Chaotic, invigorating, colourful and hypnotic, the old Fes medina is enough to place Fes among my favourite cities in Morocco. It’s the largest medina in the country, yet there are still plenty of other things to do in Fes.
A former capital of modern Morocco, Fes is the country’s third-largest city. We chose to spend most of our time inside the walls of the old medina. As one of the world’s largest pedestrian zones, it’s also a bit of sensory overload, but it’s never dull.
Then there is modern Fes, outside the old medina offering a completely different feel and list of things to do in Fes.
We liked Fes so much that we went back for a second visit.
Top 10 things to do in Fes
- Lose yourself in the old Fes medina
- Be enchanted by architectural and mosaic details
- Explore the Jewish quarter
- Visit Chouara Tannery (inside the Fes medina)
- Take a photo of the Imperial Royal Palace
- Be in awe of the craftsman
- Escape the chaos at Jardin Jnan Sbil
- Discover new flavours and aromas
- Get a henna tattoo
- Take a day trip to the ‘blue city’ or to ancient Roman ruins.
Lose yourself in the old Fes medina (Fes el Bali)
The old walled Fes medina is a labyrinth of narrow streets and dead ends like nowhere else. The 1200-year-old Fes medina is the oldest surviving medina in Morocco. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.
It’s one of those places that people either love or hate.
Whether you are shopping for clothing, spices, souvenirs, food, or crafts, there are seemingly endless opportunities in the medina. Prices are never listed. Bartering is a way of life. Don’t be surprised that Moroccans pay considerably less than tourists, even for the same items.
Working animals share the medina’s walking spaces.
We got lost several times in the maze of streets. In fact, I believe most people do. This is half the fun. Note there are plenty of locals, many of whom are kids, that will happily guide you out for a couple of dirhams (the currency of Morocco). They will find you if you look lost.
Pro tip: Before you hire a guide to find the exit, try walking uphill. Most of the medina alleyways head downhill to the centre. That is, unless hiring the guide is part of your fun.
Also, inside the wall of the old Fes medina are plenty of restaurants, mosques, an old madrasa, meeting places, and riads (accommodations).
The Fes medina is a must-see on most lists of things to do in Fes. However, if the probability of getting lost intimidates you, or if you have limited time and want to be sure to see all the highlights, you can:
- Hire a guide on the spot who may or may not be an actual guide
- Get a vetted private guide through Tours By Locals, a company we have successfully worked with worldwide.
- Join this top-rated small group tour of the medina.
Be enchanted by architectural and mosaic details
Have you ever noticed that people tend to look down or out in unfamiliar surroundings?
But in Fes, and especially in the Fes medina, we encourage you to always look up, even on the narrow streets. For it is there that we so often discovered stunning and intricate carvings or Zellige mosaics.
Zellige patterns are created from individually chiselled geometric tiles. The result is impressive, unique, and exquisite.
One site not to miss is Bab Bou Jeloud, the French-made Blue Gate (photo at the top of page). In contrast to most of the centuries-old handcrafts in the medina, the Blue Gate was built in 1913.
The cars in the photo, as well as the cobalt blue colours, indicate that I am standing outside the medina. The other side of the gate is green (in the medina) and marks the sacred colour of Islam.
Explore the Mellah (old Jewish quarter)
Large windows and open balconies signified our arrival at the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter of Fes. These dwellings stand in sharp contrast to the traditional Arab houses that have huge indoor courtyards but a limited view of the outside.
Jewish history in Morocco dates back more than 3,000 years, and as recently as 100 years ago, over 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco. Substantial emigration began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The current estimate is that only 2,000 Jews remain in Morocco, most in Casablanca.
This short video highlights the history of Jews in Morocco.
- Synagogue Ibn Danan
We navigated the Mellah’s labyrinth of narrow streets to find Synagogue Ibn Danan, one of the oldest synagogues in North Africa. Locating the caretaker was a bit more challenging but required gaining access to the beautifully restored 17th-century synagogue. (We had a similar experience at the synagogue in Marrakesh). We saw the original deerskin Torah, the tevah (bimah), and the mikva bath below.
- Jewish cemetery
We passed through the blue door into a long hallway but were not able to enter this old Jewish cemetery. However, we could see it through a fence. The cemetery overlooks the newer portion of the city of Fes. Graves in a Jewish cemetery can face any direction, while in a Muslim cemetery, all graves face Mecca.
