Compared to flashy Emirati neighbours like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital of Oman is a breath of fresh, Persian Gulf sea air. Muscat is famous for dazzling souks and superb seafood, but its terrain brings the biggest thrills. This middle east port city is a great place to trek deserts at dawn, spot dolphins at sundown, and enjoy plenty of Omani hospitality. Here is why you need to visit Muscat, Oman.
Most stalls are open to bartering, but there’s less wiggle-room on jewellery (which is sold by weight). If you’re a haggling novice, start with an offer of around 40–50 per cent of the vendor’s opening price, and aim to meet somewhere in the middle.
This mosque gleams from the tips of its four minarets and 50m-high gold dome right down to the white marble flooring. The men’s prayer hall (visitable by both sexes) is especially stunning, with vast Persian carpets and chandeliers the size of dune buggies. However — non Muslims should be sure to be appropriately dressed when visiting this mosque.
See an array of historic weaponry at the Bait Al Zubair National Museum, from pearl-embossed straight swords to beauteous blades inscribed with koranic verses.
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Dine on the catch of the day overlooking the swaying yachts at the Blue Marlin restaurant in the marina. Even the most ravenous travellers will be satisfied by platters heaped with grilled tuna, prawns, kingfish and a whopping lobster.
Next, discover the Royal Opera House, an admirable blend of Omani and Italian-imported marble and Burmese teak. It’s even worth poking your nose inside certain luxury hotels: the Al-Bustan Palace Hotel has an atrium the equal of many a museum, 38m high with a blend of art deco and lavish Arabian stylings.
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Ocean Blue Oman has regular two-hour coast cruises, with great chances of seeing these playful cetaceans frolic in the water.
Lace up your walking boots for the rocky C38 trail from Muscat’s Riyam Park into the hills. Rewards for this two-hour exertion include bird’s-eye views of the port and fortresses and blissful mountain solitude. Hiking is at its best from October to April.
Try sweet-toothed temptations
Guests to Omani homes are welcomed with cardamom-scented coffee and sticky dates. There are 35 varieties to enjoy, from caramel-like Khalas dates to darker, less sweet Farth dates.
Browse for your favourites at the fruit and vegetable markets at Sultan Qaboos Port. Another snack guaranteed to strike fear into your dentist’s heart is Omani halwa, a gelatinous treat boiled down from sugar, wheat starch and saffron (find it in Muttrah Souk).
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Rub’ Al Khali (the ‘Empty Quarter’) is an estimated 583,000 square-kilometres of uninhabited dunes. Photographers are spellbound by the play of light on these rippling hillocks of sand, solitude-seekers venture here to camp under the stars. Additionally, it’s increasingly a destination for adventure travel.
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Spot bulky sixteenth-century Mutrah Fort along the walk, and a lookout tower in the shape of a giant incense burner, towering over verdant Riyam Park. Strolling along the Corniche is spectacular around sunset when the sea glitters in hues of magenta and orange, and the Islamic call to prayer soars from minarets.
It’s particularly dramatic when illuminated after dark. You can climb the rough concrete steps up to the top for sweeping harbour views and a closer look at the crumbling fortifications. Visiting the Muttrah Fort is one of the best things to do in Muscat — in fact, in the country of Oman.
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The mountains to the northwest of Nizwa are much less developed than those on the Saiq Plateau, which makes for more continuously spectacular scenery. The highpoint (in every sense) of a visit out here is the drive up the flanks of Jebel Shams (3009m), the highest mountain in Oman. This is one of the best tourist attractions of the arab world.
If you want to sunbathe, you’re better off sticking to the areas of beach around the back of the InterContinental or Grand Hyatt hotels, where the number of other sun-worshipping Westerners on the sands guarantees relative anonymity and hassle-free relaxation; elsewhere on the beach, female visitors may attract unwanted attention.
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This list could truly go on. There are countless fantastic things to do in Muscat. Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the Rough Guide to Oman. If you travel further in Oman, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Oman. For inspiration use the itineraries from our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Oman without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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Top image: The decorated roof of the old Souq, Muscat © Robert Haandrikman/Shutterstock