What to do in Nizwa, the historical city of Oman
Nizwa is a mountainous city located in northern Oman, about 1,5 hours from Muscat, the capital of the country. Rich in history and culture, the place holds, still to this day, the importance it conquered in past centuries, through its connection between the rugged interior and the other regions of the coastal plain.
In Nizwa you will find the most visited monument of Oman, which I will talk about later, as well as other historical and cultural symbols of the country. In addition, in getting to know Nizwa, you can take advantage of other experiences that make the city and its surroundings one of the most intriguing places in the Sultanate of Oman.
Read more about Muscat, the capital of Oman.
Nizwa Fort is a 17th century building that still stands proudly, welcoming visitors with its striking structure which took 12 years to build - an extraordinary example of ancient Omani architecture. This colossal construction is the most visited attraction in Oman and was extremely important in protecting the city of Nizwa against invading forces, who wanted the region's natural wealth and its strategic location at the crossroads of vital trade routes. As you walk through the fortress, climb to the top of the circular tower, and you will have a spectacular view of the rugged mountains, the sea of green palms and the surrounding white-washed houses.
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday from 8 am to 6 pm; and Friday from 8 am to 11 am. Admission costs 5,000 OMR.
Nizwa's the strategic importance is that it is a city at the cultural crossroads of Oman. Here, at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, it was the meeting point for merchants who brought goods from across the mountain with the others that brought goods from the coastal region. The concept still remains, and today Nizwa continues being the regional market point, at the old souq where much of this trade still takes place today.
In Nizwa Souq, although you can find a large number of shops and stalls that cater purely to tourists, there remains a large sale of traditional goods, food and products on sale for locals. Spices, rose water, dates, carpets and lamps will be at your disposal to enjoy and available for purchase. There you will feel like you're in a scene from times gone by, with streets full of pottery rich in detail (proving that they are still part of life in Oman), and shopkeepers sitting in front of their shops, indulging you in true Omani hospitality by inviting to visit his store and have coffee with dates. Also, be sure to visit the corner of the market that is dedicated to jewelry, as many consider the best in the country.
In my opinion, Nizwa Souq is better than the one in Muscat, as it still retains a certain authenticity. And considering that it is located very close to the Nizwa Fort, it is possible to combine the two in a single day. During the week, most of the shops open from 6 am to 1 pm, before closing in the afternoon and reopening from 4 pm to 10 pm. On Fridays, shops only open until 11 am.
The Bahla Fort is another secular protection building, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The ruins of the immense fortress, with its brick walls and towers, are a striking example of this type of fortification and a testimony of the power of the leaders of that period.
Of a phenomenal magnitude, the Bahla Fort includes many towers, mosques and wells. The fort complex is huge, and can easily take hours to get to know each corner. Although it was possible to notice its singular structure, unfortunately there was no guide or audioguide available when we were there; so we were not able to have much information about each part, as there was also no adequate description plaques, for example.
You can visit the Bahla Fort from Saturday to Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm; and Friday from 8 am to 11 am. The entry fee is 500 OMR.
Unlike the other structures mentioned above, Jabreen Castle was built in times of peace, by a leader who was passionate about science and art, making Jabreen the most beautiful castle in the Sultanate of Oman. In it you will find several halls to receive guests with rugs and adorned cushions, library, dining rooms, classrooms and court. The castle's design and architecture are rich in details that remain preserved to this day, such as ornate windows, wooden balconies, Arabic calligraphic portals and even colored decorations on the ceiling.
Jabreen Castle is a true work of art. In addition to the building itself, which already enchants all who visit the castle, be sure to visit a well-known part, The Sun and Moon Hall - a room with 14 windows in two rows , in which half of them were made to let in the sunlight and the other half the light of the moon. In this way, the room always had light, whether solar or lunar. Also, the area around the castle is surrounded by palm trees.
When I was researching on Nizwa, I did not find many people who had gone to the castle, but I fully recommend that you include it in your itinerary (be sure to pick up an audioguide at the entrance). Jabreen Castle is open from Saturday to Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm; and Friday from 8 am to 11 am. The entrance costs 500 OMR.
Getting to know the nearby mountains of Nizwa
Another very common activity in Nizwa is visiting the nearby mountains of Jebel Shams (the mountain of the sun, in Arabic) which is the highest peak of the Arabian peninsula and is often called the Grand Canyon of Oman, with its supernatural sights. Additionally, many visit Jabal Akhdar (green mountain, in Arabic) - a region rich in plants - where, depending on the time of year, you will find roses, pomegranates and peaches blooming widely, as well as goats and donkeys grazing in the canyons.
Although it is common to visit the mountains from Nizwa (or vice versa, visit Nizwa from the mountains) I recommend splitting your stay and spending at least one night in each place - one night in Nizwa and one in Jabal Akhdar where nice resorts, such as Alila Jabal Akhdar (where I stayed for two nights) and the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, are located.
Important: to visit the region of the mountains, it is required to have a vehicle with four-wheel drive, and the police do not let you pass without it.
Getting to Nizwa
Nizwa is approximately 1,5 hours away from Muscat, capital of Oman, which is one of the reasons the city is widely visited as a day trip from Muscat. However, Nizwa deserves to be explored calmly, staying at least one night in the city to enjoy its charms. As I said before, a road trip through Oman is the best option to explore the country. So, the best way to get to Nizwa is to rent a car in Muscat and then drive, stopping in the coastal town of Sur and exploring the Wadis along the way.
Where to stay in Nizwa
Accommodation options are limited, with Golden Tulip Nizwa being the most comfortable hotel for those who want to stay close by without having to go too far to see the sights.
Note: I saw some people in Alila Jabal Akhdar making trips to Nizwa, but I do not suggest doing it. If you are staying at this luxury hotel, try spending a lot of time there and enjoy the views of the Grand Canyon of Oman.