Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this guide on What to do in Fez. Fez is one of Morocco’s oldest and most culturally rich cities. It was once even the capital of the country. (It kind of seems like most cities in Morocco have been the capital of the country at some point.)
But some people don’t know what to do in Fez. If you are interested in Moroccan history, architecture, shopping, food, random goats, or the color green, you will find something to enjoy during your 24 hours in Fez.
But perhaps the best thing about spending 24 hours in Fez is how centrally located it is. We’ll not only take in Fez, we’ll also be able to see the nearby sights of Meknes and Volubilis. Don’t believe me that we can fit it all in during 24 hours? Silly Internet Stranger! Don’t you know I am always right? Just be quiet and follow me.
24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Morocco can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
And if you want to check out great deals on almost 600 hotels in Fez, click here.
24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
Morning: Explore Fez
Given how much we’re going to fit in 24 hours in Fez, it’s a shame that we can only spend the morning in Fez. There’s so much to do and see in this city! It deserves to be known for so much more that cute little red hats. But with a guided walking tour you’ll be able to see the main attractions.
I went to Fez on a multi-day tour with G Adventures, so our group leader arranged for the local guide to take us around Fez. But one thing it is NOT hard to find in Morocco is a local guide. I’m sure your hotel will be happy to set you up with one.
Since our time is limited, I will get straight to the point and show you…
Approximately top 5: 24 hours in fez
1) dar al-makhzen
Your first stop in your 24 hours in Fez should be the stunning green royal palace, Dar al-Makhzen. Sadly this mean green mother is not open to the public so there’s no way to go inside and pretend to be a princess, like I always do in palaces. But you can spend as much time as you want wandering the outside and admiring the tilework. (It’s called zellige.)
In Morocco, it seems like every color is symbolic, at least according to the tour guides. Our guide informed us that green is often used in Morocco because it is the color of Islam. There are many reasons for green to be associated with Islam. The explanation I liked best was that green is the color of peace and the word Islam means peace.
2) Jewish Quarter
As I mentioned in my post about Chefchaouen, many cities in Morocco have a historic Jewish quarter, or mellah. These areas are not used as Jewish quarters anymore, though. Our guide told us that many Moroccan Jews have moved to Israel. The ones who remain in Morocco tend to live in Casablanca or Marrakech.
The most interesting architectural feature of the mellah in Fez are these flat metal balconies. They remind me of the balconies on the Pontalba buildings in New Orleans. I know that there has been Spanish influence on both Moroccan and New Orleans architecture, so I bet that’s the connection there. SMORT!
3) art naji
Fez is perhaps the craft capital of Morocco. You can see just about any traditional Moroccan artform practiced here. And one of the most popular crafts in Fez is Moroccan ceramics. These ceramics can include anything from tagines to tiled fountains for your courtyard garden. (You don’t have a courtyard garden, Internet Stranger? How…unfortunate.)
Fortunately, it is possible to tour a ceramic studio called Art Naji and watch these earthy beauties get put together before your very eyes! You can learn how each one is made, step by step. Then I presume you’ll be able to make your own.
First you shape the clay. This man looks pretty concentrated, but I don’t think it will be that hard for you to figure out how to form the pots. After all, we all played with dirt as kids. Probably this is just the same!
Next you need to let the pots dry in the sun. After that you bake them. Don’t worry that they’re not colored. You put the color on later.
Once the pots are dry, you decorate them with lines. Then you fill in the lines with paint. These patterns have been in the family for centuries, but probably you can figure out how to do them just by looking at my picture.
24 Hour Treasure
There! Now you have a finished piece of pottery. This plate above is what I decided to take home from Morocco. They wrapped it up nice and tight so it could stay alive in my suitcase. But now that I’ve taught you how to do Moroccan pottery, you can just make one yourself! Even better, make one for me as a reward for teaching you! I’ll be expecting it in the mail shortly.
4) Souk Edlala
I’m not sure if you can really say you’ve spent 24 hours in Fez if you haven’t seen its sprawling markets, the souks. Because they are so convoluted, I strongly recommend taking a guide with you to go exploring. We took a deep dive into Souk Edlala to see yet another type of artisan, the dyeworkers.
24 Hour Tip
Morocco has a big tipping culture, and most people who are working in public won’t mind you taking pictures if you buy something. This man and his donkey had a tip jar out so they must be used to having their picture taken. I left him some dirhams and got my photo. Please don’t take someone’s picture without permission or without leaving a tip if they have a tip jar.
The dyes used in Fez are mostly natural and have amazing colors. Many people come to Souk Edlala just to dye their fabrics. You can see the natural dyes running all through the streets.
It looks like someone was murdering clowns here.
