Fes is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. Exploring this historic city is like walking through layers and mazes of civilization, many of which are left intact and undisturbed from the modern age. In this post, we will show you why Fes deserves a place in your itinerary. This handy guide of best things to do in Fes Morocco will help you plan your trip and provide you a road map for drafting your own Fes Itinerary.
Are you ready to explore the old quarters and indulge in Moroccan hospitality?
25 Things to do in Fes Morocco : Best Fes Itinerary
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Fes or Marrakesh: Which is better?
Many travelers visiting Morocco, start their bucket list with Marrakesh and never include Fes in the itinerary. BUT….did you know that Fes has much more historical setting than Marrakesh? And not to forget, everyone visits Marrakesh and it is super touristy.
We want to share all the amazing things to do in Fes Morocco, so that when you are planning a trip – you do visit Fes!
- Fes is located in the northern part of Morocco and Marrakech is in the southern part. Weather wise, Marrakech is warmer then Fes.
- Historically and age-wise, Fes is older than Marrakesh. Fes was founded in 789 AD and Marrakesh in 1071 AD.
- Fes was the oldest capital city of Morocco, followed by Marrakesh
Both are imperial cities and they have winding medina and various souks, and riads to stay in. But Marrakesh is super crowded and many travelers do not appreciate the aggressive shop owners and scammers. Fes is less touristy, but people are still welcoming.
Fes has over 13,000 historical buildings and was granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Plus, a day trip to the blue city of Chefchaouen is easier from Fes than Marrakesh.
BOOK: A Sahara desert tour from Fes to Morocco
These list of things to do in Fes Itinerary, can be used to plan 2 days in the city. So, let’s get started.
Learn the history of Fes and their neighborhoods
Fez literally means “axe” in Arabic.
Fez or Fes was founded in 789 AD by Idris ibn Abdillah. He was the founder of the Arab Idrisid dynasty. The city was founded on the banks of Jawhar river. The oldest part of the city is Fes el-Bali – which is the medina. Many nuances in the medina had stayed the same over the centuries.
Apart from this historic center, there is a new part of the city, called the Fez el-Jdid, which was built a few years later in the 12th century by a different dynasty. Hence this part of the city is also a few hundred years old.
Fez was the capital of the Idrisid dynasty. Upon the death of the founder, the territories were divided amongst his sons.
The settlements in Fes began with Arab emigration which also included many Andalusian families of Berber descent. Families from Tunisia also followed and they fought with each other for many centuries.
In the 12th century, under the Almoravid rule, Fes el bali began to take shape. It started as a trading hub, so they built tanneries, shops and also universities. The world’s oldest university is located in Fes medina.
During this time, the Fez-el Jdid or the new town was also built by the succeeding dynasty – Merenids. This newer part had canals, big gardens and wider streets.
In the 16th century, the Ottomans tried to invade Morocco, but were defeated by Abdallah al-Ghalib at the battle of Wadi al-Laban.
Fes, slowly grew to become a dominant center for embroidery, dyes and leather goods. You can still see the dyeing process and the centuries old tannery here in Fes. These processes have not changed over the centuries.
In the 18th and early 20th centuries, Fes suffered many rebellions and massacres. The city was heavily damaged in the Fez riots of 1912. The French then occupied and ruled over the city until the mid 20th century.
The French created the “ville nouvelle” or the French new city. Due to the French influence, you will find many residents speaking fluent Arabic, French and English. Many refer to Ville Nouvelle as the ‘New City’.
Today this part of Fes, is very modernized. However, there is not much Moroccan heritage around this area and rightly so many tourists ignore this neighborhood.
Take a Fes medina tour
Fez is the oldest medina in Morocco. Having founded in the 9th century, you would think things have changed. But truth be told, it hasn’t.
Being an old part of the city and a densely populated one, you will find that many buildings are in dilapidated condition. There are many construction projects going on to preserve the authenticity of these historic buildings. There are new buildings and galleries set up to showcase the traditional artisan industries and arts.
The medina is where you will be spending a majority of your Fes Itinerary. You can easily spend a FULL day wandering through the various lanes, eating and photographing many souks and the marketplace.
The medina is car free, so expect a ton of walking. Always wear comfortable and covered shoes.
