The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Sights & Travel

Cairo Guide: Shopping in Khan El Khalili

Cairo Guide: Shopping in Khan El Khalili
    written by
    Aleksandra Sekinger

    There’s absolutely nothing in Cairo like exploring the enormous shopping
    labyrinth of Khan El Khalili, the city’s largest souk that has preserved much
    of its original structure since its days as a famous medieval bazaar. Tourists
    and Egyptians alike arrive at this densely populated maze of streets and
    alleyways to find all sorts of gifts, including Egyptian antiques, fine
    handmade crafts, shishas and spices.

    El Azhar Surroundings

    It’s not a terribly far walk from Downtown Cairo, but
    the easiest way to get to Khan El Khalili is by taxi (5LE from Tahrir Square). Tell
    the taxi driver ‘Midan Hussein,’ not Khan El Khalili; unless you want a price
    increase. The taxi will drop you directly in front of El Azhar Mosque. Across
    the road, you’ll see a grassy knoll that is called Hussein Square, where Khan El Khalili is

    El Sheikh Mohamed Abdu, the street that runs behind El
    Azhar mosque, is famous for three things: an old-world book binder called Abd
    El Zaher Atelier
    , a shop full of unique jewellery and lighting fixtures
    known as Al Khatoun, and the Sufi
    Dancing performance at Wikalat El Ghori.

    If you continue walking eastward down the street, away
    from El Azhar Mosque, to the left there is the opening of a deep market that
    sells non-tourist home furnishings such as curtains, fabric, tapestries, bed
    sheets and towels.

    The Maze of
    the Market

    The traditional Khan El Khalili is off the
    aforementioned Hussein Square.
    To reach the other side without risking your life; take the underground
    passageway that connects both sides of Islamic Cairo. Once you’re in Hussein
    Square, walk eastward away from the grassy knoll and into the maze of the

    While we’d love to give you a detailed, guided tour,
    these streets are ancient, unmarked and unplanned; meaning that much of the fun
    is getting lost and stumbling upon something amazing in the process. Our advice
    is to go as deep into the market as you can: the deeper you go, the more prices
    go down and bargaining power goes up. If you ever get lost, politely ask someone
    for Midan Hussein; and you’ll be right back where you started.

    What To Buy

    Skip the touristy key-chains, fake papyrus and plastic
    figurines of Egyptian gods. There are lots of treasures in Khan El Khalili that
    make great gifts. Be on the lookout for alabaster pyramids and statues; these
    are an Egyptian specialty. There are also several shops that sell quaint
    jewellery boxes, backgammon and chess boards made with mother of pearl designs.
    When it comes to handmade crafts, we encourage you to inspect the item closely for
    quality of workmanship. Do not pay for faulty work.

    There are many stores selling gold and silver jewellery,
    home accessories and trinkets. Traditional jewellery includes kaf Fatima , evil eyes and pharaonic symbols like Horus’ eye.
    Several shops offer your name in hieroglyphics framed in a cartouche. Make sure
    all gold and silver is weighed before the price is determined.

    There are several stores that sell Egyptian antiques,
    including lighting fixtures, movie posters and old books. Spice stores sell
    inexpensive common spices, Egyptian incense and shisha tobacco.

    El Fishawy Café

    Shopping in Khan El Khalili can be exhausting and
    overly stimulating. If all of the shopping has left you weary, and you’re looking
    for a nice mint tea and apple shisha, El Fishawy Café is just the
    place to do that. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the past 250
    years, this mirror-laden alleyway café has hosted dozens of notables including
    Egyptian literary legend Naguib Mahfouz. During the evenings, you might see oud
    players, poetry readings or women offering henna tattoos.

    Bargaining Tactics

    Don’t forget that prices in Khan El Khalili are not
    fixed and you should bargain your little heart out or prepare to be properly
    robbed. Generally the rule is to ask how
    much the item is, and aim to pay exactly half of what the initial price was.
    Walk away if you don’t like their offer; they will either agree to lower the
    price when you show disinterest.

    Visit several shops to see what the going rate
    is before agreeing to buy anything. And for the love of shopping; do not ever
    show that you’re interested in whatever you want to buy. You’ll never get a
    good price like that!