Your trip to Egypt will be incomplete without one of the country’s iconic souvenirs following you back home. The North African nation has a plethora of cultural treasures and historical monuments with plenty of mementos to show for them.
We’ll be exploring 16 uniquely Egyptian things to buy in Cairo to help you find souvenirs that will not only serve as superb memorabilia, but also double as perfect gifts for those back at home. So, make sure you add souvenir hunting to your list of things to do while in Egypt’s capital.
What to Buy in Cairo?
Ancient Egypt remains one of the oldest civilizations known to mankind. Its cultures and traditions stretch back thousands of years. The country’s pharaohs, mummies and pyramids make it one of the world’s most popular historical attractions.
Today, Cairo is the busiest city in Egypt, and the largest one in both Africa and the entire Middle East. As expected, not only does it represent every aspect of the country, but it also showcases its diverse traditions. It has something for every tourist who can’t wait to witness its many wonders such as the Great Pyramid of Ginza, the Sphinx, and the Citadel, among others.
There are souvenir stalls brimming over with one-of-a-kind historical and cultural items and street markets where you can find unique local Egyptian goods.
Some of the souvenirs that we’ll be showing you can also rank as the most unusual things to buy in Cairo, and you’ll be glad to take any of them home. So, If you’ve been asking “What are best souvenirs to buy in Cairo?”, you’ll find your answers in this guide.
1. Miniature pyramids
Pyramids are Egypt’s most defining symbol. They were built as tombs for the pharaohs and their consorts, but their mysterious architectural grandeur attracted worldwide attention. Lots of conspiracy theories have been thrown around as to how they were built, from alien involvement to time travel.
You’ll understand why the pyramids are so revered when you witness their majesty. The Great Pyramids of Giza, which are the most famous, are located on Cairo’s outskirts. So, you can easily go check them out during your trip. After that, you’ll surely want to take them home with you.
The Egyptians have you covered. There are miniature pyramid memorabilia that can always remind you of the time spent in those chambers. These pieces are sold throughout Cairo, in souvenir stores and market places.
There are also other miniature representations of ancient Egyptian monuments, such as the Sphinx, which you can give to those back at home.
When you walk through Cairo's markets and narrow streets, you won't miss the oriental fragrance from Oud mixed powder, which creates a great atmosphere. You can fill your heart and home with such an aroma if you go for any of the famous incense materials available in the city.
You have the choice of purchasing the famous "Agar-wood", also known as Oud, which is produced from the infected Aquilaria tree. This kind of dark aromatic resin, which is processed into incense, can only be made from trees infected with some sort of mold.
Oud is not entirely produced in Egypt. Raw materials are sourced from countries such as Indonesia and India. Agar-wood is one of the most favorite fragrances in this part of the world despite its high price.
If you don’t want to spend big on incense, go for the cheap alternative, which will be a powder that is mixed with incenses like Mastic and "Ein Al Freet".
Supermarkets and perfume stores have other types of incense, including Bokhor. Bokhor is more affordable because it is produced from regular wood that is soaked in oils or fragrances. You can find this type of incense in different varieties and shapes, and you can place it in elegantly crafted censers, which you can find in the same places you’ll buy your incense.
Incense has a long historical background. While it is used today in churches and mosques around the world, early Egyptians used it to keep evil spirits away from their homes and enrich their environment with nice fragrances. The practice of using incense to expel spirits is still present today.
If you want to get genuine Oud, you have to go to select stores, such as Khan el-Khalili.
One of the greatest success stories of the ancient Egyptian civilization is its tent textile decoration craft. It is a unique kind of art that dates back to the Pharaonic era. It continued to prosper even after the country was taken over by Islam. Khayamiya is a beautiful textile that is well known for its durability. It is made from thick kenaf cloth. Ancient Egyptians used this textile to create shelter tents to protect themselves from sand storms and blistering sun rays while they traveled through the Western desert.
Artisans were carefully chosen by community sheikhs through an audition process. Each artist’s work was carefully examined, and items meeting accepted standards were selected. While the practice hardly exists today, you’ll still find high-quality Khayamiya goods produced by incredibly talented modern artists.
The textile is all handmade, and the finest pieces usually display Islamic decorative shapes and Arabic typography. Colored fills and golden thread strokes are used to give the textile a unique and vibrant look.
Presently, the textile is used to decorate funerals, wedding parties, and even homes. You can give your home that traditional Egyptian look by decorating it with colorful Khayamiya items, such as table runners and cushion covers, Khayamiya pieces can also be hung on the wall.
