The expression Fes vs Marrakech is more about comparison than a competition. If someone chooses to visit either Fes or Marrakech or even both, they will see that the two cities have many things in common. For example, both of them are ancient cities that were built during the middle ages. Also, the Medinas (old towns) of both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites. And, of course, there are plenty of other similarities. However, if you want to visit only one during your next vacation, you might need to see in your mind which will win your attention, Fes or Marrakech?
This article is about Fes vs Marrakech. If you struggle to choose which city to visit, keep reading the paragraphs below.
FES OR MARRAKECH? Fes vs Marrakech.
We will compare the two cities to let you see which one will impress you the most.
Here’s Fes vs Marrakech, starting with Fes:
Introduction to Fes
Fes is the oldest of the Moroccan imperial cities. Moulay Idriss I, which is the first Sultan of Morocco founded this city in 789 AD to be his capital. Fes is the Spiritual, intellectual, and cultural heart of Morocco; Moroccans love to call it “the Intellectual Capital of Morocco”. Even more than that, the Medina of Fes houses the most ancient university in the entire world! It’s called the University of Al Qarawiyyin, and it was founded by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri.
Fes is divided into two parts. The first part, which is the oldest, is the Fes el Bali. Fes el Bali is also known as the Medina. This part of the city is famous for its labyrinth of streets and alleyways. This area is also car-free because the streets are very narrow; it feels like it’s not the 21st century when you’re in there. The second part of Fes is the “Ville Nouvelle”, which is French for the new city. The French built this new part of Fes during colonialism. It’s marked by its wide boulevards and modern buildings.
Fez has a unique ambiance. This imperial metropolis from the 13th century has a rich history of multiculturalism and surprises in store for travelers.
Cross the walls of Fez’s historic medina, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a stroll around the streets of Fez-El-Bali. The Bab Boujloud is the most convenient entrance to the medina.
Early in May, the squares and alleyways of the old imperial capital ring with global music as the Festival of World Sacred Music takes place, which coincides with Jazz in Riads, one of the city’s major cultural events. Don’t leave without sampling the city’s culinary, which is often regarded as among the greatest in the world.
- The University/Mosque of Al Qarawiyyin: This university/mosque holds the Guinness world record of the oldest university in the world that is still operating. It’s also one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in Africa.
- The Chouara Tanneries: This place is one of the iconic spots in Fes. This is where leather is processed and colored for the traditional artisans who use it in their work. The process of making leather is the same as it was in the Middle Ages.
- The Bou Inania Madrasa (school): This place is the largest of Fes’ Koranic schools. Bou Inania Madrasa was built by the Sultan Bou Inan of the Merenid Dynasty during the 14th century AD. The building exhibits some of the most wonderful decorations and architecture in Fes.
- The Nejjarine Museum: This museum was once a place where traders used to do their business during the 18th century. Nowadays, it’s a great place where you can see historic Moroccan artifacts.
How to get around Fes?
The Medina of Fes is a place for pedestrians, as we’ve already said; cars can’t go through the narrow alleyways. Outside the Medina, you can take a taxi. The small red cars are the petit-taxis (small taxis); these are good for getting around the city very quickly. However, if you want to go to the airport, you need to get a grand-taxi (big taxi); these are bigger vehicles that carry six people. You can also rent a car, take the bus, or for more fun ride a horse cart.
Where should I stay in Fes?
People who are looking for more authenticity in Fes, usually book their stay in a traditional Riad. These are Moroccan traditional homes that are converted nowadays into mini-hotels. The architecture of the Riad is centered on a courtyard in the middle. Some fancy Riads have Pools and Hammams (Moroccan baths) for their guests.
What’s the food like in Fes?
Morocco is one of the countries that are famous for their rich cuisine and Fes is obviously no exception. You can try street food; it’s amazing. You can also try the Moroccan style barbecue. Or you can try some of the Tagine; this is one of the most wholesome meals in the world. The cuisine of Fes is a combination of many influences from the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa, and Berber.
However, you can find restaurants that serve internationally known meals everywhere. If you don’t like to change your European, North American, or Asian diet…, you won’t find a problem in Fes.
Other reasons to go to Fes (Fes vs Marrakech)
Fes is close to many excursions. From Fes, you can visit Volubilis, Moulay Idriss, and Meknes very quickly. The first is an ancient Roman city where you can find many amazing archeological monuments like the Jupiter Temple. The second is one of the holiest towns in the Moroccan culture; there lies in peace the first Sultan of Morocco Moulay Idriss I. And the last one is Meknes. It’s one of the imperial cities of Morocco. It’s also very similar to Fes and Marrakech, but less known.
From Fes, you can also go to Ifrane and Azrou. These two mountain towns are very fun during the winter especially in the forest nearby where there are wild monkeys.
Fez as a starting point for other journeys:
Moulay Idriss, the holy town, is 12 hours distant. Volubilis’ Roman remains are 4 kilometers away. Another highlight is the Imperial city of Meknes (approximately 40 minutes from Fez). The most popular day excursions from Fez are listed below. Chefchaouen, a little further out, is a lovely town.
