Avoid the tourist kitsch with these authentic must-haves – and some hidden gems! Here’s my guide to the best Egypt souvenirs.
Egypt souvenirs range from overpriced plastic kitsch to handmade gems.
But shopping in Egypt can be a challenge – especially if you only have a few days.
Many souvenirs aren’t even made in Egypt. And they do nothing to support the local artisans who are in danger of dying out.
But I’ve been living in Cairo for nearly a decade – and I’ve done a lot of shopping. I’ve discovered incredible small boutiques and designers with modern takes on Egyptian culture.
They’re cool souvenirs that you’d take over a polyester belly dancing costume any day.
So here’s my no-nonsense guide to the most incredible Egypt souvenirs – from handmade glass to graphic laptop cases.
And my local’s scoop on where to shop in Cairo’s iconic Khan el Khalili (and what to avoid!)
The best egypt souvenirs to buy on your trip:
1. Mother of pearl boxes
from Khan el Khalili, Cairo
A decorated wooden box inlaid with mother of pearl makes a stunning souvenir that you’ll actually use.
These elegant boxes range in shape and dimension from pocket-sized to coffee-table large. They’re made with either mother of pearl or cheaper materials like conch seashells and plastic.
You can find these boxes at Cairo’s famous Khan el Khalili market and at various tourist shops around Egypt.
Inlay work has a long tradition in regional art and furniture. Ancient Egyptians used the technique to adorn wooden shrines and mummy covers.
Mother of pearl boxes are made in a painstaking process.
The artisan first cuts the beech wood and nails it together.
The box is then decorated with white resin and hundreds of mother of pearl pieces.
It’s later smoothed down with sandpaper and lined inside with velvet.
2. Personalized notebooks and photo albums
from Abd El-Zaher Bookshop, Islamic Cairo (near Khan el Khalili)
On Google Maps: 27W6+5X El-Darb El-Ahmar
This beautiful gem of a bookshop is tucked away on a side street behind Cairo’s iconic Al Azhar Mosque.
It’s just across the street from Khan el Khalili – and not far from the Khayamiya tent maker’s market.
Abd El-Zaher offers personalized leather-bound notebooks, bargain-priced notepads, photo albums with old-fashioned mounting corners, sketchbooks, vintage postcards and a small selection of books.
The workers can stamp your name (in Arabic or English) into any notebook you choose – on the spot while you wait.
You can watch the craftsmen at work on the lettering too.
If you have old books that are falling apart, Abd El-Zaher can rebind them for you. Though rebinding means leaving your book there for approximately 10 days.
The Abd El-Zaher Bookstore is more than 80 years old and it’s home to three generations of craftsmen who keep the rare art of book binding alive.
Shopping at this small and cozy boutique is an experience.
And what better way to record your Egyptian vacation than in a personalized travel journal?
from Khan el Khalili, souqs around Egypt and most large grocers
Dates make delicious and healthy treats that pack much better than sticky oriental sweets. You can find boxes of dates at large markets and grocers across Egypt.
But not all dates are created equal.
If you want the best, then head to the Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert – a stunning destination for breathtaking landscapes, salt pools, hot springs and a vibrant Amazigh culture.
The region’s mix of saline soil and mineral waters make Siwa dates distinctly sweet.
Locals in Siwa add dates to local dishes like elhuji (eggs, olive oil and dates) or tarfant (bread, olive oil and dates). Dates from Siwa have been brightening Egyptian tables since Pharaonic times.
Dates from Siwa are dense, sweet and chewy like caramel. To meet demand, Siwi farmers coax some 25,000 tons of dates from 280,000 palm trees per year.
But if you can’t find Siwa dates, then get the widely available medjool dates: a variety with natural sweetness.
And if you’re in Egypt for awhile, then order some coffee or chocolate-covered Siwa dates from Siwa Shali Store (with delivery anywhere in Cairo).
You won’t regret it.
4. Cairopolitan products
from the Cairopolitan concept store in Garden City, Cairo
The Cairopolitan concept store is a treasure trove for hip and quirky souvenirs inspired by modern-day Cairo.
