17 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Fes
Fes vies with Marrakesh for the title of Morocco's most visited city-break destination. This is the country's spiritual capital and is one of the best places to visit to soak up the historic ambience of Morocco's Imperial Cities.
Simply strolling around the high-walled medina, admiring the crumbling architecture, is the major tourist attraction here, while bedding down in one of the medina's riad hotels is the most popular thing to do in town.
With historic monuments around every corner of the twisty, narrow alleyways and a skyline punctured by domes and minarets, this is Morocco's finest historic city.
Start planning your trip here with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Fes.
See also: Where to Stay in Fes
1. Sleep amid Historic Finery in a Riad Hotel
As with a trip to Marrakesh, the riad hotels of Fes are an experience in themselves.
A riad is a traditional medina mansion, centered around a courtyard, and many of these buildings have been painstakingly restored and converted into hotels in recent decades, allowing guests a taste of historic finery.
Their sumptuous interiors often retain much of their original highly detailed features, replete with carved doors, stucco decoration, and tilework.
Despite the historic ambience, most also offer all mod-cons, while roof terrace spaces and contemporary additions, such as small plunge pools, offer modern comforts.
Most riads sit in the mid-range or luxury price range, though if your budget doesn't stretch to that, you'll also find dars (smaller traditional medina houses, centered around a lightwell) that have been converted into guesthouses.
2. Get Lost amid the Alley of 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 derbs (medina alleys) 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 souqs 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.
3. Admire the Medersa Bou Inania
The Medersa Bou Inania was built between 1350 and 1357 by the Merenid sultan Bou Inan.
As one of the few religious buildings in the city that non-Muslims may enter, the Medersa (a "madrassa" is an Islamic school of learning) is one of the most popular monuments to visit in Fes and a must-do stop on any tour of the medina.
Up until the 1960s, this was still a functioning theological school, and the restoration efforts that were carried out afterwards have carefully returned the medersa to its ornate original state.
The carved woodwork and stucco decoration is magnificent and is a tribute to Morocco's master artisans.
Address: Rue Talaa Kebira, Fes el-Bali
4. Shop in the Medina Souqs
For keen shoppers, the skinny souq (market) lanes of Fes el Bali are one of the major attractions of a Fes stay.
Fes is renowned within Morocco for its artisan heritage, and you'll find all types of Moroccan handicrafts here, from leatherwork to metalware and ceramics.
The local ceramic tradition (called Fassi ceramics), made from local clay, tends towards blue tones and is usually hand-painted with intricate patterns and recurring motifs.
The streets just west of the Qaraouiyine Mosque have the greatest concentration of shopping opportunities.
As with Marrakesh, more tourist orientated shops, selling a range of souvenir-style giftware and more mass-produced items, as well as the big carpet emporiums, tend to line main roads in the medina such as Talaa Kebira. Specialty artisan workshops are usually found in smaller lanes.
5. Climb Up to the Rooftop of the Medersa el-Attarine
This fine example of Merenid-era architecture was built in 1325 by Abu Said.
The Medersa el-Attarine's central internal courtyard 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 that were once home to students studying theology at the neighboring Qaraouiyine Mosque, one of the world's first universities.
After admiring the building's interior decoration, make sure to climb up onto the medersa's rooftop from where you can get great views over the surrounding rooftops, including a close-up view of the green tiled roof of the Qaraouiyine Mosque next door.
Address: Rue Talaa Kebira, Fes el Bali
6. Photograph the Famed Fes Tanneries
The Chouara tanneries of Fes are one of the city's most famous sights. Sitting in the northeast corner of Fes el Bali, just east of the Qaraouiyine Mosque, the tanneries have been the bustling center of the city's leather industry since the medieval era.
The only way to get the iconic bird's-eye views over the dying pits, where hides are soaked in a multitude of colors to later become bags, clothing, shoes, and a variety of other products, is to head to the leather stores surrounding the tannery area, which offer views from their rooftops.
You have to tip the leather shops for entry, and do expect them to try a bit of sales patter while you're there.
Come in the morning if you can, as this is when the tannery pits are still filled with a rainbow palette of dyes.
7. Explore the Mellah District
The atmospheric old Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is in Fes el Jedid, just south 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.
Within the district, the small, restored Aben-Danan Synagogue is open for visitors.
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.
8. Take in the Views from the Borj Nord and 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 a military museum. The museum is worth a look for its collection of weapons, which 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, Fes
9. View the Qaraouiyine Mosque's Exterior
Built in AD 857 by Tunisian immigrants from the holy city of Kairouan, the Qaraouiyine Mosque was a thriving center of theological study and one of the medieval period's most distinguished universities.
It vies for title of the oldest university in the world with the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt.
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 mosque's 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 Qaraouiyine Mosque complex cannot be entered by non-Muslims.
Non-Muslims can, though, glimpse the mosque's internal courtyard from the ornate main doorway on Derb Boutouil. You can get excellent views of the mosque from nearby restaurant rooftops and from the rooftop of the Medersa el-Attarine.
