Complete guide to shopping in amazing Egypt

The first image that comes to mind when you hear the word “Egypt” is Pyramids. Only a few think of the shopping experience in Egypt bazars. Egypt’s bazars may not be as celebrated as Turkey’s or Iran’s. But trust me, finding some things that were made even during the pharaoh’s time is as interesting as Egyptian gods’ stories.

The magical experience comes with a tourist trap like anywhere else. After escaping a few of them and having a delightful shopping experience, we show you how/what and where to buy authentic Egyptian things and what not to.

Tips for Shopping in Egypt

Beige sandstone arch with colourful handmade brass items on either side at Cairo

Isn’t it an irresistible Egyptian place for shopping – But there is a catch.

Is Egypt cheap to buy things?

Shopping in Egypt is cheaper than in Jordan but more expensive than in Iran.   The Istanbul Grand Bazar principle must be implemented here – Bargain for half the price. Smilingly, move on to the adjacent shop if you feel the item isn’t worth what they quote. Do not be rude.

  • Check out local markets in Aswan and Luxor – It is a totally different world there.
  • While you buy spices, don’t hesitate to ask for a tasting or smelling sample.
  • Carry Cash: Most places don’t accept cards. Beware of pick-pocketers. Keep less money in your wallet and hide the rest in your money belt or bag.

What should I avoid while shopping in Egypt?

colourful Egyptian clothes on the walls either side of a mud path in Egypt's Nubian village

In the vibrant Nubian markets – bargaining is a must

Avoid buying things near archaeological sites and tourist interest places- It is expensive there.

Whenever you are told by a seller that their item is pure turquoise or pure granite – Don’t trust blindly. Many sell POP miniatures in the name of precious stones. Check the weight and observe the texture before buying.

The most vibrant Bazaar of Old Cairo – Khan-El-Khalili is filled with ” MADE IN CHINA” Items. When we saw the pictures on the internet, it blew our minds away. I thought I was going to shop till I dropped there. But we hardly found any local Egyptians shopping there. When we asked our guide, Ibrahim, he said. “We do not shop here. Most stuff here is made in China” Don’t be surprised later to see the ” Made in China ” tag on the souvenir you got from Egypt, thinking it is authentic.

It is easy to wander and shop, leading to dehydration in Bazaars. When you are thirsty, buy Kakade or hot tea from street vendors – Anything boiled and hot is safe for drinking.

What is good to shop for in Egypt?

The real Egyptian product – Papyrus scroll

Papyrus scroll and Pyramid

What is the famous item in Egypt?

It is papyrus papers and scrolls.

I have seen papermaking from plants using traditional methods in Kalimpong in India and Sa paper in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But the Papyrus scrolls of Egypt are beyond what you dream of. Though the scroll you buy maybe be a few months old, you feel like you own it from ancient Egypt’s time. The coolest part is getting your name written in Heliographs( ancient art of Egyptian writing on sacred objects). Though the vegetable colours are replaced with synthetic colours now, soaking the papyrus stem in water for weeks, pressing it manually to make tapes of it and weaving it in a wavy pattern remains the same.

If there is one thing you want to get from Egypt that is really real and unique to Egypt is this papyrus scroll

Papyrus scroll with Egyptian hieroglyphs

Size of the scroll we bought – A4 | Price 30 USD | Where to buy – Government-authorised Papyrus in Giza, Cairo or Luxor.

What you see in the image depicts the engagement ceremony between a Pharoah and queen. Roses are a symbol of love now, but for ancient Egyptians, it was Lotus! She accepts a lotus from him; they are engaged! Those are Ashrith’s and my name written in Hieroglyphs by the trained artists at the shop. We wrote our names in English on a piece of paper, and he wrote them on the scroll right in front of us. They even give a printed sheet with Hieroglyphs and its equivalent English alphabet to understand what is written on the scroll.

Does papyrus still grow in Egypt?

Yes! More than in Cairo, you can find them growing near the riverside in Luxor. They may not be as abundant as they used to be 5000 years ago. But you can find them even today in Egypt So. you find hundreds of Papyrus institutes/museums throughout Egypt. But not all the shops are genuine.

Our guide Ibrahim took us to a genuine Papyrus shop – Giza Papyrus. You get to see and touch the papyrus stem, the process of pressing along with weaving. The cost of painted scrolls depends on size and detail. 

Tutankhamun in a photo frame
BUT MY DAD GOT IT FRAMED!

You can get these framed. But I love to touch and feel the scroll. So I kept one of the three scrolls unframed.