We highly recommend taking a medina guided tour to explore the ancient city. The lanes are winding and easy to get lost. A tour guide will give you a good understanding of the medina.
Tours consist of small groups. When we did this tour, it was just us and we walked about 8 kilometers to explore everything. Couldn’t have done it without the guide > BOOK FES MEDINA GUIDED TOUR
Stay at a traditional riad in Fes
For an authentic stay in Fes, opt for accommodation in a riad. Riads are traditional homes in Morocco with a garden and a courtyard. Most of the riads will have a swimming pool and central courtyard fountains.
We stayed at a riad inside the medina walls. Our riad called Riad Jouhara, was over 110 years old. The riad is located close to the Blue Gate, with good access to restaurants and the medina itself. Free breakfast was also provided every morning.
Find more hotels and riads in Fes below
Admire the Blue Gate in the medina – Bab Boujeloud
On the west entrance of the medina is a beautiful ornate blue gate called the Bab Boujeloud or Bou Jeloud. This blue gate’s site can be traced back to the 12th century. The hotels and restaurants located nearby were set up in the 20th century.
When you leave the Blue Gate, you will get access to public transportation to reach other parts of the city.
The French built this gate, which is blue on the exterior and green on the inside. If you are taking pictures, arrive early (before the medina opens) and stand outside the medina to get amazing shots of the lanes and the Blue Gate.
The Blue Gate’s location near the main citadels of Fes el-Bali, the Kasbah Bou Jeloud, as well as near the Kasbah en-Nouar makes it a great spot for photos.
Check out the Medersa Bou Inania
The gorgeous green tilled minaret that peaks through the Bab Boujloud Gate (Blue Gate) is a madrasa – a centre of Islamic learning. The medersa was built in the 14th century and is one of the finest examples of Merenid architecture.
Explore the world’s oldest university – University of Karueein
Fes is home to the world’s oldest university called the University of Karueein. It has been in operation since 859 AD.
The University of Al-Karaouine or University of Karueein was founded by an intelligent woman – Fatima al-Fihri. She bought a piece of land near the prime marketplace and set up this university.
There is a madrasa associated with the university for Islamic learning. The university taught natural sciences, religion, literature, etc.
A mosque named – Al Quaraouiyine Mosque – is also part of the university.
It still grants degrees and diplomas. The university is also known as University of al-Qarawiyyin, which means University of Peoples. This university is open to both men and women.
Head to the Madrasa al- Attarine
The madrasa located near the oldest university is open to non-Muslims. The Madrasa al-Attarine is over 1000 years old and has stunning ornate carvings, artwork and tiles.
From the madrasa, you can access amazing views of the medina. Entry to the madrasa is 10 dirhams.
Location: Fes medina
Hours: 08:00 am to 06:00 pm
Entry fee: 10 dirhams
Visit the Tomb of Moulay Idriss – Founder of Fes
Moulay Idriss II was the son of the founder of the Idrisid dynasty. He is considered as the main founder of the city of Fes (and not his father). Inside the medina, there is the tomb of Idris II, who ruled Morocco from 807 to 828 AD.
The tomb of Zaouia Moulay Idris was built using a unique architectural style called alawi.
At the entrance of the “zaouia” or the mausoleum of Moulay Idris II, you will see the mosque, a shrine and a school for religious learning. Near the gate of the mausoleum, there are fruit, vegetable and souvenir vendors.
The mausoleum of Moulay Idris II is considered holy and scared. Most pilgrims visit the holy site hoping to gain good luck. There is a place – a wall by the tomb, where people say you can touch to make a wish. Our guide told us that within Islam “making a wish” is not traditional and it has come into practice by inter-mixing of other religious beliefs at the medina and Fes.
The tomb is open everyday for 24 hours and is used for religious purposes and for funerals. Unfortunately the mausoleum is not open to non-Muslims. But you can explore it from the exteriors and photography is allowed.
Location: Fes medina
Entry fee: N/A
Wow at the wooden bars surrounding the “Holy District”
Wandering through the medina lanes, you will notice wooden bars surrounding the ‘holy district’ (which is near the mausoleum of Moulay Idris II). These wooden bars were placed to separate non-Muslims and keep the holy district out of their reach.