Whether it’s a vibrant print from an up-and-coming Egyptian artist or a pencil sharpener in the shape of Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairopolitan is a one-of-a-kind boutique.
All their pieces are embedded with Egyptian identity.
Their collection of prints is a must-see if you love graphic design and calligraphy.
They also have a great selection of stationary, tote bags and sweatshirts that make very practical souvenirs.
I love their laptop sleeves printed with the logo of the Egyptian cigarette brand Cleopatra, and their sketchbooks printed with the design of Cairo bus tickets (above, left).
Cairopolitan also has lots of stickers, postcard books and key chains that make gifts that pack light for friends and family.
They sometimes host exhibits so it’s worth checking their Facebook page for the latest events.
And if you can’t make it to their boutique, they also ship internationally.
5. Fayoum pottery
from Fayoum, Khan el Khalili and shops like Fair Trade Egypt
Fayoum pottery is known for its bold yet simple patterns. The paintings often feature palm trees, nature and birds.
Some patterns are geometric and bright, but pottery from Fayoum never gets too loud. It tends towards natural, earthy colors.
The best place to get Fayoum pottery is (unsurprisingly) Fayoum. About a 100 kilometers from Cairo, the Fayoum Oasis is an incredible day trip for swimming in Magic Lake, sandboarding and marveling at ancient whale remains at nearby Wadi El Hitan.
To shop Fayoum pottery, head to Tunis Village and its famous pottery school.
Perched on a hill overlooking a lake, this village was reinvented in the 1980s when Swiss potter Evelyn Porret launched a pottery studio that popularized pottery in the village.
These days, the school attracts some of Egypt’s best artists. Tunis Village is packed with pottery shops and workshops (and some great eco lodges).
But if you can’t get to Fayoum, you can find this iconic style of pottery at souvenir shops and Khan el Khalili.
I recommend Fair Trade Egypt and their shops in Heliopolis and Zamalek. You’ll get authentic Fayoum pottery made by artisans paid fairly for their work.
6. Handblown glass
from the City of the Dead, Cairo
On Google Maps: 27VG+H2 El Gamaliya
The City of the Dead was once a mysterious and misunderstood part of Cairo that most visitors were too afraid to visit.
But these days, more people are looking past the stereotypes. Young independent travelers and niche tour companies are diving into the City of the Dead’s architectural gems.
But besides the famous medieval mausoleums and mosques, the City of the Dead has a rich tradition of handicrafts – from glass blowing to wood and metal work.
Glass blowing in this neighborhood dates back to the Middle Ages. The area’s craftsmen sculpted lamps and masterpieces to decorate the city’s most stunning medieval monuments.
The recently restored Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay is a great starting point for a walking tour.
And you’ll find some well-known glass blowing workshops just a few steps away from Qaytbay’s mosque.
The workshops sell beautiful hand-blown glass. And you can often watch the artisans at work.
There are lamps in colorful mosaics, vases, glasses and pitchers in an array of colors. There are also smaller pieces if you’re short on luggage space – and beautiful Christmas ornaments for the holidays.
The workshops in the City of the Dead make their items from recycled materials like soda bottles.
The glass is sorted by color, crushed into small pieces and then melted in a kiln at temperatures over 1,000 degrees Celsius.
Here are two workshops to visit, both about a 2-minute walk apart:
- Hoopoe Glass is located in the large square facing the entrance of Qaitbey Mosque. On Google Maps: 27VG+J5 El Gamaliya. Inside the shop, which once housed the stables of the medieval Sultan Qaitbey complex, you’ll find colorful glasses, plates and vases. The workshop has made glass for the conservation of some of Cairo’s most iconic mosques.
- Khaled Glass is on a side street just off the square, near the Maq’ad of Sultan Qaitbey. At Khaled Glass, you can see the glass blowers at work in a small workshop adjacent to the retail shop. Inside the shop, you’ll find anything from free-blown drinking glasses to more elaborate lamps.
