Oman is a jewel in the Middle Eastern crown and an ideal place to visit to escape from a cold, dark winter. As soon as you land you'll switch grey drizzle for guaranteed blue skies and awe-inspiring scenery. Dubai might steal all the limelight but, as the oldest independent state in the Arab world, Oman can boast a history that its glitzier neighbours can't match. The country's ancient palaces and forts offer a window into Omani culture and its fascinating past, and its bustling modern cities offer up souks, museums and galleries.
There are beaches here too of course, yet the country is much more than just sea and sand – you'll find a diverse range of landscapes all packed into one country. Exploring Oman will take you through desert oases, miles of untouched coastline, and dramatic mountain landscapes. We recommend heading there now before everyone's in on the secret.
To find out more about how to make the most of your time in Oman, get your copy of The Rough Guide to Oman before you go.
First stop: Muscat
Oman's capital city and main port, Muscat is a sprawling beachfront city. Dig a little and you'll find ancient artefacts along with plenty of modern city attractions.
Royal Opera House Muscat
The Royal Opera House is the place to go for musical arts and culture in the capital. The imposing building is a fine example of contemporary Omani architecture, and was built in 2001 on the orders of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. You'll find everything from classic opera to blues to Omani folk music. More than simply an opera house, the building is more of a luxury complex, consisting of landscaped gardens, retail marketplace and restaurants.
The Royal Opera House, Muscat © Philip Lange/Shutterstock
Bait Al Zubair Museum
For anyone interested in finding out more about Omani culture and heritage, the Bait Al Zubair museum, located in Old Muscat, houses an extensive collection of artefacts and tells the story of this fascinating country. Visitors can see old weapons, costumes, jewellery and books (as well as many other historical artefacts), and visit the miniature Omani village and some lovely landscaped gardens. There is so much to see here that the museum spans six buildings. There are also a number of cultural projects and festivals that go on throughout the year, so make sure to plan your visit in advance and be prepared to make a full day of it.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Considered one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, this imposing building is a must-see if you are in Muscat. It is an extravagant display of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Omani architectural styles and is so large it can accommodate tens of thousands of worshippers at any one time. It's also one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims – during designated times. The building is truly a sight to behold, embellished with intricate mosaics, impressive crystal chandeliers, and beautiful handmade rugs. Visiting the mosque is free, just remember to dress appropriately: long sleeves and trousers (or skirts), and a hair scarf for women.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque © Permchai Phoorivatana/Shutterstock
Omani National Museum
This is a newer tourist attraction in Muscat, but already established as a must-see. The National Museum was built in 2016 and showcases Omani culture and heritage. The collection is a little more sparse than other museums in the capital, but each display is carefully curated, and high-tech displays bring local stories to life. The museum is situated opposite the Sultan’s Grand Palace – an impressive (and incredibly opulent) architectural feat.
Jebel Akhdar Highlands
The Jebel Akhdar Highlands (meaning 'Green Mountain' in English) form part of the Al Hajar mountain range in northeastern Oman. The highlands are a place of endless vistas and big skies, a welcome counterpoint to Muscat city.
History and architecture buffs should not miss the ruins of the landmark Bahla fortress and settlement. This remarkable building, made of unbaked brick and stone, was built alongside an oasis by the Banu Nebhan tribe, who were dominant in the central Omani area from the 12th to the 15th centuries, when the area was a strategic point along the Frankincense trade route. It is an impressive piece of architecture, although there is little information for visitors on site, so consider organising a private tour guide if you go.
Bahla Fort © Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock
Al Batinah Region
Backed by the Al Hajar mountains and extending to the Gulf Coast, the Al Batinah region is a place of fertile plains, where much of Oman's population lives.
This impressive fortress, surrounded by date palms, is believed to date to pre-Islamic times – some 1,500 years ago – although its exact age is not known. You can explore the structure and visit the on-site mosque and the museum, home to a collection of historic guns among other things. There are some interesting architectural features, such as nooks over doorways, in which cauldrons of boiling honey were placed, and spiked doors, which repelled battering rams. The fort is built atop a immense boulder and offers spectacular views of the countryside. For a taste of ancient life in the modern world, visit the weekly goat market, held on Fridays.
A world heritage nature reserve found some 12 miles off the coast, the Dimaniyat islands could compete with the Maldives for their white sands, blue skies, and clear waters.
Dimaniyat Nature Reserve
The beautiful beaches and gin-clear ocean are more than enough reason to visit the islands, but what makes them even more special is the abundance of wildlife. Come at the right time and you might see the sea turtles lay their eggs, or catch a glimpse of the huge numbers of migratory birds that find their way here each year. For something a bit more adventurous, the islands are great for snorkelling and diving too.
A turtle at Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve © Marcin Szymczak/Shutterstock
Top image: Oman's mountains reach right to the coast © NAPA/Shutterstock