Egypt's Best Shopping

The inside scoop on the best places to shop in Cairo and Alexandria

By: By Dean Blaine

Khan al-Khalili // (C) 2010 Guillén Pérez

Khan al-Khalili //
(c) 2010 Guillén Pérez

The best shopping in Egypt is found in large, established markets called souks (pronounced sook). The largest, oldest and most prominent of all the souks in Egypt is Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili. Established by Emir Djaharks al-Khalili way back in 1382, travelers have been frequenting this market for centuries, filling their packs with treasures and exotic spices from the Orient, Africa and the neighboring Mediterranean region.

Today, Khan al-Khalili is a major tourist destination, a sprawling mass of small shops and mazelike corridors bursting with trinkets and treasures. Souvenirs are found here in abundance. Khan al-Khalili is the place to buck up and haggle for keepsakes such as painted papyrus scrolls, perfumes, gold and silver cartouches (flat, oval charms engraved with your name in hieroglyphics) and alabaster carvings of pyramids, scarabs and Egyptian deities.

But if your clients want to venture beyond the tourist façade, they will find that the knickknacks give way to handmade items including magnificent carpets, cotton garments, copper jewelry boxes, cashmere scarves, tablecloths, soap powder, semi-precious stones and even elaborate belly-dancing outfits. The gold and silver annex of the market promises to showcase bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings. The adjoining spice market is chock a block with heaping barrels of fragrant and colorful exotic seasonings such as cardamom, sumac, saffron, cumin, dried fruits and tea.

Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria, does not see nearly the same number of visitors as Cairo does, so the souks in this Mediterranean metropolis cater mostly to the local populace. This makes them seem a bit more authentic and representative of contemporary Egyptian life, in my opinion. Alexandria’s Souq Ibrahimiyya is like a local farmers’ market, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood direct from the nearby Mediterranean Sea and clucking chickens and meats still on the hoof. Zinqat as-Sittat, or “women’s alley,” in Alexandria is the place to go for other necessities including house wares, clothing, jewelry, spices and medicinal herbs.

And although many markets throughout Egypt often carry similar items, there’s no shortage of shopping opportunities in Egypt for you and your clients.

Egyptian Tourist Authority