Both shops do basic vases and lamps, and more complex pieces decorated with Arabic calligraphy, stained glass and mosaic. And don’t miss the dainty perfume bottles, Christmas ornaments and animal figurines from finer glass.
Both workshops are so well-known that you can ask any local for directions.
If you can’t make it to the City of the Dead, you can shop for this glassware in Khan el Khalili.
7. Alabaster and stone statues
from Khan el Khalili, Luxor, Aswan and shops around Egypt
A small alabaster statue of a pyramid or an ancient Egyptian goddess carved from stone makes a beautiful souvenir.
You’ll find alabaster throughout Egypt, and an array of statues with an Ancient Egyptian motif all around Khan el Khalili.
Though the best selection is in Luxor where artisans make statues so realistic that they’re checked at airport security to make sure they’re not smuggled artifacts!
These statues range from proud figures of feline goddess Bastet and Nefertiti to the canopic jars the ancients used to store mummy innards.
The statues can be made of anything from alabaster and heavy stone to cheap, painted plastic. It’s easy to tell the difference by the weight and feel of the statue.
8. Palm leaf baskets
from Siwa and souqs around Egypt
Palm leaf baskets are everywhere in Egypt. You can find them anywhere from the upscale boutiques in Zamalek to plainer versions at street vendors and markets.
Grocers use them to display spices and seasonal produce. Housewives lower palm leaf baskets on ropes from balconies to haul up groceries and avoid the stairs. Young beach goers carry branded baskets decorated with pom poms.
The maqtaf, a palm-leaf basket used for produce around Egypt, has also been used by generations of archaeologists to collect fragments during excavations.
Baskets made from dried palm leaves date back to Ancient Egypt. And remarkable examples have been excavated at Deir el-Bahri and other sites.
Some baskets are more ornate than others. Palm leaf baskets in Siwa (see above) are topped with colorful pom poms and woven with beads and dyed leather.
But they all make gorgeous pieces that suit just about any home decor.
9. Wooden bowls, coasters and utensils
from Khan el Khalili, Fair Trade Egypt and souqs around Egypt
There’s a lot of beautiful wooden tableware at Egyptian tourist markets.
From wooden bowls of all sizes, to coasters decorated with palm trees to ankhs that hold your wine bottles, wooden tableware makes a great practical souvenir.
You’ll also find cutting boards, kitchen utensils and sets of serving bowls with Ancient Egyptian motifs, ducks, fish and palm trees.
All the pieces are handmade with the gorgeous textures and durability of good wood.
Painstakingly chiseled, sanded and polished, these wooden pieces make a uniquely Egyptian keepsake.
Fair Trade Egypt (at their shops in Maadi, Heliopolis and Zamalek) has a collection made in an Upper Egyptian village – and there’s a great story behind it too.
And you’ll find some great wooden bowls in Aswan painted with African animals (like giraffes) and wildlife motifs.
from Fustat, Coptic Cairo
Fustat in Old Cairo has a centuries-old tradition of ceramics and pottery. The workshops in this neighborhood trace their origins to 641 AD, when Fustat was founded as Egypt’s first Muslim capital.
Potters have worked in Fustat for centuries – evidenced by ceramic fragments uncovered during excavations.
Today, Fustat boasts an array of workshops, galleries and culture centers that make it an incredible destination to shop and learn about traditional Egyptian crafts.
And it’s all walking distance from Coptic Cairo and popular attractions like the Hanging Church and Coptic Museum.
Head to the Fustat Pottery Village (see above) to browse an array of locally-made ceramics.
Start at the long row of shops right past the entrance, which is marked from the street by two enormous Arabian horse figures.
There’s a great selection of pottery that’s all handmade just a few steps away in the workshops inside this massive village.
You’ll find anything from minimal mugs in pastel glazes to colorful figurines of Egyptian icons like singer Umm Kulthum.
from the Street of the Tentmakers, near Khan el Khalili
A colorful cushion cover or wall hanging from the Khayamiya market is one of the most vibrant and authentic souvenirs you can get in Egypt.
