Hello everyone, my name is Sahil Ibrahim (@sahilibby) and I am from the UK. Thanks for stopping by my travel guide on Fez, Morocco. Ever since I was young, I yearned for adventure and wanted to learn about new places. I was fortunate to be able to travel to amazing places with my family.
I grew up watching travel, nature and wildlife documentaries on VHS and my favourite subjects at school were Geography, Art and English. This grew my curiosity to explore and learn more about the world around me – about different cultures, people, art, literature and food.
Reading travel writers (such as Michael Palin and Freya Stark) and learning about their experiences was a great passion of mine. I enjoyed getting lost in their travel tales – imagining myself one day exploring these countries.
In terms of photography, my first camera was a film camera. I used to take endless photos and eagerly take these down to the corner shop to get printed. I have always enjoyed being creative. This stemmed from my passion for Art which I studied right up to A Levels at College.
I always debated whether to take Art further at University and specifically focus on Architecture or Photography. But then I decided on the safe option of Business. This was at the time of the financial crisis and I was not sure how a creative degree would fare in the dwindling job market.
However, I kept up my photography as a hobby and I am always looking at learning new skills. Of course, when I get the opportunity to travel, I am always taking photos of the places I visit. One place that I visited recently which was a photographer’s dream was Morocco.
Two Wonderful Weeks in Morocco
Morocco was always high on my bucket list. This was fuelled by endless travel documentaries I had seen whilst growing up and the amazing imagery and stories of the people, history, culture and food in magazines and websites. I was instantly hooked on the idea of visiting this country.
I went for two weeks and this was barely scratching the surface. I started in the Ochre City of Marrakech and spent time exploring the souks, the ruins of El Badi, Jardin Majorelle, the grandeur of Bahia Palace and the Koutoubia Mosque. Just wow! My days ended with people-watching over Jemaa el-Fna with a glass (or five) of traditional Moroccan mint tea.
I also visited the Atlas Mountains – taking in all the beautiful and lush surrounding landscapes – and then onto Ait Benhaddou which was straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Next, I made my way to the blue pearl that is Chefchaouen which is painted in every shade of blue imaginable. Finally, I got to experience the imperial city of Fez.
The time I spent with the local people in all the cities I visited was one of the most enjoyable experiences for me. The majority of people in Morocco are so keen to help out and they go out of their way. It was heart-warming connecting with locals and sharing stories. This is always one of the best things about travel – meeting new people and learning about cultures.
Experiencing the souks of Morocco was also incredible. When people say Morocco, the image of the busy souks is what comes to mind and trust me they do not disappoint. The feeling of getting lost in the maze of alleys and fully immersing yourself is an indescribable feeling.
You have a multitude of people grasping for your attention and an array of sights and smells which can be overwhelming but exciting at the same time. On every corner you find something new or a dead end but that’s what exploring and taking new adventures in a foreign country is all about.
Spiritual Homeland of Morocco, Fez
I spent four days exploring everything on offer in this great city and spent the majority of my time in the Medina or Fes el Bali to be specific. I got lost in the souks, relaxed in the courtyard and rooftop of my Riad – listening to the calls to prayer and birds chirping – ate to my heart’s content tagine after tagine, had mint tea everyday and stood in awe of the tanneries!
Fez was on my travel list for a long time. When planning my trip to Morocco, I was excited that my dream would become a reality. I was drawn to Fez ever since I saw images of the tanneries, madrasas and souks dotted in the myriad of alleys. The city itself is regarded as Morocco’s cultural and spiritual heartland and the Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When I arrived in Fez, the atmosphere was indescribable. It was completely different to the chaos of Marrakech. Fez was the perfect balance of energy and calm. I felt instantly connected to this city. Raw is what instantly comes to mind and that’s what makes it a magical place. The city hasn’t changed to meet Western expectations thus keeping its authenticity.
The Medina of Fez was part of my everyday experience. It’s a medieval and exotic labyrinth surrounded by city walls with ornate city gates. I stayed near the overarching and majestic Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate). The best way to explore the Medina is to get lost in the maze of alleys.
It’s a walk back in time to another world. Every corner you turn either greets you with something spectacular or a dead end. Either way, that is the purpose of exploring. And you will never get bored. That is guaranteed!
I will never forget my trip to Fez. Where else will you find donkeys carrying goods through alleys and cobblestone lanes, the call to prayer echoing over the sounds of people going about their business and beautifully decorated madrasas against the backdrop of ancient buildings?!
Favourite Place: Chouara Tannery
I was adamant to find the Chouara Tannery as this was high on my must-see list for a long time. It’s probably one of the first images that comes to mind when you think of Fez. GPS is very unreliable in the old town but I was determined. Despite taking a few wrong turns, I finally found what I had been looking for – the leather shops and specifically shop Number 10.
The owner greeted me with a smile and he knew instantly what I was there for. He directed me up the stairs and pointed to the veranda. I was so happy I sprinted there and then just stopped and took in the view before my eyes. It was a sensory overload (due to the pigeon droppings in the dye) but I didn’t care. I just stood and took it all in. What an amazing place!
The process of leather dying and tanning hasn’t changed over the centuries and the workers stand in large pungent vats of dye under the searing heat of the sun. It truly makes you appreciate the effort that is put in and makes you think twice about your own leather products and the throwaway nature that is adopted in contemporary society of fast fashion.
5 Best Things To Do in Fez
1. Brave the Smell of the Chouara Tannery
While this place is difficult to find, persevere and you will be greeted with an amazing birds eye view of the tanneries. Yes they do smell a bit but who cares – that only adds to the experience. The tanneries are a real step back in time as the process has not changed over the centuries.
