Wondering what to do in Fes? Here’s what I got up to in my few days here, plus tips for your own trip!
Autumn and I arrived at Fes towards the beginning of our trip. We came off the bus from Chefchaouen and were ready to see what Fes had to offer. I will say, it wasn’t a the top of either of our must-sees, but it made sense to go on our way to the desert and, of course, check out one of the most historical cities in Morocco.
Looking back — while I think I have some of my favorite photos from Fes, I don’t think it was my favorite place or even city in Morocco. The medina was a bit too claustrophobic for me, and a lot of the things to do in Fes are more of a “what to look at in Fes.” And while I’m definitely a shutterbug, I like to do a lot more than just take a nice photo!
Maybe if we had planned it a bit more like Marrakech, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Something like a day trip out to Meknes or Volubilis, some sort of walking tour to learn more about the history or culture, and a bit more time spent away from the crowded medina alleyways would probably have made the city more fun. Oh well, it’s not like I can’t ever return!
What to Do in Fes
Tours for Fes
Like I said, I think it would have been nice to have some sort of guide at least for the first day. I just wanted someone to be able to tell me more about the medina, Fes’s history, and what I was seeing. If you go without a guide and without doing any real research online, it really just feels like you’re just walking and looking at things.
Here are some tours that sound quite nice:
- Fes Medina Guided Tour
- Authentic Cooking Class & Old Medina Visit
- Private Full-Day Sightseeing Tour
- Full-Day Fes Handicraft Tour
- Food Walking Tour of Fes
- Local Cultural & Historical Tour
- Fes Guided Tour
Visit the Chouara Tannery
By far the top thing to do in Fes is to visit the Chouara Tannery. It was originally built in the 1000s, and it’s the largest of the tanneries in the city. It’s kind of tricky figuring out how to get there, and it’s the one time on our trip where we had to be a bit more trusting than we’d want to be.
The Fes medina is a maze of alleyways, but in order to get to the balconies to see the dyeing vats, you need to go into one of the leather shops. In order to do this, you need to follow a man into a door, which is probably in some backend alleyway, and it feels pretty sketchy! However, the men really were just trying to point us to the balconies and, of course, they were hoping we’d wind up buying goods from their shops.
From the balcony, the shopkeeper will tell you about the tannery. It’s really quite impressive. You’ll notice the vats are kind of split in the middle. The whiter end is where they soften the leather with some, um, interesting ingredients. And then the other half is where they dye the leather with all natural dyes. For example, the red color will come from poppies and the blue comes from indigo. Apparently yellow is the hardest to make.
It really is quite a sight and one of the coolest on our trip. Yes, it smells bad, but both Autumn and I didn’t think it particularly stunk. Everyone online made it sound like it was absolutely horrible, but we didn’t need the mint, and we weren’t dying to get out of there. I dunno, I feel like all the times I had to clean my sink’s food catcher in Korea smelled 100x worse.
If you’re going shopping, buy leather goods here
Now, if you’re in Morocco to do some serious shopping, all I read said to get your leather goods in Fes because of the aforementioned tanneries. How true all of this is, I really don’t know because I couldn’t be bothered to look at the prices for leather goods in other medinas.
However, we did walk away with some leather shoes! I got two pairs at Chouara for 300 MAD total, but I want to take them to a shoemaker to put tougher soles on the bottom before I wear them out. They’re the babouches and they look kind of ridiculous, but I think they’ll be fun to style and wear! Later I got a pair of slide sandals with Autumn in a shop near our Airbnb. I don’t love them though because I tried wearing them around when I got home, and they feel like they’re constantly sliding off. I think if I can, I’ll take them and get a back strap put on.
I can’t remember the exact prices we paid, but I know we didn’t get any major deals despite some haggling! I haggled a bit at Chouara but I don’t think they appreciated the back and forth, and I read later that some people had really unpleasant experiences there when it came to prices. We haggled a bit in the medina shop, but Autumn accepted one of the counter offers before I could see how low we could go.
Of course, you can try your luck with other goods like jackets, purse, and those fun poufs!
