14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Fes
Fes vies with Marrakesh for the title of Morocco's most exotic city. This is the country's spiritual capital, and despite the encroachment of modernity, it has maintained its authentic appeal down through the ages, holding onto its stately bearing as an Imperial City. Its minaret and dome-punctured skyline and timeless, crumbling Islamic architecture are top things to see for tourists. Culture vultures will have a field day craning their necks along the narrow alleyways at all the monument attractions. With historic buildings on every corner, this is a Moroccan metropolis that shouldn't be missed.
See also: Where to Stay in Fes
1 Medersa Bou Inania
The Medersa Bou Inania was built between 1350 and 1357 by the Merenid sultan Bou Inan. One of the few religious buildings in the city that non-Muslims may enter, the Medersa (madrassa - Islamic school of learning) is a sumptuous architectural gem and one of Morocco's most gorgeous buildings. Up until the 1960s, this was still a functioning theological school, and the restoration efforts since that time have restored it to its original beauty. The carved woodwork and stucco decoration is magnificent and is a tribute to Morocco's master artisans.
Address: Rue Talaa Kebira, Fes el-Bali
2 Medersa el-Attarine
Another example of fine Merenid architecture, the Medersa el-Attarine was built in 1325 by Abu Said. The courtyard here is a wonderful display of the intricate decoration from this period, with elaborate zellige tile-work and cedar wood carvings. The upper floor is made up of a warren of cells, which were once home to students studying theology at the Qaraouiyine Mosque (once one of the world's first universities). If you climb up onto the rooftop, you can get great views of the green-tiled roof of the Qaraouiyine Mosque itself.
Location: Fes el Bali
3 Fes el Bali
Fes el Bali is the medina area and the city's oldest neighborhood. It's thought to be the largest intact surviving medina in the world. The main gate into the area is Bab Boujloud. As you approach this grand old gate, you get wonderful views of the neighborhood's famed landmark: the minaret of the Medersa Bou Inania, which sits just after the Bab Boujloud gate. Within its walls, the rambling streets spiral out into two distinctly different districts divided by a meandering river. The left bank is home to the most historic monuments and the majority of the shopping souks, while the right bank may be scruffier but is full of local life and photogenic alleyways. The right bank also has some interesting buildings to search out including the Al-Andalus Mosque, built in 1321 and noted for its prominent green and white minaret, which actually dates back to the 10th century. Nearby, you'll find a variety of interesting other monuments including an old fondouk (khan or caravanserai) and the crumbling Medersa Sahrij. The entire Old City is a walker's delight, with plenty of opportunities to explore and soak up the atmosphere of Fes life. Be aware that the area is hilly, and the lanes are laid with cobblestones, so wear sturdy shoes.
Location: Fes el Bali
4 Souks District and Tanneries
For shoppers, Fes el Bali is a paradise of local craft-work with colorful Moroccan slippers, leather-work, metalwork, rainbow-glass lamps, and tiles all displayed at stalls throughout the district. The streets just west of the Qaraouiyine Mosque have the greatest concentration of shopping opportunities. This is also where you can visit the famous Chouara tanneries of Fes, one of the top things to do in this area. Here, you can watch the traditional dying of animal skins - the first step in making Morocco's many leather products. Leather shops surrounding the tanneries provide bird's-eye views over the area from their rooftops and are the best place to take photos.
Location: Fes el Bali
The atmospheric old Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is in Fes el Jedid, just north of the Royal Palace. Throughout this compact district, the lanes are lined with fine (though highly dilapidated) examples of early 20th-century houses, which were once home to the vibrant Jewish community of Fes. The small, restored Aben-Danan Synagogue can also be visited here. On the edge of the Mellah is the rambling Jewish cemetery, one of the city's most tranquil spots, and a Jewish Museum housing a collection of objects highlighting Moroccan Jewish life and culture.
Location: Fes el Jedid
6 Borj Nord and the Merenid Tombs
For the best views over Fes el Bali, walk up the steep hill just outside the city ramparts, to the Borj Nord area. Here, you'll find a 16th-century fortress, home to an impressive arms museum. The collection of weapons includes some extremely rare pieces that represent armory from across the world. Amid the cache is the five-meter-long cannon (with a weight of 12 tons) that was used during the Battle of the Three Kings.
After viewing the arms museum, keep heading up the hill to the summit where a scattering of golden-stoned Merenid tombs sits. Although the tombs are in a heavily ruined state today, you're here for the views, which take in the entire walled medina area and out to the green hills beyond.
Address: Rue des Mérinides
7 Qaraouiyine Mosque
Built in AD 857 by Tunisian immigrants from the holy city of Kairouan, the Qaraouiyine Mosque was one of the medieval period's most distinguished universities. Today, in its function as a working mosque, it is one of Morocco's largest centers of worship, with a prayer hall that can hold 20,000. The library is one of the oldest surviving in the world and contains more than 30,000 books. Among the collection is a 9th-century Qur'an. The Fes el-Bali complex cannot be entered by non-Muslims, but you can get excellent views of the mosque from nearby restaurant rooftops.
Location: Fes el Bali
8 Fes el Jedid
The Merenids built this "New City" in the 13th century when they realized that Fes el Bali would be too small to contain their palaces. The rather grand Royal Palace takes center stage here (not open to the public) and behind it, mosques and medersas fill the host of lanes. There's a tranquil air to this small section of the city, which sits between bustling Fes el Bali and the European-style Ville Nouvelle, and it makes a welcoming, peaceful lull between these two faster-paced worlds.
