Rich in history and tradition, Oman’s capital city has served as a key Arabian port for centuries. The sea continues to play a major role in modern-day Muscat’s story, as livelihood for fishermen, an important trade gateway and a playground for tourists.
The city is surrounded by a vast, unspoiled coastline and its skyline is dominated by the rugged Hajar mountains. There are fewer high-rise buildings here than you’ll find in some of Muscat’s larger gulf neighbours, with much of the architecture serving as a reminder to the city’s past.
Start your trip in Muttrah in the heart of the city, and stroll along the Corniche seafront under the watchful gaze of Muttrah Fort which sits high on the rocks looking out to sea.
In the Muttrah souk, you’ll find a labyrinth of shops selling perfume, jewellery, local handicrafts and other antiques, with new sights, sounds and smells waiting to greet you at every turn. This charming market lures souvenir shoppers who are keen to put their haggling skills to the test.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, near the embassy district, is one of the largest in the world and the only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims. It’s an enjoyable way to understand more about the culture and this important part of local life, and you can get a closer look at the elaborate architecture and decorative features. Visitors are asked to dress conservatively during their visit.
In Old Muscat you’ll find Al Alam Palace, one of the royal residences. Although not open to the public, it’s possible to get a great view of this impressive palace from the main gates. The exhibits and collections at the nearby Bait Al Zubair Museum offer another window into the heritage and culture of Oman’s past.
In contrast to many areas of the city which are steeped in history, Qurum represents modern Muscat where you can stock up on international brands at trendy fashion outlets and browse upmarket boutiques.
Muscat is surrounded by beautiful, sandy beaches which are often a first stop for visitors looking to soak up the sunshine.
Venture outside the city for a day trip with a difference, and try your hand at rather more off-the-beaten-track activities, including hiking through dry river beds (wadis), exploring oases on camelback, trekking through caves, fjords and canyons, or enjoying the thrills of a 4x4 sand dune expedition.
Divers are fascinated by the rich underwater world of coral and marine life in these waters. There are a number of operators that can show you the best dive sites, or view these exotic fish species from above while snorkelling in the shallow-water coves. You can also enjoy a day at sea aboard a traditional wooden dhow, used for centuries as a trading and fishing vessel. As you take in the view of the rocky coast, it’s likely that you will be joined by Omani dolphins, which regularly come to play in the waves.
The region’s cuisine is a blend of Arabian and Indian influences, with favourites such as Shwarma, Biryiani and mezze appearing on most menus. Dine in one of the city’s many cafés or visit the hotel restaurants for more international fare. For the best taste of the local fish, head to the more upmarket seafood restaurants to really savour the fresh catches, including lobster, kingfish and hammour.
For after-dinner drinks, hotel bars and pubs are the most popular nightspots, and some bars offer live music if you’re looking for a more lively evening. Many of the cafés also serve Shisha, which you can enjoy with a coffee and a taste of Arabian ambience.
A scenic, two-hour drive inland from the city brings you to the town of Nizwa. Stop at the Nizwa Fort, dating back to the 17th century, and the traditional souk, a lively market selling fresh produce, spices and silverware.
Dhofar, at the southern tip of Oman, is a short flight from the capital and offers a glimpse into an unexpected side of Arabia, where the annual rainy season (khareef) brings a lush, green blanket over the hills and surrounding landscapes. Arrange your bookings in advance as Dhofar during the khareef is a favourite with GCC residents seeking respite from the summer heat.