Really just walk around the Medina
Because we walked around so much and we were staying right in the middle of the medina, we spent a lot of time navigating the tight alleys. I do kind of wish we’d done a medina tour just because I think it would have been nice to get more of the history since Fes el Bali has been operating since the 700/800s AD. It also would probably have cut down on the harassment quite a bit!
Check Out Fes’s Blue Gate
If you stay at our Airbnb, this is actually right where you’ll meet the hosts! Built in 1913, it’s a beautiful Moorish gate, also known as the Bab Boujloud, and it’s an entrance to the medina. The design alone is gorgeous to look at!
Check out the Medersa Attarine
The Medersa Attarine was built back in the 1300s and basically acted as a dormitory for students. You’ll have to pay a little to get in, and then you’ll be able to access the courtyard and the second floor which is where the rooms once were. It’s cool to see how students may have lived back in the day, but the real star is definitely the courtyard. The mosaic tiles and intricate designs are absolutely stunning, and you could easily spend all day look at details.
Walk around Jardin Jnane Sbil
On our way out to see the Fes Palace, we stopped by this nice garden area. If you’re in Fes for a bit, this garden is the loveliest place to escape to. It was built in the 1700s under Sultan Moulay Abdellah and is, in total, 17 acres.
See the Palace Doors
Okay, as cool as the palace doors are, that’s literally ALL you see, so I don’t think it’s worth walking all the way out of the medina just to see them. They happened to be on a path we were on to see a lot of different sights, so it wasn’t a total bust. We did get lost trying to find them at first because Google Maps showed a different spot than the doors.
I knew you couldn’t go in the palace, but I really thought there’d be something else besides those doors. Nope, and if you get there at a bad time, good luck competing for space to get a nice photo!
From the palace, we walked over to the old Jewish Quarter. Apparently a big way you can tell is the way the windows are pointed outwards like this:
The big thing I wanted to see here was this Ibn Danan Synagogue from the 1600s. It apparently still had its original gazelle skin Torah. You’d think for a place and object with so much history, the synagogue would be a little more… well kept. The ancient scroll was literally just wrapped up in old sheets and sitting there. Sure, you couldn’t touch it, but there was no real protection! I’ve wrapped up picture frames with more care.
Anyway, getting to the synagogue is a bit weird. It feels quite hidden away, and you have to pay a random lady who will open up the doors for you. She’s not sitting at a booth for you to pay either. The only way we found her was because we started walking up a set of stairs and she saw us and came out.
The synagogue was a neat stop and the view of the graveyard was interesting, but, again, it’s a pretty decent walk from the medina, and I’m not 100% certain it’s that worth it. It’s not like you see anything that impressive, and there’s nothing there to even give you an idea of the history or what the heck you’re looking at. Again, this is probably when a tour guide with a knowledge of the Jewish presence in Fes would have come in handy!
Go to the Mall Nearby
Okay, not really, but if you’re in the middle of your trip and you want to go somewhere that feels familiar, the mall is pretty easy to get to! Autumn and I were with a girl we had met in Tangier, and she wanted to go, so we went with her. We were very hot and sweaty, so we embraced the light A/C and the food court. I remember feeling so hot, all I wanted and did eat was some frozen yogurt and then I chugged a water. Random tip, there’s a French brand, Undiz, there if you need new bras!
Pet all the cats
What kind of Moroccan guide would this be if I didn’t include this? So many cute cats in the medina, and it’s a good way to help ward off cat-calling men. No one wants to cat-call a someone cat-calling cats!
Other Things to Do in Fes
Obviously, we didn’t do all you could possibly do in Fes in just a few days! If you want to get out of the medina, try going out to the Marinid Tombs and hiking up Mount Zalagh. As far as day trips from Fes go, there are a few:
Where to Eat in Fes
If you need more of a food guide, check my post on what to eat in Morocco. As for where to eat in Fes, here are our recommendations:
Right near our Airbnb was this delightful shawarma place for dirt cheap. It’s clean on the inside, and the men don’t harass you to come in — yay! Autumn found it originally. I initially went to another place because I couldn’t find this one, and it was okay but more expensive and not as good.