You’ll find the Khayamiya market in Islamic Cairo, just across the street from the famous Khan el Khalili. It’s down one of the world’s oldest covered streets (see this map for directions).
Tiny shops line both sides of Sharia al-Khayamiya, aka the Street of the Tentmakers, under its ornate wooden roof.
There’s none of the loud haggling that Khan el Khalili is infamous for. And you can often watch the artisans bent over with a needle and thread working on their latest piece.
This historic market was built in the 17th century. And it once boasted hundreds of working craftsmen.
Today, it offers cushion covers, bags, bedspreads and stunning wall hangings in an array of motifs.
Stroll through the shops and you’ll find quilts with birds and nature motifs, geometric patterns, Ancient Egyptian motifs, Egyptian folk scenes, whirling dervishes and quotes from the Quran.
The pieces range from basic cushion covers to more elaborate wall hangings that span several metres and take months to complete.
The artisans also do commissioned pieces.
Khayamiya is a decorative applique textile used across the Middle East to decorate tents.
The elaborate patterns and bright colors are similar to quilts. They contain three layers: a heavy back, a background top and an elaborate applique over the top.
Khayamiya has a long tradition passed down through generations. There’s even evidence that textiles similar to khayamiya date back to the Pharaonic era.
But there are not many khayamiya artisans left.
The art is slowly dying out as fewer young people want to learn the demanding – and not very lucrative – craft. There’s also competition from cheap, imported fabrics that are printed in khayamiya-like patterns.
But efforts and initiatives are underway to preserve this craft.
There are several different styles of khayamiya besides the items designed for tourists.
- Khedival khayamiya (above, top) is made from 1867 to 1914 using indigo, red and white. The khedival style is rare and can be seen in museums like the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (inside their Egyptian Textile Hall).
- A street style of khayamiya (above, middle) includes panels made for outdoor use at events like weddings, gatherings, Ramadan and funerals.
- The patterns and textures of traditional khayamiya have also inspired contemporary artists. Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr created a series of works in 2012 inspired by the patterns of khayamiya (above, bottom). The intricate pieces contain matches on wood and plexiglass that represent people who are weak as individuals but collectively hold the power of fire.
12. Books from AUC Press
from AUC Press bookstores and Diwan bookstores across Cairo
A coffee table book about the pyramids. A groundbreaking novel by an award-winning Arab author. A coloring book about mummies for children.
Whatever you find at an AUC bookstore in Cairo, it will enrich your understanding of Egypt. And a book is a great way to revisit Egypt when you’re back home.
The American University in Cairo Press is the region’s leading English-language publisher. It aims to offer an accurate reflection of Egypt to a global audience.
And it offers scholarly books, fiction, books for studying Arabic and volumes on Egypt and its history.
AUC Press publishes some 50 new books a year and has a backlist of some 800 titles.
And that means you’re sure to find something that spark your interest, whether it’s a photo album of Egyptian cotton plantations, a book on traditional Egyptian jewelry or a dive into the mind of pioneering Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy.
Though AUC’s collection of titles can also be intimidating.
I’d recommend setting aside a couple of hours to browse the AUC Press flagship bookstore in Tahrir Square. It’s much larger than the nearby bookshop inside the Egyptian Museum.
There’s also a great selections of AUC Press titles at Diwan bookstores in Zamalek, downtown Cairo and beyond.
If you’re looking for some incredible Egyptian literature, here are some of my favorites:
Anything by Naguib Mahfouz
Children of Gebelawi (aka Children of Our Alley) by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz is a masterpiece that recreates the history of the three monotheistic religions in an allegory set in a 19th-century Cairo alley.
The Cairo Trilogy follows the story of a Cairo family across three generations from 1919 to the Second World War. It’s a very readable deep dive into modern Egyptian history.
You can’t really go wrong with just about anything by Naguib Mahfouz.
City of Love and Ashes, by Yusuf Idris
This novel, from the Egyptian master of the short story, follows the fates of two young radicals in 1952 Cairo and their struggle against the British occupation of Egypt.
