From hidden schools to smelly souks, ancient cemeteries and regal palaces, the medieval Fez Medina is a maze of exotic discoveries. The most adventurous way to see it all is on our self-guided walking tour.
Fez Medina is the largest urban car-free zone in the world. While much of the modern city stretches out beyond the Medina walls, 70,000 people still live in the cramped, noisy medieval centre.
Their home is a maze of alleyways bursting with sensory overload. An exotic labyrinth where ancient traditions captivate modern tourists. Where the call to prayer floats over the clatter of metalworkers bashing pots, tanners beating leather, and donkeys trotting down cobbled lanes. Where intricately carved mosques and medersas gleam against the dust and grit of a well-used city.
Exploring Fez is a unique experience and getting lost in the tightly packed labyrinth is all par for the course. Likewise, the unhelpful locals who will try every trick in their arsenal to keep you from where you want to go.
This self-guided walking tour of the Fez medina helps you see all the sights in your own time while uncovering some alluring hidden gems.
Immerse yourself in French grandeur and Islamic art; in the haze of bursting alleyways and the calm of refined riads; in the sweet scent of aromatic spices and the stale stench of donkey sh*t.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FEZ MEDINA
Start our Fez Medina walking tour at the Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate), on the west side of the Medina. Originally built in the 12th century, it was reconstructed as a triple-arched gate in 1913 by the French to create a grander entrance to the city.
MEDERSA BOU INANIA
After entering the gate, take a quick left, then right onto Talaa Kebira. Passing a plethora of interesting stalls and cafés, pop into Medersa Bou Inania (20 Drh). Built in the 1350’s the madersa is the finest theological school in the city and contains an entire mosque.
Continue on Talaa Kebira, popping into numerous fondouks (houses where traders and their animals could spend the night passing through the city). Next, make a right and then an immediate left to arrive at the green-tiled Chrabliyine Mosque. A little further on, turn left after Palais de Mérinides and then next right.
You are now just one street off the main tourist route where souvenir stalls are replaced by local food markets. Follow the map below, dipping into the textiles souk, where you’ll find hundreds of women crammed into a small square in a seemingly desperate attempt to sell fabrics and shoes. Next, follow the road clockwise to the tanneries.
The tanneries are an assault on the senses. Workers stand in large pungent vats of dye producing leather in a method that hasn’t changed for centuries. It’s at the tanneries where you’re likely to get hassled the most. If you attempt to enter at ground level, you’ll more than likely be chased away. Instead, pay the owner of Number 10 a few dirham and head into his store to view the tanneries from three floors up. He’ll try to sell you some leather goods from the staggering assortment he has crammed into every inch of his store, but the photo opportunities are worth it.
PLACE IALLA YDOUNA & PLACE R’CIF
Exit the store to take in some fresh air and head south, then turn left into Place Ialla Ydouna. Cross over the river, turn right and amble along the water into the large open square of Place R’Cif. Cross back over the river, explore the R’Cif market full of local goods and clothes. Turn right passing the dyers souk and mirror stalls along Leather street before arriving at charming Place Seffarine.
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FEZ MEDINA / MINT TEA & LUNCH
You’ve earnt a rest now, and Place Seffarine is the perfect spot for a break. Take a sweet mint tea on the pavement at Crèmerie la Place and watch the metal-workers beat their copper pots and pans into submission. While your soaking up the scene, why not go and follow us on Instagram.
Refreshed, walk anti-clockwise around the university walls, pop into some excellently restored fondouks (especially Fondouk Staounyine) and see if you can get a glimpse of Kairaouine Mosque. Hidden behind imposing walls, this magnificent building is easily missed. If you’re lucky, one of the gates will be open and you can peer in as the locals head to prayer. Just around the corner is the smaller but just as impressive Al Attarine Medersa (20 Drh).
You are now back in the main shopping streets. The beautiful Souk el Attarine sells all sorts of clothes and jewels and is flanked by the extremely ornate mausoleum of Moulay Idriss III. Built in 1323 many consider this the heart of the Medina.
Visit the Henna Souk and the Museum of Woods, Arts & Crafts (20 Drh) at the restored fondouk in Place an-Nejjarine. Then, head along Talaa Seghira and back to the Blue Gate to find a place for a late lunch.
You have three good options. If you want to get above the hustle and bustle of Fez Medina then head to Café Clock – the food is good and the roof terrace is a great place to survey the medina. For a relaxing escape from the craziness of Fez, try the Ruined Garden. Tucked behind large walls this beautiful garden is like a medieval oasis (with good food). You’ll have to get off the beaten track to get there and you may encounter some locals trying to tell you it’s closed. Ignore then and proceed (see below for more advice on dealing with nuisances).
Our top choice for lunch would be Le Tarbouche. It serves excellent local food, and if you can get a seat on the pavement, you have a birds eye view of all the comings and goings on Talaa Kebira.
