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Khan el-Khalili Bazaar - Cairo's Must-See Attraction
If you want to experience the Egyptian bazaar then head directly to Khan el-Khalili Bazarr.
It is an essential Cairo experience!
In a labyrinth of alleyways you will find spice and perfume markets, antique and fabric shops, and many carpet vendors. In addition, there is a multitude of stands selling variety of souvenirs. So, this is a perfect occasion to try your bargaining skills.
Above all, soak in the chaotic atmosphere and feel like you stepped back in time.
Here is everything you need to know about Khan el-Khalili Bazaar!
Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is not just any kind of a bazaar, it is one of the most historic places in the world.
The bazaar was built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili, who was the Master of the Stables of Sultan Barquq (1382-1389). Djaharks el-Khalili demolished the Fatimid family mausoleum located in the heart of the city and in its place he erected a large khan (caravansary) which became known as Khan al-Khalili.
Eventually, the name later came to denote the entire district.
I had to look up the word ‘khan’ and I found out that, originally, khan referred to a multi-storied buildings also known as caravansary.
A caravansary used to be an inn or a rest house for merchants.
Most typically, the layout of caravansary was on the shape of the square with buildings surrounding a courtyard.
The ground level of the buildings consisted of rooms with openings facing the inside of the courtyard. These rooms were used for storing trade goods and as stalls for animals.
Also, on the ground level were rooms with openings on the outside of the courtyard. The facade of these rooms faced the streets and the rooms were used as shops to display the items for sale.
The upper level of the caravansary was used as living quarters for the merchants.
In the 15th century, under the rule of Sultan Qaitbay, the Khan el-Khalili became one of the the most important foreign trade centers.
Did you know that the setting of the famous novel “Midaq Alley” by Naguib Mahfouz, the 1988 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, takes place the one of the alleys in the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar?
“Midaq Alley” by Naguib Mahfouz
Widely acclaimed as Naguib Mahfouz’s best novel, Midaq Alley brings to life one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo in the 1940s.
From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the hedonistic cafe owner, from Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke Egypt’s largest city as it teeters on the brink of change.
Never has Nobel Prize-winner Mahfouz’s talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than here, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity.
Source: Penguin Random House
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The visit to the market will definitely take you back in time.
Make sure to stop by the famous Bab al-Badistan, a Mamluk-era gate, which was built by Sultan al Ghuri.
If you look up, you will still be able to see the old upper floors.
Next, make sure to see the gate of Wikala of Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri.
In a labyrinth of alleyways you will find century old buildings.
Khan el-Khalili Bazaar comes alive in the evening.
So, make sure to venture after dark and check it out. It is a totally different experience going through the alleyways in the evening.
Now, wherever you are staying, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get through all the traffic. The streets become packed with all the cars and pedestrians the moment the sun sets down. It just takes time and lots of patience to get to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar but it is all worth it.
I had a tour guide and a driver who both seamlessly got me to the bazaar and guided me through the maze of streets.
There are many unique and interesting places you can find in Khan El-Khalili Bazaar.
Make sure to stop by the spice market and enjoy the smells of different spices.
Next, stroll be the perfume market and be amazed by the variety of scents.
If you venture out deeper into the bazaar, you will encounter many antique, fabric, copper and silver shops, as well as some amazing carpet collections.
However, if you are looking for some gifts to take home, then you will have plenty of choices since there is a multitude of stands selling variety of inexpensive souvenirs.
I think my favorite were the stores selling stained glass lamps. The storefronts looked absolutly magical with all the stained glass lamps lit up.
Finally, make sure to stop by, rest a little and try some strong Arabian coffee, or a mint tea, or a fruit-flavored shisha at the famous El Fishawy Coffee Shop.
El Fishawy Coffee Shop was founded in 1769 and it is one of the oldest coffee shops in the middle east.
Tips for Visiting Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
Prices are not set at Khan el-Khalili Bazaar and bargaining is expected, encouraged, and part of the experience. The sellers expect you to haggle, so just go for it. Make sure to start with the lowest offer and go back and forth until you reach an agreement. The key is to have a good and positive attitude about it.
Make sure to have plenty of cash on you if you are planning to make some purchases.
Credit cards are not accepted at majority of the shops at Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. On the other hand, euros and dollars are widely accepted.
It is a great idea to venture out to Khan el-Khalili with a guide. First of all, it is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways. Second, if you have limited time, then a guide will give you a tour of all the historic spots in the bazaar and get you in no time to the specific shops. The Khan El Khalili Bazaar is divided into districts, and each district is for a specific type of ware or good. So if you are looking for a specific item, they can get you to the right district.
Take a break at El Fishawy Coffee Shop. Have some mint tea or some strong Arabian coffee. It is part of the whole experience.
If you are an adventurous foodie, then try hamam mahshy which is a stuffed pigeon. My guide claimed that the stuffed pigeon at Farahat, which is one of the traditional Egyptian dishes, is one of the best served in all of Egypt.
Most of the souvenirs sold at Khan el-Khalili are low quality items made in China. It you are looking for authentic Egyptian craftsmanship, then talk to your guide and be specific of what you want. There are some amazing finds!
Where Is Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo Located
Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is situated behind the Al Azhar Park near the Citadel.
Image Credit: Map data ©2020 ORION-ME
How to Get to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo
The best way to get to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is to hire a taxi.
I hired a guide and a driver. My driver got me to the bazaar in no time and my guide knew all the historic spots to visit and the right places to shop.
If you only have time for a short visit to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, should you go during the day to appreciate the historical places, or at night to experience the hassle and bustle of the bazaar?
What Is the Best Time to Visit Khan el-Khalili Bazaar?
So, if you only have time for a brief stop at Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, then, hands down, go in the evening. It is an increidble sight to see all the stands and shops brightly lit up and see the throngs of locals and tourists haggling with the shopkeepers.
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