There’s also a gripping passage in which the protagonist Hamza hides from authorities in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
Diary of a Country Prosecutor, by Tawfik al-Hakim
This hilarious black comedy narrates the trials and tribulations of a young public prosecutor in the rural Delta where the state’s bureaucratic legal system is incomprehensible.
13. Papyrus replicas
from Khan el Khalili, Giza, Luxor, Aswan and souqs across Egypt
There are entire streets in Giza lined with papyrus shops and “museums.”
Inside, you can watch a salesman re-enact the Ancient Egyptian art of extracting pith from a papyrus plant to form paper-like sheets.
And you can find papyrus replicas sold all over Egypt. They’re one of the most common souvenirs that every tourist ends up buying.
Papyrus scrolls and replicas range in price, size and quality.
They can be massive, hand-painted manuscripts made from real papyrus that depict Ancient Egyptian scenes or verses from the Quran.
Or they can be slim, machine-printed bookmarks made from cheaper dried banana leaf.
These are sold by assertive salesmen outside any Ancient Egyptian temple along the Nile.
Papyrus replicas do make great souvenirs, though. They’re unique to Egypt, pack light and look great in a frame.
14. Brass and copper lanterns
from Khan el Khalili, Islamic Cairo
The historic gate of Bab al-Ghuri (above) comes alive at night in Khan el Khalili when rows of metal lanterns cast their shimmering patterns on stone walls.
Khan el Khalili is full of metal work from simple brass candlesticks to elaborately carved copper trays the size of a coffee table.
You’ll often see craftsmen at work with a small hammer decorating trays with fine inlaid patterns.
There are also lanterns and candle holders that cast patterns when the light shines through their intricate patterns. They all make gorgeous and well-crafted souvenirs.
Egypt’s famous Ramadan lanterns, or fanoos, were invented in Fatimid-era Egypt (10th to 12th centuries).
They illuminated the streets during the holy month when the faithful walked to mosques for late-night prayers.
They’re also associated with the mesaharaty who walk the streets before dawn to wake up the neighborhood for a final meal before a day of fasting.
These Ramadan lanterns make Egyptian streets so atmospheric that visitors from across the Muslim world flock to Cairo to experience the holiday spirit.
Ramadan lanterns are made of copper and colored glass with a base for the candle. They’re elaborately engraved with intricate patterns.
But there are also cheaper plastic battery-operated versions (made in China) and simple tin lanterns.
Like many other Egyptian crafts, metalwork is declining with efforts underway to preserve the craft.
15. Perfume oils
from Khan el Khalili and shops across Egypt
You’ll find essential oils dealers everywhere in Egypt from the crowded alleys of Khan el Khalili to the boutiques of Zamalek.
Perfume oils are expertly poured by salesmen into small ornate glass bottles or topped with roller balls.
Widely popular in Egypt, essential oil perfumes are also sold outside mosques and worn for Friday prayers.
Try jasmine or lotus flower oil if you like floral scents, or a rich musk, sandalwood or amber for an oriental scent.
And while many of the oils in Khan el Khalili come from the same distributors, they still make a beautiful souvenir – especially in a glass bottle.
The Egyptian brand Nefertari has a wide selection of essential oils, soaps and creams at their shops across Egypt (if you don’t want to haggle at the tourist markets).
from Khan el Khalili, Fair Trade Egypt and souq across Egypt
A kilim is a flat tapestry-woven rug made from wool, cotton or silk.
Handmade on wooden looms, kilims range from vibrant and multi-colored to more minimal and geometric.
They can be used as carpets, door mats, throws, wall hangings or (in their smallest versions) coasters.
You’ll find kilims and rugs of all shapes and styles piled high in Khan el Khalili and across Egypt.
For an incredible selection of modern designs handmade in the Nile Delta, Kiliim is a great Egyptian brand keeping this art alive.
The brand is fair trade and offers cushions, quilts and throws online and at their boutique in Maadi.
from Khan el Khalili, Siwa, Luxor, Aswan and shops across Egypt
Scarves are everywhere in Egypt and you’ll find a great selection at just about any souvenir stand.
