The Khan El Khalili Bazaar – There’s No Other Market Like It

Khan El Khalili bazaar is located in the Islamic district of Cairo. It is said to be the oldest open air market in the Middle East, and a must see Cairo tourist attraction.

Boy selling bread in the Khan-el-Khalili bazaar

Boy selling bread in the Khan-el-Khalili bazaar.

When people think of Egypt, they typically think of the pyramids and other similar attractions such as the Sphinx, but the truth is, there is so much more to see in this ancient land of the pharaohs. Khan El Khalili is in fact a prime example.

More people visit the bazaar than any other attraction in the country, but this is of course because the bazaar is equally as popular between tourists and locals alike.

A Brief History of Khan El Khalili

Located in the Islamic district of Cairo, Khan El Khalili bazaar was originally built to serve as a mausoleum for the Fatimid royal family, and was at that time a part of the Great Eastern Fatimid Palace which was built in 970 CE.

By the 14th century when the first Mamluk sultan ruled the country, Egypt had been ravaged by the Black Death. Nonetheless, it continued to act as a major trade center, and as a result, several commercial properties were constructed. By 1389 the original Fatimid cemetery had been destroyed in order to make way for a large caravanserai.

The original caravanserai can still be seen at Khan El Khalili to this day although most shoppers have little interest in the colorful history of this charismatic bazaar. Instead, most locals are only interested in securing the best possible deals, in a place where haggling is the order of the day.

Most Egyptian package tours include a tour of Khan El-Khalili bazaar and if not our flexible packages can be tailored to include a guided tour of the bazaar. However, our many years of experience have shown us that many tourists prefer to explore the market by themselves during their stay in Cairo. For this reason, most of our Egypt tour packages include at least a few days in Cairo.

The original bazaar built by El Khalili was demolished and then rebuilt in 1511. The trading hub was built complete with massive gates and several perpendicular streets, in much the same was as many other Ottoman era market places. While the Khan El Khalili market was originally built for the sale of luxury goods, vendors selling other wares soon began making an appearance.

Khan El Khalili Bazaar as it Stands Today

The market is famous for clothing, spices, traditional jewelry and perfumes. The items are of high quality which is part of the reason that this market has survived for so long.

The Khan El Khalili bazaar is far from being a tourist trap even though there are plenty of souvenirs available. However, many of the high quality clothes; fabrics and other items that are made by local artisans often prove to be the best souvenirs since they are a part of Egyptian culture, and as such, they are bought daily by the countless locals shopping at the bazaar.

A Full Day of True Egyptian Culture

The Khan El Khalili bazaar is a great place to while away an entire day. The sights and sounds are enduring examples of true Egyptian culture that has been thriving for hundreds of years.

For a break from the heat, there are plenty of coffee shops along the street. Egyptians like their coffee strong, so be prepared for quite a jolt from their favored drink, but also prepare for some of the most exotic tasting coffee you’ll ever have. If you do favor a cup or two of quality Arabic coffee, be sure to visit Fishawi’s Coffee Shop. This coffee shop has been open since 1773, making it the oldest coffee shop in all of Egypt.

Understanding the Workings of a Souk

The Khan El-Khalili souq is a great place to enjoy traditional Egyptian crafts, buy souvenirs and bargain with local sellers

The Khan El-Khalili souq is a great place to enjoy traditional Egyptian crafts, buy souvenirs and bargain with local sellers.

Open air markets such as Khan El Khalili and the other markets in Old Cairo are called a “souk” in Arabic.

You’ll find these types of markets in all Middle Eastern countries, but as already mentioned, the Khan El Khalili Bazaar is one of the oldest; biggest, and certainly most famous of them all.

The tradition of buying and selling, haggling and bargaining among the crowds has being going on for centuries already.

Many tourists often tend to feel somewhat intimidated by the whole process of having to haggle for better prices, but the truth is, once you become accustomed to it, it can be a really fun experience.

Bargaining and haggling is more than just a consumer activity in Egypt. It’s a great way to socialize and meet new people, keeping in mind that haggling is always done in a good natured way with plenty of smiling and laughing.

Top 10 Tips for Shopping in Khan El Khalili

If you are planning a trip to Egypt, a tour of the Khan El Khalili Bazaar is a must. This open-air shopping market has been in operation for centuries, since the 1300s! Once you step inside, you can find everything from basic groceries to simple souvenirs to pricey Egyptian silver and more. Shopping in Khan El Khalili is definitely an adventure, and it connects you to millions of people who’ve done the same for centuries before you.

Here are 10 tips from the ages that will help you navigate the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the Khan El Khalili Bazaar.

1. Haggling is expected and encouraged

Haggling the price is expected, so everything you see in the Khan El Khalili bazaar is marked up. Nothing will be priced at what it is worth, because the seller expects you to bargain. So go in ready to spend some time scoring great deals. The key is to keep a smile on your face and have a good sense of humor. Start with the lowest offer you have in mind, and work up from there. A good rule of thumb is to aim to pay no more than one third the listed price. And don’t be afraid to walk away – many vendors will go lower when you return later.

