Khan El Khalili Area

06 Days Egypt tours Cairo & Nile Cruise

When planning a trip to Cairo, the Khan el Khalili is always a top priority. In other Arab countries, you might just refer to the old city’s souk or bazaar; however, the souq in Cairo has its own unique name because it is the only souq left standing. In addition to its size and density, it is one of a kind in terms of history, continuity, and authenticity. Even though the main areas have become more popular with tourists for obvious reasons, they still have an authentic feel and look that has disappeared from the more polished, modern souqs of many other cities. In addition, large portions of the vast Khan el Khalili continue to serve as an important market and center of social and commercial life for many local Egyptians, who frequently visit it to purchase fabrics, clothing, gold, jewelry, metalworks, spices, and a variety of other items. This is in addition to the area’s tourist-heavy center.

I deliberately say that the Khan needs to be “experienced” rather than just “seen” because it’s important to try your hand at the ancient Arab art of bargaining. Egyptian shop owners are well-known for perfecting the original art of the deal, and they expect both locals and tourists to participate, despite the fact that haggling is a dying practice in my other Arab countries as they opt for the simpler standard practice of fixed pricing. You have not only been swindled out of either the actual price of your item or the opportunity to go home with your item, but you have also completely missed one of the best experiences to be had while visiting Egypt if you do not pay whatever is first asked when shopping in traditional shops (modern stores excluded) or if you simply balk at the price and walk away without returning.

For those who are unfamiliar with the actual art of Egyptian bargaining, the process goes something like this. Something catches your eye as you pass a store or browse inside. The proprietor of the shop takes giddy note of your interest and, when you inquire about the price, he offers you an overpriced offer to see how willing you are to overpay. The uninformed tourist will typically balk, become irate, or do all three at this point. However, you are aware that an ancient dance is just getting started because you are a sophisticated traveler and frequent reader of Egypt Travel Blog. After making a cordial chuckle and turning your head away, you make a counteroffer for 60-75% less.

The shop owner then begins his performance that won him an Academy Award. He expresses shock, sadness, sadness, and even insult. He continues to talk about the item’s quality and value while insisting on his original price. Even though you are aware that it is all staged, you are still affected by his exceptional acting ability and feel a little bad about it.You wonder if you insulted him a little bit because you went too low.Therefore, your cost is a little higher.

The proprietor of the shop continues to extol the virtues of the item in question after observing that you continue to desire it and are willing to be coaxed upward. It might suddenly become unique, or it might be made of real materials when others are just copies. In an effort to justify a higher price, he might scratch it, bend it, or do something else to show how good it is. He will give in a little and cut the price by about 10% if you don’t convince him, but he will still insist on the original price and say he’s doing you a favor by giving you a small discount because you’re his new friend.

However, you remain too savvy to be duped. You keep coming up, and the shop owner starts to use harder bargaining instead of the “quality and value” strategy. In the negotiations, you hear a lot of “my friend, my friend,” and you finally get him down to about 50%.

At this point, you need to decide whether or not you really want it. If you pay between 50 and 60 percent of the original offer, you can get a good bargain that is kind to this skilled salesman but not a complete rip-off for you. You can still hold out for paying anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the original offer if you honestly don’t care if you get the item or not.

However, you remain too savvy to be duped. You keep coming up, and the shop owner starts to use harder bargaining instead of the “quality and value” strategy. In the negotiations, you hear a lot of “my friend, my friend,” and you finally get him down to about 50%.

But here’s the thing, and I know I’m guilty of it, sometimes you find yourself dancing around the shop owner over a $2 or $3 item. You frequently forget that you are spending 15 additional minutes of your life to save an additional 25 cents when you are in the heat of the negotiation and the numbers appear to be higher because they are in a foreign currency. You all finally make a breakthrough, and one of you gives in. Either you give in because you realize you’re wasting precious time in a beautiful foreign country negotiating over 25 cents, or the shop owner gets annoyed with your stubbornness and cheapskate attitude and gives in. Regardless, you both suddenly feel relieved to have concluded the dance and reached an agreement.

If the shop owner is really good, he will try to get you to buy one or two more interesting things as you leave. However, if you take the bait, the dance will begin all over again—as if you hadn’t already demonstrated your skills. After all, this is the Egyptian way, and it’s a long-standing custom that started with the Khan el Khalili’s founding.

The Khan el Khalili bazaar in Egypt was originally a royal cemetery until the late 1300s, when a local emir (or prince) whose last name was unsurprisingly el Khalili started building a large market for local and international commerce. Even though most of the original mud brick buildings have fallen apart and been replaced over time, the Khan still has many more sturdy medieval stone structures, like several elaborate arched gates under which thousands of people still go to the market every day.
If you don’t stop shopping, haggling, and relaxing at one of the coffee shops or restaurants scattered throughout the souq, you won’t have had the full Khan el Khalili experience. There are a few decent spots to have coffee, smoke sheesha (also known as hooka, as it is commonly referred to by Westerners), or grab a snack with a view of the plaza that borders the al-Hussein Mosque. You might also come across a few establishments that aren’t as crowded and are tucked away deeper within the labyrinth of the souq. These establishments are quite pleasant places to make a pit stop. Fishawi’s, which has been open since 1773, and the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe, which is named after Egypt’s famous literary Nobel laureate, are two well-known places to eat and drink in the Khan.

From year to year, the Khan’s bustle fluctuates in tandem with Egypt’s fluctuating tourist numbers. When tourism is low, some shops in the Khan may close or have shorter hours, and shopkeepers may be less active. However, this may have advantages and disadvantages for visitors. Even though the Khan may not be full during these times, the shopkeepers tend to be more laid-back and less aggressive, so you’ll still have a great time even when things are slow.
Khan, on the other hand, really comes to life and is at its busiest and most crowded during times of high tourism, when shopkeepers are actively attempting to entice visitors and fill their bags with gifts and souvenirs, and when Cairo’s most amazing market is at its most beautiful chaos.