What the F*** Fez
A tangled web
of narrow shopping streets
nestled in the valley
surrounded by green.
A deeply rooted pride
for its history and tradition
original buildings in the medina
all have satellite television.
all brown and old
and an explosion of color
from the wares being sold.
Organic produce and herbs for health
meat blessed before it’s killed
carried by imprisoned donkeys
who have to pee on themselves.
The street is always nuts
with donkey carts plowing through it
behind the walls palatial Riads
with tranquil peace and quiet.
Hustlers and drug dealers
follow and hassle tourists
beside Koran schools, grand mosques
and refined traditionalists.
Fez may not be
for the faint of heart
but Fez certainly resides
in Morocco’s heart.
Try to make sense of Fez
and you’ll soon become lost
better to surrender
and find peace in the chaos.
When you find yourself asking
“what the f*** Fez?!”
forget about all logic
and just enjoy it for what it is.
This American Girl’s Guide to Fez
How to Get In and Out of Fez
Fez connects with many destinations in Morocco including Marrakech, Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Tetouan, Chefchaouen, Meknes, and Merzouga, by bus. If you’re heading to a far destination, I recommend checking out the train as it’s way more comfortable and often the same price. I recommend the bus mostly for short distances and places that you cannot reach by train like Chefchaouen. Here you can find the timetables for CTM bus and Supratours (make sure it says “Supratours” in parentheses), the major bus companies in Morocco. To get from the CTM bus station to the city you’ll likely take a taxi, which they seem pretty firm on 40 MAD (4 euros). Apparently there are local buses 19 and 29 that take you to the city for less than 4 MAD.
If you’re going to Rabat, Tangier, Marrakech, or Casablanca, I recommend taking the train. If you can, go first class which has air conditioning and will generally be less crowded. Be very aware of your belongings, especially on night trains, as theft is not uncommon. I took the night train to Marrakech a few years ago and two of my companions were robbed in their sleep. Check out the train schedule at ONCF. From the train station standard taxi fare is 10MAD to the gate. If they argue, request a taxi with a meter.
Flights all over Europe and Morocco bring travelers to Fez. If you’re in Europe, check out the inexpensive airlines Vueling and Ryanair. If you’re not in Europe, check the price to fly to a destination in Europe with easy flights to Morocco, it will probably be much cheaper than flying to Morocco directly. To get from the airport to the city, taxis charge a set rate of 120MAD. I recommend taking the shuttle car for 20MAD that leaves every 30 minutes.
Tour to Merzouga
If you’re planning to head into the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, there are companies that offer travel from Fez, through the mountains, to the desert in Merzouga, and then drop off in Marrakech. I highly recommend this over going to Marrakech first as you’ll save an entire day of travel. Check out Plan-it-Fez for more info.
Where to Stay in Fez
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Fez, especially if you’re willing to pay a bit more for a nice Riad. I highly recommend booking at least the first night before you arrive, as there will be plenty of people on the street trying to bring you somewhere where they’ll get a commission. Getting to your place may be tricky, as it can be difficult to get your bearings in the medina. There’s always someone more than willing to show you the way, even when you don’t want them to, but most of the time this person expects payment. If you do have someone take you, ask them right off the bat what their rate is.
13 euros for a dorm
Albeit expensive by Moroccan standards, Funky Fes is the place if you’re a young backpacker. It has a big grand courtyard where you can hang out with other travelers, drink mint tea and smoke shisha. They run free tours of the souks, which is a great way to get your bearings if you don’t have a lot of time in the city. I’m sure the guide makes a commission if you buy something, so consider tipping him instead and then coming back later to shop.
20 euros for dorm, 30 euros for private single
A good option for young travelers on a budget who still want the Riad experience. The rooms are reasonably priced and include breakfast. For me the real draw is that guests have access to twice daily yoga and the occasional music/dance party.