Fake Papyrus scroll scam alert

Right outside the Giza Papyrus, street vendors with fake papyrus scrolls sell them for low dirt prices. Ibrahim said most fake scrolls are made in china on regular paper. Later they apply chemicals to get a rough texture to the paper to feel it is real. We touched one such paper & felt the powder on our palms, which gave us an itchy feeling. TO KNOW IF THE SCROLL IS REAL OR NOT, HOLD IT AGAINST THE LIGHT. If you see the interlocked weaving pattern, it is genuinely traditionally made with real papyrus.

The woven patterns on the paper

You see the weaving pattern when you hold it in the light.

The Egyptian Sand art in a bottle

Sand art in a bottle

Where to Buy – Nubian Village.

The narrow streets of Nubian Village are full of vibrance. We happened to see an artist in a shop who was busy filling the coloured sand in different layers to create an exclusive piece of art inside a bottle. He even poured black coloured sand and wrote “Aswan” with a long stick. He was so swift that it was over by the time we guessed what he was doing. After he filled the coloured sand, he sealed the glass mouth with some sealant so that the sand didn’t fall out.

A 5″ height bottle of sand art costs around 100 EGP (7 USD).

Sand artist

I am clueless if the sand art in a bottle originated in Egypt because I saw them in Petra, also. In Petra, the camel+moon and bird were already painted inside the bottle. But this guy at Nubian village did everything by himself!

Traditional Egyptian outfits – Jalebiya

Where to buy Nubian village or Aswan Market

The long, straight-cut gowns with full sleeves are the traditional outfits of Egyptian men and women. The Jalebiyas are made with Egyptian cotton. The gowns for men are usually monochrome with no embroidery. You do see temple caretakers in this outfit more than anyone else.

For women – this comes with exotic embroidery. Floral patterns of red on Purple cotton clothing are most common.

The freshest Egyptian dates

Middle eastern countries and dry fruits are always one. In every Middle east country airport, you do find packed and processed dates. But you can not come back from Egypt without a handful of unprocessed dates.

Where to buy dates in Egypt?- Bawiti village near the White Desert

We came back home with almost 2kg of hand-plucked, unadulterated dates. Honestly, I don’t know the price. Our lunch host at Bawiti village gifted us a bag of dates from his farm. We insisted on paying, but he refused. So when you are in Bahariya, check with your driver/guide to take you to the farm if it’s harvest season. Unfortunately, in January, the harvest season was over. The date plants were with younger seeds still.

The green trees in the desert

Most of us get dried dates that are injected with sugar syrup or chemicals to preserve them. The ones we got from Bawiti were free of chemicals and sugar syrup. Yet juicy and tasty. Even 30 days after getting it from Bawiti, the taste was good. All we did was keep it in a Tupperware box. The only thing you need to be conscious of about these unprocessed dates are Small worms (if you are keeping them for a longer time). If you consume it within a week after plucking, you need not worry. Beyond 15 days, it might contain smaller worms.

Egyptian Carpets

Egyptian carpets

The best carpets in the world come from Iran, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, and not Egypt. What made us buy an Egyptian carpet was the Egyptian Motifs. The ones we had seen in turkey were more floral patterns. But the face of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s mask, and Egyptian wedding ceremonies are unique to Egypt.

Egyptian Carpet Scam Alert

Yet again, you will find “Made in China” Carpets. I have no idea how to differentiate between Egyptian and other countries’ carpet making. So unless the Egyptian government recognises the shop or funds the carpet school, don’t buy it from there. You might see negative reviews about Saqqara Carpet school complaining that they employ children below 15. I won’t deny the allegation, but we did not see any child labour there at Saqqara Carpet school during that one and a half-hour of our visit.

Where to buy Egyptian Carpets? – Any Government authorised Carpet school. We bought it at Saqqara Carpet school.

I had read a lot about queen Nefertiti Cleopatra. So it is evident that I was keen on those carpets with the queen’s face. Unfortunately, just like in Turkey, the carpet prices were over the roof. However, we could afford a 2′ X 1.5′ black carpet with Tut’s headdress Motif for 50 USD.

I can’t and don’t want others to step on my precious carpet with Tut’s face! So I use it as a headrest cover for my couch.

Egyptian spices and Incense

Colourful spices arranged

Egyptian food is a mixture of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Like our Indian food, Egyptian delicacies got lots of spices. For us, Indian spices like Cardamom, Pepper and Cumin are common. But for western travellers, Nubian spice shops may seem like a treasure of flavours.

Where to buy the best Egyptian Spices? – Nubian Village

We bought saffron ( not as good as Persian saffron, but better than Indian), Incense sticks. ( Not good), Hibiscus tea ( Excellent), Lavender detergent powder used for White clothes ( similar to what we call Ujala Blue in India- it was ok ), Yellow Masala powder ( It went well with a few curries I tried at home)

Alabaster and Basalt artefacts in Egypt

Alabaster and Basalt are abundantly found in Luxor. The sculptures made by local artisans are very famous among tourists. But, shockingly, we happened to see many statues of a man with an unusually big penis!

