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Shopping in Cairo
Cairo is a fun place to shop and if you have a discerning eye, you’re sure to find some very great souvenirs to take back home. If you can avoid the stereotyped stuffed camels and scale models, there are plenty of other attractive, well-made knick-knacks such as papyrus scrolls with hieroglyphics, which are good buys. Be careful of touts who approach you surreptitiously and offer to sell 'real antiquities' because it is illegal to export anything genuine without a proper licence.
There are two types of shopping experiences in Cairo, the traditional bazaars, like the Khan el-Khalili souk which retains its 14th century charm and the contemporary, air-conditioned stores which sell the latest in fashion and accessories.
Our Cairo Shopping Guide below gives you hints and tips on where to shop and what to buy whilst on your Cairo holiday. The bazaars (souks) and markets are an exciting and fantastic experience, but be prepared for crowds and hustle and bustle. However, you can find refuge and a place to relax and recharge in one of the traditional Cairo restaurants. See our Egypt Shopping Guide for general information on what to buy on your Egypt holiday.
The worst place to shop is the stores inside 5- star hotels and the ones in their vicinity. The goods are priced exorbitantly and are not worth the money. You’re also better off keeping away from peddlers and souvenir shops near tourist attractions like the Pyramids in Giza. Most shops are open Monday through Saturday between 9 am and 8 pm. In summer, some stores close for an extended lunch break from 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm. Shops which cater specifically to tourists are open for longer hours.
The Khan el-Khalili
The Khan el-Khalili is the main market located in Islamic Cairo. It is very popular with tourists but covers such an enormous area that not many venture into the interiors where the locals do their shopping. Almost anything can be purchased here and some good things to pick up are jewellery, brass and copper items, leather goods, spices and perfumes. In fact there is a separate Perfume Bazaar which sells a wide variety of essential oils. Parisian parfumiers are known to source their fragrances from here. Items made of silk, and handmade gellibayas or robes are also good buys.
If you are specifically looking for copper and brassware then head out to an-Nahassin , the Street of Coppersmiths. A popular but unwieldy item is the large brass tray with beautiful engravings that comes with wooden stands and can be used as a table top. Bowls, ornamental trays, cups and plates which are easier to transport are also available.
Gold and silver jewellery is fairly inexpensive, provided you don’t flinch from a spot of light-hearted haggling. Some of the more established stores in the Khan el-Khalili and the jewellery shops on Sharia Abdel Khalek Sarwat and Sharia al-Muizz li-Din Allah ( also called the Goldsmith's Bazaar or the Souq as-Sagha) are trustworthy. Locals favour designs that are often gaudy, or stereotyped reproductions of antique art such as Pharaoh's heads and scarab beetles. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot that really unusual piece.
For a taste of the real Cairo, however, do consider going off the beaten path and explore the less-frequented shops outside the Khan.
Each street market in Cairo specialises in selling a particular kind of product. The Tentmakers Bazaar is famous for appliqué-work, Mohammed Ali Street for musical instruments and Wekala al-Balaq for cloth, especially Egyptian cotton. The Camel Market is worth a visit simply for the atmospherics.
Midan Talaat Harn, the Talaat Harb street and the surrounding area is a large shopping district with shops selling everything from sweets to shoes. In downtown Cairo, the Midan Atab is primarily a booksellers market but you will find umpteen shops selling electronics goods and even clothes.
Bargaining is customary in Cairo and you should be pleased if the final price agreed upon is somewhere between half and two thirds of the original. In some respects, the shopkeepers expect a certain amount of haggling, and most of them quote inflated prices, especially to tourists. It is also common for taxi drivers and tour guides to strike a deal with certain stores as they earn a cut in the proceeds. This is a common practice in Cairo and the locals consider it a legitimate source of income.
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