5 Things to do in Fes
The smells, the chaos, the confusion, the colours are all around as you seem to stumble from narrow alley to narrow alley in the souk. They all look the same with their little shops and wares on display hanging from the wooden doors and you could swear you were here ten minutes ago, but you weren’t. You step back against some metal work to let the donkey and cart go by and try and reassess the situation. Nobody wants to sell you anything, they are all just going about their business getting the shopping, the door handles, the kids school bags. Then you realise this is why you came to visit Morocco, to visit Fes, to see this enchanting city up close and personal.
If it is your first time in an Arab country then the old Medina (town) will seem crazy. Even by Arab standards it is fairly crazy but it is an experience you won’t forget. This ancient city has a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient buildings and ancient practices that makes it perfect to explore amid the cacophony of the call to prayer from the hundreds of mosques.
Time to Do: All of the 5 things to do in Fes below will take 2 days, a full weekend to see.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Fes (Fez).
I think of all the things to do and see in Fes this would be my pick. You will not see one or two main highlights but the hustle and bustle of the chickens, spices, cats, carrots, pots, carpenters, metallurgists, prayers, sellers, donkeys and carts creates a unique atmosphere all under the roof of the souk in the Old Medina. I challenge you not to bring a map and walk for 20minutes taking a turn or two and try and find your way back. The place is an impossible labyrinth. Most of it is covered with a roof and there are one or two main highways but this is no grid system so once off the beaten track you could be lost for days!! Fes El Bali in the Old Medina, a Unesco World heritage site, is thought to be the largest car free urban area in the world and is home to the world’s first university. Fes El Bali has beautiful Islamic gates on the main entrances and exits which stand where the old city wall used to be some of which is still standing. Bab Al Jeloud is a good place to start your wandering as taxi’s can drop you there. Although there are tourist aspects to several parts of the souk, almost all sections are for locals and so despite people crowding you out, very few actually want anything other than for you to get out of the way!
- 5 Things to do in Fes – Chouara Tanneries
One of the big tourist aspects of Fes is the tanneries where hard manual labour turns leather different colours. Before you see them though you will smell them and some shops even give you a mint bouquet as you enter to take away the pungent odour. The odour comes from the mix of bird poo and cow pee that makes them up! Boys with aspirations to be the next tanners collect the pigeon droppings each day and it’s this that the goat skins are soaked in to soften them up. You will get a vantage point through a surrounding leather shop looking down on the huge stone pots that contain the dyes (and contain similar coloured men) and leather skins left drying on the roof. Gazing around at the old low rise buildings with openings for windows it is not hard to believe very little has changed since it started in the 11th century except the occasional washing machine.
The tanneries although being well known are difficult to find as they are hidden behind shops but any hotel or tourist agency will be able to put you in contact with their favourite guide. Make sure to agree a price in advance. If you can find them then just ask in a shop and they will be happy to show you for a small fee.
- 5 Things to do in Fes – Borj Nord and the Merenid Tombs
From the cramped spaces of the Old Medina to the liberty of a birds eye view of Fes. Both of these restored forts lie on hills surrounding the city and are a perfect place to get out of the confines and smells of the city and into the Moroccan air. Both forts were built in the 16th century and are close to the city but Borj Nord is closer to the Old Medina (Bab Mahrouk, Bab Chopra) and is only a 20min walk up the nearest hill. Borj Nord contains a military museum with a 12 tonne cannon and plenty of guns through the ages. The main attraction though is the great panoramic views of the city which is good during the day and night. The Merenid Tombs are a short steeper walk away and are closed after dark.
- 5 Things to do in Fes – Al-Attarine Madrasa and panoramic cafe’s
When getting lost in the Old Medina in Fes there are certain places that should be sought out, one is the Tanneries above but another is the Al-Attarine Madrasa, a famous local Islamic school that dates from the 14th century. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside but it is easy to walk around the narrow streets outside and look into the ornate courtyard and decorative art through the many doors.
When you fancy a break from all your sightseeing, some of the best places to recharge are the rooftop cafes in the middle of the Old Medina. Most of these restaurants/cafes don’t look like much from the outside with only a handwritten sign showing its existence but once you climb the stairs inside the building you will be amazed at the fancy interiors. Islamic tiling, art and furniture are all around. As you exit onto the roof you are then greeted with a vista of most of the city and countless satellite dishes as you are above the rooftops. A great way to take a break.
- 5 Things to do in Fes – Royal Palace (Dar el- Makhzen) of Fes
This Royal Palace is closed to the public but the palace is still very impressive from the outside. The 7 gates of the Royal Palace are still very impressive with huge brass knockers for when you want to let them know you are there and huge walls to let you know that they don’t want to know. The king still stays in the palace when he is in Fes. Be careful not to take photos of the guards or you may get a barrage of abusive Arabic or even worse your camera taken.
Practicalities – About Morocco
€1 = 11.2 Moroccan Dirham, US$1 = 8.2DH
- Language – Arabic. French is the second language and many people have good French. English is spoken well by anybody involved with the tourist industry. ie. hotels, tour operators, etc but not by the general public
- Bus – Morocco has a good bus service in CTM (www.ctm.ma, in French) and run regular comfortable buses on most trips. For example Fes to Marrakesh runs 5 times a day and costs 160DH (10hrs). CTM also go to more out of the way places like great sand dune destination of Merzouga in the Sahara Desert. There are two bus stations in Fes, one is the Gare Routiere (just outside the old city near the Bab Ain Zleten and Bab Mahrouk) and the other is the CTM Terminal (Allal al Fassi in the new city, 7km from the old city). Most buses leaving Fes will go to both but arriving in Fes go straight to the CTM Terminal
- Flights- Fes Saiss international airport is 15km south of the city. A taxi can bring you or there is a shuttle bus that goes into the city. The main airlines that fly into Fes are Royal Air Morocco (www.royalairmaroc.com/Marchand/Eng/Home.jsp), Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), Easyjet (www.easyjet.com), Jet4You (from Paris Orly) and Transavia (seasonal from Amsterdam)
- Train- All trains arrive and depart from Fes main station in the new city at Place du Roi Faycal. Trains only go to the west or south and not into the desert. For example there are 8 trains a day between Fes and Marrakesh. www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx (in French)
- Accommodation – US$30-$40 per night for an average double room
- Beer – A Muslim country so beer is only sold in restaurants, cafe’s and supermarkets. There are some low key bars. A pint is around 20DH
- Visa: All foreigners must get a visa for Morocco but a number of countries can get a visa on arrival (USA, EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, Japan, many African and Arab countries). A tourist visa last for 90days on arrival in the airport/border. Your passport must be valid for at least the following 6 months and you have a return ticket. To see if your country is on the list see www.moroccanconsulate.com/visa.cfm
- Population of Fes, Morocco: 950,000
5 Things to do in Fes – Map of Fes, Morocco
|Old Madina, Fes El Bali|
Fes El Bali, Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
Chouara Tannery, Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
|Borj Nord Fort|
Borj Nord, Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
|Al Attarine Madrasa|
Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
|Royal Palace (Dar el- Makhzen)|
Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
|Bus Station - Gare Routiere|
Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
|Bus Station - CTM Terminal|
CTM, Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
Photos of my visit to Morocco