If you want to get the best Khayamiya items, go to the Khayamiya market, which is located right after "Bab Zuweila" in Khayamiya Street. You’ll get to choose from a wide array of products exhibited by many dealers, whom you'll find on the ground floor. The workshops are on the second floor. Depending on your budget, you can get cheap Khayamiya items at the market or go for expensive art pieces in the Egyptian Textile Museum.
4. Papyrus scroll
These are ancient Egyptian items that have a strong historical background. Papyrus scrolls are very famous among tourists. It's a signature that shows exactly where you're coming from. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus as their main paper, and it was produced from the papyrus plant's pith. The manuscripts were used to chronicle stories and secrets in paintings and writings. The scrolls were invented thousands of years ago, but the process of making them disappeared for hundreds of years until Egyptologists rediscovered it in the 1940s. The paper has reclaimed its place as an important printing surface, and contemporary artists consider it a great material for illustration and painting.
Genuine papyrus scrolls are hand made and are produced using high-quality papyrus paper and inks that often glow in the dark. Today’s production doesn’t differ too much from that of the ancient days, so you can expect your scrolls to last almost forever.
Don't expect every papyrus scroll you see to be genuine, as those you will find in souvenir shops could be stamped replicas. That said, they still look as real and ancient as those used in the dynastic period. You could still get original manuscripts and paintings made by famous artists, but these will cost you a lot.
There are different texts and illustrations painted on papyrus paper, from the Hieroglyphs, epic battle scenes and ancient Egyptian temples to modern art and contemporary poetry. If you want, you can get a customized piece. Just ask a local artist to imprint your name on a manuscript in Hieroglyphs.
5. The Fez
The Fez is traditional headgear that has been slowly fading away. It is made of durable and soft kilim fabric. It used to be the formal hat for Pashas and citizens. It was rampant in the 1800s and all through the 20th century, but it is very rare nowadays. The cylinder-shaped hat was designed in the city of Fez in Morocco by the Andalusian Arabs way back in the 17th century. From there, it made its way to Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, and became a symbol of civilization.
The Egyptian version of the Fez is notably taller than its counterparts in other North African nations like Morocco and Tunisia and has a more distinct cylinder shape.
The hat started disappearing when the revolution swept the country in 1952 and ended the monarchy of Muhammad Ali's family. These days, you can only find it on the heads of Bedouin travelers and some Muslim Sheikhs.
Cairo has a Fez factory in El Goureya Street, which is, perhaps, the last place in Egypt that still makes these hats. During the production process, a copper template is used to shape palm wicker, which is then covered with kilim fabric. It is placed under a special piston after that, then the hat is ironed with precision and a tassel is attached to it. An genuine Fez hat will set you back 20 to 80 pounds.
6. Hand crafted metal works
Egyptians were skilled in using iron, copper, gold, and silver to produce beautiful pieces of jewelry that were decorated with gemstones. You'll see these on display if you visit the Egyptian history Museum. Materials, such as silver and copper were used in making utensils and kitchenware. In the past, brides needed a complete set of copper kitchenware to enter their marriage. The kitchenware was normally passed down from female to female in every bloodline.
Rich Arabic families normally have handcrafted tea cups made out of gold or silver, but lower-class families sometimes have these cups made of copper. Handcrafted plates engraved with religious quotes, sayings, or beautiful Arabic calligraphy often hang on walls and reside on shelves.
You can find all manner of metal handicrafts in Cairo, including lanterns, hookah bodies, utensils, and jewelry. Just head to Khan el-Khalili and El Mosky. Most of these products are made of silver, but gold items can also be found throughout the city. When you get to the market, you'll see skilled workers tirelessly involved in their crafts.
Portraits can be engraved on decorative plates. Make that arrangement to draw the face of your loved one on a beautiful metal craft before handing it to them as a gift. Depending on your pocket, you can go for copper, brass, silver, or gold.
7. Pottery and ceramics
Egyptian artisans had been in the business of producing high-quality pottery even before the dynastic period. These products were mainly used for their original purposes. They included wine vases, dishes, cups, and perfume bottles, among others. Egyptian artisans benefited a lot from the discovery of covering clay with enamel and used soapstone to make ceramic products withstand high temperatures without cracking. This art also helped the products keep their vibrant colors and designs for thousands of years.
Present-day local Egyptian artisans are blessed with the same skills as their pre-dynastic predecessors. They create pottery and ceramic products of different shapes and sizes that are used as home utilities or for outdoor decoration.
The products are native to two places in the country: Aswan and Bany Swaif. Aswan is located in the south, and this is where decorated and handcrafted porous pottery products like bowls and jars are made. These beautiful products are made from premium mud that's better known as "Aswanian clay". Artisans use a manual potter's wheel to make porous pottery materials, and then burn them in kilns (fire furnaces). In the past, the jars and bowls produced through this process were mainly used to keep water cool.
