Fes or Fez is the cultural capitale of Morocco. It is one of the most amazing cities in the country. Fez is situated in narrow valley against the backdrop of the Middle Atlas and positioned on the old crossroads of caravan routes connecting the Saharan empires like Timbuktu and Takrur with the Atlantic and the Mediterranean shipping lanes. It is a medieval city with high Islamic civilization. The best time to visit Fes is from September to November and April to June. It's not too hot and there are fewer tourists. The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is usually held in June and is certainly worth planning your trip around. Fes Festival of World Sacred Music contributes to the cultural presentation and gives Fes a festive air for over a week.
Fez comprises three distinct parts, Fes el Bali (the old, walled city), Fes- Jdid (new Fes, home of the Mellah) and the Ville Nouvelle (the French-created, newest section of Fes). Fes el Bali is larger of the two other medinas of the city, is believed to be the world's largest contiguous car-free urban zone. One of the most fascinating activities to do in Fez is a trip in the medina (Old City). It’s name is Fes el-Bali and the best way to get around it, to see and find its main sights, is to hire a guide through your hotel or Riad . The medina is the place where you can see a lot of various markets, and find your way out once you have had enough of all the sights, sounds, and smells that will overwhelm your senses. You will find your way between lots of dried fruit, leather goods, ceramics, textiles and food stalls!
You can get to Fes by bus, train and plane. The Fes Airport is called Saiss Airport and is situated just 6 miles (10 km) from the new town center. Several European charter airlines fly in direct from Paris and London. Royal Air Maroc has a flight to Fes from Casablanca which departs twice a day.
Fes has one train station and you can catch a train from Tangier (5 hours), Marrakech (7 hours), Casablanca (4.5 hours) and Rabat (3.5 hours). In summer, train compartments can be hot, with passengers standing everywhere when all seats are taken. While occasionally unreliable, first class compartments are generally well air-conditioned, with assigned and numbered seats. The buses travels to Fes from most major destinations in Morocco.
The bus is a fine option and always cheaper than the train. Here is the Journey times by bus from Fes - to Chefchaouen (4hrs), Casablanca (5hrs), Meknes (1 hour), Marrakech (9 hrs), Tangier (6 hrs), Ouarzazate (14 hrs), Ouezzane (3 hrs). There are two bus stations in Fes and the right one depends on your destination. Your petit taxi driver should be able to know which one you need - or make sure to ask when you want to book your tickets.
Taking a Petit-taxi is definitely the way to go around Fes, if you don't feel like walking. Every petit-taxi should have a meter and the drivers are generally very good about using them. Note that no taxi or vehicle can enter Fes el-Bali (old Fes). There you have to rely on your own two feet, and if you have luggage you need to rent a guy with a cart to help you get it to your hotel. Ask your hotel owner to either meet you at the appropriate gate of the medina, or to give you some good directions which you can pass on to your guy with the cart.
Eat and Drink
There are two main alleys in old Fes, the Talaa Kebira and the Talaa Seghir. Both end up at the main gate of Bab Boujeloud. It's the square with rooftop restaurants . The markets near the 'main' gate of Bab Boujeloud are full of tasty food. It is worth just wandering through them, buying random bits of food. Street food is very cheap and is often safe. Restaurants, even cheap ones, will often be up to twice the cost of street food, and the quality can be the same. In the medina is difficult to find cheap food other than in the Bab Boujeloud area. There are tourist restaurants where prices for meal are not so high. The people are friendly , they speak English and the food is excellent. Ask to be seated on the terrace, and listen for the call to prayer coming from several minarets in the area.
Almost all drinking establishments in Fez are hotel bars. Fes is a much more traditional town than Casablanca or Marrakesh, and it is technically illegal to drink in public. Purchasing alcohol or seeming intoxicated are sure to draw stern looks from passersby.
What To Do
The streets of Fes are filled with mosques, medersas, fondouks and monuments. The city is famous for some sights such as:
Bou Inania Madrasa is the best example of Islamic architecture which is possible to see in Fez, with wooden walls elaborately carved with geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy, and a beautiful minaret. In the courtyard there is a portico with a still-functioning mosque, separated by the rest of the courtyard by a small moat.
Al-Attarine Madrasa is located in the spiritual centre of Fes, near the Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin. The madrasa's location at the entrance to the spice and perfume market gives al-Attarine, the madrasa of the perfumers, its name. Medersa el-Attarine is filled with examples of excellent Merenid craftsmanship and offers fantastic views of the old city from its rooftop.
University of Al-Karaouine. This historical institution was named the “oldest existing educational institution in the world”. It is the important education center for Islamic studies with international students also coming here to study theology.
Zaouia Moulay Idriss II. Entrance to the tomb of Fez's founder, is limited to Muslims, but the view from just outside its doors is still well-worth hunting down.
The Merenid tombs on the rim of the valley give you a spectacular overview of the city.
The Boujeloud Gardens is a real heaven with an open air café and many picnic spots.
The Qaraouyine library and mosque and the al-Tijani mosque have beautifully decorated exteriors and worth a visit even by those who cannot enter them, which includes all foreigners considered to be non-Muslim.