Shopping at Khan al Khalili in Cairo

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Travel Features >> Shopping at Khan al Khalili in Cairo

Shopping at Khan al Khalili in Cairo

April 01, 2011

The Arabic word for bazaar is souk, and the Khan al Khalili in Cairo is the largest in its category. Famed for its atmosphere as much as the incredible variety and finesse of the products sold in this vast market, the Khan al Khalili is visited by every traveller who sets foot in Cairo. You needn’t be a shopaholic or even interested in souvenirs to visit the Khan. In fact, you need only be interested in the sights of Cairo to find yourself at the market, parts of which are as old as the city itself.

When the market was first established, spice was its most important commodity. Today the spice stores still exist but no longer dominate the scene. Instead it is jewellery – made from bone, gold and finely crafted Egyptian silver, perfumes, essential oils, Mouski glass hand-blown from recycled bottles, waterpipes, silk carpets, kilims, paintings on papyrus and countless other knickknacks that you’ll find here. The imposing entrance of the market yields unto a maze of shops, narrow winding lanes and a riot of colours and sounds. People will be chattering, metal workers will be hammering away at their creations, the workshops will be bustling with activity and every once in a while you’ll hear the call of the muezzin rising above the din. Khan al Khalili is at the heart of Islamic Cairo, one of the best preserved older sections of the city and undoubtedly, among its most interesting.

The market is open every day of the week between 10 am and 10 pm; some shops close a little earlier on Sundays. When you’re planning your itinerary, reserve about 3 hours for the souk. Because while you’re there, there’s every chance that you’ll be tempted to sit down a while and survey the scene even as you sip cool mint tea at one of the Khan’s many teahouses.

A word of caution: that very expensive papyrus with the very beautiful painting on it may not be papyrus at all but the humble plantain. Don’t pay up unless you know for sure that it is papyrus you’re being sold.

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