"There's just really interesting facets of culture just swirling in Morocco. They all have slightly different colours, so it's just an inspiring place to be."
- Mark Foster
Fez is the second largest city in Morocco founded in the late 8th century. The city is home to legendary leather tanneries, the oldest university in the world, and an explosive food scene. It can sometimes get a bad rap for being a tourist trap but I believe there's definitely a right and wrong way to see Fez. Here's the right way (at least in my opinion!).
1. LEATHER TANNERIES
I'll start with what is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in Fez, the leather tanneries. The production of leather in Fez dates back to the 11th century and the process has remained unchanged to this day. There are three tanneries in Fez the largest of which is the Chouara Tannery.
Now before you embark on your journey, need to be on the lookout for the younger looking kids who will come up to you offering to lead you to the tannery free of charge (yeah right!). Usually they'll end up taking you to their families leather shop where they'll get a cut from whatever you end up buying. That's why I highly recommend trying to find the tannery yourself (even if it means getting a bit lost!).
Address: Fes el Bali, the oldest medina quarter of the city, near the Saffarin Madrasa along the river. Just use google maps until you start to smell a strong odor and use your nose from there.
2. AL ATTARINE MADRASA
This small courtyard is a stunning example of the intricacies of islamic architecture. Built in the 14th century by Marandi sultan Abu Sa’id Uthman II, the madrasa marks the entrance to the medina's historic spice market. A firsthand experience of the greatness islamic culture can achieve.
Price: 10 dirhams (~1 USD)
Hours: Daily 9AM - 6PM
Address: It's located along Rue Talaa Kebira in the Fez Medina, not far from the Kairaouine Mosque and University
Photo by GME
3. BOU JELOUD GARDENS
If you're looking to escape the chaos of the medina, consider heading over to the Bou Jeloud Gardens. A peaceful oasis consisting of fruit trees, a small lake, and various other native plants the ideal place to get some peace and quiet.
Address: Ave Moulay Hassan, Fes, Morocco
4. MOUNT ZALAGH
The largest mountain overlooking Fez, Mount Zalagh provides beautiful 360 degree views of the city and its surrounding landscape. The summit takes only a hour or two to reach so it's easily doable with a simple half day trip.
Address: Mount Zalagh, Morocco
5. THE MERENID TOMBS
This is another lookout point over the city that has a bit more history behind it than Mount Zalagh. The tombs are thought to have been constructed in the middle of the 14th century first as a fortified palace, and later as a royal necropolis.
One interesting note is that to this day no archeological excavations have taken place which means little is known about what actually was buried there.
Address: Fez, Morocco
6. FEZ MALLAH
The designated Jewish quarter of the city, the Fez Mallah was established to shelter the growing jewish community from harm in return for loyalty to the Sultan. Some points of interest include the restored 17th century Ibn Danan synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery with tombstones dating 400 years back.
Address: Fez Mallah, Morocco
7. BOU INANIA MADRASA
This is one of the only religious buildings still in use that non-muslims are allowed to enter so unfortunately it can get a little crowded. That being said it's another excellent example of islamic architecture and design and shouldn't be missed.
Hours: Open daily (best to go early or late afternoon to avoid large crowds)
Address: Talaa Sghira, Fes 30110, Morocco
Photo by Mike Prince
8. VARIOUS SOUKS (Markets)
The medina of Fez is home to dozens of different markets (or souks as the locals call them), but there are a few that stand out. The first I would recommend is the souk at R’cif Square. This is more of a local market that doesn't try and target tourists at all and instead sells a variety of meat and produce. You can watch mothers and grandmas haggling to get the best cut of meat for that nights dinner. A unique experience.
Second I wouldn't miss the Al-Attarine Souk, also called the spice souk. This is a bit more touristy but a definite must if you visit Fez. Some of the items sold here include spice stalls, native plants, roots, dried nuts and fruits (didn't mean to go all Dr. Seus on you).
Address: Souk Al-Attarine, Rue Talaa Kebira, Fes, Morocco
Image by YoTuT
If you have some extra time in Fez I highly recommend a day trip out to Chefchaouen. You'll recognize it as the picturesque "blue city" from its famous photos. In addition to being one of the most beautiful cities in Morocco, it's become famous for its export of marijuana and you'll see massive fields of it on your way into town (it's not technically legal for police turn a blind eye).
Hours: Takes about 3 hours drive one way
Address: Chefchaouen, Morocco
10. DAR BATHA
The former royal palace built in the 19th century, Qasr al-Batha was constructed by Sultan Hassan I as a guest house for esteemed visitors. In addition to its traditional and unique architecture, the palace is home to an extensive network of gardens that comprise over 50% of the palace grounds.
Price: 10 Dirham (~1 USD)
Hours: Monday to Wednesday 9AM - 5PM
Address: Place du Batha Fez, Fes 30030, Morocco
WHERE TO STAY?
There are two main areas of the city that I would recommend staying in. The first area is in the old Medina itself, which puts you directly in the center of all the action. It allows easy access to almost all of the major attractions and recommended restaurants, but for that very reason it can ear you down a bit more.
If staying in the Medina doesn't seem like your cup of tea then I might recommend Ville Nouvelle (literally translates to "new town"). This is a much quieter area of the city with all the hustle and bustle of the old town. Now it will take you a short taxi to reach the Medina but that being said there are still many restaurants and markets there that are worth checking out.