When it comes to Moroccan cities, Fes gets compared a lot to Marrakech. Online, you’ll find endless articles and forum topics covering the Marrakech vs Fes debate for visitors. Overall, there seems to be more people who love Marrakech, but also more that leave never wanting to return, while Fes is a little less polarizing. For me, I definitely left Marrakech loving it, but I can see why it’s not for everybody. Fes is much more relaxed with less hassle, tourist traps and chaos.
I don’t feel Fes provides the variety of life, colors, and scenery for Street Photography that Marrakech does, but that’s mostly because Marrakech is one of the best cities I’ve been to yet for that. Saying this, Fes is still a very unique city with the oldest, most elaborate and local medina you’ll visit anywhere. For many, this, plus the more relaxing vibe, will appeal more. Just like cities are different, so are photographers, so here are my first impressions of Fes, from my personal Street Photographer perspective…
7 First Impressions of Fes, Morocco
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. Very Elaborate Medina
While I feel Marrakech is packed with the most to offer in Morocco, when it comes to the medina, Fes isn’t topped. The medina here is extremely elaborate and more like a whole town within the city. You could easily spend days walking around and getting lost in the maze.
Some call Fes the most preserved old city in the Arab world. The medina, named Fes el-Bali, is actually the world’s largest car-free urban zone too. So donkeys, mules and hand carts are the modes of transportation within its walls. The medina here wasn’t designed for tourists, it was designed for living. You can really feel how people lived and still live here today within the labyrinth, which makes it more of an experience compared to other medinas and old towns.
2. Medina life has a more local feel than Marrakech
Another thing about the medina in Fes is how it has a much more local feeling. While the medina in Marrakech attracts mostly tourists, the medina in Fes attracts plenty of locals, many of which live here. Unless you’re by the tanneries, you won’t get bothered as much, either, because they aren’t as concerned with tourists.
People really live in the medina here, kids play everywhere, and for many locals, this is where they work, shop and spend all their time. This helps give it a more authentic feeling and helps take you back in time.
3. Not as much life or as much to see as Marrakech
While the medina and old town are full of life and things to see, Fes isn’t as interesting and dynamic as Marrakech overall. I tried to find other interesting places to explore outside of the medina, and while there are some, it’s nothing like Marrakech.
Some of this is due to the city not being as focused on tourism, but much of it is just because it’s not as culturally rich as Marrakech, which is much more a positive to Marrakech as it is a negative to Fes. Behind the tourism, Marrakech is just a very special city.
Fes still has plenty to do and see with its own unique qualities. It just might not overwhelm you with them like Marrakech. For many, that is a good thing.
4. New Town is Worth Exploring
When in Fes, most people spend almost all of their time in the Old Town, where the medina is located. There’s enough there for a few days, but if you want a change of scenery, you can head outside to the New Town section of the city. The scenery and atmosphere are completely different in the New Town, where it feels like an urban city.
I wouldn’t say it’s special compared to other urban cities in Morocco, but it is a complete change of environment for Street Photography and there is city life to capture. It’s worth the change of pace and scenery to make the short trip out with your camera.
5. Old Town is a Ghost Town at Night
Old Town is mostly dominated by the medina. During the day, there’s plenty of activity and life all over, but once night hits, the streets empty.
There can be an almost eerie feeling walking around empty streets in the Old Town. It feels so old, there aren’t any street lights, and the emptiness gives a unique feeling you won’t get in urban cities. It can feel like a lost city back in time.
6. You Will Get Lost
There’s almost no way you won’t get lost in the Old Town. The medina’s structure is so elaborate and complex that there’s no way around it. Sometimes I thought I had gone the right way to only pass the same shop again 15 minutes later. My phone’s GPS didn’t always work in the medina, either, so there was plenty of guessing. I even used my phone’s compass at times.
There’s plenty of hills too so it can be a work out, but if you have the time, it can be an experience in itself getting lost. Not all of the medina is busy, either, so you can find some hidden areas that might bring some found captures or interesting moments.
7. Not as Polished or Touristic as Marrakech
After spending time in Marrakech, Fes was somewhat disappointing at first. Marrakech assaults your senses, while Fes is much more low-key. After a little while, Fes’ reveals its own charm, though.
It’s not close to as touristy as Marrakech, so that can be a great thing. It’s not as polished for tourists, either. The Old Town truly feels old and you can imagine life how it was many years ago. You feel the Moroccan way of life in Fes. While I would give more time in Marrakech if I was to come to Morocco again, I’m glad I visited Fes too. The medina is worth it alone.
A Different Experience to Marrakech
I find Fes very different to Marrakech. They’re both very Morocco, but in different ways. Marrakech overwhelms you with chaos, colors, and life, while Fes gives you a more relaxed, less overwhelming Morocco centered around old medina life. Marrakech is more challenging for street photography, but with more to offer if you get past that.
Personally, cities like Marrakech are my favorite, but that doesn’t mean Fes doesn’t have plenty to offer for photography too. Plus, both cities give you that great year-round sunlight, so while I’d recommend spending more time in Marrakech for people who like fast paced chaos with more to see, I’d recommend visiting both cities. And if the more relaxed and authentic local life of an old medina city appeal to you, then Fes just might be your preferred city.
If any of you have been to Fes before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Fes, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.