Location: Fes el Jedid
9 Batha Museum
The Batha Museum is inside a Hispano-Moorish summer palace built in the late 19th century. The museum collection traipses through a selection of traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, with wood carved doors, wrought-iron work, embroidery, carpets, and jewelry all on display. The centerpiece exhibit of the museum is the ceramics room, where the famous Fes blue ceramics, colored with cobalt, are featured. More interesting than the displays themselves is the building's own original decoration and the lovely internal courtyard garden, which is full of shady trees and tall palms and is a true oasis within the city.
Address: Place Batha, Fes el Bali
10 Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Crafts
Right amid Place Nejjarine, surrounded by metalworker workshops, you'll find the Nejjarine Museum in an old fondouk, which has been transformed into a museum displaying Moroccan wooden arts and crafts. Here, in the salons where traders once slept on their trips to town are displays of engraved granary doors, dowry chests, and mashrabiya (lattice screen) window frames. The central courtyard of the fondouk, with its sturdy pillars and balconies decorated in carved wood and stucco detailing, is worthy of the entrance price alone and has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.
Address: Place Nejjarine, Fes el-Bali
11 Tazzeka National Park and Taza
Taza was founded by the Berbers in the fifth century and was once a fortress that guarded the route leading to fertile lands in the west. In the old town, situated above the modern, there are cereal markets, souks for mats, jewelry, and carpets, as well as the remains of the old kasbah. Within Taza's Great Mosque is one of Morocco's most beautiful bronze chandeliers, which bears 514 oil lamps.
Just out of town are the Friouato Caverns, a haven for spelunkers. These caverns reach down to a depth of 180 meters, with stalactites and stalagmites covering a fairyland of mineral sculpture. Taza is also the best base for adventures into Tazzeka National Park and its vast forests of cork oaks and cedars. The climb to the summit of Djebel Tazzeka (1,980 meters) is well rewarded by stunning views across this wooded countryside and out to the snow-bound peaks of the Middle Atlas.
Location: 113 kilometers northeast of Fes
This walled town is a photographer's dream and exudes an untouched and unhurried air. Once a major point on the caravan trading routes, Sefrou was a prosperous and cosmopolitan center. But by the 20th century, its heyday had long passed and it reverted to sleepy and slightly down-at-heel scruffiness. The lack of investment here, though, has meant that Sefrou has managed to retain much of its historic charm, and there are a bundle of gorgeous old buildings in its center.
Location: 29 kilometers southeast of Fes
13 Moulay Yacoub
This spa town came into being thanks to the warm curative waters in the surrounding countryside that are believed to relieve the suffering of rheumatism, skin problems, and nose and throat problems. The hamams (Turkish baths) in the town center are a truly local experience where you can get rubbed and scrubbed and then doused in curative spa waters. Don't expect the experience to be the spa-type treatment you get in a hamam in Turkey. It's the real local deal here. For the less brave, there's a luxury spa in town, too, where you can soak.
Location: 22 kilometers northwest of Fes
14 Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
For 10 days each year, Fes becomes the center for an extraordinary festival that brings together musicians from across the country and the world. The Festival of World Sacred Music is the biggest festival of its kind, and the series of concerts (some ticketed and others free) covers everything from Sufi dancers from Turkey to sitar players from India. Some of the biggest events are held in the large plaza fronting Bab Boujloud and are free entry, while other musical performances take place at venues throughout the city.
The most mystical of Morocco's imperial cities, Fez was founded in AD 808 by the Moroccan ruler saint Moulay Idris II and under his rule, became the capital and spiritual center of Morocco. The city is situated in a narrow valley against the backdrop of the Middle Atlas and positioned on the old crossroads of caravan routes connecting the Saharan empires like Timbuktu and Takrur with the Atlantic and the Mediterranean shipping lanes. Due to this, Fez has remained a commercial center for much of its history. Today, it is still considered Morocco's premier religious city by virtue of its Islamic traditions.
Where to Stay in Fes for Sightseeing
To absorb the intoxicating sights and sounds of Fes, the best area to stay is in or near the Medina of Fez (Fes el Bali), a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its lively souks, tangle of photogenic alleyways, and historic monuments such as Bab Boujloud (the medina's main gate). A popular type of accommodation here are riads, traditional Moroccan guesthouses with internal courtyards; breakfast is usually included in the rates. Here are some highly-rated hotels and riads in this evocative location:
- Luxury Hotels: An amazing view of the medina is one of the high points of the Palais Faraj Suites & Spa, a restored 19th-century palace just outside the medina, with spacious suites showcasing authentic Moroccan design and an inviting swimming pool. Also with a pool, the Palais Sheherazade is a short stroll from the medina's museums. Its romantic suites are adorned with chandeliers and silk, and you can also relax in the luxury spa or palm-studded gardens. In the charming Andalous Quarter of the medina, the boutique Karawan Riad, with a gourmet restaurant, spa, and uniquely-styled suites, evokes the beauty of old Morocco.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Just outside the medina, a short stroll from the souks and Bab Boujloud, Riad Ahlam is a former palace known for its courteous service and warm Moroccan charm. At Riad Laaroussa, right in the medina, the beautifully-appointed rooms are named for colors, and a steep flight of stairs leads to a lovely rooftop terrace. Also within the medina, the Hotel & Spa Riad Dar Bensouda resides in a beautifully restored palace with a small pool and hammam.
- Budget Hotels: Riad Laayoun offers excellent value with sweeping views of the medina from the rooftop terrace. A seven-minute stroll from Bab Boujloud in the medina, Dar Hafsa is a peaceful retreat with warm hospitality, colorful rooms, and a rooftop terrace. Also deep within the medina, the Riad Tara blends traditional Moroccan craftsmanship with modern design and prides itself on its attentive service.