Bany Swaif is where beautifully glazed colored dishes, pots, and kitchenware are made from high-quality ceramic materials. Artisans also paint on these products to illustrate the simple life of green plants and birds that surround them.
You can easily find the porous pottery products from Aswan anywhere in Cairo, but you might have to dig deeper to spot glazed colored ceramics from Bany Swaif.
You can use beautiful Egyptian pottery and ceramic products to store things or decorate your home, which you can use to store things or decorate your home.
The scarab beetle is an important ancient Egyptian amulet. Scarabs had deep religious significance in ancient Egyptian religion. They were seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The beetle's behavior of rolling large dung balls where it laid eggs was remarkable to the Egyptians, as they saw it as a semblance of the sun's progression to the west from the eastern sky. Its method of hatching its young from the balls was considered a sacred act of self-creation, which made the Egyptians see an even stronger connection to the god of the sun.
It was told that the young sun god, Khepri, was reborn as a winged scarab beetle during sunrise, to rise in the sky and bring life and light to the land.
Ancient Egyptians used scarab amulets for their magical properties. They were also used as seals when the Middle Kingdom started. Most scarabs had inscriptions on their bases, which could be impressed into clay or mud. These inscriptions were mostly the names of the amulets' owners, but in some cases, there were engraved schematic combinations of geometric patterning and hieroglyphs that indicated the bearer's administrative office. Later on, a wide variety of designs were inscribed on scarabs, such as friendly wishes, good omens, mottoes referring to deities, gods, royalty, and so on.
According to ancient lore, scarabs were also used for protection and healing during routine traditional exercises, and the journey to the afterlife.
Scarab amulets are still popular in Egypt and they are available in different shapes, colors, sizes and materials. You can also find scarabs that are engraved with hieroglyphs. These amulets will no doubt make a great gift or souvenir, especially if you take your time to find the design that you or your loved one will fancy.
The Egyptian tradition of smoking in social gatherings in cafes is more than 400 years old. If you walk around Cairo, you will see friends and peers sitting together, smoking shisha, also called "hookah". While the locals smoke in their homes as well, coming together is a sacred practice. Adults smoke flavored tobacco from a water pipe and pass the hose around as they take puffs in turns. The hookah tradition promotes connectedness and conversations among family and friends. The tradition is present in other Middle Eastern countries and even has a connection to Turkish and Indian cultures.
You will see different shisha designs in Cairo, from huge 2m high pipes to those that are shorter than 30cm. If you intend to use one, make sure you do your homework and acquire every essential accessory that makes up the set. The smoking utility is normally made of brass and covered in chrome coating, but new designs are made of stainless steel to ensure durability. They also come in different styles that are decorated with fine ornaments. Hookahs with hand-blown glass bowls are the traditional variants, but those with brass bowls are common as well.
Shisha is made for smoking, so if you're going to take it back home with you, spend a little bit of time considering what to smoke with it. You have a wide range of options in that department as you can go for the soft fruit tobacco or the hash flavor known as Mu'assel.
10. A miniature statue of Bastet
Huge statues and great temples were built in honor of many Egyptian gods and goddesses. Bastet is one of the most revered goddesses in Egyptian mythology, and you'll find lots of monuments that pay tribute to her. She is the feline goddess that is considered the protector of Lower Egypt. The goddess has the head of a cat and the body of a woman.
Ancient Egyptians kept cats as pets to serve as protectors for their farms, warding off birds and rats. Cats were adored to the point that they were mummified after death and buried with their owners. Nearly 300,000 mummified cats were found in the City of Bastet and they still exist to this day.
Some Egyptians, even today, pray to Bastet to expel vermin and evil from their homes. You'll find tributes to the goddess made of many different materials, from expensive granite to cheap plastic. You can pick up trinkets and mini statues in the form of the respected goddess to keep you connected to Egyptian mythology. Just head to any souvenir shop in the city. And, why not visit the ancient city of the goddess to understand why Egyptians hold cats in such high regard?
11. Calligraphy artwork
If you're a fan of art, you will love written Arabic, especially when you see the elegant finishes applied on different surfaces by Egyptian artisans. From papyrus to canvases, artisans combine beautifully patterned Arabic typography with historical materials to make great works of art. The locals can point you to markets where these pieces of art are sold. You can hang them on your walls to serve as a reminder of the great time you spent in the Middle Eastern African country.
12. Canopic jars
Ancient Egyptians used canopic jars during funeral rituals. They were used to store the internal organs of the deceased as part of the mummification process. Before corpses were mummified, soft internal organs had to be extracted. The organs carried lots of fluid, and removing them would prevent the onset of early putrefaction.
