Often overlooked in favour of Marrakech, Fez is a winning combination of modern Morocco and traditional living, and home to some of our simply gorgeous Morocco boutique hotels. From grand medieval buildings to arts and crafts, Fes has plenty of sights to please the senses.
Although this Royal Palace and Gardens of Fez is strictly closed to the public, it’s worth paying a visit to Dar el-Makhzen just to take in its impressive exterior. The 80 hectares of palace grounds are surrounded by fine zellij and carved cedar wood, lined with imposing brass doors decorated with illustrious brass knockers, crafted by artisans from Fez el-Bali, the old quarter of the city.
Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts
Open since 1998, this museum is an enduring tribute to the travelling merchants and artisans who lived on the floors above and stored and sold their goods on the floors below. The building itself, centred around a beautiful courtyard, gives the objects inside a run for their money, though you will be astounded by the displays of traditional artefacts. Chunky prayer beads, heavy chests, musical instruments and Berber locks all feature in this wonderful display which offers an excellent insight into traditional Moroccan arts and crafts.
Kairaouine Mosque and University
One of the largest mosques in Africa and believed to be the oldest university in the world, this vast mosque was first established in 859 AD, and remains today the spiritual heart of Fes, which can accommodate up to 20,000 people at prayer. Over time, the streets of the Kairaouine quarter have encroached upon the mosque complex itself, disguising the true shape of the area from the outside. For the best views, take a vantage point from anywhere over the medina, and you’ll instantly recognise the huge green pyramidal roof and minaret.
Morocco is famous for its leather goods, with the Chaoura tanneries in Fes’ medina being one of the city’s most iconic sights (and smells). Though you can’t visit the tanning pits themselves, the surrounding streets offer plenty of vantage points, and are conveniently lined with shops selling the finished product. For a small tip or a sale, salesmen will be happy to explain the many processes involved in Moroccan leather tanning, with the prices for leather goods being some of the best you’ll find.
Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens)
One of three palace gardens created by Sultan Moulay Hassan in the 19th century, the Jnan Sbil gardens (formerly the Bou Jeloud gardens) form part of the gateway to Fes el-Bali, the city’s old town. Situated on the north-western edge of the medina, the garden’s 7.5 hectares are covered with weeping willows, citrus trees, palm trees, bamboo and eucalyptus. The Bou Jeloud Gardens are also home to the Batha Museum, which houses traditional Fes art including woodcarvings, ironwork, embroidery, carpets and jewellery, as well as the famous Fes blue ceramics, given their striking colour with cobalt.