There are thin, striped cotton scarves that are perfect for spring weather. And there are thick woven scarves (worn in Upper Egypt) that are so wide they make great throws.
There are also black scarves with the colorful embroidery characteristic of Bedouin dress.
And there are Siwan scarves (pictured above) that feature geometric Amazigh patterns.
You’ll also find keffiyeh, the traditional Middle Eastern headdress, in a print of black or red squares on white.
Many regions have their own variations of the keffiyeh. And in Egypt, the keffiyeh is most commonly worn by Bedouins in the Sinai.
The genuine Palestinian keffiyeh with its fishnet pattern, however, is not widely available at Egyptian tourist markets.
from Giza, Fustat and tourist shops across Egypt
Postcards from Egypt make gorgeous souvenirs – especially if they’re older or vintage style. They pack easily and look great in a frame.
There’s a wide selection of vintage designs and styles that make great fodder for a scrapbook or travel journal.
19. Soaps and face oils
shops and boutiques across Cairo
Egypt has a great selection of natural soaps, skin care and oils available from local brands and at Khan el Khalili.
You’ll also find wonderful soap with olives in the Siwa Oasis (see above).
Whether it’s an exfoliating scrub with rose petals, or a peppermint-scented soap, Egyptian body care makes a well-crafted souvenir.
And loofahs at Egyptian markets are sold in their natural form in rolls as long as your arm.
Here are my favorite local brands for natural soaps, face oils and body care:
- Black Lotus (see above) is a line of 100% natural and cruelty-free products available at retailers across Cairo. They offer bar soaps, lotions, scrubs and some incredible hair oils. They also have an array of essential oils and great natural shampoos. If you can’t make it to their shop in New Cairo, they’re available at retailers in Maadi and Zamalek – and they deliver in Sharm el Sheikh too.
- Hathor is a beautiful brand in Heliopolis that offers natural, sustainable skincare inspired by the wisdom of Ancient Egyptian remedies. They specialize in natural, food-grade-certified cold pressed oils like argan, rosemary and lavender. It’s all beautifully packed with Ancient Egyptian motifs. Find them at retailers and inside the gift shops at the Egyptian Museum and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
- Nefertari is the first natural body brand that I discovered in Egypt. The brand is a favorite with their 100% natural and chemical-free products made with raw Egyptian ingredients. Nefertari offers essential oils, scrubs and some wonderful wooden toys and baby products too. If you’re looking for gifts, then you can’t do better than a set from their Pharaonic line of soft cotton towels embroidered with Ancient Egyptian motifs. Find them at retailers in Maadi and Zamalek and inside the Souq el Fustat in Coptic Cairo.
from antique shops in Zamalek, Cairo
The leafy Cairo suburb of Zamalek has dozens of great antique shops that are largely under the tourist radar.
And they’re great for an afternoon of browsing and a glimpse into Egyptian history.
You’ll find plenty of big oil paintings, rococo furniture and other impractical souvenirs.
But there are also out of print books about Egypt, old prints of the Luxor Temple, plates, vintage newspapers and other knick knacks.
These all make great – and unexpected – keepsakes from your trip.
Here are some of my favorite antique shops:
- Nostalgia Art Gallery specializes in 18th and 19th-century original lithographs and objets d’art. And you’ll find plenty of other treasures here from Syrian pottery to old postcards from Luxor and Ancient Egyptian prints. Address: 6 Zakareya Rizk, right behind the Marriott Hotel.
- Noubi is a treasure trove overflowing with porcelain vases, rugs and old books. A few cabinets house smaller finds and trinkets that are always a pleasure to browse. Address: 26th of July Corridor. On Google Maps: 365F+JP
from Khan el Khalili, Luxor, Aswan and souqs across Egypt
The scarab beetle was a popular Ancient Egyptian amulet that symbolized renewal, rebirth and the sun god Ra.
Today you’ll find this beetle in all colors and sizes, woven into necklaces and bracelets at tourist stands across Egypt.
