Morocco is a country of fragrant spices, lively cafés, and labyrinthine souks. A place to experience ancient Berber traditions and marvel at minarets reaching for the sky. While there are many places you should visit in Morocco, Fez is probably your best bet of experiencing a good balance between authentic culture and good tourist infrastructure.
I know, most people will want to visit Marrakech. And there is nothing wrong with doing so. But at the same time, you should be aware that there are equally as wonderful places to visit in Fez – and it is not even a tenth as crowded.
I’m a big fan of adding a little diversity to any Morocco itinerary and Fez will be able to add quite a little bit of spice (excuse the pun). At the end of the day, all four imperial cities are somewhat similar. What makes Fez special is the huge medieval medina which is entirely car-free and not as touristy.
There is just one important note ahead: I am usually not a great fan of tour guides. I love exploring a city independently. But it’s incredibly easy to get lost in Fez and google maps is no help at all. I recommend booking a private guided tour (this is the one I booked and it was great).
Anyways, let’s start with my list of the best things to see in Fez, shall we?
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The best things to do in Fez
1. Bou Inania Madrasa
My personal favorite spot in Fez was the ancient Madrasa BūʿInānīya or more commonly known as the Bou Inania Madrassa. The ancient Islamic school is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Medina of Fez” and dates back to the middle of the 14th century.
Bou Inania is often called the most important example of Marinid architecture and it’s the only madrassa in Fes with a minaret (because it also functions as a Grand Mosque). The best part, unlike so many other religious buildings in Morocco, non-believers are allowed to enter.
Tip: Don’t miss going to the toilet – they are almost as beautiful as the courtyard itself
2. Chouara Tannery
Fez is famous for its medieval tanneries. There are altogether three in the city, but most tourists will visit the Chouara Tannery because it is probably the prettiest of the lot. It is also the most…pungent one, and you should definitely expect to be overwhelmed by the stench.
A mixture of cow urine, pigeon feces, salt, and quicklime is used to tan the hides of camels, cows, sheep, and goats. Unlike in Marrakech, they are actually not using any chemicals, so the stench is actually not as intense (think of it as extremely overwhelming compared to unbearable).
There are many shops around the tannery and the owners will gladly allow you on one of the many viewing platforms above. Incidentally, they will also walk you through their shops, but I guess that is only fair. And after all, you might find a nice souvenir here, no?
3. Al-Attarine Madrasa
The Al-Attarine Madrasa is another must-see in Fez. It’s quite a small and intimate building. From outside, you wouldn’t even guess the beauty that lies within. But once you walk through the inconspicuous little portal, you will be awestruck! The Madrasa is quite ancient as well and was founded in 1323 by sultan Abu Said Uthman.
4. Zaouia Moulay Idriss
Moulay Idris II is commonly considered the founder of Fez and the first Moroccan Islamic state. He was actually a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and fled to Morocco at the end of the 8th century.
For many, he is the patron saint of Fez and his shrine is probably the holiest in Morocco. The building is extremely beautiful. Every inch covered in colorful tiles, but sadly tourists are not allowed to enter. You can see a bit from the outside as well. The wonderful entrance portals are worth the visit alone.
5. Dar al-Makhzen (Royal Palace)
Fez is still an imperial city and it will probably be no major surprise when I reveal there is a wonderful royal palace in the city. Like all other palaces in Morocco, you cannot enter. The king and his family pretty much still use them on a regular basis, so I guess it’s understandable he does want tourists peeking in through the keyholes all the time.
So, why do I still mention it? Well, the entrance portal of the Dar al-Makhzen palace is one of the most popular photography spots in the city. Plus, it’s not a big detour at all.
6. University of al-Qarawiyyin
The University of al-Qarawiyyin, sometimes also written Al-Karouine, is the oldest continually operating school in the world. Fatima al-Fihiri founded the madrasa in 859 AD and it quickly became one of the leading educational centers in the Muslim world.
In 1963 it became part of the state university systems and to this date, students from all over the world attend classes in Islamic sciences. The architecture of the sprawling complex is quite fantastic, though you are not allowed to enter as a non-muslim (again).
7. Fez Medina / Fes el Bali
Half of the spots on this list of the best things to do in Fez are actually located within the ancient Medina of Fez, also known as Fes el Bali. Still, I feel it’s worth mentioning the gigantic old town as its very own attraction. Nowhere else in Morocco, and probably not even the whole world, will you be able to walk through such a well preserved medieval medina.
The alleys are very narrow and most of them are quite steep. It’s also incredibly easy to get lost without a guide because there is no apparent system to the network of intersecting alleys and streets.
Still, I found the Souk of the Fez Medina to be the best place to shop for souvenirs in Morocco. The markets in Marrakech are more or less just selling low-quality trash for tourists, while Fez has quite a focus on high-quality leather goods. The difference is quite apparent even after a casual glance!
8. Bab Boujeloud (Blue Gate)
Chances are pretty high you will enter Fez through the Bab Boujeloud – the Blue Gate. It’s the prettiest and most famous one of the city gates. You can see the Minaret of the Bou Inania Madrasa through the arch, which is another famous Instagram spot in Fez.
Note: There is a lovely rooftop restaurant straight across the street (Le Kasbah de Fes) where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Blue Gate while eating lunch.
