques, there are many other religious and cultural sights inside Medina. You should definitely pay a visit to one of the two historical Islamic colleges – Madrasa al-Attarine and Bou Inania Madrasa. Since you only have one day in Fes, there’s no need to visit both, but definitely take some time to explore one of them. They’re both impressive and pretty similar with their intricate carvings, beautiful zellij (colorful tilework) and plastic work with Koranic verses all over the inner courtyard.
Make sure to visit the upper floor where you’ll find student rooms that overlook the courtyard. Bou Inania Madrasa is the only madrasa in Fes with a minaret, and this can be seen from many restaurant rooftops around. Muslims can also visit the impressive University of Al Quaraouiyine – the world’s oldest existing educational institution.
Check out the Bab Boujeloud
In case you follow one of the two main streets (Talaa Seghira and Talaa Kebira), you’ll eventually end up at the Blue Gates (Bab Boujeloud). It’s a relatively new gate to Medina, built in 1913. Admire the stunning archways from both sides – the tiles facing Medina are green, since it’s the color of Islam, and those facing the street are blue, which is the color of Fes.
Stop for lunch at the Nagham café
There’s plenty of restaurants and street food vendors in the Old Town of Fes. While the bustling streets can be exciting for a while, most people prefer to eat in a less hectic atmosphere. That’s why many restaurants offer rooftop terraces where you can enjoy your meal while looking over the city below. Head to the Nagham café right next to the Blue Gate and enjoy their fusion of Moroccan and western dishes with a panoramic view of Medina. They serve one of the best Tajines in town with several different types to choose from.
Hold your breath and visit the Chouara Tannery
One of the most interesting attractions in Fes is the Chouara Tannery – the oldest one in the world that still operates. It’s pretty hard to reach the tannery since it’s completely surrounded by private buildings, mostly leather shops, which means you’ll have to enter a shop to see the tannery. However, you’re not obligated to buy anything (even though the vendors can be pushy), so feel free to check out the dying process from any of the shop terraces.
The tannery dates back to the 11th century and still uses the old process of dyeing leather. Stone vessels are filled with dyes and liquids like pigeon droppings and cow urine, so be prepared for an unbearable odor. Luckily, most of the vendors will provide you a fresh mint to cover the smell by putting it under your nose.
Relax at the Jnan Sbil Garden
Busy streets can be overwhelming, so it’s time to leave Medina for a while. Luckily, not far from the Medina walls, you’ll find the lovely Jnan Sbil Garden, a green oasis and a place of calmness. Perfect to cool off in the summer heat and relax by the lake – the locals simply love to spend their time here. Commissioned by Sultan Moulay Abdallah, these lush gardens are more than a century old, but have been recently fully renovated to their former splendor.
Hike up the Marinid Tombs for a spectacular panoramic view
There’s one particular point from which you can have the most beautiful panoramic view of Fes. Take a gentle 30-minute hike to the top, and you’ll get to the Marinid Tombs, the ruins of two monumental tombs with large horseshoe-arch entrances. It’s still a mystery for whom they were build and who was buried there, but it’s assumed they were members of a royal family. Today, the place is famous for the scenic view over the Fes Medina that gets especially beautiful at sunset. On your way to the Marinid Tombs, you can stop at Borj Nord, an old fort that houses a museum of weapons and armor from different eras.
Dinner at the Café Clock
Fes is just as lively at night as it is during the day. The locals gather around the city’s squares, kids play on the street and young folks smoke shisha in popular rooftop bars. It’s really the best time to chill on outdoor terraces and enjoy the vibrant night atmosphere. Café Clock is one of the most famous restaurants with outdoor seating on several levels and beautiful views of the Medina rooftops and Bou Inania Madrasa minaret. The restaurant has an extensive menu so that everyone can find something for their taste. Their Falafel with hummus and tabbouleh is absolutely delicious.
Where to stay in Fes?
Riad Palais Bahia Fes
28 Ecole IBN ROCHD Derb Ahl Ouazzane Fès
With its inner courtyard, beautiful rooms and a fantastic terrace with an even better view of the city, Riad Palais Bahia Fes is a place you want to book if you want to enjoy a dash of luxury with your accommodation. Air-conditioned rooms come with a minibar, and the riad even has its own outdoor pool and a spa and a wellness centre, so rest and relaxation are pretty much guaranteed.
Hotel & Spa Dar Bensouda
N°14 Zkak El Bghel, Quettanine, Fes El Bali, 30000 Fès
Hotel & Spa Dar Bensouda is a perfect place for people who are looking for a comfortable stay at the very heart of Fes’ Medina. Huge and brightly coloured rooms are full of natural light, and you only have to step out of the building to get a feel of the city’s pulse. Furthermore, a traditional Moroccan tent is set up on the roof terrace, plus you get an incredible view of the Atlas Mountains from here. What more could you ask for?
Riad Toyour – Riad of birds
22 derb el Miter, Ain Zleten, Fes El Bali, 30110 Fès
If you want something peaceful, relaxing and slightly secluded, Riad Toyour – Riad of birds is the place you need to stay in. They offer three types of breakfast (continental, vegetarian and halal), plus the restaurant serves some excellent Moroccan dishes, so you can bet your life you won’t be hungry here. But the most impressive thing is the beautiful garden where you can truly relax and take a moment to realize you’re actually in Morocco.
54 Avenue Mohammed Ben Alaoui, R’cif, Fes El Bali, 30200 Fès
Riad Andalib has a whole lot of aces up its sleeve. A huge terrace houses a restaurant (El Panorama) from which the whole city can be seen. You’ll definitely have some memorable meals here. But there is also another restaurant here with many Moroccan specialities. After a beautiful dinner, you can also grab a drink at the bar. But the best part of staying here is the location – right in Fes Medina! Booking a stay here means experiencing the essence of this city.
Extra tips for visiting Fes
In case you plan to spend only one day in Fes, make sure it’s not Friday, since this is a holy day for Muslims and you’ll find most of the souks closed.
Always check the weather forecast before traveling. Temperatures can be unpredictable, especially at night.
You can easily get lost wandering the streets of Medina. However, if anyone approaches you and kindly offers help, rather ignore him. The so-called false guides will either direct you to a shop where they earn commission or they’ll just tour you around and then ask for money. Don’t give them any attention and they’ll eventually give up.
Crowded Medina streets give pickpockets plenty of opportunities to operate. Stay on guard and keep your valuable belongings in secure places.
If you’re traveling by bus, always make a seat reservation at least day in advance.
Besides Arabic, many people speak French. Older people usually don’t speak English, but it is developing among younger generations. Vendors and people who work with tourists usually have some basic knowledge of English.
Always negotiate the taxi fare before you get into one. It requires some bargaining skills, but it’s the only way not to end up being ripped off.
To show respect for their culture and avoid harassment, you should dress modestly and avoid bare shoulders, bare backs and short skirts.
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