CAIRO: When it comes to Cairo tourism, it’s all about the Pyramids and a trip to this sprawling metropolis filled with mosques, markets and monuments would not be complete without a visit to the collection of ancient pharaonic wonders in Giza, on the outskirts of the city.
But a proper visit entails some time and effort and is tough to pull off for business travelers on tight time constraints. If all you have is an hour or so for a quick getaway, your best bet is probably a visit to the city’s famous Khan el-Khalili Bazaar that has been operating since the 14th century. Here you can get a brief taste of Cairo’s feverish pace in an old-style marketplace of cramped, maze-like alleyways filled with merchants peddling their wares to tourists and Egyptians alike.
There are spices, perfumes and jewelry to choose from as well as pottery, traditional Egyptian garb, belly-dancing outfits and any type of souvenir you can imagine. But be prepared to hone your bargaining skills ahead of time — the merchants here are expert negotiators and have been known to start their offers at three to four times the actual market value. As long as you don’t mind the haggling, and don’t get bogged down in it for too long, it can be an entertaining part of the experience. Be sure to get off the main drag and venture into the arched inner alleys for a more intimate take of the sights, smells and sounds.
Aside from shopping, you can also stop at a traditional coffee and tea shop for a hot drink or to smoke a shisha, the ornate Egyptian water pipe of fruit-scented tobacco. Al-Fishawi is the most well-known shop and is legendary for being open consecutively for centuries.
It’s a close taxi ride from the city center and if you have some extra time you can combine a visit with a quick glimpse of two adjacent sites: Al-Azhar mosque, renowned as the epicenter of study in the Sunni Muslim world, and Muizz Street, the historic spine of Islamic Cairo. Located just behind the Khan, Muizz Street is lined with several monumental and beautiful mosques and was recently renovated with new paving and lighting — making for a dramatic and lovely nighttime visit with fewer tourists.
There’s plenty more to explore in Islamic Cairo but if all you have time for is a glimpse, the colorful market and its surroundings give a good sneak peek sense of the city.
If You Go…
KHAN EL-KHALILI BAZAAR: Off Hussein Square, across from Al-Azhar Mosque. Take a taxi to the mosque and cross the busy road through the underpass.