Medina of Fez guided tour with kids: Was it worth it?

Day 542 full-time family world travel: To better understand Morocco, we brought our kids to the heart of one of its oldest cities

We travel the world with our kids because this is how we’ve chosen to show them different cultures and ways of life from what they’ve grown up with in Oregon, in the USA. For us, traveling in the Islamic walled city of the Fes Medina was an opportunity to learn more about a rich, diverse culture that has carried on for over a 1,000 years. And to help us with our learning, we booked a Medina of Fez guided tour.

During a half-day wander throughout different zones of the medina, we could enjoy the medieval lanes, delicious food, and bustling crafts of a Moroccan city that’s over 1,000 years old. The Fes Medina is considered the world’s oldest continuous walled Islamic city in existence today. The Medina is vibrant and bustling, yet hospitable and deeply caring about the people and creativity that make the city come alive.

Book the tour we enjoyed

“The Medina is vibrant and bustling, yet hospitable and deeply caring about the people and creativity that make the city come alive.”

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: Is it Fes or Fez for this Moroccan city?

Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way: The city’s official English name is Fes, but Fez is perfectly acceptable.

Yes, the 11th Doctor wears the hat known as a fez. Yes, the hat is associated with the Moroccan city of the same name. Funnily enough we hardly saw any fezzes in Fes. 

Fes is the official romanized/English spelling of the city whose name in Arabic is فاس.

However, in English we typically pronounce the end syllable not like the “s” in “yes” but more like the “z” in the “buzz.” So spelling Fes as Fez is also acceptable.

Why did we want to take a guided walking tour of the Fes Medina in Morocco instead of doing it ourselves?

The Fes Medina, or walled city, has existed for over a thousand years. It’s one of the world’s most enduring epicenters not only of a medieval-era city, but a hub of trades and a key educational, cultural, and faith destination for the Islamic world.

Visiting the Fes Medina was an opportunity to give ourselves and our kids insight into a depth of history and a different take on day-to-day life from what we are familiar with in Oregon. We wanted to make our way through narrow lanes, count cats (122, by the way, according to catmaster Aster), and get a sense of the incredible food and making professions that call this city their home.

We take no small pride in being our own tour guides. When we go at our own pace, we can take in the things we want to try or get to know. In general, we love wandering through places on our own.

A guided walking tour would help us conserve energy, focus our attention, and give us a meaningful experience within our limited time

However, we also know there are times where we get far more out of our experience if we work with someone who is an expert and can give us better understanding of where we are and what we’re doing.

The Fes Medina is winding and intense. In a space about 6 times the size of Manhattan, 9,934 streets wind, bend, and get so narrow that even Aster could reach out and touch both walls. Could tour Fez and its sprawling medina on our self-curated, self-guided walking tour? Sure. With a lot of work and research and probably a fair bit of getting lost.

Instead, we worked with a guide who had grown up in the Medina and had both experience and excellent online reviews. He curated a route for us, took into account the children and Jodie’s mobility, and set up our tour so we could get a glimpse of some of the many craft and trade zones—market, textiles, metalwork, food, tanning—throughout the Medina.

We also knew that even a lifetime would not be enough to fully comprehend the Fes Medina. Yet our half-day wander gave us an introduction to this incredible ancient city. Moreover, it deepened our understanding, respect, and appreciation of the diverse, long history of Moroccan culture overall and the people of Fes in particular. A medina of Fez guided tour kept us focused on the experience and immersion, instead of the sheer logistics of getting around.

Was our Fes Medina tour guide friendly?

Our guide was a delight. While many people stay closer to the medina itself, we were staying instead a few minutes away, in the Ville Nouvelle in another part of the area. Our guide met us not far from our apartment. As we walked together to catch taxis to the medina—which he negotiated and told us the reasonable amount what to pay, which was 20 dirham per taxi—he also gave us context on the Ville Nouvelle, the history of peoples in the region from the Berbers to the French, and even helped us understand the ongoing intricacies of integrating oral Berber language and its many regional variations into a cohesive written language.

