While no one would argue that Cairo is the capital of Egypt, not a lot of people know that it’s also the shopping capital of Egypt. The bustling city offers endless options of markets and stores where you can purchase just about anything you can think of. From high-end, designer stores at shopping malls, to crowded marketplaces, to local street stores and everything in between. Visitors to Cairo usually like to take away a little bit of Egypt with them when they leave, in the form of souvenirs. Some good souvenirs to buy from Cairo are statues, silver and gold accessories, stones, kilim carpets and fabrics, belly-dance outfits, shisha (hookah), handcrafted metal items like pots and trays, tea sets, spices and herbs, incense, essential oils, paintings, blown-glass ornaments, Arabic coffee and of course, dates and oriental desserts. While you are sure to come across a few irresistible bargains while shopping in Cairo, shopping in these places allows you to have a unique experience, where you get to mix with the local people of Egypt and observe the culture from the inside. Shopping for souvenirs can be overwhelming at first, however, the fantastic time you will have browsing and looking through all the fascinating, hand-made products will make up for it. When it comes to handmade products, there’s a story behind every picture, statue, stone, fabric, pot and pan. Most of the products displayed in these places are locally handmade. Some are handmade using ancient methods handed down from the Ancient Egyptians, like papyrus paper for example. It’s always a good idea to decide what kind of souvenirs you plan to buy before deciding on which place you visit. This is helpful so you can take into consideration luggage weight and handling, as well as deciding where you will do your shopping. All of the places mentioned have plenty of stores displaying countless products; however, some markets are specialized in some products more than others. Time is an important factor as well. If a whole day of browsing for bargains does not sound appealing to you, and you’re just looking for somewhere to grab some quick, last-minute gifts, we’ve got you covered as well.
Courtesy of Travel Aficionado/Flickr
A visit to Khan al-Khalili is always an interesting and mesmerizing experience for a first-timer. Khan al-Khalili is a must-visit to anyone coming to Cairo. Not only is it one of the biggest and oldest marketplaces in the Middle East, it is also located in Old Cairo, a historic area that you will most likely come across when looking for sightseeing places, as it holds a lot of significant monuments from different eras. Khan al-Khalili was first built back in the 14th century as a market where merchants would come together from different areas to trade their goods. Nowadays it’s a striking and busy concoction of colors, textures, smells and sounds. Khan al-Khalili is the biggest souvenir market in Cairo. Items you can find at Khan al-Khalili include oriental clothes, jilbabs, belly dance costumes, handmade leather shoes and bags, spices, essential oils, silver accessories, stone work, ancient Egyptian statue replicas, perfume oils, miniature pyramid structures and all kinds of oriental-themed home accessories. Do not expect to find price labels, rather, merchants at Khan al-Khalili are used to negotiating with customers before agreeing on a price. It’s best to have a guide or local friend with you to facilitate such negotiations and language barriers. Locals at Khan al-Khalili are used to dealing with tourists from around the world and most of them speak Basic English. It’s best to dress modestly when visiting Khan al-Khalili, especially if you plan on visiting the historic ancient mosques in the area. When entering a mosque, knees and shoulders must be covered for both men and women, and women need to cover their hair with a scarf. If you’re visiting in the summer, keep in consideration that temperatures are high during the day (highest between 12 pm and 3 pm). Make sure to have lunch or dinner at the fascinating al-Hussein alleyway, walking distance from Khan al-Khalili, where you get to take in the local views and have a cup of tea in one of al-Hussein’s vibrant coffee shops.
Courtesy of memphistours.com
This ancient marketplace in Old Cairo was founded during the Fatimid era. The “Khayameya” (tentmakers) area is named after tentmakers who wove together the thick tents traditionally used (up to this day) for all sorts of Egyptian functions: weddings, funerals and store openings. National Election campaigns are held within similar tents, and during Ramadan, restaurants drape their walls with the distinct red designs. Al-Khayameya market was where the traditional cloth (kiswa) for Mecca’s Holy Ka’aba was handmade until the 1960’s. If you want to buy oriental cushions, covers, fabrics for a little Arabic touch around your house or as a gift to others, al-Khayameya is the place to go. In recent years, more “modern” adaptations of Khayameya designs, using more colors than the standard red and blue design, have made their way into new furniture and clothing styles.
Courtesy of Heino/Flickr
If you want to experience local shopping for what it is, go to Suq al-Ataba (Ataba Market). Suq al-Ataba is one of the most crowded spaces in Cairo. But it’s one of the biggest and cheapest markets as well. It was reviewed by some tourists as a “bargain shopper’s heaven.” A much less-touristy open market than Khan al-Khalili, it is highly unlikely that you would find Suq al-Ataba scheduled as a part of a guided tour. Al-Ataba is easy to get lost in so make sure you have a local guide with you. Prepare to be doing plenty of walking and haggling with merchants, so make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing and keeping an eye on your personal belongings at all times. If you’re a woman, make sure you’re dressed modestly. The ‘market’ is essentially main streets lined with merchants, branched into smaller streets. Every street sells items relating to one specific category. For example, if you’re looking for electronics, there’s an ‘electronics’ street. Items sold there include all types of clothing, sunglasses, shoes, bags, fabrics, spices, souvenirs, lighting, electronics and home décor. The list is endless to be honest. However, although there are local handmade items here, most items are in fact imported imitations, some of which may have compromised quality. However, you will definitely find irresistible bargains for items like genuine leather shoes for a fraction of the price you would usually pay.
Courtesy of Terry Feuerborn/Flickr
Before you feel surprised to see a mall in this list, hear us out. City Stars Mall is conveniently located in Heliopolis. If for any reason you didn’t get a chance to visit the real Khan al-Khalili market, there’s a miniature version in City Stars mall. An actual “Khan al-Khalili” named area. Contrary to common belief, souvenirs sold in City Stars Mall are more or less the same as the ones you would find at the actual Khan al-Khalili. The City Stars version is a much less crowded option, if you want to wander between air-conditioned stores without distraction. You will be able to find all kinds of Egyptian-style clothes, silver and gold jewelry, mini statues, decorated kitchen items and carved candle and incense holders.
If you’re looking for Ancient Egyptian replicas, you will be delighted to discover countless versions of Horus, Nefertiti and Tutankhamun. However, expect less variety than Khan al-Khalili and a small increase in price. Khan al-Khalili market in City Stars is a great alternative if you’re short on time or just need a closer area to do some last-minute souvenir hunting.