Essentially, these bars were set up to keep Christians, Jews and donkeys out.
Check out the many fountains in Fes Medina
There are over 60 fountains in the Fes medina. Public fountains were used for cleansing before prayers or drinking water. Not all the 60 fountains are in working condition today as some of them are either dried up or not in use.
Nejjarine fountain is one of the stunning fountains in Fes. It was built in the 18th century and features a colorful geometric style mosaic tile work.
Explore the merchant’s inn – Funduq al-Najjariyyin and Museum
Funduq al-Najjariyyin or Fondouk el-Nejjarine is a wood museum. It was originally built to serve as a resting place for traders and merchants. The complex has a courtyard where they could rest their camels and store their load.
The Nejjarine Museum was recently renovated and today it showcases wood and wood related crafts. Each room has traditional handicrafts crafted by locals. (Photography is not allowed inside the exhibition rooms).
The terrace of the Funduq al-Najjariyyin will welcome you with amazing views of the medina and the minaret of the Bou Inania Madrasa.
Hours: 10:00 am to 07:00 pm everyday
Costs: 10 dirhams
Admire the beautiful Nejjarine Square
Nejjarine plaza is a beautiful square located in the Fes medina, opposite to Funduq al-Najjariyyin. The square is a good reminder of Andalusian heritage in Fes. And it’s location near the handicrafts souks makes it even more stunning with all the wood work and carpentry.
Watch the tanning process at the world’s oldest tannery – Chourara Tannery
Chouara Tannery is the world’s oldest tannery. It is one of the three tanneries that were set up inside the Fez medina in the 11th century.
The men who work at the tannery are handed down this work through generations. We were told just about anybody can’t work at the tannery!
The tannery is FREE to enter. Our guide took us through the steep stairway up to a balcony to observe the tanning process. There is a strong smell of leather, in and around the tannery, so you will be given mint to minimize the odor.
There are shops selling leather goods in and around the tannery. We were never forced to look at items or buy things here.
Wander the Souk el Henna in the largest street in the medina
If you are looking to get henna tattoos or henna art on your hands, then visit the souk el Henna. The henna souk is located within a covered market called the rue talaa kabeira. Talaa Kabeira is the largest street inside the medina.
You can also find Moroccan argon oil, perfumes and many other cosmetic items here. At the end of these leafy square is a restored psychiatric hospital – Maristane Sidi Frej. This hospital was built by the Merinids in the 13th century.
Buy Moroccan souvenirs and haggle a little
The medina is a shopper’s paradise with its labyrinth of shops and vendors. Most popular souvenirs to buy include carpets, argon oil, spices, textiles, etc. It is nice if you can negotiate at these souks, but we also found that many items were pretty darn cheap to bargain.
Like we found earrings for 5 dirhams, coin purses for 4 dirhams to name a few.
Stroll along the Fes River Canals
Called the ‘Oued Al Jawahir’ or the river of Jewels, this is the river in Fez that provides water to the old medina. After being ignored for so many years, the river today is cleaned and many structures have been set up around it.
The canal and the pedestrian walk makes it a beautiful place for an evening stroll – to soak in the wonderful heritage city!
The river was brought back to life by an ambitious Moroccan engineer – Aziza Chaouni.
Visit the Qasr al-Batha Museum
Located outside of Fes medina and inside a Moorish Castle is the Dar Batha Museum. The dar, which means house in Arabic was originally home to the royal family. In early 20th century, the house was converted into a museum showcasing many artifacts, jewelry and other collections.
Location: 5, Place Batha Oued Fejjaline
Hours: 09:00 am to 05:00 pm everyday, except Tuesday
Entry fee: 10 dirhams
Visit the Royal Palace of Fes Morocco
Dar al-Makhzen is the royal palace of the King of Morocco. The Palais Royal is not open to public, but it makes for great photography backdrop with the stunning gate and colorful tiles.
The royal palace is located in the Fes Jdid quarter, outside of the medina.
Location:9 Derb Jdid
Hours: 24 hours
Entry fee: N/A
Take a stroll at the Jnan sbil Gardens and Mechouar Square
Near the royal palace of Morocco is a lovely square called the Mechouar Square. Mechouar is known as the host site for the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.
