An old arched gateway in Khan el Khalili, Cairo, is lined with silver and copper lanterns carved in intricate designs and colorful souvenirs.
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Khan el Khalili: An Ultimate Local’s Guide

Khan el Khalili is a medieval open-air bazaar packed with historic mosques, bustling cafes and endless mazes of colorful shops.

It’s an incredible place to soak in some local atmosphere and load up on Egyptian souvenirs while admiring the city’s most splendid architecture.

Khan el Khalili is also often loud and overwhelming with pushy vendors and fake Chinese-made kitsch.

Is it worth visiting? Absolutely. It’s one of the best things to do in Cairo and a must-see even on a one-day Cairo itinerary.

But it’s best to plan ahead to avoid hassles and get the most from your visit.

I’m an expat living for over a decade in Cairo – and I’ve been visiting Khan el Khalili for years to explore its history and Sultan-era architecture.

Dee walks down a street in Khan el Khalili in Cairo filled with vendors selling colorful lanterns.

And this is my ultimate guide to getting the most from your visit to Khan el Khalili.

It’s packed with all my insider tips – including the must-sees and the tourist traps to avoid.

Here’s everything I wish I knew when I first visited Egypt!

Khan el Khalili history

A historic print from 1882 showing merchants in Khan el Khalili selling rugs.

Khan el Khalili is a gorgeous medieval market that dates back to the 14th century.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is lined with masterpieces of Islamic architecture – and some of Egypt’s most incredible mosques.

It was established as a trade center during the Mamluk era and merchants all over the world packed its dense streets to sell their wares.

But before the Mamluks conquered Egypt, the area was actually a necropolis for Fatimid-era royalty. The victorious Mamluks took over the country and replaced the royal necropolis with a bazaar.

What to buy

Sharia al-Khayamiya

You’ll stumble into tiny boutiques that offer handbound leather notebooks, wooden boxes adorned with mother-of-pearl and elaborate quilted wall hangings (see above).

You’ll also find Pinocchio dolls (apparently from Italy), Chinese trinkets and cheap dupes of Egyptian-style handicrafts.

You’ll encounter pushy salesmen drawing you into their shop for “just a look” or engaging you with some clever joke (that you’ll likely hear a dozen more times during your visit). A firm and simple “no thank you” is enough in most cases.

A wild assortment of Ancient Egyptian style figurines, pyramids and other souvenirs stacked high in Cairo's Khan el Khalili.

Insider’s tip: If you don’t want to haggle, then there are plenty other places in Cairo to get authentic Egyptian handicrafts at fixed prices.

According to a reliable source, about 60% of the items sold in Khan el Khalili are not made in Egypt.

That means be prepared to do some hunting if you’re in the market for handmade treasures. And be prepared to haggle – salesmen will often throw out an obscenely high price in the beginning to test you. Bargaining is expected.

Here are my favorite shops (and some hidden gems!)

Abd El-Zaher Bookshop

Abd El-Zaher Bookshop

Abd El-Zaher Bookshop

31 Muhammad Abdou St. | on the map

This beautiful gem of a bookshop is tucked away behind Al Azhar Mosque – just across the street from the main souq.

Abd El-Zaher offers personalized leather-bound notebooks, 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.

Bab al-Ghuri

khan el khalili

5 Sekat Al Badstan | on the map

Don’t miss Bab al-Ghuri (see above), a historic gate packed with shops selling colorful lanterns, and old cafes lively with musicians and kettles of mint tea.

Khayamiya market

Sharia al-Khayamiya

Al Khayama | on the map

Known as the street of the tentmakers (Sharia al-Khayamiya), this covered market sells a colorful type of decorative applique textile known as khayamiya.

It’s about a 15-minute walk from the main Khan el Khalili souq.

And it’s also far less crowded and the vendors aren’t as pushy as their counterparts in the main souq of Khan el Khalili. They’ll generally give you a fair price from the start and there’s no need to haggle.

And you’ll often see the artisans at work hand-stitching cushion covers or bedspreads. Their needles tackle themes from Islamic calligraphy to Ancient Egypt, local folklore, fish, birds and verses from the Quran.

Khan el Khalili restaurants

El Fishawi Cafe

El Fishawi Cafe

Haret Khan Al Khalili | on the map 

Tucked inside a narrow alleyway, El Fishawi is one of Cairo’s oldest cafes.

Dating back to 1771, this Cairo icon is packed with mashrabia, chandeliers, enormous mirrors and lots of historic charm. Sip on some mint tea, listen to live oud music, puff on a shisha and take in the lively atmosphere.

But be prepared: this isn’t the place for quiet conversation. You’ll be interrupted by a constant stream of street vendors trying to sell you prayer beads, necklaces and other trinkets. And you’ll be charged tourist prices for tea and coffee – without an official menu in sight.

But El Fishawi is worth a stop to experience that old Cairo coffeehouse atmosphere. It boasts a rich history as the watering hole for two centuries of Egyptian intellectuals, artists and writers.

Khan El Khalili Restaurant & Naguib Mahfouz Cafe

Inside the Khan el Khalili restaurant in Cairo there is an ornate ceiling, marbled floor and oriental decor.

