What to do in Muscat: the essentials for visiting Oman’s capital
In this post, you will find tips for visiting Muscat, Oman’s capital, including what to do, where to stay and where to eat.
Being the largest city and capital of Oman, Muscat is the gateway to the wonders of this Arab country. The city was once the main port in the Gulf region and was among the most important Indian Ocean trading ports and, despite being the main city of the country, Muscat is still considered a small city by the standards of those living in large metropolises in other countries. In the city you will be charmed by the low-rise and neutral buildings (painted mostly white and beige), well-grown flower beds, varied palm trees, and mountains of different colors and shapes that hide the waters of the Gulf of Oman.
What to do in Muscat
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
If you only have a short time in Muscat and must choose just one attraction, do not even think about it, go straight to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the main attraction of the city. Being a true architectural masterpiece, one of the highlights of the mosque is the rug that weighs 21 tons and took 4 years to be handmade by some 600 women; most of the colors were achieved through natural, traditional techniques. The large crystal chandelier hanging in the main prayer hall is just as striking as the carpet. Interestingly, these two items – the rug and chandelier – were once the largest in the world until they were replaced by those currently in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, in Abu Dhabi.
At the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque you will also find an Islamic study center, which is open to anyone who wants to understand more about the religion. So, if you have any questions or interests about Islam, be sure to stop by.
Access for visitors is free, and the mosque is open on Saturday to Thursday from 8 am to 11 am (on Friday only Muslims have access). We arrived at 8am, the opening hours, and were the first to enter.
PS: Visitors should dress conservatively, covering the entire arm and legs up to the ankle. Women are also required to cover their when inside the premises of the mosque.
The Corniche and Muttrah Souq
As you stroll along the waterfront Corniche, you will take in the harbor, inhale the scents of Arabic perfume, see people enjoying the day and get distracted by the pigeons flying as they flock to get food. You can walk from the City Port to the famous Muscat Fort, stopping at Muttrah Souq (Saturday to Thursday, from 8 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm, Friday from 5 pm to 9 pm), a old-fashioned market full of gold, silver, perfumes and fabrics. The vendors are always offering frankincense, cashmere, and you can be enchanted with various lamps.
On the Corniche, near the Port, is the Fish Market where fisherman sell their daily catches. If you don’t like to see the animals willingly showcased and offered in a commercial way, you can head to the market, and stay outside, to admire the view of the shore that extends all the way to the Fort.
The Muscat Fort is a longstanding, historical building, from the 16th century, originally built when the Portuguese were still the masters of the region. If you have time, be sure to catch the sunset at the top - you will see that from the top, that the white houses give the impression of seeing a magazine with pictures of some Greek city (because of the combination of low white buildings with the waterfront and the sea).
Al Alam Palace – the Sultan’s Palace
As I said previously, the whole city has a white, beige tone with arid hills around it, so be prepared to be amazed when seeing the Al Alam Palace - the Sultan Qaboos Palace, with its vivid and unconventional colors (turquoise and glittering gold) standing out in a sea of houses and buildings of neutral tones. The inner part of the palace is inaccessible, but you can still walk up to the gates, see the building and walk through the gardens in front of the palace.
Royal Opera House
At the Royal Opera House you will be able to watch impressive performances, a diverse mix of opera, ballet, jazz and Arabic music numbers (check the website to see the schedule and purchase the tickets). Even if you are not able to catch a show, the concert hall inside is worth visiting for its impressive Islamic architecture, made of Italian marble and wooden ceilings. The guided tour is very fast and costs 3 OMR per person.
If you are driving your own car in Muscat, take the opportunity to wander around and stop at some beaches in the city. One of them is Qantab Beach, which has cliffs, fishing boats and a quiet seashore pace.
Where to eat in Muscat
The places I ate at and recommend in Muscat (that are not inside hotels) are: Bait al Luban with tasty food and Arabic decor, including areas to enjoy your meal sitting on the floor, and with a balcony where you can sit to watch the Corniche (order the karak tea - a hot drink made with black tea, milk and cardamom); Turkish House, a seafood restaurant - very informal - where you choose the fish and ask them to grill it for you. Suggestions here are the grilled shrimp and the salads, such as fatoush; Kargeen is a very cute restaurant with a large patio with large wooden tables, decorated with cushions of classic fabrics and lanterns. When visiting, ask for the pineapple juice, which comes inside the fruit, and Omani coffee (which is made with rose water, cardamom and saffron).
Where to stay in Muscat
Muscat does not have a particular area to stay, especially if you are driving. So, feel free to choose the hotel you like best, without worrying too much about the location. Here’s my selection of possible hotels:
How to get around in Muscat
For those looking to stay only in the capital, in Muscat, it is possible to use the taxi service which is widely available. However, if you are planning to visit other cities in the country, renting a car is the best option as you will have the flexibility to make your own road trip, stopping whenever and wherever you want.