2. Get Lost in the Souks of the Medina
Just get lost, seriously! The best way to explore the labyrinth of alleys is to get lost and immerse yourself. You will see and find incredible things – from handicrafts and textiles to souvenirs and spices. The souks of the Medina are a must experience for any visitor. Make sure to haggle!
3. Admire the Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate)
This is the most iconic gateway to the Medina (Fes el Bali), located on the western side of the Medina. The Arches perfectly frame the iconic Bou Inania. A perfect place to take photos and admire the architecture.
4. Knock on the Doors of the Royal Palace
While the Royal Palace (Dar al-Makhzen) is not open to visitors, the doors are a great photo stop and are worth checking out. It’s located in Fes el-Jdid and was built in the 13th century. The palace doors are so intricately decorated and are a beautiful example of Moroccan design.
5. Experience the Beauty of the Madrasas
There are three incredible Madrasas to visit here: Bou Inania Madrasa, Al Attarine Madrasa and Al-Karaouine Madrasa. They are all unique in their own way. Boun Inania is not far from the Blue Gate and is the only one with a minaret which stands tall amongst the crowded buildings of the Medina. It’s an excellent example of Marinid architecture.
Then there is Al Attarine Madrasa and its name translates to the “Madrasa of the perfumers” due to its location near the spice and perfume souk. Lastly, there is Al-Karaouine (or Al-Qarawiyyin) which is considered to be the oldest operating and existing university in the world. Just incredible.
The courtyards of all three are great. There are Zellige tile works and patterns everywhere. You will also find intricately carved stucco walls, cedar woodwork and painted Arabic calligraphy. You get such a sense of calm and it is hard to believe all three are in the hustle and bustle of the Medina.
Meeting the Amazing Locals of Fez
The people are very friendly in Fez. Staying in a Riad inside the Fez Medina is a must-do in order to truly immerse yourself in the way of life and culture. Often the Riads are family-run and they will go out of their way to help you with your plans and learn more about you – from recommending places to eat and visit to things to avoid. The level of hospitality is outstanding.
This is also the perfect opportunity to connect on a deeper level and share stories. Due to its more laid back vibe compared to Marrakech, I found it much easier to talk to people – from souk vendors and staff in restaurants to locals in the Medina, people are ready and willing to converse.
One experience I won’t forget was with a basket weaver in the Fez Medina who was speaking to me via his nephew (Arabic to English). It was really cool to learn more about him and how long he has been doing his craft for and the joy he gets from making items for tourists. I still have the basket in my house to this day and can vividly recollect this positive interaction.
Staying in an Authentic Fez Riad
When people visit Fez I would highly recommend that they stay in the Medina or Fes el Bali. This is where most attractions are located and the old city is the main attraction in itself. You have to stay in a Riad to get the full authentic experience of Moroccan hospitality and generosity.
A Riad is a Moroccan guest house located within the older parts of a city and centred around a beautiful courtyard or pool. You won’t regret it! Do some research online or talk to other travellers to find the best Riads in Fez.
Phenomenal Food Scene of Fez
Fez has a great food scene and there are many cafes and restaurants dotted around the Medina. I always eat the local food wherever I travel and experiencing Moroccan food was phenomenal. I was very happy in Fez!
The most popular and trendiest place to eat is Cafe Clock which is tucked down a small alleyway about 10 minutes from the Blue Gate and near Bou Inania Madrasa. This is where you can find the infamous camel burger which is really nice, as well as amazing melt in your mouth tagines.
For travellers who follow special diets they also offer non-dairy, lactose free and gluten free alternatives which is great. They also have a great music scene, cooking classes and a rooftop terrace to view the beautiful Medina.
If you want to people-watch and relax after a busy day then you have to go to Chez Rachid which is in the hustle and bustle of the Blue Gate area. A great place to sit and tuck into some tasty food such as Chicken Pastilla.
The Ruined Garden is another popular place but I sadly didn’t get time to go but I hear the food is incredible. Of all the many amazing dishes in Morocco, I have to say that Tajine was one of my favourites overall and I couldn’t get enough of tagines whichever city I went to.
My favourite had to be the beef tagine with prunes but you can also get chicken, vegetable and meatballs. If you have time then also do a cooking class. I did this in Marrakech at Hotel La Maison Arabe and learnt so much more about Moroccan cuisine and how to make a tagine.
It also goes without saying that Moroccan Mint Tea is everything. You can enjoy this beverage at all times during the day and there is a real art to the process. It’s incredible how high the servers can pour the tea. A spectacle!
Listening to the Call to Prayer
I had so many amazing experiences in Fez such as seeing the tanneries and admiring the beauty of the madrasas, but one memory I will never forget is racing to the rooftop of my Riad on my first day and being greeted by the chorus of the call to prayer from the mosques. It was such an incredible feeling to witness and one that I will never forget.
Final Tips for your Visit to Fez
The best time to visit Fez (in my opinion) is between March to May and September to November as the summer heat can be quite intense. I also recommend not sticking rigidly to guidebooks. The Medina of Fez is the main attraction and so just walk around, get lost and absorb everything. This is the real beauty of Fez and everyone should look to experience this.
The Medina is car-free, so take this into account when carrying your luggage to the Riad and also when leaving the Medina. The red taxis are fairly cheap but make sure that the meter is switched on.
It’s also important to familiarise yourself with Moroccan culture and with the do’s and don’ts. Remember that you are a visitor so you should look to respect local rules and traditions. It’s not your place to pass judgement but rather to look to immerse yourself in the culture. No matter what, you will have a memorable time. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy Fez!