How to survive in Fez Medina … really? The title of this post might sound slightly alarming, so before I dig into a few pieces of advice, here are a few reasons why you should visit Fez and spend some time in its historic medina.
Fez was the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco from the 13th century until it was transferred to Rabat in 1912. Being the center of Morocco for nearly 7 centuries doesn’t count for nothing. Fez Old Town (the Medina) was founded around 800 AD and therefore showcases more than 1200 years of history. For this reason, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. There are only 9 such sites in Morocco (as a comparison, there are 39 cultural sites in France, 10 in the US, and 36 in China). After a long day walking around Old Fez, you will be happy to find, behind closed doors, the most gorgeous riad dating back centuries!
I arrived in Fez without much expectation, and to be frank without much planning.
Since we had chosen a lovely riad in the heart of Old Fez, fresh and early in the morning, we decided to go explore the medina. We got out of the hotel, smartphone in my hand, fully trusting Google Maps, heading towards the tanneries. Or so I thought!
After walking down a few small streets, a guy came over to us asking where we were going. I did everything possible to shake him off gently but the guy was quite aggressively insisting on bringing us to the tanneries (he was going there himself .. right!) and I was feeling more and more uncomfortable.
Eventually, he took off and we got lost even further into the small alleys of the medina until another guy ‘took over’. It took us a while to get rid of him as well, and shortly after we decided to walk back towards our hotel, to think over our plan for the day again!
While we walked back with Annoying Guy #2 we passed by a shop owner for the 2nd time (the first time was with Annoying Guy #1). He smiled at me in a way that felt both a bit mocking and sorry for us.
Back at the Riad, we sat down with one of the managers and he gave us the keys to surviving the Medina… So here are the 6 pieces of advice to survive Fez Medina (together with pictures totally unrelated to the topic, but definitely taken in Fez!)
1. STICK TO THE MAIN STREETS INSIDE THE FEZ MEDINA
Usually, I really like to wander the streets without necessarily a route in mind. Unfortunately, in Fez I found it very difficult, as the chances of getting lost vastly outweigh the chance of having a good time!!
So whenever possible stick to the main streets and avoid any small perpendicular alleys. It often ends up in a dead end anyway.
Two of the main streets are Talaa Sghira and Talaa Kbira. Both will more or less lead you to the most tourist places such as the tanneries and are lined up with lovely artisanal shops.
Generally speaking, stay where there is an abundance of shops and people and you should survive Fez Medina.
2. FEZ MEDINA IS A BOWL
Fez’s Medina is built like a bowl. This means that whenever you are taking streets that are going down, you are going deeper and deeper towards the center of the Medina. On the other hand, if you are going upwards, you will likely end up at one of the outer gates. So in case of doubt, if you need to get out, follow one of the main streets, going up and you should definitely survive in Fez Medina !
3. DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED ADVICES
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as friendly unsolicited advice in the tourist areas of Morocco. One of the things that often happens, is people telling you that some places are closed. They don’t know where you are going, but regardless, it is definitely close! Don’t fall for it, and go check it out yourself. Another instance is when some youngster suggests helping you get to your destination because they happen to be going there as well, they must meet up with some family member or something. Most likely they will insist they don’t want any money out of you and they are just doing it to practice their French / English / Spanish, or just because it is on their way. Again, don’t fall for it, you will definitely end up paying, either directly, or by feeling forced to buy something in a shop you will have magically ended up in!
4. ASK THE ELDERLIES AND SHOP OWNERS FOR HELP
As mentioned above, unfortunately asking for help in Morocco is gonna cost you something! So avoid kids and youngsters who are used to parting tourists from their dirhams! Instead, if you need help, ask the elderly or the shop owners. For obvious reasons, they are very unlikely to walk with you for long and drag you somewhere unwanted so their advice will be more genuine!
If you have no other choice, do not pay more than 20 or 30 MAD for the help you asked for.
5. HIRE A GUIDE
I rarely hire a guide but in Fez I really felt like I missed out on something. I am sure I would have enjoyed the whole experience more if I had followed a guide. At least that would have taken away the pressure of getting lost forever (rolling eyes). Whether you choose a guide that only brings you from place to place or someone that can really give you some deep explanations about the places you visit, I really think it would be money well spent.
6. ASK FOR A “WALK HOME” AT NIGHT
A lot of riads and restaurants offer a ‘walk home’ service to and from the restaurants. That might seem a little strange at first, but it feels very reassuring to walk at night with someone you can trust, and with a small tip you are contributing to the life of someone nice and definitely less fortunate than you. Feels like a win-win to me. Right ?!
If you are planning a trip to Fez, I hope you find the above helpful and you will feel equipped to survive in the medina. If you have any other advice you think I should include in the list, please let me know in the comments below! Thanks.
If you haven’t read it yet, you can check recommendations for a 10-day road trip in Morocco here.
And for some more Morocco inspiration, you should definitely read the blog Along Dusty Roads, one of my favourites out there.
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