When thinking about Morocco, thoughts usually first fly to Marrakech. Even Eddy and Patsy had their Moroccan adventure in Marrakech. Casablanca was made famous by the eponymous classic film with Ingrid Bergman who, from all the gin joints in the world, had to walk into Humphrey Bogart’s one. And Tangier? Well I’ll just say William Burroughs wrote his Naked Lunch there. But what makes Fes, the cultural capital of Morocco, stand out and worthy a visit?
Ever since we started planning our trip to Morocco, we knew we wanted to visit both Marrakech and Fes. Why Fes as well? To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember, but I am glad we went. Fes has a different vibe to Marrakech and feels a bit more, for the lack of a better word, authentic. It is also much cheaper; entrances to Koranic schools, palaces and museums are 20 MAD per person.
So what can you do in Fes? Apart from shopping and admiring Bab Bou Jeloud or the Blue Gate, which is commonly used as an orientation point by tourists, there are plenty of things to do to pass the time.
Let’s start, shall we?
A tourist hot spot but an iconic sight nonetheless. There are a few of them in the medina, by the city walls. Tanneries are worth a visit despite the horrible smell coming from pigeon poop used to soften the leather and make it more absorbent (for the dye). You’ll be given a sprig of mint at the entrance and, if you go to the most famous one called Chouara Tannery, you’ll have a rooftop view of the big vats where you can take very instagrammable photos.
While in the souk, you will be approached by many locals offering to take you to one of the tanneries. If they take you, you will have to pay them and they also get profit from getting you there. We took a guide for 3 hours to show us around the souks and this included a visit to the Chouara Tannery. We really recommend getting a guide in Fes, especially when you just arrive as you will get lost in all the small streets. I downloaded a google map to use offline but it still wasn’t helpful as not all the tiny streets are visible on the map.
There are a few Koranic schools in Fes (and Marrakech). We visited Bou Inania Madrasa, a Koranic school close to the Blue Gate. By this time, we have visited a few palaces so were not as impressed as we might have been if we got here first. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, after you have seen one or two palaces, you have basically seen them all. However, the entrance was very affordable, only 20 MAD per person and we caught a break between group visits. I did mention Fes was cheaper than Marrakech :D.
Across from the school there is an interesting piece of architecture, the Water Clock. It is a mystery how the clock worked and so far there are only theories that have not yet been proven. Experts are working on getting it to work again but so far they had no success. You can read up more on the clock and the theories here.
Royal Palace of Fes
I know, I know, I just said all the palaces are the same and now here I am, adding another palace on the list… In my defence, you cannot enter this palace as it is regularly used by the king and his family. What brings the tourists in droves like bees to a sunny meadow are the ornate main gates at Place des Alaouites.
This is the only part of the palace where taking photos is allowed. It is very hard to describe the amount of detail that can be found on the brass doors and the surrounding tiles. Another tourist hot spot but it does look good on photos and on your wall (once you print the photos out).
A historic fondouk in Fes, now woodwork museum in the heart of medina. Another beautiful example of the Moroccan riad architecture. It’s full of hand carved wooden artefacts some of them furniture centuries old. There is a rooftop bar with ok prices and a nice view. For 20 MAD it is worth a look-see. It doesn’t take more than 30 minutes a visit (unless you decide to enjoy some mint tea on the rooftop).
Botanical Garden Jnan Sbil
I don’t know if this is a botanical garden per se. It is a park outside the medina walls but it has several thousand different plant species. If you’re lucky you might even see little ninja turtles racing! It is a good way to get out of the heat and chill by the small lake. We found it is very popular with students and pupils, but not so much for socialising as for studying. Compared to most of Morocco we have visited, it is very peaceful and quiet.
Sunset from the hill – Marinid Tombs
There is a small hill north of the city walls. On the map it is shown as ruins of Marinid Tombs. It offers a view over the medina and its surroundings and is a perfect spot for watching the sunset and probably the sunrise. For us it was a welcome break from the crowds and hustlers of the medina.
Note – there is no bar or anywhere to buy a drink up there so if you would like a picnic or a drink, bring it with you and clean up after yourself. There were some plastic bottles and general rubbish lying around taking away from the experience. But, as you can see from the photos below, there were sheep grazing all around us. At some point there were lambs less than a meter away from where I was sitting. This only added to the experience ❤
We really enjoyed our two days in Fes. The issues we faced were mostly with getting around the souks as they are like a maze. More on getting around Fes in the next post.
Have you ever been to Fes? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section 🙂