Where to buy alabaster figurines in Egypt – Imhotep Alabaster factory, Luxor

You can buy original basalt sculptures or look-alikes because the real Alabaster and Basalt ones are pricey. Though you don’t want to buy, a visit to the factory in Luxor is an excellent stop to witness how artisans create these beautiful sculptures.

Traditional Nubian hats

From Nubian villages to Nubian accessories, everything is colourful. The Arabs in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan wore white turbans. But Nubians wear these colourful hats. The hats looked funny on me; still, we bought two souvenirs. Moreover, unlike those sellers in Giza, Nubians were polite and were not forceful. We could have haggled and gotten the hats for a lower price, but we gave away 100 EGP looking at that old Nubian man smiling.

Where to buy Nubian hats in Egypt? – Near Philae temple

Egyptian belly dancer’s outfit

Other than our local “Tapanguchhi “dance, I don’t dance! I wanted to buy one of these pretty belly dance outfits just because Egyptian belly dancers are the best belly dancers in the whole world! (We did not see even one belly dance show, though- It was crazy expensive). Most of us want to have a belly dance outfit from the birthplace of Belly dance. After five minutes of discussion, I decided it was not useful. By then, Ibrahim had already told us about “Made in China” items of Khan-El-Kalili. So we moved on.

Where to Buy a Belly Dancer outfit in Egypt? – Khan El Khalili, Cairo or Bazars of Luxor

Egyptian lamps

Beautiful lamps in Cairo's old market

The lamps look amazing, but they are no match to what we had seen in Istanbul Grand Bazar. However, a lamp is worth buying if this is your first time in the Middle East.

Egyptian accessories – Cartouche pendant and Scarab amulets

CARTOUCHE – The Best Souvenir for friends and family are these jewellery pieces of Cartouche ( Rectangular tablets with ancient Egyptian writing). You see Cartouches on temple walls. The hieroglyphs inside the capsule read the Pharoah’s name. You can get your Cartouche pendants engraved with specific names in Arabic and English in the bazaars. You do get these pendants in silver too.

Scarabs – Do you remember those creepy insects oozing out of Mummy Coffins in the movie Mummy? Those are Scarabs. For Egyptians, the Scarabs is an Amulet- protecting from the evil eye. Being Entomophobic, I can not look at even the non-real Scarabs. Seeing those scarab bracelets, pendants and bangles, I was getting terrified. They are available in many sizes and colours. Many people find it attractive, and it is one of the most sought items by tourists in Egypt.

Tradition Egyptian Musical Instrument – Lute

Musical instruments at Khan el Khalili

A string instrument that looks like Guitar’s cousin’s brother. Other than listening to various music, I know nothing about musical instruments. I could make out the difference between Guitar’s and Lut’s music, though. A few artists in Old Cairo perform on the streets with the Lute. It is not unique to Egypt now as many Balkan country’s artists play this.

The essential Egyptian Souvenir – Miniature pyramids

Where to Buy – Giza Pyramid complex, Memphis Temple complex

The miniature is the cheapest and cutest souvenir. Most of us want to have a slice of the Egyptian pyramid on our fridge or on our study table. So you get Miniature pyramids in many sizes and multiple materials. Cairo and Giza are the places to get these things. You may not find miniature pyramids once you are out of Cairo and Giza. It will mostly be a miniature temple, and miniature Pharoah faces. The one we got is made of POP.

The seller tried to fool us by saying it was made of precious stone. This 6″ high pyramid must be at least 2kg if it is stone. In reality, it is so light that we fixed it onto a wooden box using double-sided tape, and it is a perfect accessory for our car dickey now! The pyramid had sockets to fit in cute little statues of an Egyptian cat, a Pharoah’s headdress, a scarab and a smaller pyramid.

The most common magnetic stickers and Egyptian motif cutlery

Ain’t these look amazing? But do not get deceived by the looks. We were delighted to see these in the Khan-El-Lakili market. The shopkeeper sold five bottle openers for 50 EGP! So we bought three sets of these to gift to friends. When we tried sticking it onto our fridge, we realised the magnet quality was poor. Plus, it did have a “Made in China” tag. The spoons are fancy, but the brass colour coating faded after months.

The Egyptian king and queen figurines

Queen Nefertiti

This isn’t turquoise; a POP doll.

More than the miniature pyramids, I wanted to bring home Nefertiti. Historians do not know if she was true to her name, which means ” The beautiful woman has come” or not. At least, it is depicted that way throughout ancient Egypt. Hearing her stories as one of Egypt’s very few powerful women, I always wanted something related to her at my home. My first choice was the carpet, which was super expensive for us, so we settled for a Figurine.

If you go shopping in Egypt and what would you buy? Let us know in the comment section below.

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