Africa & The Middle East | Destination Guides

The Trafalgar guide to shopping in Egypt: what to buy and where to find it

If you love shopping, you’ll adore Egypt. The country has an extraordinary market culture, with endless souks and bazaars filled with traditional crafts and classic souvenirs. From aromatic spices and perfumes to exquisite glasswork and textiles and unique papyrus, here are some of the best traditional souvenirs to buy and where to find them in Egypt.

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Egyptian jewelry has a timeless allure and exquisite craftsmanship. From gold cartouches adorned with hieroglyphics to scarab beetle bracelets, ankh rings and amulets, Egyptian jewelry is a gorgeous reflection of the country’s ancient heritage. 

If you want to buy real gold and silver, there are a few things to know first. Gold and silver are sold by the gram and you should check the daily price of gold to get an accurate price on jewelry. If you want to identify the purity of the gold or sterling silver, it will be stamped with Arabic numerals indicating purity. A gold camel in the shop window shows the jewelry is gold-plated brass. 

While you’ll find jewelry stores all over Egypt, one of the best places to buy jewelry is Cairo’s Khan El Khalili Bazaar. It’s one of the oldest markets in Egypt with dozens of shops selling a dazzling array of jewelry at various prices. You’ll often find the best deals on gold in Luxor and Aswan, with established retailers offering certificates of authenticity. 

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Khayamiya is an ancient decorative applique textile craft once used to decorate tents. The artisans use bright colors and elaborate needlework to create layered scenes. While the art is slowly dying out due to the rise of cheaper imported fabrics, you can still find authentic khayamiya in Egypt. Head to the Tentmakers Bazaar or the Street of the Tentmakers, near Khan el Khalili. Built in the 17th century, this ancient market works to preserve the historic craft of khayamiya. 

You’ll find rows of vibrant fabrics, from cushion covers, bags and bedspreads to large wall hangings that can take months to complete. You can find nature sceneries, geometric patterns, Ancient Egyptian motifs and folk scenes, and much more. You’ll also often see the artisans working on their latest crafts and many do commissions so you can purchase a beautiful custom piece.

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If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ve got to indulge in some Egyptian dates. Egypt is the largest date producer in the world, delivering 17% of the world’s dates. They’re known for their delicious sugary taste, but they’re also high in vitamins, and fibre, and are considered an aphrodisiac. 

You can find boxes of dates all across Egypt from grocers to souks and markets, but the Siwa Oasis is one of the very best places to buy them. The region’s mineral waters and saline soil produce a uniquely sweet date. They’re also dense and chewy and feature in lots of local dishes like tarfant (bread, olive oil and dates), elhuji (eggs, olive oil and dates), and coffee and chocolate-covered dates. If you can’t get Siwa dates, the next best thing is Medjool dates, known for their natural sweetness and soft texture. 

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The secret to the tantalizing flavors of Egyptian cuisine is the use of aromatic spices and herbs. From cumin and hibiscus to fragrant cinnamon, these spices make for excellent culinary souvenirs. One of our top tips is to be wary of saffron (za’faraan) which is actually the far cheaper safflower. The real saffron is made of fine red strands only, while the cheaper safflower is sometimes dyed red. 

One of the best places to purchase spices is the Luxor Spice Market in Luxor. You can also head to the Aswan Souk in Aswan to find another incredible explosion of colorful and fragrant spices.

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Egypt is renowned for its exceptional perfumes and essential oils. The country is one of the top producers of many of the essences used in the top French perfumeries. The top tip when shopping for perfumes in Egypt is to be in the know about dilution. Authentic perfume is diluted 1:9 in alcohol, while eau de toilette is 1:20 and eau de cologne is 1:30. 

Some shops will sell perfume that’s been diluted with oil. To spot the fake, try gently dabbing the perfume on your wrist. If it leaves an oily residue, it’s likely not pure perfume essence. If you’re buying well-known perfumes, always carefully check the labels for fakes.

You can buy perfumes and essential oils all over Egypt from the Khan El Khalili Bazaar in Cairo to the Zamalek boutiques. Be sure to try some of Egypt’s classic scents like jasmine, lotus, amber, musk and sandalwood. 

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Hand-blown glasswork dates back to the Middle Ages in Egypt, and today it’s an iconic souvenir to take home. The glasswork is famed for its tiny air bubbles and stunning turquoise and aquamarine colors. You can find glasswork in the form of perfume bottles, vases, glasses, plates and much more. 

The best place to find traditional Egyptian glasswork is in the City of the Dead, famed for its medieval mosques, mausoleums, and traditional handicrafts like woodwork, metalwork and glassblowing. It’s such an ancient practice here, you can find lamps and monuments sculpted by glassblowers from medieval times. Head to the glassblowing workshops to watch the artisans at work and purchase stunning handblown glass. You’ll find vases, lamps, glasses, mosaics, and small ornaments if you don’t have much luggage space left. 

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Papyrus is an icon of Egypt and souqs and markets across Egypt sell this classic souvenir. The price and quality vary greatly, from small postcards made from cheaper banana leaf to enormous hand-painted scrolls or scenes depicting Ancient Egypt. Papyrus scrolls and art make for gorgeous souvenirs and look great when framed – plus they’re light to pack and don’t take up too much room.

Rugs and carpets

If you’re looking for some stunning rugs and carpets at affordable prices, Egypt has got you covered. You can find a range of options from kilims (woven rugs) and knotted carpets to fine silk tapestries. You can also find traditional Bedouin rugs, which have geometric patterns in brown and beige colors. Head to souqs and markets across Egypt, from Khan el Khalili to Fair Trade Egypt to see rugs and carpets piled high. 

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Egypt is known for its traditional garments, like flowing galabeyas and patterned scarves. Head to the Wekalet El Balah market in Cairo and the El Sagha Market in Luxor to find some gorgeous clothing, like silk, wool or cotton galabeyas for men and women. Head to the weaving workshops in Aswan to purchase the best handmade shawls. You can also visit any major market in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Siwa to find stunning hand-printed scarves with colorful Bedouin embroidery and geometric Amazigh patterns.

Brass and copper

Brass and copperware are synonymous with Egypt. The country has an ancient brass and copperwork tradition that remains today, and souvenirs like candlesticks, lanterns, plates and trays are one of the most popular among visitors. Head to Khan el Khalili to see rows of brass and copper lanterns glimmering along the stonewalls. You can even see expert craftsmen working with small hammers to create fine patterns.

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Tips for shopping in Egypt

Don’t buy any claimed antiquities or ivory

It’s illegal to buy real antiquities in Eygpt, with lengthy prison times coming for those caught trying to smuggle them out of the country. You should also avoid buying ivory products, as while it’s legal in Egypt, it’s illegal to bring them into many Western countries. 

How to haggle

Haggling is a common part of the shopping experience in Egypt’s markets, so it’s good to brush up on some customs before you go. In general, you should be polite and respectful, and remember that haggling is a good-natured art form, not an argument. Check out this article for more tips on haggling like a pro. 

Where to go

You can find almost anything in the markets and bazaars of Cairo, particularly the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. However, there are a few other places that specialize in certain souvenirs. For example, head to the Tentmaker’s Bazaar in Cairo for khayamiya (decorative textiles), Siwa for dates, Luxor for alabaster vases, and Aswan for spices and incense.

Have you ever gone shopping in Egypt? What were your favorite markets and souks? Let us know in the comments below!

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