The souks are also an excellent spot for that noble Moroccan pasttime, cat spotting. At first I couldn’t figure out what this kitty was staring at so intently. Then I smelled it…
He wants din din! If I were this fishmonger, I’d have an armed guard making sure no kitties swiped my fishie goods.
5) Medersa Bou Inania
The Medersa Bou Inania is often considered the prettiest medersa in Morocco. (A medersa is a Muslim theological college.) Unlike many medersas, it’s also open to non-Muslims to visit. Because of this reason, the place is often crammed with tourists trying to take a medersa selfie. BOO, Other People! Don’t they know my photos and I are the only thing that matters!
Anyway, because the place is so crowded, I recommend concentrating on admiring the phenomenal lattice work in great detail. It looks like every single pattern in the world is on these walls.
My favorite designs were on the columns. The combination of lattice work, calligraphy, and mosaic is such a powerful representation of the many different forms of Moroccan art. And I only had to push about 20 tourists out of the way to get this photo. Yay!
6) Sidi Moussa Tannery
You’ll have a hard time leaving Fez without visiting one of their spectacular tanneries. The one thing you have to prepare for is the overwhelming and sickening smell that pervades the outside of the tanneries. (The inside where the shopping is done smells just fine.)
Our guide at the tannery explained that was because only natural ingredients are used to dye and cure the leather. Unfortunately for our noses, one of those ingredients is pigeon poop, which has a highly pungent aroma, as anyone who’s ever been sneak attacked by a pigeon in NYC knows already. They’ll give you a sprig of mint to hold by your nose as you tour the tannery, which helps…a bit.
Once you go inside the store, you’ll be overwhelmed by the dazzling display of fine leather goods. The guide informed us that their store uses four different kinds of leather: goat, camel, cow, and sheep. I would have been stoked to get a camel coat, but our guide said it was mostly used for suitcases.
24 hour treasure: fine leather goods
I was the only one from my group to do any shopping here. All my teenager/adult life I’ve dreamed of owning a red leather jacket ever since I saw Ryan Gosling wearing one in the terrible film Murder By Numbers. My mom refused to get me one because it was “weird and creepy” that this was my takeaway from the movie.
But now I’m an adult with a salary so I can buy as many weird and creepy jackets as I want! Don’t be afraid to haggle with the shopkeeper over price. They’ll definitely expect it. And then you’ll be able to stroll off with this goat leather beauty:
Here I am in all my Moroccan red leather jacket finery! (This picture was actually taken in front of a pizza place in Oklahoma City. But that’s neither here nor there.)
24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
Afternoon: Explore Meknes
Now that we’ve blitzkrieged our way through our 24 hours in Fez, let’s blow this popsicle stand and head to another former Moroccan capital, Meknes. It’s less than an hour’s drive away from Fez, so assuming you got an early start to your day, you should be able to make it here in time for lunch. Good thing too! We’ve got a fresh chicken waiting for you!
24 hour treasure: chicken at Palais Hassani du poulet
If you’re coming to this lunch spot in Meknes, you’re getting one thing: the chicken. After all the word chicken (poulet in French) is in the name of the restaurant. So don’t disrespect Hassani by disregarding his poulet!
I was happy to see this kind of rotisserie chicken all over Morocco, just like you can find plump chickens roasting all over France. Perhaps this is one sign of the French influence on Moroccan cuisine. (Morocco used to be a French colony, which is why French is spoken in many parts of the country.)
Now that lunch is out of the way, we can get back to our real purpose of visiting Meknes: self-improvement. I’m about to drop some historical truth bombs on you. Get ready for…
Three fun facts about Meknes
1) who are some famous locals?
Moulay Ismail is the number one person associated with Meknes. He was the sultan of Morocco in the late 17th-early 18th centuries. Moulay Ismail was a highly energetic guy. I have three pieces of evidence for this.
One is that he moved the capital from Fez to Meknes so that he could construct a grand imperial city for himself. Two is that he owned 12,000 horses in the stables pictured above, which seems excessive. I mean, it would take you about 33 years to ride each horse if you rode a different one every single day.
But my most striking piece of evidence for Moulay Ismail’s energy is that he had over 850 children in his lifetime. That’s not a typo. 850. I have so many questions about that including how on earth he managed to remember all of their birthdays. But also didn’t he get tired? I guess the fact I don’t understand the impulse to have hundreds of children is just one reason I am not sultan of anything.
2) why is this palace?
Despite the women who were willing to bear him hundreds of children, even Moulay Ismail had “the one who got away”. He wanted to marry the daughter of Louis XIV of France. His offer was declined. I’d like to think Louis XIV wasn’t comfortable marrying his daughter off to someone with so many concubines, but that’s probably too optimistic of me. Anyway, Moulay Ismail decided living well is the best revenge, so he built his own palace in Meknes to rival Versailles.
Nowadays I couldn’t find anyone living in the palace in Meknes except this cat. This is Morocco. There are always cats.
