Shopping in Cairo could be an Olympic sport, from navigating whirling dervishes to reaching for a literal brass ring. Go well prepared, and you’ll come home with everything from gold district bling to modern art from an ancient marketplace.
Concierge Pro Tips
Check in at the former Palace Al Gezirah, now the luxury Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, and your concierge can recommend a marketplace guide. You’ll not only have help finding the bazaars (souks), you’ll also get bargaining assistance.
Your guide can offer pro tips such as which bazaars are closed for Sunday services and which only take cash. Luckily, you can pull cash from the ATM and exchange for dollars to Egyptian Pounds within the hotel.
If you’re in the market for a shopping experience dating back to the 1300s, Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar is right up your alley. The medieval-era labyrinth of courtyards sells everything from glass pipes to brass lanterns, and scents of spices and perfumes fill the air.
Merchants are legendary for their hard sell, so by all means, haggle. Once you’ve shopped till you drop, enjoy a restorative cup of mint tea at the centuries-old El Fishawy Cafe (less crowded on weekdays) in the heart of the bazaar.
Deep in the Khan Al-Khalili souk, you’ll find the Gold District — music to your ears if you’re in Cairo for precious metal. Craftspeople in the bazaar work their gold in ancient Egyptian tradition, and their jewelry is exquisite.
Bring down the cost by buying bling in bulk when a particular booth strikes your fancy. Ask before photographing jewelry; most artisans don’t mind, but as with all art, some artisans like to keep their work private.
Azza Fahmy, known as Egypt’s first lady of jewelry, apprenticed in the Gold District. Her international shops are popular for traditional filigree and calligraphy, and you can find a signature piece in her Zamalek District boutique.
From Copper to Leather and Beyond
On the Street of the Coppersmiths in the Gamaliyya District bazaar, navigate between donkey carts and street bustle for bargains like copper pots and trays. Haggle yourself into a matched set of one of the best cookware metals on earth.
Once you’re set with pots and pans, visit the Souk al Attarin in Coptic Cairo for trays, bowls and Egyptian herbs and spices. The Street of Bookbinders is behind Al-Azhar Mosque, so seek out a leather-bound notebook to make note of your travels. And for more leather goods, hit the saddle-makers market for an array of hand-tooled items.
Tentmakers and Tapestries
The Street of the Tentmakers is an exotic covered market dating back to the 1600s. Visit the medieval site just south of the Bab Zuweila gates in Old Cairo to watch craftspeople ply their trade, which dates back to the days when caravans would come through town for a tent upgrade. If you’re not tent shopping, pick up colorful tapestries and quilts made with traditional Khayamiya-style applique.
Wekalet El Ghouri Arts Center is housed in another former caravan marketplace where medieval traders would stop, and it’s now home to a Sufi dance troupe at 3 Mohamed Abdo Street.
Shop for textiles and artwork in the arts center by day, and on Wednesday and Saturday nights, the 14th-century market’s courtyard hosts whirling dervish performances that will leave you both dizzy and dazzled. The 7:30 p.m. show is popular, so arrive early and be ready for a rush at the gate.
When the Mall Calls
After a barrage of bazaar-hopping, you may be in the mood for the comforts of a modern-day mall. To call Mall of Arabia huge is an understatement. With boutiques from fashion to furniture, it’s hard to cover in one day unless you pregame with a list of favorites.
Once you’re shopped out, take a break for a movie in the mall’s cinema multiplex, and stay for the free Wi-Fi and massive food court.