Take a tour that includes the Jewish quarter
If you are looking for a city tour that visits the old Jewish quarter, we like the looks of this highly-rated half-day private tour. It visits several sites in the medina: Al Quaraouin University, Batha Museum, Blue Gate, and Chouara Tannery. It also visits the Jewish quarter, including Ibn Danan Synagogue, Jnan Sbil garden, Nejjarine Square, and sees the Royal Palace Gate. Book your half-day Fes tour here.
Visit Chouara Tannery (inside the Fes medina)
Chouara Tannery is the largest of the three tanneries in Fes. Operating since the 11th century, it’s the oldest tannery in the world using traditional methods. In fact, for thousands of years, leather processing techniques utilised pigeon droppings, cow urine, and other natural materials.
The best place to view the tannery is from above, and this also helps with the overwhelming stench. At least that’s what they tell you, but I can’t even imagine how bad it was down low.
Pro tip: Hold a mint leaf under your nose to help hide the smell.
Take a photo of the Imperial Royal Palace
The colourful Dar el Makhzen (the royal Imperial palace) is one place you want to be sure you have your camera. Stop at any of the seven gates, as the grounds are neither open to the public nor does the royal family live here.
An imperial city in Morocco is a historical capital, and there is a royal palace in each of the four imperial cities: Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat.
Covering nearly 80 hectares, the exquisite brass and gold doors reflect the palace’s majesty.
Be in awe of the craftsmanship
Talented and impressive hand craftsmen are often busy practising their art with skills that passed down through the generations. The main areas include:
- Chouara Tannery (above)
- Square Seffarine: the souk of the coppersmiths
- Ain Nokbi: district of the potters and the place to get ceramics
- Nejjarine Square: Two key things to see are the fountain and the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts.
Escape the chaos at Jardin Jnan Sbil
One thing we noticed rather quickly about Fes is constantly chaotic, busy and noisy surroundings. Jardin Jnan Sbil offers a well-needed escape. We found these nicely manicured public gardens just outside of the Fes medina on our way to the Mellah.
With no vendors inside the park, we took a bit of time just to breathe and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
Discover new flavours and aromas
While aromas often attract us, it is trying the new flavours that is one of my favourite things to do in Fes. Whether it be barbeque or sweets, we bravely tried most of it. We even had a camel burger in Marrakech.
We loved Chez Rashid’s (first image), a restaurant near the blue gate. Learn from our mistakes. The outdoor tables appeared the same on our second visit, but the metal shutters were down. A server approached and insisted they were using their ‘other kitchen’ tonight. In truth, the restaurant was closed, and we have no idea who served us our dinner.
Get a henna tattoo
Henna is a Moroccan traditional decor most often applied to a woman’s hands or feet. A henna tattoo will usually last about two weeks. They are done for a variety of reasons, but they are more intricate for special occasions.
Henna is plant-based and one of the world’s oldest pigments.
One of the women who works at the riad we stayed at does wedding henna. Our girls were very lucky to have her do theirs. After a few washings, the black and the colours came off, leaving the henna’s red-orange colour for a couple of weeks.
Take a day trip from Fes
Three popular day trips from Fes are Chefchaouen, Volubilis, and Moulay Idriss. Each has its own distinctive personality. We opted to stay in Chefchauan for one night and in Meknes (closer to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss) for a couple of nights.
More things to do in Fes Medina and beyond
Here are a few more ideas that didn’t fit into any of the above:
- Take a local’s hammam bath. We opted to do this rather than the tourist hammam, and it was quite the unusual (and, in retrospect, hilarious) experience.
- The University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859AD, is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world (in the Fes medina).
- Madrasa al-Attarine is nearly 1000 years old and open to non-Muslims (in the Fes medina).
- Stroll through the 14th-century Merenid Tombs (we didn’t go here).
- Attend a festival (called a moussem) if one is going on. We were lucky enough to arrive for the huge Moussem Moulay Idriss.
- If you don’t want to miss anything, take a tour.
Where to stay in Fes
As people who like to immerse ourselves in the local culture, it was important to us to stay at a riad (also spelled riyad or ryad) inside the Fes medina. Riads are traditional Moroccan homes converted to accommodations. However, if this isn’t for you, we recommend two top-rated western-style accommodations outside the medina as options.
- Riyad Al Atik
What makes Riyad Al Atik so special is the friendly owners and staff, the beautiful interior filled with intricate Moroccan doors and Moorish archways, many places to relax, attention to every detail, and exotic and delicious food (be sure to try the homemade ice cream). Down a narrow road, it was a bit hard to find the first time, but that was our experience with everything in this medina. This was such a good choice that we stayed here on our second visit to Fes as well. Reserve your room at Riad Al Atik here.
