Even if you aren’t very interested in shopping, wandering around the ancient Khan El-Khalili bazaar in Cairo is an experience not to be missed.
Like most traditional permanent souqs, Khan El-Khalili was once divided into areas by its wares. This promoted healthy competition between the vendors as shoppers could bargain from one stall to the next. Today this has lapsed somewhat and the individual alleyways offer more of an assortment.
So, amongst all of this assortment what should you keep an eye out for?
1. Silver, copper and brassware
There are plenty of vendors of silver, copper and brassware. You can buys items of all shapes and sizes including wall plates, lamps, tea pots and more. Spare a thought for how you might fit your purchase in to your suitcase though as some pieces are easier to transport than others!
2. Gold and jewellery
Happily, the goldsmith souq still exists in the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. It is frequented by both tourists and Cairo’s locals. Here you can purchase gold jewellery of a very high standard as well as plenty of semi-precious stones but be prepared to bargain hard for a good price.
3. Shisha water pipes
Shisha water pipes are sold throughout the bazaar. Shisha cafes have long held a place in Egyptian culture and sharing a shisha pipe is a common social practice. At Khan El-Khalili you will find a variety of shishas to buy, some more gimmicky than others.
4. Leather goods
Away from the more travelled areas of the bazaar you will find shops that sell leather goods of a high quality. The leather is soft and supple and you can purchase handbags, jackets and soft-soled moccasins at good prices.
Coffeehouses selling Egypt’s strong brew, restaurants and street food vendors can be found all over the marketplace to fuel your shopping journey.
There’s plenty of fresh fruit, breads, baked sweet potatoes, tea and coffee to choose from.
For a special treat ask for some zanjabil, one of Egypt’s best-kept secrets! It’s a hot, spicy ginger drink that the Quran calls “the promise of paradise”. It’s the perfect tonic to cleanse your palate of any of Cairo’s murky air or unfamiliar food. You’ll find it on offer in all of the sidewalk coffee and shisha shops.
Other items to consider at the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar
Carpets, alabaster and soapstone carvings, paintings on papyrus, perfumes and reproductions of antiquities. Beware though, if an item is presented to you as an antique, it’s probably a fake (and if it is genuine, it can’t be legally exported). For good quality reproductions it is probably best to source these from the Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
Bonus bargaining tips
Bargaining can feel strange to the Australian traveller given it isn’t common practice in our stores at home. However, in Egypt it is acceptable almost everywhere. Even fine shops will consider bids on big-ticket items.
Our first tip is to try to enjoy the process! Keep smiling and remember the aim of the game is to obtain a good deal for yourself as well as the shopkeeper.
Try to keep the price low without being arrogant or insulting. Is it worth quibbling over what converts to only a couple of Australian dollars?
Learn to fake astonishment at a suggested price or walk slowly out of a shop if necessary.
Don’t bargain if you’re not truly interested in buying an item. It’s just a waste of your time and the shopkeeper’s.
In tourist areas you may be offered tea or a soft drink in larger shops, which is customary, and doesn’t oblige you to buy anything.
At most of Egypt’s larger sites you will come across street hawkers selling trinkets, postcards, drinks and so on. If you are not interested in purchasing anything simply keep walking. If you do show an interest, be prepared for a lengthy negotiation!
You can visit the Khan El-Khalili bazaar on any of our small group tours to Egypt. Explore our Egypt & Middle East small group tours.