Canopic jars can be vessels of stone, wood, or pottery. During the Old Kingdom, the jars had clean lids, but they were decorated with sculpted human heads, starting from the Middle Kingdom. The sculpted human heads represented the four sons of Horus, who the Egyptians believed were charged with protecting the internal organs of the dead. Hapi, the baboon-headed deity, is charged with guarding the lungs. Imsety, which has a human head, is responsible for guarding the liver. Qebehsenuef, represented by a falcon head, is the guardian of the lower intestines. Duamutef, the jackal-headed deity, guards the upper intestines and the stomach.
In ancient Egyptian lore, it is believed that the internal organs are needed for the deceased to be reborn into the afterlife. The jars would also be buried with the deceased. They held the stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines. They were made of different materials, such as calcite, limestone and alabaster.
You can get canopic jars in different souvenir shops in Cairo. They are mainly produced today for decorative purposes, which is why you’ll find them in incredibly fine finishes.
13. Alabaster carvings
Alabaster is one of the most famous materials among the locals in Egypt. A souvenir made of alabaster represents the country and its culture and will serve as a great gift.
Alabaster is a soft rock that allows artists to easily carve out almost all types of functional or decorative items, such as beautiful bowls and dishes, Egyptian gods, canopic jars, vases, cat statues. There are many places where you can buy these products in Cairo, but visiting a factory will give you an insight into how these things are produced and their cultural significance. You could also get a lesson or two on how to identify genuine alabaster.
Cartouches are another ancient Egyptian memento. They are oval-shaped nameplates with horizontal bars at the bottom and indicate that the enclosed text is a royal name. “Cartouche” is a French word that means "gun cartridge". The name stuck with the nameplate when Napoleon’s army headed to Egypt for an expedition and identified the plates as “Cartouches”. The original ancient Egyptian term for the item was “Shen”.
They hold serious cultural importance, as they were worn by Pharaohs to keep evil spirits away in life and death. They also served as good luck charms. The cartouche had another traditional purpose: it was engraved on coffins and tombs to identify the deceased. The ancient Egyptians believed that each individual had two souls, Ba and Ka. The souls used the cartouche to find out which body they belonged to when they made their journey to the afterlife.
You'll find cartouches engraved on many Egyptian temples in Cairo. They were exclusively worn by royals in the ancient kingdoms, but you can have yours today. They are available in stone, alabaster, silver, and other materials. The most popular variant, though, is silver, which comes as necklaces. The cartouche is a cool souvenir because you can have your name engraved on the silver variant in hieroglyphs!
Cairo is one of the most respected cities when it comes to perfumery. This is where many international perfumers source the essences for their products. You'll be bombarded with offers when you walk the streets of Cairo. In fact, stops at perfume houses are a key part of many guided tours. You have the opportunity to get truly authentic perfumes in Cairo, so make good use of your trip.
Undiluted essences are sold by the ounce in the Khan el-Khalili souk in Cairo. Shops also deal in cheap imitations of famous fragrances, and they can duplicate any for you upon request. You'll agree that Egyptian scents make knockout souvenirs.
16. Hand-blown glass
Glass-blowing is one of the many ancient Egyptian traditions that have been preserved over time. Hand-blown glass is so beautiful that you would believe magic goes into the production process. Its exotic, authentic, and individual glamour make it one of the most unique types of craft you will ever find.
Glass making in Egypt can be traced back to 2000 B.C., as the nation has always been rich in the purest silica deposits. The craft involves using metal oxide to produce glass for dishes, lamps, windows, bottles, and mirrors. The vocation gained more success with the Arabian conquest.
These days, you can enjoy the artistic touch of hand-blown glass in many small decorative ornaments or fancy-colored bowls and vases. Products that you should go for include kohl and perfume bottles, which come in many sizes and variations. They are normally light-weighted and thin, but heavy and large items are also available.
Make sure you do your homework before buying any glass. Request ideal packaging that will protect the product if the seller doesn’t provide it. The pieces are delicate and quite fragile, and you don’t want to spoil the fine details and ornamentation. Another thing to look out for is the base of the bottle. Properly shaped bases that make for steady bottles are the right picks, as thin glass bottles can lean when filled.
You can find glassware almost anywhere in Cairo, but if you want the best products and variety to choose from, head to the El Khan market. Prices are determined by quality, design, and size.
Remember to go to reputable souvenir markets in the city. This way, you will not only bag the best deals, but will also purchase authentic products. The Pottery Market (Fokhareen Market), Muizz Street, Khayamiya Market, and Khan el-Khalili are examples of trusted souvenir shopping spots in the country’s capital. Don’t forget, you can get these items from the comfort of your home through an Egypt based forwarder!