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Updated: Apr 24

Nestled amidst the undulating landscape of Morocco lies a city that seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of an ancient tale – Fes, or Fez. With its labyrinthine medina, rich history, and vibrant culture, Fes allows travelers to embark on a journey through time. It is home to the world's oldest university and its medina has been ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Fes is best known as Morocco's cultural and spiritual capital. The city pulsates with the rhythm of religious devotion and cultural celebration.

On my recent trip to Morocco, I finally decided to take a weekend getaway to Fes, after delaying it for years! One of the reasons I had previously delayed my trip is because my local friends had not recommended it, especially as a solo traveler. However, I finally took the leap after decided to give this mesmerizing city a chance.

As soon as I landed in Casablanca, I booked my train tickets. The train journey is quite long, but get ready to sit back, relax and soak in the picturesque views as the train traverses the country's diverse landscapes. From rolling hills and fertile plains to rugged mountains and historic villages, the journey to Fes offers a glimpse into the country's natural beauty.

Depending on whether you want to explore the neighboring areas, such as Meknes or Chefchaouen, you may find a 2-night, 3 day stay in Fes too short. For me, it was perfect. On arrival, I grabbed a small taxi to the medina, where I planned to spend most of my time. We booked a stay at Riad Palais Bahia, located in the heart of the medina, a short walk away from the main attractions. As always, it is best to go directly to the riads and pay in cash for your stay. By doing so, I saved over $50 from the price I saw listed online.

Navigating the maze-like streets of the medina of Fes is an adventure in itself. You can expect a journey through twists and turns along the narrow alleyways, bustling souks, and hidden squares. The air is filled with the scent of exotic spices, echoing the city's rich heritage as a bustling trade hub along the ancient caravan routes.

A lot of people prefer to opt-in for a guide, but they can rip you off, with some charging up to 60 euros, just for a tour of the medina and its gems. You will also come across many locals that will offer to help show you the way, or ask where you're heading. They will convince you that they don't expect money or anything, then at the end beg you for something. Though I declined any help, I still got followed and often found that they would try to check on my phone where I was going and try to lead the way. My tip: decline at all costs. Get a free sim instead, and buy data. Data is cheap. It cost me only $12 (cad) for 2 GB for 7 days. You can easily find your way around with Google Maps.

There is beauty in chaos, and you will find that in Fes. I spent my time walking around, and exploring its sights such as:

1. The Chouara Tannery

The Chouara Tannery is one of the most iconic and historic sites in Fes. It is renowned for its traditional methods of leather production, which have been practiced for centuries and passed down from generations. The process begins with the soaking of animal hides in large vats of natural dyes. Watching artisans skillfully transform raw hides into vibrant works of art is a testament to the city's artisanal tradition. You can observe the leather production process from the viewing terraces of the numerous leather shops surrounding the tannery for free. The smell can be overwhelming due to the strong odors, but you will find people trying to give you sprigs of mint to mask the smell. Do note that this may come at a cost. Only take it at your own risk and don't believe it when they tell you it's free.

2. Al-Attarine Madrasa

The renowned Al-Attarine Madrasa is a masterpiece of breathtaking Moroccan architecture. Its intricately carved cedarwood doors and stucco adorned walls left me speechless. The entry fee for the madrasa was only 20 dirhams (about $2.70 cad). It is located in the vicinity of the Kairaouine Mosque (also known as Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque) and the world's oldest University.

Beyond its architectural beauty, the Al-Attarine Madrasa is a symbol of the city's cultural and intellectual heritage. It played a significant role in the intellectual life of medieval Fes, serving as a center for religious education. Visiting the Al-Attarine Madrasa offers a glimpse into the intellectual legacy of medieval Fes, showcasing the city's enduring commitment to scholarship, craftsmanship, and Islamic architecture.

3. The Kairaouine Mosque and the world's oldest University Beyond its role as a place of worship, the Kairaouine Mosque has long been revered as a center of intellectual and academic excellence. It houses the oldest university in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin, which was founded alongside the mosque and continues to operate to this day.

The mosque's prayer hall, adorned with intricate stucco carvings, geometric patterns, and dazzling mosaic tilework, exudes an atmosphere of reverence and awe. During my visit, I noticed that the guards would not let anyone in to visit. However, I was very lucky as I came closer to prayer time and was able to go inside.

4. Bab Bou Jeloud (The Blue Gate)

The Blue Gate is an iconic sight in Fes, a visual feast for the eyes if I may say. The gate seamlessly blends Moorish and Andalusian architectural styles. With its striking blue hues, intricate tilework, and imposing architecture, Bab Bou Jeloud serves as a gateway to the past and a portal to the vibrant energy of modern-day Fes.

5. Rainbow Street

Amidst the maze-like alleyways and historic landmarks, this colorful thoroughfare stands out as a beacon of artistic expression and cultural diversity. As you step onto Rainbow Street, you are greeted by a riot of colors that dance along the walls. Brightly painted murals, intricate tilework, and street art adorn every surface, transforming this once nondescript alleyway into a vibrant canvas of creativity.

6. Place Seffarine

Seffarine Square is best known as a haven for artisans, particularly metalworkers, whose workshops line its cobblestone streets. Here, skilled craftsmen practice age-old techniques, forging intricate lanterns, ornate tea trays, and other decorative items using traditional methods and tools. As you wander through the square, you'll witness the rhythmic clang of hammers against metal, the glow of glowing embers, and the masterful skill of artisans at work, creating works of art.

These are some of the main landmarks I ventured to on my short weekend getaway to Fes. However, I have also passed by the Bou Inania Madrasa, the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts, and the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II. Other notable attractions in Fes include Dar al-Makhzen, the city's royal palace. Though you cannot actually go inside, the beauty of the place is best exemplified by its grand entrance gates, which make the perfect backdrop for pictures. You can venture out to the Jnan Sbil Gardens to relax from the chaos of the medina or catch a panoramic view from Borj Nord.

The two places I ate at that were quite a memorable experience for me was at Cafe Clock, where I tried a camel meat burger and at Dar Chadia. Though the restaurant has no visible signs and can easily be missed, the experience was one which I quite enjoyed. I recommend going with an appetite, as you will be treated to an authentic homemade Moroccan feast, including 6 salads, a choice of tajine or pastilla, desserts, fruits and tea. There is no physical menu, as the menu changes daily. The restaurant is owned by a very welcoming family, and I noticed that it is mostly frequented by tour groups, but I had a great experience regardless.

One final tip is to ensure to negotiate before making any purchases. You will often find shopkeepers each giving you a different price for items. You need to bargain to save money, even if the price they give you seems to be reasonable. Some stores may have fixed prices, which will be reflected on the price tags placed on items.

Is Fes on your list or have you visited yet?


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