Many vendors give out tiny scarabs to passersby for free, to lure them inside their shops.
Scarabs range from pricier models made of stone to tiny scarabs sold individually. The biggest selection is at the markets around the Ancient Egyptian temples at Luxor.
Aside from scarabs, the ankh is also a common motif in necklaces, pendants and jewelry.
from grocers across Egypt
The coffee in Egypt is excellent and doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
Grab a bag or two of strong and aromatic Turkish coffee. And try the varieties with cardamom.
The brand Al-Yemeni Cafe, dating back to 1940, is wildly popular in Egypt. You can find packs of Al-Yemeni at just about any grocer, available in light and dark roast with varying amounts of cardamom.
My favorite is the light roast with 10% cardamom. Whenever I visit family back in the states, I always bring a few bags to drink while I’m there.
from produce markets and large grocers across Egypt
I’ve never seen any tourist shop for mint – but it was one of my favorite things to bring back from Egypt when I was a tourist!
Egyptian mint is fragrant, aromatic and gorgeous.
It adds a unique aroma to a cup of tea and it’s a taste you’ll acquire quickly.
Find a bundle of mint at just about any produce stand year-round.
Keep it fresh in your suitcase in a tupperware container lined with a few sheets of damp tissue paper. It will keep this way refrigerated for a couple of weeks.
from bakers and pastry shops across Egypt
Skip the syrupy sweet basbousa that will flatten out into a mess in your suitcase. And opt for some kahk – a tasty and uniquely Egyptian cookie.
Kahk dates back to Ancient Egypt and it’s most popular during Eid and Ramadan.
Kahk is a biscuit that’s rich and dense, but not too sweet. It’s topped with powdered sugar and can be stuffed with nuts, dates or Turkish delight.
But kahk isn’t always easy to find outside of Ramadan.
So if you’re in Egypt around the Eid holidays then it’s a must-try Egyptian dessert. And it’s definitely worth the hassle of packing (in tupperware or a hard container) to bring back home.
Head to Cafe Corniche for an old Cairo atmosphere and some delicious kahk and pastries.
from Khan el Khalili, Aswan and souqs and grocers across Egypt
Buying spices in Egypt is a bit hit-and-miss.
The spices at a traditional market aren’t necessarily better than those you’d find in a supermarket. Egypt imports some of its spices, after all, and many Egyptians buy their spices from supermarkets and not from Khan el Khalili.
Nevertheless, there are some spices that are worth buying – and taste better than those you’ll find at your local Middle Eastern grocer back home.
- Egyptian cumin is well worth getting. It’s delicious and tasty, and has a history dating back to the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. It was once used as a preservative in mummification. And today it’s a common everyday spice found in all Egyptian kitchens.
- Hibiscus is also worth buying. It makes a refreshing drink in the summer, and it’s great for cooling down and lowering blood pressure too. You’ll find dried hibiscus flowers at most tourist markets and spice vendors – Aswan is especially famous for its hibiscus. Hibiscus is easy to make at home: just boil the leaves in water and add sugar to taste.
26. Egyptian candy and snacks
from candy shops across Egypt
Egyptian candy shops are packed with some great classic Egyptian sweets.
And you can get candy, snacks and nuts in bags at these sweets shops for a unique souvenir.
Opt for salty crunchiness, gooey goodness or an Egyptian brand of chocolates called Corona.
These bags of goodies make great gifts for kids and curiosities to munch on back home.
Here are some favorites that I recommend:
- Seasoned cracker mix (top photo) – a crunchy, mouthwatering medley that goes great with beer and provides a nice dose of filling carbs when you’re out sightseeing.
- Jammy (second photo) – a classic fruit-flavored toffee.
- Sugar-coated chickpeas (third photo – called hummus in Arabic) – a unique sweet and crunchy snack that features a hard candy coating and a nutritious center.
- Chocobon (bottom photo) – a chocolate candy comparable to plain M&M’s but with a harder and crunchier candy shell.
27. Bedouin embroidery
from Fair Trade Egypt and souqs across Egypt
The Bedouin women of Egypt’s Sinai desert are well-known for their complex and colorful embroidery.