9. Borj Nord & Borj Sud
The sheer size of Fez is quite hard to understand while you are exploring the labyrinth itself. Which is why I recommend allowing some time for a stop at one of the hills around Fez. Borji Nord is probably the best place to do so. The old fort is now home to a Military Museum (which is admittedly only mildly interesting).
But it’s probably the best spot to enjoy a bird’s eye view of Fez, and that really is quite a sight to behold!
Note: There is also a Borj Sud, which is actually a better viewpoint, but without the museum.
10. Nejjarine Square and Museum
To me, the Funduq al-Najjariyyin (‘Inn of the carpenters’) is one of the most fascinating spots in Fez. The ancient inn once served merchants, traders and other visitors as a hotel and place to store their wares. As such, it is a prime example of traditional Moroccan riad architecture.
Now, it is home to the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts. Even if seen ancient wood carvings and the tools to create them doesn’t sound all that interesting to you, it definitely deserves a spot among the best things to do in Fez. The building is very beautiful and the rooftop offers a nice view of the inner medina.
Note: The square in front of the museum is quite popular as well. There is a famous public fountain (saqayya) right in front of the entrance
11. Day trip to Meknes
The ancient Medina and its many wonders shouldn’t be your only reason to stop in Fez. You should definitely also consider staying a night and plan a day trip to Meknes. In a way, the old city is even more spectacular than Fez itself. Here is a list of the top things to do in Meknes.
Quite close to Meknes, you will also be able to explore the ancient Roman city of Volubilis. Another amazing UNESCO World Heritage site you can easy visit on the same day.
Note: Fez has an airport. So, depending on your next destination, you could even end your Morocco itinerary here.
12. Marinid Tombs
The Marinid Tombs (sometimes Merinid tombs) on the hills in the North of Fez might be the best place to enjoy the sunset in the city. The monumental tombs are a leftover from the 13th to 15th century, when the Marinids established their rule over Morocco and made Fez their capital.
To be quite honest with you, the tombs itself are not that interesting. They are mostly in ruin and there is little in the way of explanation. It’s “just” an interesting viewpoint.
13. Dar Batha Museum
The Dar Batha Museum is the only place in Morocco where you can actually go inside a royal place – or rather a former royal palace. The building was commissioned in the late 19th century by Sultan Hassan I and is now home to a collection of around 6,000 objects. The focus lies on traditional Moroccan arts and crafts.
14. Jnan sbil Garden
Gardens always were and still are an integral part of traditional Islamic architecture. This is exactly the reason why you should put a visit to the Jnan sbil Garden on your list of things to do in Fez.
You’ll find the gardens in between the entrance to the Royal Palace and the Blue Gate. The complex is rather small, but still quite lovely and will add a bit of diversity to your stay.
15. Mellah – Jewish Quarter
Morocco used to have quite a large Jewish minority. in Fez, you get the chance to stroll through a pretty much intact Mellah. You could even visit one of the two synagogues or the Jewish graveyard.
Personally, I found the old shops lining the streets of the Jewish quarter the most fascinating. The Mellah (which translates to “salt marsh”) in Fez is the oldest in Morocco. These ghettos were built to safeguard the growing Jewish communities in the middle of the 15th century.
Other things to do in Fez
Fez is a city with a population of around 150,000 thousand people and a history of over 1,000 years. My list of the best things to do in Fez is certainly not exhaustive. Instead, I tried to list the top tourist attractions you have to see. But there are many more. If you got time, you should definitely try to explore the many minor attractions as well. The Bab Chorfa or the Bab Makina Plaza comes to mind.
Then, of course, there is the henna Souk or the Place R’Cif. Above else, you should try to breathe in the enchanting atmosphere of Fez. Sit down in a café, drink some thé à la menthe, eat some Chebakia or Briouat sweets and simply watch the lively activity all around you.
If you really want some authentic experience, then visiting the Qaat Smen might be just the thing for you. Smen is salted, fermented butter and it is a Moroccan delicacy. Much like wine, it gets tastier with age. The Qaat Smen is the epicenter of fermented butter making. It doesn’t look like much. You’ll see barrels filled with butter and a vendor or two – but sometimes it’s the smaller things that are the most exciting.
If you hit the back alleys, you might also stumble over an ancient weaving shop or two. A scarf will make a lovely souvenir, and watching the ancient process is an experience in itself!
Where to stay in Fez
There are quite a lot of hotels in Fez, but if you are looking for true luxury hotels, you will probably be disappointed. Actually staying at a traditional Riad is probably the best idea, because they offer you the best bang for your buck.
Still, I can understand anyone who wants to rely on western standards, which is why I listed options for all tastes and budgets below.
Luxury hotels in Fez
Mid-price hotels in Fez
Budget hotels in Fez
Best time to visit Fez
The best time to visit Fez is late Spring or Autumn. Both April or October offers the perfect weather to explore the ancient medina. Summer, so July and August, are probably a bit too hot for most people, while temperatures drop quite a bit in winter.
My last visited was in October, and as you can see I was not all that lucky with the weather. It rained most of the time. So, it will be a bit of a gamble anyway.
Also, you should keep in mind that Friday is probably not the best time to visit Fez, as most a lot of the shops will be closed due to prayer time – especially in the morning.