40 to 100 euros for private rooms
In Morocco it’s very important to have a sanctuary away from the overstimulating souks. On my latest trip to Fez, Riad Tizwa was mine. I’ve stayed in many hotels all over the world, and several Riads in Morocco, and I can genuinely say this is a five star quality Riad for a shockingly low price. The local is ideal, on a quiet alley just around the corner from the famous Blue Gate and the major shopping streets. The Riad has just seven rooms, which made it nice and intimate. Rooms and common areas are very spacious and gorgeously decorated with a combination of traditional Moroccan artisan crafts and modern design (see the photo above). My first night I arrived late, and after asking the receptionist Youssef about dining options, he offered to make me tagine. He taught me about Moroccan cooking and then we ate the tagine together at midnight, discussing our shared passion for travel. The other staff members were equally hospitable, going to the train station for me to buy my ticket without charging me anything extra, serving me mint tea and nuts in bed, and even carrying my luggage out to the taxi line. The included breakfast, served on the sunny rooftop terrace, is an impressive display of tea, coffee, orange juice, bread, Moroccan pancake, fruit salad, homemade yogurt, muesli, and an omelette.
Where to Eat in Fez
Street Food/Market Food
The streets of Fez are overflowing with organic, local, seasonal fruit, herbs, and vegetables. You’ll also find all different kinds of local nuts and dates, which makes snacking easy. I like to grab some carrots and strawberries and nibble on them while I’m walking for long periods in the day. Inexpensive restaurants serving typical Moroccan food to tourists are everywhere, but they’re likely to be rather bland. Instead I recommend looking to see where the locals are eating, usually sandwich shops and soup stands. To really get a grasp on the market food in Fez, and for a change to eat at places you would never discover otherwise, take a food tour in the souks with Plan-it-Fez. Your extremely knowledgeable guide will take you to many stops, teaching you about local herbs and spices, honey, traditional dishes like pastilla, local crepes, and more. I learned an incredible amount of information about not only food, but Moroccan culture and natural health remedies. My favorite stop was at a local soup stand, with no other tourists, where we had a delicious and healthy pureed white bean soup with olive oil, lemon, cumin, and chile. Unlike some food tours I’ve been on, you don’t eat that much food, so do have a meal before you set out.
50 MAD to 80 MAD for dishes
It’s important to find a safe haven in Fez, and Café Clock is the place for many travelers. It has the comfort of an international cafe, the kind of place you’d come to with your laptop or a book and just spend the day. Local university students and travelers tend to come here, making it a great place to meet interesting people. The food is also delicious, more expensive than what you’ll find at the streetside cafes, but higher quality and larger portions. I love the big tapas platter with all different kinds of Moroccan salads and they also have a great mixed green salad. It’s not always easy to find healthy food when traveling, but at Café Clock I felt like I could get lots of vegetables, instead of just filling up on carbs. Vegetarians will find plenty on the menu, and non vegetarians will want to try the unique camel burger. Service is also excellent, and I highly recommend coming in for one of their nightly events (see below in What to Do in Fez for more info).
The Ruined Garden
50 MAD and up for dishes
A peaceful, restored courtyard connected to the elegant Riad Idrissy with a beautiful selection of Moroccan fusion dishes. They have a great selection of dishes for all kinds of eaters, and I hear the eggplant caviar is a must.
Find a full restaurant guide to Fez on The Culture Trip.
What to Do in Fez
Wander the Medina
The main draw for any traveler to Fez is the spectacular medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the world’s largest urban car-free zone. The medina is a maze of winding streets, all seemingly the same, but if you carry a map and stick to the two main passages, you shouldn’t get too lost. Beware of “guides” approaching you, asking where you’re going and offering to show you the way. They may bring you to shops where they earn a commission if you buy, and they will certainly expect you to pay them for your services. It’s more fun to just wander on your own, so feign confidence and if you need directions, ask someone working in a shop. There are many beautiful mosques in Fez, though you cannot enter unless you’re a Muslim. To get a break from the madness of the souks and see traditional architecture, head into one of the old Koran schools scattered around the Medina. I highly recommend visiting the leather tanneries, nearly everyone will be able to point you in the right direction. Just walk into one of the leather shops and climb up to their terrace where you can watch people curing and dying leather in giant basins. It’s a visual masterpiece.