He was respectful, always considerable of our pace, and led us with confidence throughout his hometown. Since he grew up in the medina, he knew its streets well, and could relay small details we might have missed (such as where gates hung at one time, to be closed when it was time to close up different neighborhoods for the night), or share insights on history, craft, and culture.

Did we have to contend with lots of sales pitches?

We didn’t contend with a single sales pitch during our medina of Fez guided tour.

For starters, we had told our guide beforehand that we wouldn’t be shopping. He in turn did not take us to shops.

He did explain, though, that for viewing the tannery we would be going to the overlook from one of the leather shops that surround the tannery. Naturally, we would be in a shop, and there was a gentleman there who chatted with us about the tanning process. He made it clear that if we were interested in any products he was there to help us, but if we weren’t, then no worries.

Our family friendly, somewhat accessible guided walking tour of the Fes Medina, from craft zones to food and yes, the infamous tannery

The Fes Medina’s most popular and common entry point is the Bab Boujloud, or Blue Gate.

So we didn’t start there.

Instead, our guide took us to another gate. We started our medina of Fez guided tour through a gate in an area less visited by tourists and more the domain of locals.

One walled city, many gated neighborhoods

Our guide clued us into the makeup of the smaller neighborhoods that comprise the walled city. Each section had its own Koranic school, communal fountain, public bath, and mosque. Each section also had gates that would be closed or opened at different times of day. Many of those gates are no longer there, but you can still see the large fittings where the hinges would have been set.

Camel meat to honey sweets

In the food market, cones and pyramids of arranged fried sweets, dripping in glistening honey syrup, hung at the edge of counters, enticing us with their golden brown color and sweet, heady aromas. Along another area, freshly sliced cuts of beef glowed deep red under overhead lights. And at the occasional stall, a camel head hung outside, to showcase that fresh camel meat was on offer.

Rich red strawberries had come available, and sat next to fragrant oranges that still had their deep green leaves attached.

From olives to meatballs, freshly butchered chicken to endless flatbreads, we could have dined for a lifetime just from the Fes Medina’s food stalls.

And yes, the cats

Our guide explained that in Islamic tradition, the prophet Mohammed generally favored cats. Nowadays, apparently, so do many people throughout Morocco’s cities. This was especially a delight for Aster, who adores animals overall and cats in particular.

From our previous days in Tangier and Rabat, we were well aware that cats roamed freely throughout the cities. In the Fes Medina, Aster tracked cats as they lurked near sardine vendors, or roamed at the perimeters of a beef counter, or napped on the seats of motorbikes. (“Who let the cat drive?” was a common, giggle-spiced refrain.)

By the time we got back to our apartment that afternoon, Aster confirmed that she had counted 122 cats.

Tin like a marker

When the Fes Medina is new to you, the narrow, winding streets can seem like they are simply a hodgepodge of centuries, organic in growth. They are not. The Medina has its own deeply rooted sense of organization, born out through a millennium of life and work.

The media is actually organized into various zones, such as cloth and clothing, or food. One area makes it clear that you are approaching it. The bell-like ring of hammers builds as you emerge into a small open-air plaza (which also contains some of the few trees that grow in the medina). Whether inside first-floor stalls or on a patch of street, men work metal. Hammers with narrow tips dimple designs into copper. Broader hammers dent and shape, along with adding a distinctive hammered look.

Copper turns into cookware here. But in order to use copper for cooking, it must be coated with tin. While I was familiar with that requirement, I’d never seen the process. Our guide steered us to a man sitting on the ground, with various copper bowls, platters, and pots before him. The man held a large swab of cotton in tweezers and dunked it in a metal vessel. Then he picked up a copper bowl and rubbed every surface with the swab. Next he picked up a thick, long cylinder of tin, silvery  the light and about the size of an oversized market. Holding the bowl over heat, the man rubbed the tin along the copper pot. Silvery pools covered the bright copper, and glinted in the sun as if saying it was now ready to be used.

The famous tannery

If you’ve heard about the tannery pits at the Fes Medina, a bit of trepidation might accompany the interest. Word is the stench can be overpowering, though not perhaps for the reason you might think.