In Fez, are there any drawbacks? There aren’t any that come to mind. Yes, there are still crowds in the Medina’s small alleyways, and if you become claustrophobic when there are a lot of people around, you will not love it. But it’s all part of the experience of visiting any city.
Fez Accommodation – Practical Information:
During my 5-week journey, I slept in Riad Ibn Battouta, which was one of the best riads I stayed in (around $50 US/night). The Medina is right next door. Recommended.
Restaurants: In Fez, my favorite restaurant was the Ruined Garden. Beautiful atmosphere, delicious meal, and reasonable rates. Otherwise, I’d dine at a little neighborhood eatery across the street from the riad.
Tour. In Fez, I believe that hiring a guide is vital. Even natives become disoriented in the Medina. It is strongly suggested that you do this 7-hour excursion. This full-day tour takes you to Meknes, Moulay Idriss, and Volubilis (it’s a group rate, so it’s better done as a group).
Fes Sais International Airport (code: FEZ) is approximately 17 kilometers (10 miles) from the city center.
And now here’s Marrakech:
Introduction to Marrakech (Fes vs Marrakech)
The Red City Marrakech is the most famous Moroccan city among tourists; it’s was ranked the 19th best touristic city back in 2019. Marrakech has a beautiful geographical spot with the beautiful High Atlas Mountains on the background of the city. This city was founded in 1062 AD, and throughout the years, Marrakech has accumulated a lot of richness. This richness kept attracting people to Marrakech over the years.
Although there are many great places in Marrakech, the Medina is always the number one spot. There you can explore and buy artifacts and souvenirs from the Souks (markets) and bazaars. The Medina of Fes is also a place where you can admire the exotic atmosphere of the Orient.
Marrakesh is Morocco’s second-oldest city (established in 1071) and the country’s second-oldest capital (after Fez).
Marrakech served as the starting point for my vacation to Morocco. I believe it is the worst spot in Morocco to begin a journey since merchants and local fraudsters are as pushy, relentless, aggressive, and obnoxious as they are in Marrakech. As I talked about here: Dealing with liars, fraudsters, and bullsh*t in Morocco, I truly detested my first two days there.
On the third day, I performed a few of things that drastically altered my experience. The first was my demeanor. By the third day, I’d had enough and just ignored or waved people away when they attempted to communicate with me. The second step was to obtain a SIM card. When people would ask, “Mister, where are you going?” “The square is over that way,” I’d say, certain in the knowledge that I was on the correct track thanks to my Sim card.
As a result, I virtually shut out the people and focused on taking in the scenery. There are a lot of them.
What are the highlights of Marrakech?
- Djemma el Fna: The busiest square in Africa. It’s located at the heart of Marrakech’s medina. Djemma el Fna Square is the best spot in the city to explore Moroccan street food and to watch snake charmers, acrobats, artists, and healers…
- Majorelle Garden: This huge garden is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. Completing this garden took 40 years of work. But it’s worth it. There are species of plants in this place from all over the four continents.
- Bahia Palace: This is a 19th-century palace and one of the most mesmerizing masterpieces of Moroccan architecture. It’s still occasionally a place where the royal family stays when they’re in Marrakech.
- Koutoubia Mosque: The Koutoubia Mosque is one of the symbols of Marrakech. This mosque is a great achievement of Moroccan architecture during the period of the Almoravid Dynasty back in the 12th century AD.
How do I get around Marrakech?
Marrakech City is huge; the best way to get around is by taxi or renting a car. You can also take the bus, but it’s not a good idea if you don’t like crowded places. However, when you’re in the Medina, it’s better if you just explore it one foot, or perhaps a bike. A horse cart is also an option if you’re into that.
Where should I stay?
There plenty of options when it comes to accommodating in the Red city. You can choose from hotels, hostels to Riads. There are more than 1,000 traditional Riads in the Medina of Marrakech. Many tourists prefer to stay in a Riad because it has a great ambiance and style that modern hotels cannot offer. And just like hotels, the Riads range from luxurious to budget-friendly.
What’s the food like?
One of the highlights of staying in Marrakech is visiting Djemaa el-Fna square to taste the street food. You can find dozens of food stalls that offer different meals, all of them are tasty in their own way.
You can also visit the restaurants that offer traditional Moroccan food like the Tagine and Tangia, which is the most famous meal that is originated in Marrakech. The Tangia is meat, garlic, spices, and lemon cooked slowly in a ceramic pot. You can also taste the Moroccan Couscous and various other meals.
Similarly to Fes, in Marrakech, you can get internationally recognized foods like burgers, Pizza, Sushi, etc.
Other reasons to visit Marrakech – Fes vs Marrakech
From Marrakech, you can go to many amazing places within a few hours of driving. For example, you can head west to the coasts and visit Essaouira, one of the most amazing historical, cultural, and artistic cities in Morocco and a great place to try fresh seafood.
Another place that you visit from Marrakech is the Ouzoud waterfalls. These waterfalls are the best in North Africa.