Shop in the Souks
Fez is a great place to shop for some things, and not such a great place to shop for others. What I do recommend buying in Feszare leather goods and rugs (both vintage Beni Ourain and new Kilim rugs). You’ll get better deals here than in Marrakesh if you can haggle well. Be prepared to be seriously pressured into buying, even if you only want to window shop. You will need to stay strong if you’re actually not interested in buying. If you do want to buy, be pretty certain about what you want before you start speaking with anyone. They are very good at what they do. Some of the bigger shops, especially if you go in with a guide, start at absurdly high prices (over $2000 USD for a rug) and for a good deal expect to spend hours haggling. Near the tanneries I managed to find a Berbere collective, called Tissage Berbere, with some gorgeous rugs at reasonable rates. Mohammed, one of the salesmen, was so darling and told me the honest rates he charges for different rugs, all of which were what most people spend a lot of time bargaining for. He sells large Kilim rugs for as low as 700 MAD and the original Beni Ourain rugs for around 250 euros. When I asked him why he looks so youthful, he told me it’s because he has no stress or worry in his heart.
Go to Hammam
One of my favorite experiences in Morocco is going to the public hammam. The hammam is a heated bathhouse best likened to the Finnish sauna. It’s a place where you can be among locals and simply relax, something quite difficult to do in the streets of Morocco. There are plenty of public hammams in Fez, just ask at your hotel for the nearest one. Some have different hours for men and women, as it’s always separated by sex. The cost is usually just 10 MAD (1 euro) and around 35 MAD if you want someone to wash and scrub you. Bear in mind, you will be naked except for underwear, they scrub very aggressively, and I hear that if you’re a man they will wash and scrub EVERY part of your body. If you want something more private, most Riads and hotels have their own hammams where you can book an appointment. This is less of a local experience, and more of a spa experience. I recommend trying out both.
Café Clock Events
Get to know locals and learn about Moroccan culture in a comfortable, fun, and safe environment at one of Café Clock’s nightly events. Sundays they have live traditional music shows, Wednesdays they have an Open Jam session, and Thursdays locals tell traditional Moroccan folktales. While in Fez I went to the Thursday Storytelling night, my favorite thing I did in Fez. You can also check out their yoga schedule.
Get Out of the City
Despite its urban density, just beyond the city walls of Fez you’ll discover gorgeous countryside. Walk out from the main blue gate, beyond what seems like a big parking lot, and you’ll find a beautiful garden to spend some time wandering or reading. There are plenty of day trips you can take out of Fez, including visiting the beautiful city of Meknes with Islamic Architecture, going to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, and to the historic town Moulay Idriss. Most hotels and hostels work with tour companies who can arrange these excursions, though I recommend taking a tour with Plan-it-Fez who even organizes hiking and cheese tasting up in countryside surrounding Fez.
Solo Female Travel in Fez
Admittedly Fez is not an easy place to travel as a woman alone. Morocco in general is not an easy place to travel as a woman alone. However, despite what people may tell you, it’s perfectly safe to walk around in the medina by yourself in the day and early evening. You will be constantly approached, and I think I heard the words “nice ass” about 30 times in 1 hour, but it’s unlikely that anyone will actually touch you or follow you for very long. Fez is much more traditional than Marrakech, so I highly recommend covering up in loose, long pants, ideally a long top that covers your bum, and keep your chest and shoulders covered. If you really want to be under the radar, you can wear a wedding ring and a head scarf (I didn’t try this, but I heard it’s effective). When the harassment gets to be too much, consider taking a guide or going around with a group, as people will completely leave you alone in these cases. I saw a blonde woman wearing a short, tight, sleeveless dress, and no one said a word to her. I was in long pants and a jacket and the harassment was relentless. The difference? She had a man with her. Try not to let it get to you too much, though I know it’s hard, and find trustworthy people in your hotel to befriend.
Full disclosure: Riad Tizwa sponsored my stay for two nights and Plan-it-Fez sponsored my souks tasting tour. All opinions are mine.