2. Take cash with you

Most of the shops in the Khan El Khalili bazaar are just stalls set up by craftsmen or local farmers, or similar people. They don’t often have the ability to take cards. It’s a very good idea to have cash on you. While getting Egyptian pounds is a good idea for saving some money (because prices will be rounded up to accommodate dollars or euros), you don’t have to. The stalls do accept all forms of currency.

3. Try to avoid going inside a shop, unless you’re after something specific

A common tactic for vendors is to convince you to enter their shop instead of just browsing outside, where they are better able to pressure you into purchases. If you don’t see what you want outside, keep moving – chances are you’ll find it just a few shops down.

4. Keep in mind that tourist souvenirs are usually made in China

If you want an authentic Egyptian product, you’ll need to shop in areas where tourists don’t flock. Many, if not most, of the souvenir items you’ll find in the Khan El Khalili bazaar are made in China. Think of this as a really fun experience, a place to find some amazing street food, and a place to see Cairo culture, and you’ll have an awesome time.

5. Walk away from the Khan El Khalili bazaar to get a taxi

If you need to taxi away from the Khan El Khalili bazaar after shopping, don’t hail a taxi right outside. The taxis know that tourists are looking for rides, and will often charge more to those they pick up from right outside the marketplace. Walk a bit away, and then hail a cab. This will save you money so you can bargain some more in other stores.

6. Don’t skip a break at one of the coffee shops in the bazaar!

Inside Khan El Khalili, you’ll find dozens of coffee shops that offer a break from the haggling. This is an absolute must. It’s a tradition in Egypt, the same way tea time is in England, to enjoy a delicious coffee during a break. You’ll get the best people watching in the world as you enjoy tasty drinks and some pretty good food, too. This is really the moment where you’ll feel immersed in the culture of the bazaar, so don’t skip this.

7.  Know what you want to make the most of your time

The Khan El Khalili Bazaar is divided into districts, and each district is for a specific type of ware or good. For example, spices are sold in one district, carpets in another. Copper is in a different district from silver, and antiques are in a different district from scarves. You can find everything in the bazaar – perfume, stained glass, handmade clothing, shoes, ancient artifacts, gold, and just about anything else you can name.

If you want to just walk in and wander, you can, but it would take days to explore it all. If you want something specific, head to the right district.

8. Plan your trip around a carnival or cultural event

If you’ve been to the bazaar before and want a new experience, plan your trip around a local celebration. There are carnivals in Muizz Street, tannoura dances that take place at Wekalet El-Ghouri, and many traditional Sufi celebrations that occur during Mawlid Al-Hussein. This will make the Khan El Khalili bazaar an exciting place with even more energy than usual. You’ll have the chance to see some of Egypt’s current culture, as well as ancient celebratory rites that will amaze.

9. Eat Hamam Mahshy at Farahat

If there’s one place in the Khan El Khalili bazaar that visitors must not skip, it’s Farahat Restaurant. They are known for the famous dish, hamam mahshy, or stuffed pigeon. This dish is found all over Egypt, but it’s considered the best right here. You can get a meal for about nine U.S. dollars, so go ahead and indulge in this must-see during your day of bargaining and sight-seeing.

10. Make a plan for your experience in the market

The Khan El Khalili bazaar is a huge area, with multiple streets and districts, and it could take days to see it all. Many people want to know just how long they should expect to be in the market, and to that, the only answer is: as long as you want! If you expected to enjoy a small side trip of souvenir shopping, think again. To avoid getting caught up spending way more time than you wanted to, it’s best to have a plan. Give yourself a time limit and start heading out of the bazaar when you want to move on.

This is one of the most amazing attractions in Egypt, partly because of the many things you can buy, partly because of the cool buying experience, and partly because you’re connecting to an ancient tradition!

Nearby Tourist Attractions

Al-Hussein Mosque - Cairo, Egypt

Al-Hussein Mosque – Cairo, Egypt

Al-Hussein Mosque is located just a stone throw away from the bazaar, and definitely worth a visit if you still have time to spare after your fun filled day at the Khan El Khalili bazaar. Built in 1154 on a cemetery belonging to the Fatimid caliphs, the mosque is today considered to be one of the holiest Islamic sites in Cairo. It is also believed to contain the world’s oldest manuscript of the Quran.

Please remember to respect local customs if you visit the mosque, and keep in mind that women need to cover up prior to entering any mosque, regardless of what country you are in. Most mosques can proving head scarves and etc. if necessary.

Come Experience the Best of Egypt

From one of the Middle East’s oldest bazaars to ancient pyramids; temples; mosques and monasteries, Egypt has it all. Whether you want to spend your Egyptian vacation in the lap of luxury, or whether you’re going in search of adventure, we can make your dream come true.

We’ve been providing high quality Egypt package tours and custom tours of Egypt since 1955. With so much experience behind us, nobody is better equipped than we are for providing you with a holiday of a lifetime.

Come join us in Egypt and soak up the atmosphere of the Khan El Khalili Bazaar during your stay.