3) Bab Mansour
The Mansour Gate (Bab Mansour in Arabic) is famous for both its beauty and the story of its architect. The man who designed it was a Christian convert to Islam named Mansour Laalej. This was the first time I had ever heard about a Christian convert to Islam. The Mansour Gate, like the palace and stables, was another one of Moulay Ismail’s building projects. Truly the man was the Energizer Bunny of Sultans.
You might be wondering where all the stone came from to build an imperial city from the ground up. Fortunately for Moulay Ismail, there are Roman ruins not far from Meknes. He just decided to recycle these priceless ruins and turn them into more practical buildings like palaces and gates and whatnot. Fortunately the Roman ruins, aka Volubilis, are right near Meknes, so I’ll be able to take you there next!
24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
Late Afternoon: Volubilis
You can’t spend 24 hours in Fez and not stop at Volubilis. It’s simply not allowed! How often do you get to visit a ruined Roman city in the middle of North Africa? As usual, we picked up a local tour guide to guide us around and teach us…
Three fun facts about volubilis
1) why is volubilis?
Volubilis was inhabited by local Berbers and foreign merchants for quite some time before the Romans arrived. However, the place became a Roman city after the fall of the North African Carthaginian Empire in 146 BC. Even the Berbers began to take on some Roman ways and customs. Some of the Roman artifacts have survived, like the working olive press pictured above.
I don’t know why they don’t continue to make olive oil using this press and sell it in hipster shops. I bet ancient Roman/African artisanal olive oil would make a bunch of money.
2) who built this arch?
And I’ll bet this triumphal arch wasn’t either. This triumphal arch was built in the 200s in honor of Roman Emperor Caracalla. He was of North African ancestry himself, and he was famous for expanding Roman citizenship rights to include people living in Roman provinces like Volubilis. I had no idea that there were any African emperors of Rome.
Do you know who else was an African Roman? St. Augustine of Hippo, who is famous for writing his Confessions. Scholars sometimes consider this work to be the world’s first autobiography. Our guide told us that St. Augustine was of Berber ancestry, which is also true of many people living in Morocco today. I wonder why I didn’t learn more about the close ties between Africa and Rome when I was studying ancient history in school.
3) what did the romans do for fun?
If there was one thing Romans knew how to do, it was party. The wealthy citizens of Volubilis would have had elaborate villas in which to entertain their guests. You can tell which buildings belonged to the wealthy because of the intricate mosaics on the floor.
These mosaics seem just a tad less glamorous when you remember that these parties might have included guests stuffing their faces until they were sick, making themselves vomit, and then going back to chow down again. And people sometimes say we Americans eat too much! At least we make ourselves vomit the proper way: by drinking too much tequila!
For some Roman men, these vomit parties wouldn’t have been enough, and they would have sought out the company of a Lady of the Evening to minister to their needs. There was at least one brothel in Volubilis, and we know because it was marked by the sign pictured above.
I am not going to explain to you what that sign means, Internet Stranger! I’m far too modest. Figure it out for yourself!
24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
Evening: Dinner at Dar Hatim
Once you’ve left ancient Rome and journeyed back to the present, you’re going to feel a bit snacky. Fortunately we have a much better dinner in store than a Roman spew fest. We’ll end our 24 hours in Fez with a delicious dinner.
As you can probably tell from my picture, Dar Hatim is located in a family home, and indeed it’s a family run business. You have to call ahead to make a reservation, and the restaurant can be tricky to find. Fortunately the husband of the chef will be happy to meet you in person and guide you to this hidden gem.
Once you arrive, your eyes will be dazzled with the majesty of a million Moroccan breads and vegetable dishes. Everyone in my room was taking out their cell phones to preserve these treasures forever before we demolished the whole thing. As usual I just pushed everyone out of the way so I could get the best photo. Someone tried to sneak in ahead of me, so I stabbed her hand with a fork. That’ll show her!
24 hour treat: chicken pastilla
In case you’re worried about starving, allow me to reassure you! You don’t just have to stick to the communal plates. We all got a chicken pastilla (except for the vegetarians in our group, who had the veggie version). They’re made individually so it’s easy to accommodate dietary restrictions.
Remember the pastilla is a delicate meat pie dusted with sugar. It’s traditionally made with pigeon, but most pastillas you find nowadays are made with chicken. I had already eaten one in Chefchaouen, but the quality of the pastry at Dar Hatim was much better. Also, look at that amazing plate! I’m sure anything tastes more delicious served on this kind of porcelain.
That’s 24 Hours in Fez Morocco: What to Do
What would you do with 24 hours in Fez? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Fez? How many children is too many children? Can we all agree that over 136 is simply too much? And how many traditional Moroccan jars do you think I helped people make with this blog post? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Fez.