The square has beautiful gardens and benches – Jnan sbil Gardens. The royal palace stands on one side and it is accessible through Mawlai al-Hassan Street. This site is situated close to Bab Dekakene, which is one of the seven gates of Fez.
Location: Opposite to Royal Palace
Hours: 24 hours
Entry fee: N/A
Explore the Jewish Quarters or the mellah
Many cities in Morocco have a long relationship with the Jews. And a living evidence of that are Jewish quarters or ‘mellahs’.
Fes mellah was established in the 15th century and is believed to be one of the oldest in the country.
The mellah is located outside of the medina walls. Wandering through the Jewish quarters, you can appreciate the many ornate balconies and windows, something which is absent in Moroccan traditional houses.
Explore military collection at the Arms Museum – Borj Nord
Borj Nord is a 16th century Moroccan fortress, built on the outskirts of the medina walls. It was originally created as a defensive fort, with rooms for storing armoury.
Today it is an Arms Museum, showcasing over 5000 weapon exhibits. Thirteen rooms at the Borj Nord displays military history from Morocco and all over the world. Borj Nord is an interesting visit, not only for the museums, but also for Merenid tombs and views of the medina from their terrace.
Photography inside the museum or exhibits is not allowed.
Hours: 09:00 am to 06:00 pm everyday except Mondays. Closed during 12:00 pm to 01:00 pm.
Costs: 20 dirhams.
Visit the Merenid Tombs
The Merenids or the Marinids ruled over Fes in the 13th to 15th century and they fortified and built the new part of Fes – Fes el-Jdid. These tombs are now ruins located on a hill, overlooking the medina – Fes al-Bali.
Eat tagine and couscous. Drink Moroccan Mint tea
Moroccan food is absolutely delightful. While wondering through the medina, when hunger strikes head to a local restaurant for tagine (hot plate) with chicken or couscous and vegetables. Don’t forget to try some authentic Moroccan soup and the oh- so- popular mint tea.
Take a cooking class in Fes
A great way to experience local culture is learning all about their cuisine. And what better way then taking a cooking class in the midst of centuries old medina.
This cooking class and tour in old medina is hosted in a 14th century house, where you will learn how to make Tagine, Kefta with Tomato Sauce and Eggs, Djaj (chicken) Maqalli, and Moroccan Traditional soups and salads.
You can learn the art of making bread in a community oven or farran. BOOK FES COOKING CLASSES HERE
Indulge in a traditional hammam
Hammam is a traditional way of cleansing and cleaning. This process of purifying started with the Ottomans and was incorporated into the Moroccan way of life. Typically people will enjoy a hammam once a week, especially before worship.
In a traditional hammam, there is cleansing, scrubbing and some relaxation time after. Bathing rooms for men and women are separate.
When I went in for a hammam, there were 3 marble slabs or beds to lay down on. There was a concrete tank which was filled with water. The water was sourced from the many fountains in Fes.
You will be completely naked inside a hammam and a lady will help you clean, scrub (with Moroccan soap and oils) and essentially bathe you.
A massage can be added after a bathing session. Hammam is usually for 30 minutes and another 30 for massage.
The place where I experienced a hammam was inside the medina at – Royal Spa Medina. It was not super luxurious like you would expect a 5 star spa to be nor was it bare minimum (like bring your own soap, mitts and clean = hammam). It was the perfect in-between.
Definitely give it a try! Hammam sessions start at 25 euros.
Hike the Jbel (Mount) Zalagh
If you wish to get away from the craziness of the medina into lap of nature, then head to the Jbel Zalagh. A mountain peak, which is visible from the medina offers hiking and climbing opportunities, located only about 15 minute drive away.
The hiking trail takes about 45 minutes to reach to the top for stunning medina and Atlas mountain views. Exercise caution while exploring here, as this is not a super touristy area.
We hope you enjoyed reading about things to do in Fes and are excited to book your next trip. We have included additional Morocco posts below to help plan your travels!
- Guide to Morocco and 7 day itinerary
- Packing guide for Morocco Travel
- Things to do in Chefchaouen Morocco
Date: October 12 2019
Best Fes Itinerary : Top things to do in Fes Morocco