Shopping in Egypt is as unique as its historical and architectural attractions. I’m not an avid shopper but even I couldn’t resist the charms of its traditional markets and handicrafts. From home decor to fashion, here’s a list of things to buy in Egypt as souvenirs that will help you in your next shopping spree.
Haggling is a common practice in several countries including Egypt but please be considerate if you engage in it. My husband and I trusted our guide to negotiate a price that was fair to the seller and us. Most items are available in a variety of price points depending on the materials, size, and effort it takes to make them. It’s better to know your budget beforehand and look for something closer to that price range. Going after the best quality, highest priced items while expecting the sellers to drastically reduce their price will result in disappointment from leaving empty-handed or guilt about going over budget.
Egyptian markets have a lot more to offer but I’ve tried to stick with things that are relatively easier to carry and bring back home. There are artistic items to adorn your shelves as well as functional items that can be put to everyday use.
Scarabs or dung beetle representations are considered good luck charms. These small souvenirs can easily fit in the palm of your hand. There are different variations in color and design. The one we have is made of black stone with gray carvings and includes hieroglyph-like designs at the bottom.
The scarab symbolized renewal and rebirth in ancient Egypt. It relates to the Egyptian God Khepri, who represents the rising sun and is depicted with a scarab face.
2. Papyrus replicas
A Papyrus replica is another unique item available for purchase in Egypt. The original papyrus scrolls were made from the fibrous stems of the papyrus plants that grew in abundance along the banks of the Nile and which also feature prominently in the architecture of ancient monuments.
The papyrus replicas can range widely in size and price depending on the item. There are large scrolls made of real papyrus or replica scrolls made from dried banana leaves depicting ancient Egyptian scenes. These are lightweight and easy to frame after getting home. Or you can get smaller replica items like bookmarks featuring hieroglyph alphabets and Pharaohs.
3. Decorative tiles
Handcrafted tiles of stone or ceramic are a unique takeaway from the country. This is the closest you’ll come to capturing the hieroglyphs and reliefs that you’ve admired on temple walls in a memento. These tiles depict vivid scenes of Egyptian Gods, Pharaohs, and hieroglyphs and may be multi-colored or earthy brown.
The one we purchased, pictured above, shows Anubis, the ancient Egypt God of the dead, judging the dead by weighing the soul. The left balance holds the heart of the dead person and the right one holds a feather. The heart gets heavier the more ill deeds a person has done and if it weighed more than the feather, the person would not be able to proceed into the afterlife or their heart would be eaten by Ammut, a Goddess known as Devourer of the Dead. Those will a light heart will move on to a place of joy in the afterlife.
While these tiles may not take up too much volume, they certainly are heavy. Be mindful of the weight so you don’t end up paying for excess baggage at the airport.
4. Camel models
There’s a high probability that you’ve crossed paths with camels during your Egyptian holiday, whether at the pyramids or a Nubian village along the Nile River. Camels are a crucial part of desert life and communities. Perhaps that’s why they make a big appearance in Egyptian art as well.
You will find camel models and figurines in various materials and sizes based on your budget and preference. There are wooden and stone figurines across the spectrum ranging from basic shapes to large, detailed models. My husband and I were drawn to this model at the airport for its level of detail and craftsmanship. There are earthen pots, metal containers, cane baskets, rugs, and bedding all arranged neatly on the back of this cute brown-haired camel.
Egyptian food is perhaps one of the most underrated cuisines. Taking a sampling of spices home is one of the ways of bringing the flavors of Egyptian cooking into your kitchen. The traditional bazaars and supermarkets are stocked with a wide array of spices.
It can be overwhelming to decide which spice to pick in a shop teeming with such intense aromas. Stick to the basics like chili powder, cinnamon, and turmeric, or opt for classic blends like garam masala which features roasted and powdered spices like cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
6. Coffee and tea
Teahouses are a common feature in Cairo. Tea and coffee are not just beverages to Egyptians but a tool for social and intellectual connection. Bring along some of this flavor home with powdered coffee and a variety of tea leaves. Shai (tea) is taken without milk but with sugar to combat bitterness. Ask for a light tea or strong tea variety based on your liking.
Karkade is another favored drink in Egypt. It is a tart herbal tea made from dried petals of the hibiscus flower. These hibiscus petals are commonly found in the spice and tea souqs of Egypt. Boil the dried hibiscus in water until the water is infused with its flavor. You can drink this hot or cold with sugar to taste and reminisce about your time in Egypt.
5. Jewelry boxes
Handmade wooden jewelry boxes in geometric shapes can be found in the Nubian village bazaars to the markets of Cairo. These are inlaid with the mother of pearl or cheaper alternatives like seashells or plastic to create geometric patterns commonly seen in the Islamic world. The inside lined with velvet paper feels as impressive as the outside.
These boxes make for functional as well as attractive gifts. They come in various shapes and sizes so you can select a smaller size if you don’t have enough room in your luggage.
We met a perfume seller in Giza and spent time chatting and drinking tea with him as he took us to his store. He was a strong salesman but this was one time I have not regretted an impulsive purchase. We walked away with three vials of perfumes with names like Cleopatra and King Tut. I’ve shared these perfumes with friends and family as well as rationed them for my personal use.
The scents are very balanced, and distinct but not overpowering like the Arabic musk. I’ve even carried them in little roll-on bottles during my travels. These perfumes do not have alcohol making them especially desirable for Muslim travelers who often prefer to use non-alcoholic products. The tightly capped bottles were wrapped in a velvet box with cushioned interiors for a smooth journey. Handblown glass bottles will be provided or can be purchased separately for storage once you start using it back home. The bottles themselves are beautifully shaped like an hourglass with a feather-like tip for application.
9. Bed and bath
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of everyday items while shopping on my travels. Egyptian cotton is widely loved in the bed and bath department. What better place to buy these items than Egypt. Bedsheets, pillowcases, and towels are great items that can easily fit in your luggage among clothes and have no danger of breaking.
The higher the thread count, the higher the prices. But these are definitely worth considering as they last longer than regular cotton.
Shopping for clothes during travels is a fun way to learn about the lifestyle and culture of a new place. Scarves are one example of a versatile piece of clothing that will always remind you of the country after you return home. This multi-colored, patterned scarf of mine has garnered dozens of compliments over the years. It is even a conversation starter with people asking me where I’ve got this from.
You can also check out other clothing items like tops, bottoms, and dresses. I picked up the comfiest pair of drawstring cotton pajamas during a shopping trip along the Nile that remains my favorite, especially in summer.
And that concludes my recommendation of 10 unique things to buy in Egypt as souvenirs. Whether you give these as gifts to family and friends or make them a part of your home, these items will serve as joyful reminders of the beautiful memories you’ve made in the country.
Over to you, what are the most interesting souvenirs you’ve picked up on your travels? I’d love to hear in the comments below!