- Palais Faraj Suites & Spa
This top-rated option is a former Arab-Moorish palace featuring views of the medina. It looks like they don’t miss a beat here, with luxury around every corner. If I were to stay outside of the Fes medina, this would be my pick, especially for a weekend stay, as there is free yoga on Saturdays and free meditation sessions on Thursdays. Reserve your room at Palais Faraj Suites & Spa here.
- Fes Marriott Hotel Jnan Palace
If you are looking for the familiarity of home in a 5-star option, then the Marriott is for you. Located in the city’s new quarter, it has everything you would expect from a Marriott.
Reserve your room at the Marriot here.
Final thoughts and tips on visiting Fes
- Take caution when drinking water. Always ask if it is safe for you to drink (the Moroccans grew up on it, and they can drink it without a problem). When you purchase bottled water, be sure you receive unopened bottles rather than refilled ones.
- Carry toilet paper with you.
- Before you head out of the pedestrian-only medina, ask at your accommodation how much the taxi should cost and don’t pay more – negotiate before you get in.
- Embrace the culture and enjoy.
Save on your trip with these resources
We use these aggregator companies to save time and money. They do the work for us by providing a list of options, prices, and reviews for anywhere we are travelling worldwide. Plus, we have personally had positive customer service experiences with all of them:
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Hotels: we use Booking.com as they consistently return the best rates and their reviews are from actual guests. However, for self-contained lodging, use VRBO
- Cars: we use RentalCars to find the best deals and dealer ratings.
- Private guides: we often hire private guides from Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: we start at InsureMyTrip as they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you.
Before you book the rest of your trip: Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
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Have you been lost in the Fes medina? What are your favourite things to do in Fes?
Photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such, in the public domain, or some stock photos were supplied by DepositPhotos.
Fes is one of my absolute favourite destinations of all time. There’s so much always happening here – the souks, the crafts, the mosques…everything is always so alive. You’ve penned this guide down very beautifully 🙂
What an adventure for you and your girls. I love that you ate a closed restaurant and someone still served you a meal.
I’m entranced by the Blue Gate — how stunning!
Wow, good job! I have been only once to Morocco and I never visited Fes unfortunately! I wanted my next destination to be Marrakech but you really made me discover Fes in a way that I am already in love with it! Lovely article and photos
Oh this takes me back! I was charmed by Fes, and we wished we had requested more days for it on our tour. I still use the djelaba that I got there.
Fes looks like a fascinating city to visit with mosques, souks, camels and hidden alleys. I’d also really love to see the Blue town, Chefchaouen. I can’t wait to visit Morrocco & I’m saving this for later!
I’m all about history and would love to visit Morocco. Fes medina sounds perfect for me! This is the ultimate guide on what to experience!
I was just in Morocco last May! It was nice to be back and I will always love this place.
I love Morocco! So beautiful country, great food and interesting people. I enjoyed my time in Rabat and Marrakech. I think the next destination will be Fes 🙂
Rhonda, we always enjoy your photos, but never more than when you’re someplace we’ve been dreaming of visiting. These are fantastic pictures, and makes us want to speed up our timeline to Morocco!
I love love checking out your photo stories. It’s a visual treat every time, and this is no different! Fes looks amazing. I love markets and would want to head there for sure.
Vicky and Buddy
Some friends of mine visited Fes and they really loved it, so I’ve been wanting to visit it since then. I think I’d spend the whole time staring at the walls and carvings. The detail is so amazing!
I would love to visit Fes – it seems like it’s one of the last really authentic, exotic places left in the world – your girls look so great with their Henna! I’ve seen photos of Chouara Tannery and it looks really interesting, though thanks for the tip on looking down from above! And for the tip to look up as you’re wandering around the medina’s – some of those buildings are so beautiful and intricate!
Wow. I love the photo of the birds flying into the evening sky. So beautiful. I also love the home where you had the mint tea! It looks so peaceful.
Fes always looked so fascinating to me, and after seeing your beautiful pictures I’m drawn to go explore! Great, inspirational post 🙂
What a beautiful place I have never been to Morocco but it sure is on my list of places I want to go! I love the pictures and the tannery looks like a really
great place to see in person.
Like something out of a movie to me! Beautiful travelogue … thanks for taking us along.
Wonderful wonderful photos! I really love the one of the barbeque with the light filtering though the smoke. I’ve saved this post because I am dying to go to Morocco and need lots of tips!
Your blog is very impressive and i like you pictures collection your blog is to good there is no doubt
How exciting. I would like to visit Fes. The blue house of your new friend looks gorgeous. My favourite photo is of the birds swarming at night in the medina.