10. Admire the Royal Palace's Gate in 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 grand Royal Palace takes center stage here. Its 80 hectares of grounds are not open to the public, though, you can stop and admire its ornately decorated entranceway.
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.
The mellah (Jewish quarter) is in the southern section of this district.
11. Visit the 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 Fassi ceramic collection, colored with cobalt, is displayed.
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.
The Batha Museum is in the southwest corner of the medina.
Address: Place Batha, Fes el Bali
12. Check Out the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Crafts
Right amid Place Nejjarine, surrounded by metalworker workshops, you'll find the Nejjarine Museum in an old fondouk (khan or caravanserai), which has been transformed into a museum exhibiting the diversity of traditional Moroccan wooden arts and crafts.
Here, in the salons where traders once slept on their trips to town are displays of highly detailed 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
13. Take a Time-Out from the Hustle amid Bou Jeloud Gardens
For some downtime from the hustle and bustle of Fes medina, head to these formal gardens, which sit just outside the medina walls, near the main medina entrance, Bab Boujloud.
The gardens are well kept and landscaped and provide a much needed shot of lush greenery and shady respite in the city.
They're a good spot for a pause if you're strolling between Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid's Royal Palace and mellah district.
Do like the locals do and come here around sunset for strolling the trails between planted flower beds, trickling fountains, and trees as the birds flock into the branches above.
Address: Avenue Moulay Hassan, Fes
14. Day Trip to Taza & Tazzeka National Park
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, souqs 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 Jebel Tazzeka (1,980 meters) is well rewarded by stunning views across this wooded countryside and out to the snowbound peaks of the Middle Atlas.
15. Stroll through Sefrou
This walled town, about 29 kilometers southeast of Fes, 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 being a sleepy town in the shadow of neighboring Fes.
Sefrou has managed to retain much of its historic ambience, and its pastel-washed medina is a laid-back place for aimless strolls.
If you're visiting Morocco in June, don't miss heading to Sefrou for the annual cherry festival, which is inscribed on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list and features music and parades over three days, all in celebration of the town's cherries.
16. Book a Spa Break at Moulay Yacoub
This ancient spa town, 22 kilometers northwest of Fes, 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 traditional hammams (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 hammam 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.
17. Experience the 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.
Accommodation in Fes gets booked out for this period, so you need to book early and expect hotel prices to be high.
Official site: www.fesfestival.com
History of Fes
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.
- For regal ambience with a contemporary twist, Hotel & Spa Riad Dar Bensouda is set in a medina palace but offers smoothly modern room furnishings amid its original architecture of grand arches, tile-work details, and intricate carved woodwork. There's a plunge pool and restaurant, plus breakfast is included.
- In the charming Andalous Quarter of the medina, the boutique Karawan Riad is in a gorgeously restored 17th-century mansion with a gourmet restaurant, spa, and included breakfast. The uniquely styled suites here evoke the beauty of old Morocco.
- The opulent Palais Amani is a tranquil oasis amid the medina bustle. It's known for its impeccable service, lovely courtyard garden of orange trees, good restaurant, and spa offering traditional hammam services.
- 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.
- In the Batha neighborhood of the medina, Riad Braya is set in a restored mansion featuring a pillared central courtyard with a plunge pool, restaurant, and included breakfast. It's known for its personalized service and helpful staff.
- A seven-minute stroll from Bab Boujloud in the medina, Dar Hafsa is a peaceful retreat with warm hospitality, colorful rooms, an included breakfast, 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. Breakfast is included.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Fes
- Full-Day City Sightseeing Tour: The Fes Guided Tour is a great option if you're short on time, as it explores all the highlights of the city in one day with a qualified guide. Visits to attractions such as the medina's tanneries, the Batha Museum, and the Mellah are included as is a tour of the medina's souks and past historical buildings, such as Bab Boujloud and the Qaraouiyine Mosque. Transport between Fes' different districts is included as is pickup and drop-off from your Fes hotel.
- Chefchaouen Day Trip: The Small Group Day Tour to Chefchaouen from Fez is a great way to fit a visit to one of northern Morocco's highlights into a Fes trip. Tour numbers are limited to 15, and plenty of free time in Chefchaouen is provided for you to explore the wriggling alleyways. Transport with pickup from Fes hotels is included.
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More Moroccan Cities: On the Atlantic coast, dive into the medina and museums of Rabat before tootling down the coast to modern Casablanca and its mammoth Hassan II Mosque. Afterwards, head east to Marrakesh to lose yourself amid the narrow alleys of its pink-toned medina. For more ideas on where to go, see our article on the top attractions in Morocco.
Exploring the North: First head west to Meknes to base yourself here for visits to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss, then journey northwards where Tetouan is the place from where to explore the Rif Mountains and the blue-toned town of Chefchaouen. Then check out Tangier for its medina and old Mediterranean ambience.