14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions 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 the top sightseeing draw-cards 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, and a bundle of decent museums, this is a Moroccan metropolis that shouldn't be missed.
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-Muslim's 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 is magnificent and the rooftop offers a spectacular view of Fes.
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 woodcarvings. The upper floor is made up of a warren of cells, which were once home to students of the Qaraouiyine University (now mosque). If you climb up to the rooftop you can get great views of the Qaraouiyine Mosque itself.
The atmospheric old Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is just north of the Royal Palace. Here, on Rue Temara you'll find the lovely Aben-Danan Synagogue with a collection of objects highlighting Moroccan Jewish life. The Jewish cemetery nearby is also worthy of a wander. Throughout this compact district the lanes are lined with fine examples of early 20th century houses and were once home to Fes' vibrant Jewish community.
4 Bab Chorfa and Bab Boujiloud
The grand gates of Bab Chorfa and Bab Boujiloud mark the main entry into Fes el Bali (Old City). As you approach, them you get wonderful views of the neighbourhood's famed landmark: the minaret of the Medersa Bou Inania, which sits just after the Bab Boujiloud gate.
5 Borj Nord
This 16th century fortress has an impressive arms museum with a collection of weapons, including some extremely rare pieces that represent armoury from across the world. Amid the cache is the 5 m long canon (with a weight of 12 tons) that was used during the Battle of the Three Kings. If you head up to the roof you'll be rewarded with excellent views across the Old City district.
6 Fes el Bali (Old City)
Fes el Bali is the city's oldest neighbourhood and, within its rambling streets, there are 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 entire Old City is a walker's delight with plenty of opportunities to explore and soak up the atmosphere of Fes life. The Old City is thought to be one of the largest surviving of its type in the world.
7 Qaraouiyine Mosque
Built in 857 AD 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 centres of worship with a prayer hall that can hold 20,000. The library is one of the oldest surviving in the world and contains over 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.
8 Souks District and Tanneries
For shoppers, Fes el-Bali is a paradise of local craft-work with colourful 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'll find Fes' famous Chouara tannery. Here you can watch the traditional dying of animal skins - the first step in making Morocco's many leather products.
9 Fes el Jedid
The Merenids built this "New City" in the 13th century when they realised that Fes el Bali would be too small to contain their palaces. The rather grand Royal Palace takes central stage here, 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.
10 Bou Jeloud Gardens and Batha Museum
The Boujiloud Gardens is home to the Batha Museum. Located inside a Hispano-Moorish palace built in the late 19th century, this museum houses traditional Fes art like woodcarvings, wrought-iron work, embroidery, carpets and jewellery. The centrepiece of the museum is the pottery room, where the famous Fes blue ceramics, coloured with cobalt, are featured.
11 Al-Andalus Mosque
Built in 1321, the Al-Andalus Mosque is 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 Essahrij.
12 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, jewellery 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 Frouato Caverns, a heaven for spelunkers. These caverns reach down to a depth of 180 m 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 (1980 m) is well rewarded by stunning views across this wooded countryside and out to the snow-bound peaks of the Middle Atlas.
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 centre. But by the 20th century its hey-day had long past 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 that can be seen in its centre.
14 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 centre 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.
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 centre 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.