You can also go to Ait Benhaddou, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and place that you might have seen in Games of Thrones, Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and many other famous movies.
Check out these Marrakech excursions
So which one should I visit? Fes or Marrakech? (Fes vs Marrakech)
As we have seen, both Fes and Marrakech are great Moroccan touristic cities. Depending on the kind of person you are and the travel experience that you want to have in Morocco, you might want to visit one and leave the other.
Marrakech on the one hand is a city that is well-equipped for tourism and has all the recommendations for offering a great experience. The Red City has something special about it that never fails to captivate its visitors. And of course, it’s the home of some of the biggest highlights in Morocco. Djemma el Fna for example is one of the busiest places in the African Continent because of all the tourists who visit and the business that accompanies them.
On the other hand, Fes hosts fewer people than Marrakech, which is a thing that adds to the authenticity of the atmosphere there. Especially when you walk beside the medieval buildings. Another thing that is great about Fes is the fact that Medina is a car-free zone. You can forget that you’re in the 21st century in the Medina of Fes. Not to forget the amazing sights and historic monuments like the University of Al Qarawiyyin.
Whether you choose Fes or Marrakech you’ll still be able to explore the culture of the Moroccan imperial cities and their feel.
Marrakech as a jumping-off point for other destinations:
Aside from the aforementioned landmarks, one of Marrakech’s charms is some of the nearby natural sites. Imlil and Aroumd in the High Atlas highlands are 2 hours distant. I spent four days trekking in the area, which was the highlight of my five-week stay in Morocco (more on that here). Driving east brings you via the breathtaking Tizi-n-Tichka pass and, if you time it just so, into Telouet on road P1506. Continue on this path until you reach the breathtaking Ait Benhaddou (more on all that here). This region has the most magnificent stretch of geography in Morocco, and Marrakech is the entryway to it all. In the west, there’s also Essaouria, a charming seaside town that’s a must-see in the Marrakech area.
All of these are positive aspects of Marrakech.
Now for the bad news. For the visitor, Marrakech is a demanding experience. You will not be harassed as you will in Marrakech anywhere else in Morocco. It’s busy, dirty, and the drivers, especially the motorbike drivers barreling through the Medina’s narrow streets, are quite hostile.
Accommodation in Marrakech is a useful piece of information:
While in Marrakech, I stayed at Riad Rockech. It was simple but reasonably priced (about $35 US/night) and located on the city’s southern outskirts, a 10-minute walk from the Kasbah Mosque. The Clock Café is a 2-minute walk away (more on that below). I recommend Ryad Hamza or Riad Atlas Acacia if you want to be in the heart of the city (near Djemaa El-Fna) and stay in a somewhat pricier riad.
Tour. As I previously stated, schedule a trip on your first day in Marrakech. I didn’t (assuming the riad would have a recommendation), and I ended up getting completely lost and wasting valuable time. This private half-day walking tour is both affordable and informative. Recommended.
Restaurants. The Clock Café, which is next to my riad (Riad Rockech), offers a laid-back ambiance and delicious food. If you want to try something different, they have camel burgers. If you’re in the middle of town, it’s a bit of a trek, but if you’re near the Kasbah Mosque, it’s worth it. The Kasbah Café, located across the street from the Kasbah Mosque, offers excellent views of the Mosque. During my visit, I mostly ate at these, as well as a couple of the little local eateries on the street that were both cheap and tasty.
Arriving via plane. The city core is roughly 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Marrakesh Menara Airport (code: RAK). A cab will set you back 15 euros (which is absurd). Inquire about the cost of pickup at your riad.
So, which one should you go to? Is it better to visit Fez or Marrakech? Fes vs Marrakech.
If you can, the obvious answer is both.
However, if you are unable to do so, my response is contingent on the cause for your travel to either city.
If you’re just visiting Morocco for a short time and want to see the attractions, I’d recommend Marrakech over Fez. The attractions in Southern Morocco, in my opinion, are more magnificent than those in Northern Morocco.
If you’re only interested in touring the city, I’d choose Fez. It’s a more appealing, intriguing, less touristic, and less hectic city than Marrakech, in my opinion. Fez was far more enjoyable than Marrakech for me.
Or should I visit them BOTH Fes and Marrakech? (Fes vs Marrakech)
Ou r recommendation is to take a private Morocco tour that starts either from Fes or Marrakech. The tour can take a span of three to nine days. In the tour, you’ll get to explore Morocco in an organized manner with a professional tour agency. The tours typically spend some time in the Sahara Desert of Merzouga. During that time you will spend a night in a desert camp accompanied with music and nice meals. And of course, you’ll have a guided tour with a professional, certified guide in both Fes and Marrakech. This way you can spare yourself a lot of planning, booking, and, generally, a lot of trouble. And you won’t have to choose either to visit Fes or Marrakech. For example with the three days tour from Fes to Marrakech, you can explore both cities in less than 96 hours along with visiting the Sahara and riding the camels…
We hope that our Fes vs Marrakech comparison has won your attention and was useful to you in presenting these two amazing Moroccan imperial cities.
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