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FEZ MEDINA / EXPLORING NEW FEZ
JNANE S’BILE GARDENS
After lunch exit the Fez Medina through the Blue Gate. If you fancy a coffee, Yalla Yalla bucks the trend of coffee in Morocco and serves a decent cup. Otherwise, continue on to the picturesque Jnane S’bile Gardens, a breath of fresh air amongst the chaos. See how many students you can spot escaping their cramped living conditions to study amongst the trees.
Exit the gardens at Bab Mechouar and follow the pedestrian walkway past another excellent local market to Semmarin Medina Gate.
Turn right to get some photos of the towering gates of the Royal Palace, then head back via Rue des Mérinides. This impressive street, lined with balconies and stucco work, is the heart of the mellah (walled Jewish quarter). Head off the main route to visit Ibn Danan Synagogue (20 Drh). The ground floor is an atmospheric place of prayer, but make sure you go downstairs to the washing area and two flights up for a view of the Jewish cemetery.
As the late afternoon light fades head to Mezzanine for a cocktail and some tapas on their roof terrace.
WHERE TO STAY IN FEZ
Fez gives you the opportunity to stay in some truly remarkable accommodation – privately owned riads with ornate central fountains tucked behind the grime of laneways filled with pesky kids.
We highly recommend staying either in the medina or just outside it. The best area is near Bab Jeloud (Blue Gate) where many of the pick of the cities restaurants and cafes are located. This area makes it easy to have a break in your hotel before heading out in the evening.
We also suggest you stay in a riad; a quintessential Moroccan experience. Here are some recommendations for riads in Fes from our friend Teresa and a few others from us.
The central fountain in Dar Roumana is surrounded by magnificently carved stucco walls and towering cedarwood doors; it’s also the location of the best dinner in town. The rooms are painstakingly restored and beautiful.
A great budget option, just on the outskirts of the medina, Riad Dar Iline has a 24-hour front desk, concierge and free wi-fi. Each room has air-conditioning and a private clean bathroom with some of the most impressive tilework you could hope to see.
After 6 years of painful refurbishment Riad Idrissy, along with its Ruined Garden restaurant, is a chic retreat from the hustle and bustle of Fez. Hospitality and service is everything you would expect from a former Maître D’ at the Ivy.
FEZ MEDINA WALKING TOUR MAP
It is very easy to get lost in Fez Medina. The lanes are tiny, many are unmarked and the labyrinth of streets can get very confusing. We suggest you use a couple of maps to help with navigation.
Firstly download our Google Maps Fez Medina Walking Tour onto your phone. This way you’ll have the route with you as well as all the places we covered in our tour.
While Google Maps is great for the exhaustive list of attractions in Fez, Maps.me has a more detailed plan of the medina. So, download the entire city of Fez in your Maps.me app so you can trefer to it off-line while you’re strolling around the medina. This came in handy for us in those places where streets were missing from Google.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PUSHY LOCALS
Morocco is an interesting place. Outside the cities we found the locals warm and welcoming. A fresh mint tea was never far away and – even in Ramadan – food would be offered freely with a friendly conversation and a helpful nugget of advice to get the most out of this fascinating country.
Sadly in Fez, most people who offer to help are not trying to help you at all. Tourists are seen as an endless source of cash and they’ll go out of their way to try and extract some from you.
If you walk around the streets using maps trying to find your way, you’ll regularly be approached with ‘it’s not that way’ or ‘it’s closed’ – even though they have no idea where you want to go. They will then offer to guide you somewhere. If you accept their offer, whatever you pay them will not be enough. If you decline, they can get quite pushy.
We’re always keen to chat to locals and make friends in a new city, but the Fez medina is not the place to do it.
We recommend that you respond to all requests, saying ‘no thanks’ firmly but politely and walking on. If you can do so looking confident in where you’re going, even better.
If you are really lost and need some help, ask other tourists or go into a store and ask someone behind a counter. Try to stick close to the main streets so that if there are any issues, there are other people around.
GUIDED TOURS OF FEZ MEDINA
If a self-guided walking tour around Fez with its narrow twisty alleyways and pushy locals sounds too much then a guided tour might be a more relaxing way to see the medina. While we generally love seeing a place on our own steam, if we were going to take a guided tour anywhere, Fez would be an ideal candidate.
Most hotels will be able to arrange their own tour for you. Otherwise, here are some we recommend which you can book before you leave.
HOW TO GET TO FEZ
While most tourists to Morocco head to Marrakesh, Fez is a more authentic experience, and – for better or worse – growing in popularity. As a result, there are now quite a few cheap international flights that arrive at Fez.
However, if you arrive into Marrakech you can get to Fez via a 1-hour direct internal flight or a 7-hour train journey that goes via Casablanca. Check-out our 10-day Morocco itinerary to see how we included Fez on our road trip.
MORE READING FOR MOROCCO
Although only a short flight from Europe, Morocco is a different world. Explore medieval medinas, bustling souks, and stunning scenery with more of our Morocco guides.
How to experience the magic of Jemaa el Fna
Our self-guided walking tour of the Fez Medina
Best things to do in Marrakech
Exploring the high Atlas Mountains
Things to do in Ouarzazate
Visiting the Valley of the Roses
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