And you can find their handiwork on scarves, garments, pillow cases, cushions and purses at souqs across Egypt.
Their rich and vibrant design is distinctly Egyptian. And styles range from geometric and abstract designs to Ancient Egyptian motifs, palms and desert landscapes.
Embroidery is part of Sinai heritage and it’s a craft passed down in various tribes through generations of women.
28. Akhmim cotton sheets and towels
from Fair Trade Egypt
Good quality Egyptian cotton is ironically difficult to find in Egypt.
The top-quality cotton is either exported or sold only at upscale boutiques. Tourist markets don’t usually sell top-quality cotton.
That being said, Akhmim cotton sheets (see above) are some of my absolute favorite souvenirs to buy in Egypt.
Named after the Upper Egyptian city where they’re woven, Akhmim are durable and stylish bed sheets that keep their cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
I’m sitting on one as I write – and they’re extremely durable with lots of unique patterns in checkerboard and stripes. I’ve had some Akhmim for more than a decade and they still look hardly worn.
Find a good selection of Akhmim sheets at Fair Trade Egypt. And don’t miss their selection of ultra soft and lightweight cotton towels (see above).
Akhmim take up a bit of space in your luggage. But they’re absolutely worth it for a practical and unique Egyptian souvenir.
from Khan el Khalili and souqs across Egypt
Egypt has tons of jewelry to offer with Ancient Egyptian themes – from ankh rings and amulets to thick Cleopatra-style necklaces.
Some jewelry is more authentic than others. And pieces at Egyptian souqs range from cheap Made in China dupes to handcrafted and designer pieces.
Head to Khan el Khalili for bargain brass and silver at various price points.
And if you’re looking for gold, Egypt has some of the most affordable prices in the world.
Head to Luxor and Aswan for the best deals on gold – especially if you want a custom-made cartouche necklace. Shop only at well-established retailers and make sure you get a receipt with the weight of the gold and a certificate of authenticity.
For designer jewelry, head to upscale Cairo suburbs like Heliopolis and Zamalek. I love brands like Azza Fahmy for designer jewelry inspired by Ancient Egyptian and Islamic history.
Just about any guide to Egypt includes tips on haggling – with frequent asides about aggressive vendors.
But if the thought of arguing with vendors over the price of a plastic pyramid makes your stomach churn, then here’s my advice: just skip it.
Despite the orientalist stereotypes, haggling isn’t really a part of modern Egyptian culture. It’s mostly done for the benefit of tourists at souvenir markets.
So spend a day at Khan el Khalili, but focus on visiting the historic mosques and taking in the Ottoman architecture while you’re there. Don’t stress over haggling.
Then head to Zamalek or Maadi to browse their boutiques with clearly-priced souvenirs. You’ll get some great shopping along with a more well-rounded look at modern Cairo life.
Take a break for a beer or two, peak into a bookstore, pick up a graphic mug from a young Egyptian designer.
Because if you want the best that Egypt has to offer, then a rush through the tourist stands won’t do it.
If you’re visiting Cairo in the summer, then head to a shopping mall if you need souvenirs and want to avoid the heat.
- City Stars (above) has a great selection of souvenirs and traditional Egyptian crafts in a part of the mall appropriately called Khan el Khalili. Shop in comfort and have some traditional Egyptian street food at the chic eatery Zooba.
- Cairo Festival City Mall has a line of shops with souvenirs alongside their outdoor food court. And although it’s not exactly an authentic souq experience, it works when the heat is blazing and you just need to pick up a few gifts.
- Fair Trade Egypt has a shop in Heliopolis, about 20 minutes from the Cairo airport, if you want to pick up last-minute souvenirs. They also have lots of bubble wrap for packing.
Bring tupperware containers if you plan to buy food, mint or anything breakable.
And if you plan to buy papyrus, posters or prints, then pack a mailing tube with a cap – not all shops will give you one with purchase.
I would love to hear from you. What are your favorite Egypt souvenirs on your must-buy list?