5 Sekat Al Badstan | on the map

Tucked inside a side street just off Moez, Khan El Khalili Restaurant/Naguib Mahfouz Cafe is a lavish, upscale and quiet choice for a meal of delectable Egyptian classics.

Head to this iconic restaurant (open since 1989) for a luxurious sit-down meal – well away from the rowdy crowds of the surrounding souq.

The restaurant is lined with oriental arches, a beautiful ornate ceiling and wooden furniture adorned with mother-of-pearl – all inspired by Mamluk and Islamic architecture.

There are lots of Egyptian classics on the menu and service is outstanding.

Gad

Al Azhar St | on the map

If you’re hungry and just want a quick and simple meal (at normal prices) then head to Gad – a local fast food chain of Egyptian street food.

There’s a Gad just down the street from Azhar Mosque with a clearly marked menu, some outside tables and an upstairs sitting area if you want to stay longer.

Grab a few falafel (aka ta’amiya) or ful (fava bean) sandwiches and you’re good for a few hours of sightseeing. This is personally where I always go when I’m in Khan el Khalili and hungry.

Khan el Khalili area mosques

Qalawun Complex

The tall minaret and dome of the Qalawun complex loom over a small sidestreet.

El-Gamaleya | on the map 

This massive complex was built by a Mamluk sultan in the 13th century – and it’s about a 10-minute walk from the main Khan el Khalili souq.

It’s incredibly rich in its scope and architecture. It contains a hospital, madrasa and a mausoleum considered to be one of the most stunning in the world – and second only to the Taj Mahal.

Tickets are 100 EGP per adult. The ticket gives you access to the Qalawun Complex and other nearby attractions including the Qalawun Mosque, the Barqouk Mosque and the Amir Beshtak Palace.

Hakim Mosque

Hakim Mosque

154 Moez St. | on the map 

Built by a controversial caliph (who some consider insane), this 11th-century mosque has very unique minarets and a beautiful courtyard with flowing green curtains.

The mosque is about a 15-minute walk from the Khan el Khalili souq. It has a rectangular open courtyard lined with columns draped with flowing green curtains.

Do you need a tour guide in Khan el Khalili?

khan el khalili

I definitely recommend a tour guide if you want to explore all these historical sites in depth.

You’ll get all the fascinating history behind the mosques, religious complexes and Ottoman-era homes of Khan el Khalili.

Khan el Khalili on your own

But you can also explore Khan el Khalili perfectly well on your own. It’s an open-air market that’s free for anyone to enter.

Take a long stroll down Moez Street, the main thoroughfare where you’ll find all the most important sites, to explore some medieval history after you shop.

You can buy your tickets to historical monuments like the Qalawun Complex and Bayt al-Suhaymi at the door.

Mosques like Azhar Mosque and Hakim Mosque are free to enter – and visitors are welcome outside of prayer times.

There’s enough history and culture in Islamic Cairo to easily fill half a day of sightseeing. All the sites are within walking distance of each other.

Is Khan el Khalili safe?

A small sidestreet in Khan el Khalili with bright sunshine on the buildings.

Khan el Khalili is a major tourist site packed with locals, tourists and plenty of security. It’s perfectly safe to wander around – yes, even as a female.

It’s a place teeming with local life but it’s also a market that lives largely off tourism. So you’ll be treated warmly and there will always be someone eager to help.

How to get to Khan el Khalili

A man with a child on a motorcycle riding across a small street in Khan el Khalili.

Take an Uber/Careem to Azhar Mosque (a place most drivers easily recognize) and the bazaar is just across the street (there’s an underground passageway for pedestrians).

I always leave from Azhar Mosque, too, because the spot is easy to find for drivers and has plenty of space for a taxi to pull over (no getting lost in narrow alleys).

Moez Street is pedestrian only so your taxi cannot drop you off at any of its historic sites or inside the souq itself (which is all narrow streets with no cars.)

Opening times (and when to visit) 

khan el khalili

Most shops open around 9 am until midnight.

Friday mornings are quiet with most shops closed for weekly prayers. Sunday is also slow, though plenty of vendors stay open.

Many shops stay closed until sunset during Ramadan though enough remain open to do plenty of shopping.

Weekends and nights are crowded.

Summers are hot so pack lots of iced water – and don’t forget your hat and sunscreen.

An ultimate guide to Moez Street

moez street cairo

Moez Street is the main thoroughfare that runs through Islamic Cairo and past the Khan el Khalili market.

And it’s where you’ll find all the historic mosques, palaces and monuments.

Read Moez Street in Cairo: An Ultimate Local’s Guide to plan your visit.

How to plan the perfect Cairo itinerary

nile river cairo

There’s a lot to see in Cairo. So where do you start? And what are the tourist traps to avoid?

Read 25 Incredible Things To Do In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!) for my ultimate list of all the city’s most important sites – and some hidden gems.

More resources:

4 Incredible Things To Do On The Nile River in Cairo

12 Best Things To Do In Coptic Cairo

5 Essential Tips To Visiting The Pyramids Of Giza