Fez is the oldest and most religious city in Morocco, with a medina that’s still firmly set in the past. Were it not for the cluster of satellite dishes adorning every roofop, you might actually believe you’ve stepped into the past when you come to Fez. It’s everything hectic, historic, and cultural about Morocco, all squeezed tightly into the walls of the old town. Squeezed in so much, you’ll find, that mosques, medersas, and monuments are impossible to appreciate from the outside, as the city has built up in every space around them. A trip to Fez is going to be totally overwhelming but you’ll come away appreciating the experience, so to help you prepare for it, here’s your Fez Morocco visitors guide:
Fez Morocco Visitors Guide
When To Go
I went to Morocco in August, which is arguably the worst time to go. I think most people tend to avoid the desert in the heat of summer. But it wasn’t bad, and although it was very hot every day, I managed just fine. The winters get quite cool so that would probably be a good alternative, though I think my experience shows that you really can go anytime!
How To Get There
Fez has it’s own major international airport, so you can fly into there. And then take a taxi to get into town, which should cost you 150 dirhams (~15USD/Euro). Speaking of getting into town, Fez is split up into three areas. The oldest part of town, which has the medina and all the mosques and medersas and where you’ll want to spend a lot of your time exploring, is Fez el Bali. The slightly newer old town, which has far less for the traveler to see is Fez el Jdid. And the new, modern part of town where you’ll find hotels with swimming pools and western amenities, is Ville Nouvelle. You need a taxi to get between these different parts of town, since the outskirts and area in between isn’t safe.
And you can also get to Fez from within the country on the network of trains and buses that connect the various cities. I took the train from Marrakech and although it took about 7 hours, it wasn’t as bad as the bus alternative which takes 11!
What To See
-Enter the Fez el Bali medina though Bab Boujloud, the biggest and most beautiful archway into the walled town. This entry is also used widely as a point of reference.
-Medersas are the old koranic schools which also happen to be excellent examples of Moroccan architecture and interior design. As I said before you can’t really see the outside of any buildings because the markets have built up all around them, but the inside is a beautiful (and quiet!) retreat. Medersa Bou Inania and Medersa Attarine are both lovely and worth the entry fee of 20 dirham each.
-The famous Kairaouine Mosque is unfortunately closed to non-muslims but if you go to the entrance you can peer in and try to sneak a peek!
-If you exit the Fez el Bali, just a few minutes walk past Bab Boujloud you’ll find the Jnane Sbile. These public gardens have lots of lovely trees, flowers, plants, and water fountains, along with some shady benches to rest from the heat.
-It’s also worth checking out the Chouara tanneries, to watch the process of animal hides being crafted into leather products.
What To Do
-Wander the souks of the medina in search of special hand-crafted goods, perhaps a lamp or a rug. The souks on Tala Kebira andSouk el Attarine will keep you busy for a whole afternoon!
-Get lost in the medina. It’s basically inevitable since this labyrinthine connection of streets and alleys within the medina follow no logic and are traced on no map. And if you get really hopelessly lost, you can always ask the entrepreneurial young boys to show you back (for a small tip of course!).
-The Batha Museum has a nice little collection of jewelry, clothing, and pottery. But the real attraction is the massive courtyard it has, filled with cypress, palm, and myrtle trees. After dealing with the hectic medina, this is the perfect escape to a quieter part of Fez (and only 10 dirhams!).
-Visit the Musee de Bois (literally, wood museum) and see all the different ways that wood has been crafted and used in Moroccan culture. Plus the rooftop terrace offers some lovely views, and it’s worth 20 dirhams to take another break from the medina!
-You can also take a day trip to visit the nearby attractions of Meknes, Volubilis, and Moulay Idriss, but make sure you hire a driver for the day because the public transit option is complicated.
Where To Stay
The way to stay in Morocco is in a riad, which is an old traditional home of a wealthy Moroccan merchant which has been restored and renovated into a boutique hotel. These lovely riads are all over Fez, but the one you want to stay in is called Riad Anata. I loved coming back to Riad Anata after a long day of exploring and dealing with the craziness of Fez, and back at the riad I could relax and unwind in a peaceful environment. Whether on the rooftop terrace, in my air conditioned room, or in the beautiful living room, I always felt comfortable and at home here. And the team that works at Riad Anata are so warm and hospitable, that it felt like I was staying with family. It was sad at the end of my stay when I had to leave! If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s so much more than just a bed to sleep in, I highly recommend Riad Anata.
What To Eat
In Morocco, there are so many delicious foods that you absolutely must try! Eat the couscous, which is a light fluffy grain and usually comes topped with grilled meat or vegetables. Enjoy the Moroccan bread that comes served with literally every meal, and is of course best when fresh. Try the Moroccan cheese, which is almost like goat cheese but lighter and milder. Don’t forget the fresh local produce like figs, quinces, and grapes! And try the tajine, which is a slow-cooked conical dish filled with meat or vegetables. If you really want to know about Moroccan foods, I highly suggest taking a Moroccan cooking class while you’re here. I learned to cook aubergine salad and lamb tajine and a cream with orange desert, alongside Samira at Riad Anata. She is an internationally-renowned Moroccan chef (see her feature on Bizarre Foods here), and she learned it all from her mother when she was young! I loved shopping in the market, learning about the spices, preparing the foods, and then eating the final products, in class with her.
Need To Know
Morocco isn’t a terribly safe place, so you have to have your wits about you when you step out the door in the morning. Pickpockets are very common, as are scams to try to get money from you (like offering a gift or service and then demanding payment after). It’s a poor country, so just assume no one’s going to randomly do you a favor for free. And for women, it’s a particularly unfriendly environment. Men do not respect women here, and the street is considered the man’s territory while the home is the woman’s. Women should cover up as much as possible (head scarf highly suggested!), and expect to be harassed non-stop. You’re better off if you go with a man or in a group, but no matter what you need to always be aware of your environment so that if anyone tries to grab or touch you, you can prevent it from getting worse. Everything is pretty cheap, but everyone will try to rip you off so don’t be afraid to negotiate a lower price. Take money out of the atm when you find one, since most places do not accept credit cards. And good luck! Morocco is a crazy experience but also totally magical if you give it a chance!
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