The Essential Guide to Cairo's Khan El-Khalili Market

The historic Khan el Khalili market dates back to 1382
The historic Khan el Khalili market dates back to 1382 | © Peter Horree / Alamy Stock Photo
Sarah Marzouk

Established in the 14th century, the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo has a rich and fascinating history, making it an important district for both cultural and economic activity. This historic bazaar has been a hub of trade and commerce for centuries, showcasing the enduring traditions of Egyptian craftsmanship and merchant culture. Stepping into Khan El-Khalili is like taking a journey back in time, where you can immerse yourself in the history of this bustling marketplace and explore its intricate alleyways, lined with stalls offering a wide array of goods, from intricate jewelry to colorful textiles and aromatic spices.

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What to see

Stop by the Al-Hussein Mosque at night to see its facade in lights

There are a great number of cultural and historic structures in Khan El-Khalili, so it’s no surprise the area has been featured in many movies and literary works such as Naguib Mafhouz’s novel Midaq Alley. Once you’re there, you’ll be steps from Muizz Street which has many examples of medieval Islamic architecture. You’re also close to Al-Hussein Mosque as well as Wekalet El Ghouri and Al-Azhar market. It’s like stepping back in time to medieval Cairo.

What to buy

Traditional Arabian lanterns and lamps are available to purchase in the Khan el-Khalili market

While strolling the market, you may find your eyes becoming lost in the mix of merchandise on display. There are a variety of goods to purchase here – from sparkling silverware, gold artifacts and antiques, to stained-glass lamps, incense and handmade accessories. Also, the soft touch of the handmade carpets will take your breath away. There are also dedicated districts for gold, copper and spices.

Where to eat and drink

El-Fishawi cafe was established in 1797

The spot is home to many old cafes and you won’t know which to try first. There’s El-Fishawi, one of the oldest in Cairo (established in 1797) and one of Naguib Mahfouz’s favorite cafes. Also worth checking out is El-lord where you’ll get to enjoy the songs of Umm Kulthum. As for food, there are plenty of places serving traditional Egyptian food.

Best time your visit

You’ll be guaranteed a fresh experience if you’re lucky enough to visit the market at the same time as the Mawlid Al-Hussein, a Sufi celebration of Imam Hussein’s birth. During this time, Sufists perform litanies and take part in other traditional activities. A few steps away you’ll find Wekalet El- Ghouri where you can enjoy another type of Sufi spiritual activity, the Tannoura show. Carnivals take place in Muizz Street every now and then, too.

How to get there

As Khan El Khalili Market is located in the heart of Cairo, it isn’t hard to follow one of the public transportation routes to get there. If you want to save yourself the hassle, order an Uber or take a taxi. The metro is one of the easiest means, just reach Ataba Station and you’re almost there. From Ataba you’ll be minutes away, so you can either walk, take a taxi or jump in one of the micro-buses right in front of the station. You can also take a bus from Ramses station or Tahrir Square.

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