Leather goods shops surround the media. As you go inside, someone will hand you a sprig of mint, which traditionally people hold under their noses to try to block out some of the smell from the pits. Typically visitors are welcome to come up to the high floors which overlook the tannery, and watch the process while a member of the shop’s staff gives an overview of the tanning process. From there, naturally, you are welcome to peruse the leather goods available for sale.

The smell is real, but its intensity smell. And the source of the smell? Ammonia. Pounds of pounds of pigeon poop (from pigeon farms throughout the area) go in with the cow hides during their initial softening and de-hairing stages. I can only imagine how intense the scent must be in, say, August. But in February, it wasn’t too bad.

Far more importantly, the process is fascinating. Men moved among the vats, stirring, dunking, or transferring hides from one vat to another. One group of vats gleamed with different dyes, mixed from recipes that have hardly changed in a thousand years.

Behind us in the shop, the end result hung in jackets, backpacks, purses, pants, and more. While of course we could shop if we wanted, when we explained we weren’t buying today, there was no pressure or no sales tactics. We watched the vats. We sniffed our mint. And we left, with an awareness of how much work, process, time—and pigeon poop—it takes to turn cow hides into beautiful leatherwork.

Mosques and schools

The Fes Medina is home to one of the world’s oldest universities, along with various Islamic schools. Traditionally, a Koranic school, a sort of early education center, was one of the four essential parts of any medina neighborhood, along with a mosque.

Entry into mosques is only for Muslims. Since we are not Muslims, we stayed outside and appreciated the exteriors (and some peeks inside). Our guide explained the history and design of some of the mosques, and pointed out details among the intricate carvings and painted writings on the walls.

Our guide also led us to a restaurant for lunch, in a cool and quiet space. The restaurant was okay, but in our opinion overpriced and unmemorable. We chalked it up to a learning opportunity: We could have talked more with our guide about how much we enjoy Moroccan food, and perhaps we could have taken us to a different spot. Still, we have no complaints that the worst part of our tour was an only-okay lunch.

Our favorite part of our guided walking tour of the Fes Medina

To be in the Fes Medina is to feel history, to feel the echo of a thousand years, all around you. Yet the medina is no museum. It is a lively, vibrant, very much alive community, bustling with activity and full of people. Simply being in the midst of this old city, and taking in a few aspects of life in this culture, broadened our perspectives and gave the kids a fresh insight into some of the many ways that people around the world move through their daily lives.

Where to stay in Fes, Morocco

Whether in and around the Medina or in other parts of town such as the Ville Nouvelle, Fes abounds with hotels, rentals, and riads. Similar to American, British, or European homes that have been turned into bed and breakfasts, the riad is the Moroccan equivalent: elegant homes, often with sumptuous furnishing and decorations, transformed into lodgings. You can find riads throughout many Moroccan cities, and especially in the medinas.

We stayed in the Ville Nouvelle, or the new city built in the earlier twentieth century by the French. Jodie found a great rental deal there. We could walk to nearby cafes and markets, and it was easy to snag a taxi when we wanted to go to the medina.

On a future trip to Fes, we would consider staying in the medina. It would be a change of pace from our first trip. Plus, given our positive experiences in medinas throughout northern Moroccan, along with staying in the medina in Rabat, we enjoy the vibrancy and day-to-day life of the medina. There’s a buzz there that you can only find in certain bustling places of the world, such as New York, London, Tokyo—or Fes.

Fes accommodation: Find rentals, hotels, riads, and more

Should you take a medina of Fez guided tour in Morocco?

As much as we love to be our own guides, we also know when we need an expert.

By having our first experience of the Fes Medina be on a guided tour, we learned so much about the Medina itself, including its different zones, overall pace and personality, and how to get around. Instead of having to focus on the logistics of finding our way, not getting lost (and circling back when we invariably would have gotten lost), we could fully immerse ourselves in our surroundings, the details, and the people.

The Fes Medina stands out to us as one of the most vibrant places we’ve visited in Morocco. Taking a medina of Fez guided tour gave us the confidence to return on our own, and we highly recommend a guided tour during your own trip to Fes.

Get more meaning from your time in Morocco with a curated introduction to the medina and this heart of local culture

Book the tour we enjoyed

Find similar tours of the Fes Medina

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

Leave a Comment