Located in the heart of Islamic Cairo, near the Medieval walled city of the Saladin Citadel, the Khan el-Khalili market was built on the old burial site of the Fatimid Caliphs, who founded Cairo in the 10th century. Trading in the souk dates from the 14th century, but its elaborately-carved monumental gates and grid-like alleyways were constructed in the 16th century under Egypt's last powerful Mamluk ruler.
While the souk is no longer strictly divided into specific trading areas, the gold merchants, coppersmiths', and spice vendors' districts remain quite distinct. Throughout the rest of the bazaar, stalls are full of colourful lanterns, candles, jewellery, perfumes, musical instruments and other handicrafts - you can pretty much find anything you could possibly want within its walls!
This is a great place to shop for souvenirs - most vendors speak some English and you can try out your haggling skills and a few words of Arabic (see our General Information on travelling to Egypt for tips)! Even if you don't want to buy anything, the market is an incredible place to walk through and experience the craziness of daily life in Cairo. Most stalls are open from around 9 am until well after nightfall - although some may be closed on Friday mornings and Sundays.
Eating & drinking
After tiring yourself out exploring the shops and stalls, you won't need to go far for a well-earned break. The souk is also home to a number of restaurants, street food vendors and small but very traditional coffeehouses - called maqha in Arabic. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, here you can sit down and enjoy an Arabic coffee - often brewed with spices like cardamom - or a karkade, a sweet hibiscus tea, and smoke shisha from a hookah. The most famous, and probably the oldest, of these cafes is El Fishawi, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since opening in the mid-1700s.
A complete contrast to the desert calm of Egypt's ancient monuments, this historic souk is well worth a visit to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Cairo. Just remember - like the rest of the capital city, it is a labyrinth of chaotically competing sounds, sights and smells - take a deep breath and go for it!