A vist to the Khan el-Khalili market, Cairo

Situated in the heart of Cairo's historic center, Khan el-Khalili stands as an iconic bazaar and souq. Rooted in the rich history of Mamluk-era trade, it takes its name from a storied caravanserai. Today, this bustling district remains a focal point for both tourists and locals. Its labyrinthine streets host a thriving marketplace, where history and commerce intersect. From tourists seeking treasures to Egyptians in search of everyday wares, Khan el-Khalili continues to captivate, making it a timeless attraction for all who pass through its storied archways.




During my recent working stay in Egypt, I had very few ‘off days’ to visit tourist destinations. However, just before leaving to return to South Africa, I and two of my colleagues had the opportunity to visit one of the local markets.

Getting there DID involve braving large volumes of traffic that were heading in the same direction as we were.

By this time, we had been in Cairo for a total of 8 weeks and were ‘used’ to being driven in the chaos that is the regular daily traffic flow.

Would I drive there if given a choice? Definitely NOT.

A characteristic of the traffic seems to be the fact that drivers drive between lanes, rather than actually IN the lane of choice. Scary, but over time you do get used to it.

Except for the motorbikes. I never got used to them zipping in and out of the traffic. How none of the drivers are killed on a regular basis, I have yet to figure out. They drive and hoot and expect the cars to get out of their way.




The main Cairo train station, as seen from the highway into town. The parking lot was continuously full and it seemed to be a bustling hub of arrivals and departing people, both local and international.




We had asked our driver to take us to a local market that we had found via Google, but he seemed to think that our choice was incorrect and said that HE would choose the best market in Cairo for us to visit.

These buildings were opposite the entrance where he dropped us off.

“I will be here when you are ready to return to the hotel” were his parting words to us.

We figured that we would be there for about an hour, but as it turned out I and my colleagues were there for almost 5!




Little did we know that the market that Ahmed, our driver, had chosen for us was the most famous tourist market in Cairo. (We only found out later when we Googled it)

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.




From the entrance we walked through, the scene that greeted us looked like a bomb had destroyed a large portion of it. We had been dropped off at an entrance that seemed to be frequented more by the locals than the hordes of tourists that we were expecting.




Khan el-Khalili, an iconic market in the heart of Cairo, serves as the vibrant hub for Egyptian artisans and traditional crafts. Originally, it referred to a singular building, but today it encompasses an entire shopping district. Wandering through its bustling labyrinthine streets, visitors are greeted by a kaleidoscope of colours, scents, and a treasure trove of handcrafted souvenirs.

From intricate textiles to ornate jewellery and exquisite brass works, this thriving marketplace offers visitors a glimpse into Egypt’s rich cultural heritage.

The workshops that line the streets and alleyways are a testament to the enduring legacy of craftsmanship, where the past and present coalesce, creating an unforgettable shopping experience.





Broken doors and doorways and alleys filled with the detritus left over the decades by those who live and work in this section of the market.




This fellow did offer me an opportunity to pose with his horse, but I am wary of these animals and chose to politely decline his offer and take a picture with him and his steed instead.




These streets appeared to be a food market that was utilized by the local population rather than being visited by tourists looking for souvenirs and trinkets to take home.




We had arrived at the market just before 11h00 and it seemed that children were either headed to or from school… many in smart uniforms and keen to interact with us, even if it was just to say ‘hello’.

I was to discover that there were very few beggars that we thought might follow us. I have found this in both Vietnam and India and it can be frustrating, to say the least.

That being said, I suppose that tourists are seen as being ‘wealthy’ and a possible source of a few coins. But this did not happen here. Neither were the shop owners in our faces to buy their wares as we were to discover when we hit the tourist side of this market.




I was fascinated by what I saw down the side streets… something that is often missed by regular tourists.




This would make an ideal film set.




It was only after I took this photo that I noticed the two guys having a meal in their shop.

Using hand gestures and smiles they invited me to join them, and I politely declined.




I had seen a shop similar to this one close to the hotel I was staying at. It is a butcher shop that turns live animals, like rabbits and chickens, into food before your very eyes.

However, what attracted me to THIS one was the ostrich on their sign. These birds are not found in Egypt, so why it was chosen to be used on the signage I have no idea.

Many of the food shops had a plethora of cats and dogs waiting for scraps.




One of the many coffee vendors that we noticed selling their wares to locals and tourists alike.




A dog day afternoon?

Perhaps, but the supercilious look on the animal’s face made me stop and that his picture.

The market was filled with both dogs and cats, some looking in better condition than others.

However, they seemed to be looked after by the locals to a larger or lesser extent, as they neither growled nor bared their teeth when approached.




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