Oman is one of the Arabian peninsula’s best kept secrets; a peaceful, luxurious and downright stunning destination. As its capital, the majority of visitors will get to experience Muscat, however if you don’t explore outside the city bounds, I can assure you that you will be missing out big time. Hopefully you will get to have more than one day in Muscat though, but if you haven’t, don’t worry, you can get around most of the best things to do in Oman’s capital in under 12 hours.
We were in Oman for our honeymoon (not a traditional destination I know, you can read the full story here) and to be honest got so seduced by the two absolute stunner hotels we stayed in that we struggled to leave to actually explore!
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Things to See in Muscat in One Day
Have you ever been to a destination and got hit with the overwhelm of trying to work out the very small proportion of things you are going to prioritise seeing during your trip, knowing you will have to miss out on the rest? Well, Muscat is the PERFECT antidote to this as it is the epitome of small but perfectly formed.
It is therefore also a great place to visit for those of you who, like me, can find the chaos of city breaks not conducive to chilling out. The tourist levels are still low here, even in peak season and there is an air of serenity that I have to say I don’t think I have experienced in any other city, ever.
The compact size and Middle Eastern location also means that Oman is a great layover destination, particularly if you have a preference to fly British Airways as I do. Planning a layover can save a decent amount on the cost of your flights, but there are more generally more reward upgrade opportunities and it reduces the impact of jet lag.
Getting Around Muscat
You have two main options, hire a car or take a tour. We opted for a private tour which I personally think is the best way to see Muscat in a day due to the convenience and time saving opportunity; your guide knows where to park, hidden spots and the best order to do things in. Plus, it’s an opportunity to spend some time with someone local to get insights and opinions that you can’t get on informational boards.
You could hire a car, the roads seemed very civilised and easy to navigate with minimal traffic. Beware if you are heading out to the mountains during your trip as you will need a 4×4; there is a police operated check point to ensure this happens as well.
There is not a lot of public transport in Oman so I would recommend not relying on this, particularly due to the short time frame, you don’t want to be faffing around.
Muscat City Tour Stop 1: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
First stop is one of Muscat’s most important landmarks, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It is open to non-Muslims between 08:30 and 11:00 Saturday to Thursday and entrance is free. Commissioned by Sultan Qaboos to mark 30 years of his rule, this beautiful building opened in 2001 and is arguably the highlight of any trip to Muscat.
The mosque is made from Indian sandstone with an overall capacity for a huge 20,000 worshippers. The most stunning design features have been saved for the main prayer hall where there is a chandelier covered in Swarovski crystals weighing over 8 tons and a handmade Persian carpet measuring more than 70 metres by 60 metres. Both held the world record until one of Oman’s neighbours got a bit jealous and decided they were going to go bigger, so both are now only the second largest of their kind!
Top Tip: All visitors need to be dressed conservatively, including long trousers or skirt with your shoulders covered. Ladies, you need to bring a scarf to cover your hair as well.
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Muscat City Tour Stop 2: Muttrah Souq
One of the oldest Arabian marketplaces in the world, Muttrah Souq is a winding warren of market stalls overflowing with various shiny treats. From traditional Omani silver to jewellery and beautiful scarves, this is the perfect place to buy something to remind you of the time you spent in Oman. It is less chaotic than many other souqs and the traders much less “insistent”. I definitely enjoyed it more than similar places I have been to as I didn’t seem in imminent danger of being chased down the street!
The entrance to the souq is in Muttrah Corniche, a harbour nestled into a cove. If you have time, wander the length of it to see some beautiful old buildings and mosques. Keep an eye out for the Sultan’s two yachts that moor here as well, you’ll know which are his!
Related Post: A Complete Oman Itinerary: Muscat, Mountain & Desert
Muscat City Tour Stop 3: Sultan’s Palace
Five kilometres east along the coast from Muttrah Corniche is the Sultan’s Palace, an interesting and colourful building with lots of gold decoration. Despite it not being the Sultan’s main residence, you can’t go inside, only walk around the exterior.
Either side of the Palace are the Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Formerly a prison, Al Jalali is now a heavily restricted museum, to enter you need to apply to the Ministry of National Heritage & Culture. This was a bit of a faff for us personally, so only admired it from the outside!
Muscat City Tour Stop 4: Royal Opera House & Opera Galleria
For a glamorous evening, check to see if there are any performances at the Royal Opera House. Designed by the same architects behind the Grand Mosque (you won’t miss the similarities), the shows here are top notch, with some big names in both ballet and opera having performed here.
Alternatively, you can book a tour of the building rather than seeing a show and there is also a shopping complex next door at the Opera Galleria, where there are also lots of cafés and restaurants.
Related Post: Luxury Hotel Review: Alila Jabal Akhdar
Where to Eat in Muscat
If you’re not having breakfast at your hotel, Mint & Coco is a great brunch and coffee destination. This locally run café has an international feel with lots of greenery and a natural décor. Much as I love travel and trying local foods, for some reason this does not extend to breakfast, I like to keep to what I know. Pancakes, Eggs Royale (salmon over ham any day of the week) and a cappuccino are my favourites! Mint & Coco fits the bill with a range of classics, some with a modern or local twist.
For dinner, few restaurants are as well known in Muscat as Kargreen Caffe, a local institution. A traditional Omani restaurant with some Western dishes thrown in for variety, it is a very laid back atmosphere with a beautiful garden illuminated by lanterns hanging from the trees.
For a more romantic and refined experience, head to The Beach at The Chedi hotel. The views across the ocean are beautiful, with fire pits on the outside deck and some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. Afterwards, walk right out onto the beach for a moonlit walk and head to one of the Chedi’s many bars for a post dinner cocktail. The bar at the Long Pool does an exceptionally good chilli margarita!
Top Tip: Head to my Travel Resource Library for a downloadable Google map with the exact locations of all the best restaurants, bars and cafés in Muscat.
Where to Stay in Muscat
Oman is a luxury lover’s paradise and especially if you only have one day in Muscat, I recommend treating yourself to one of their super duper hotels.
There is a luxury hotel trifecta here consisting of The Chedi, Shangri-La Al Husn and Al Bustan Palace. I have stayed in the two former options and had drinks and dinner at the latter. The Chedi is a smaller, boutique and stunningly designed hotel with three incredible pools and several excellent restaurants. Its also houses the best spa in Muscat if you’re looking for some chill time. The Shangri-La is no less luxurious, but much more of a resort style rather than boutique and exclusive.
Final Thoughts: Things to Do in Muscat in One Day
Seeing all of the top Muscat highlights is absolutely possible in one day. To maximise your time and get the most out of the experience I would recommend getting a private tour, worth every penny in my opinion.
Have longer in Oman? You very lucky thing, Muscat is beautiful, but it is outside the city that you will really see just how stunning this country really is. Head out for a road trip to the mountains of Jabal Akhdar and spend the night at the perfectly situated Alila (which was also my favourite hotel of our whole trip).
Continue your journey to Wahiba Sands desert to spend the night luxury glamping beneath the stars before heading back to Muscat and visiting deserted white sand beaches, wadis and the infamous Bimmah Sinkhole en route.
– View and book your Private Muscat City Tour here
– Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner. Oman Air fly direct from Manchester and London Heathrow on a daily basis and British Airways fly from London Heathrow three times a week between October and April.
There are currently no direct flights from the USA, but there are lots of connection options; Muscat is only an hour’s flight from Dubai.
– View and book accommodation in Oman with Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com.
– Click here to buy your Lonely Planet Guide for Oman.
– Apply for your Oman Visa here. Read my full Oman Itinerary for more visa information.
– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.