Fez, Morocco’s oldest Imperial city, is located in the entrance to Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. When it was built in the 800s, the city was intended to be a grand center of Moroccan culture, history, and trade.
Even today, more than 1200 years later, this goal still holds true. As the second largest city, Fez hosts a variety of culturally significant institutions, such as the world’s oldest university, the University of Karueein, which opened its doors in 859 and is still open today, and the city’s old Medina, one of the largest pedestrian-only zones in the world.
The city is often referred to as “the Athens of Africa” or the “Mecca of the West”, and as soon as you step inside the city, it’s easy to see why. Fez is such a beautiful and historically rich location that is definitely a must-see for tourists to Morocco.
Stepping into the Medina or seeing the beautiful city walls feels like stepping back in time, and is an adventure that cannot be missed!
An awesome thing about Fez is that it is not at all hard to get to. With Morocco’s developed rail system, one can easily hop on a train from Rabat or Tangier and enjoy a day or weekend trip to the city. The train system is cheap (about $17 per person roundtrip from Rabat to Fes) , clean, reliable and regular, and easy to use. Recently, Morocco has invested in complete rebuilding of all of the large cities’ train stations, which makes transport even easier. Tickets can be bought easily at ticket machines or from ticket counters, and multiple trains leave per day to all destinations.
When I visited Fez in the fall, I only went on a day trip with a friend. The journey took about three hours, but by taking a train that left at 8am and leaving on a 7 pm train, we were still able to take in a full day of sightseeing and cultural exploration.
The city’s beauty makes for a great photo backdrop!
Considering the ease of taking a day trip or weekend trip to Fez, it leaves the question of “what is the best things to do on a trip to Fez”? Here is a list of my favorite “must-do” activities in Fez!
Wander through the sprawling Medina
The first, and most important step, of any visitor’s journey to Fez is to enter the city’s massive medina. Honestly, one could easily spend their entire visit within the medina walls, as it is absolutely massive and is the hallmark of Fez.
Once you are in the medina, it can actually be quite easily to get lost, as it seems to be almost never-ending, Consisting of winding, cobbled streets, the medina is a mix of souks (small stalls) selling everything from rugs to laundry soap to food, tanneries, and living quarters where families live in traditional houses, or riads. If you ever get lost in the medina, don’t worry to much, Simply ask a local to point you in the direction out.
Explore the City’s Tanneries
Since the founding of the city, leather has been one of Fez’s biggest industries. Today, the city houses three tanneries, which complete the process of turning animal hides to leather for shoes, bags, belts, and more .
The city’s first tannery, Choura Tannery, opened in the 11th century and still operates today. What makes Fez’s tanneries unique is the fact that the tanneries use the exact same process to prepare the leather that they have used for 1000 years.
First, the animal hide is shaved of its fur. Hides are then soaked in huge barrels of softening solution and dye by the tannery’s employees, who stand up to their chest in the dye solution. After the hide has been softened and dyed, it is hung up to air dry.
Fez’s tanneries can be a bit difficult to locate, as they are hidden in the sprawling medina. However, if you ask a local, they will usually be very helpful in pointing out the general direction. Sometimes they may offer to take you to the specific location for a small tip.
Oftentimes, once you are on the viewing platform to see the medina, there will be small spring of mint available to chew on. This is because the smell from the tannery can be quite overpowering. If you are someone that is sensitive to smells, I would suggest bringing a scarf to cover your mouth with.
Meet with Traditional North Moroccan Artisans
In addition to leather, Fez has a long history of producing some of the world’s best artisanal rugs and metal goods. While in the medina, step inside a rugmaker or metal-workers shop and see how artisans weave beautiful rug designs and pound out intricate metal designs by hand. It’s truly a cool experience to see how the centuries-old craft is continued today.
Do a DIY Street Food Tour
This one one of the biggest highlights of my trip to Fez. Inside the medina, there is an amazing culinary adventure to be had for adventurous and curious foodies. From camel meat to exotic fruits, the medina houses chefs and vendors who prepare some of the most unique dishes in Moroccan cuisine.
The key is to find the local food area. While there are many touristy restaurants in the medina, if you can find the place where locals eat, you are likely to find a much more unique dining experience for only a few dollars. In order to find this area, we asked a local to guide us in exchange for a small tip.
The first delicacy my friend and I indulged in was roasted beef head and utter. Slow roasted to perfection and served with vermicelli noodles, chicken, bread, and lot’s of fresh cumin, this unique dining expense was absolutely delicious.
After that, we were incredibly full, but we still wanted to try more local cuisine, so the next dish that we tried were spicy fried potato balls. Costing only a few pennies, they were delicious and unique.
Then, it was time to try one of Morocco’s most unique dishes: snail soup. This dish is sold from local vendors and is believed to have a lot of health benefits. While many guidebooks advise you not to eat it due to the risk of certain diseases from the snails, my friend and I found a reputable vendor who has many local customers to try it from.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. It wasn’t particularly my favorite flavor, but the experience was unique.
Then, going for something sweet, and tried a variety of traditional nougats and candies available from one of the sweets souks. These super sugary blocks of nuts and nougat sit out in huge blocks and are cut up in individual pieces for purchase. These stalls are located all throughout Moroccan medinas but can be a little bit crazy in warm weather as they tend to attract a wide variety of bees and wasps attracted to the intense sweetness. The peanut nougat is my absolute favorite!
Lastly, we indulged in one of my favorite exotic fruits: the cactus fruit, also known as prickly pear (like from the Jungle Book). These really delicious fruits are very refreshing and are the perfect way to end an afternoon exploring Fez and its medina!