Bilyana - Owl Over The World
Nice photos! I hope I can visit Marocco soon.
sara | bellyrumbles
What an amazing adventure, experiencing all those alley ways and dead ends. The sights, the sounds and the smells? Such a wonderful adventure around every turn.
We enjoy the adventure of stepping off the main road and exploring the back roads and side alleyways. Fes is the ideal place to do this.
Very close to how Egypt is. Funny story about why the roosters sit on the tops of the cages, basically free to fly away. Their hens are kept inside the cages and the roosters won’t leave them. It’s their harem and they stay close to protect them from other roosters. They aren’t very successful at protecting them from being eaten for dinner though!
No I haven’t been to Morocco but my husband was there in the late 1970s. Aah I could see myself sipping mint tea in your friend’s home in Fes. There is always a huge contrast between old and new, but I always find the old has much more character.
Never been to Morocco. Looks like I should get a move on 🙂
Very cool photos. You and your family are truly fortunate to have seen so much of the world.
I would love to visit Morocco one day! The architecture just seems stunning and there seems to always be something going on in the markets!
Aww I love the photos in this post. I was in Fes and other parts of Morocco 2 years ago. This brings me right back. And I suddenly remembered the smell of Chouara Tannery hahaa. That was something! 🙂
Jim ~ Reflections Enroute
Your photos are beautiful Rhonda! I really like the atmosphere you’ve captured int he shot of the barbecue in the archway. I’m also pretty sure I have a photo of that same copper worker, beating on his copper bowls! #wkendtravelinspiration
That BBQ archway shot is my favourite from Fes. As for the artisans, they are so talented, and I imagine they sit there day after day working their craft. Cool that we both chose the same guy to photograph.
Your photos are really stunning, you’re very talented. I feel like I was there! I actually love the contrast and it’s one of the reasons Morocco is so high on my list! Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂
Hi Rhonda – what a fascinating journey – the different souks, the smen … I’d never heard of – even though I used to make couscous… is a fascinating ‘butter’ to learn about … and how amazing to be able to look down on the tannery … they do smell … we’re lucky that we live in such sanitized places … but I’d love to visit there – and stay in your ‘hotel’ that I can’t find now … but it looked stunning … and to experience the hamman … such a great place to see … and to have some rooftop views … glorious … cheers Hilary
It must have been interesting visiting the tannery. Did it smell bad? I’ve heard the smell is unbearable around the tanneries. Morocco surely looks like a great place to visit. Your photos prove that.
Yes, it was shockingly stinky. The mint leaves help, a bit. However, it is so fascinating, that I could ignore the stench. My vegetarian daughter didn’t do so well here.
I love the picture of the bbq vendor. The smoke makes is so intriguing.
I would also take a real hamman ☺
Wow! How very exotic and different than anyplace I’ve been. It looks like it was an amazing trip!
Such an amazing trip. I am loving the colours of this place and I wish I can visit it too!
Trekking with Becky
Incredible! Going inside is a totally different world.
Ruth | Tanama Tales
Rhonda, I am blown away by your pictures! The devil is in the details and I love all those details you have capture. I would like to get lost on that medina and discover at my own pace. And, I would like to get my henna tattoos too!. #TPThursday
Great shots as always. I’m sure your girls will travel with their kids one day as you did with them.
Have a fabulous day. ☺
How interesting to find they are so different – looks like NZ will home for a while … ! I guess it happens to many of us … can’t be bothered to pack up and start off again … I get both points of view … cheers Hilary
Paul F. Pietrangelo
I think I may have mentioned before when you showed photos of these type places, I can’t seem to even think about going into countries and places like theses. I just feel scared even thinking about it. I give you a lot of power going there. I guess I’m just frightened. Thanks to you, a scared person like me can see places like this by a strong person like you Rhonda. Thanks for allowing me to see Morocco from your eyes.
Wow! What interesting and amazing photos, like the one where one building was holding up another. EEEK! You must have had a difficult time narrowing down what photos you would use for this blog but you did well and gave a real feel for the place. What a wonderful experience for your children.
Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly
Many moons ago I worked for a boss who was from Morocco I liked to look at his pictures! Great shots of the animals! (And thanks for the tips regarding the TP!) 🙂
Oh, I’ve been to places where cats, roosters, and donkeys are always roaming…and it is so cool!
Animal in foreign countires work hard right along side hardworking people.
Such an exciting trip you are on!
Wow! animals everywhere.
Hope the toilet roll is quilted LOL 🙂