When we first arrived in Fes, this is where we went to eat. It’s a super cute little restaurant, and the food was delicious! We got a savory pastilla, tajine, and mint tea, and then a sweet pastilla and fresh melon for dessert.
If you want something a bit more modern feeling, then this place was quite lovely. It wasn’t our favorite place to eat considering the food, while nice, wasn’t extraordinarily unique or good, and the prices are a bit higher.
Made in M
Right near Al Oud was this cute little cafe. We went in for some dessert and to hang out after dinner. I got this really nice, rich chocolate thing and some more mint tea.
Fes Travel Tips
The Weather in Fes
It’s dry and pretty hot in late June but not as hot as Marrakech, Ouarzazate, or the desert. We were fine without AC as our Airbnb was designed with a pretty decent airflow, but walking around outside left us hot and super thirsty.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Riad Dar Lmallouki, which was a lovely little place! It’s not the prettiest or fanciest and don’t expect complete, silent privacy, but the owners were the absolute kindest! They serve a delicious breakfast in the morning, and I remember going up to the roof to read for a bit on one of our relaxed afternoons. They even have laundry for free! Check here for rates & availability
PS: If it’s your first time using Airbnb, use this link to get a discount on your first stay.
If Riad Dar Lmallouki is booked, here are some other places we had bookmarked:
How to Get There
We were coming to Fes from Chefchaouen, so we simply took a CTM bus. I think it would up being 5 hours, though the site says it only takes 4.
When we went to Merzouga, we needed to take an overnight bus with Supratours. It’s kind of hidden and shoddy looking, but it’s across the street from the train station (which is pictured above, isn’t it beautiful?). You more or less want to take taxis to and from both of them to get to the medina.
If Fes is your first stop in Morocco, then it’s obviously possible to fly in! I’m not sure how to get from the airport to the medina besides asking your accommodation for advice, but you could also book a transfer.
How to Get Around
Walking! We walked an absurd amount, actually, probably more than you’ll want to do. It’s pretty easy to get through the medina and around town. We did wind up getting a taxi back to our accommodation from the mall, though, because we were so tired and hot, and, of course, we took taxis to and from our bus stations.
What to Wear
Fes felt the most claustrophobic of the places we went to, especially with the medina. The Marrakech medina is kind of hectic, but Fes felt both hectic and more enclosed. It can get quite warm, so make sure you wear loose, breathable fabrics and comfortable shoes. While we did see girls in tanks or shorts, I do think of all the cities, Fes is where I’d be most uncomfortable with the harassment. The men were the most aggressive here. Autumn said when we’d ignore them, they call c**t at us in French. A lot.
Anyway, with that said, of all the places I’d dress more conservatively, Fes is where I’d be more sure to cover up. Longer pants and skirts and shirts that cover your shoulders and cleavage. You can see most of my outfits above!
Like I said, Fes is where the men felt the most aggressive and they kind of followed you for a bit. They still didn’t do anything beyond that, but it’s still pretty unnerving. They bothered Autumn a lot more than they bothered me and they bothered us less when we were together. We tested this all out to see if it made a difference. So, safety tip – if you’re a tiny white woman, you’re probably going to be targeted more than if you’re a not-so-tiny Asian woman!
Otherwise, just keep your wits about you and don’t follow random men down alleyways. If you need help, find the police or go back to your accommodation and ask them. The only time we actually did have to follow some guys was at the Chouara Tannery. There you do have to follow some random guy into a shopping area to get balcony views of the vats. You don’t have to accept the sprig of mint though.
More Tips for Visiting Morocco
If you’re trying to figure out transportation in general, this guide on how to get around Morocco should come in handy. Don’t forget to download Maps.Me and have Morocco saved for offline use. I found it often covers areas in more detail than Google Maps, and it’s what we mainly used for navigation.
It’s also a good idea to have some sort of travel insurance in case anything happens that’s too expensive to pay out of pocket. My friend had to get rabies shots, which were luckily free, but you never know what a broken arm or worse could entail! Get a quote on World Nomads.
Have you been to Fes? What did you think?