While still not the first destination people generally think of when you talk about the Middle East, Oman is becoming increasingly popular within the region. If you are lucky enough to visit this beautiful country, it isn’t hard to figure out why. To reach the Oman you will most likely fly into it’s capital city, make sure you spend at least a couple of days here as there are lots of things to do in Muscat you won’t want to miss!
We actually spent seven nights in Muscat in total; four at the beginning at The Chedi hotel and three at the end at the Shangri-La Al Husn hotel. I am a massive luxury hotel lover and Muscat (and the rest of Oman) have some absolute stand out ones, so I wanted to allow plenty of time for relaxing in them during our stay. We were also in Oman for our honeymoon, another reason contributing to the more laid back approach to our trip!
Muscat isn’t like other capital cities such as London or Bangkok (partly because it just isn’t as big) , I think you could actually cover all of their main sites in just one day (it would be a busy day though!)
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Private Muscat City Tour
As the city is pretty spread out, we opted for a private city tour of Muscat. We had a driver for the day who also acted as our guide in some places, although at the Mosque, they had arranged for a private guided tour with one of the official guides. Our entrance fees were all included and they kept us topped up with a bottomless supply of ice cold water from an in car chiller (I would love one of those in my car!).
I generally prefer private tours over group, particularly for longer activities as I enjoy being able to go at my own pace and they are easy to customise as well.
I mention it a few times in the below, but I found Muscat so quiet in terms of tourists. These are not places that I would describe “off the beaten track”, but in some we were the only non-locals there. Absolutely not what could be described as crowded, which was just incredible, usually to see sights such as these you are joined by a few other hundred people! One of the reasons I loved Oman is that what we did always felt really genuine and not at all commercialised.
Related Post: Ultimate Oman Itinerary: Mountains, Muscat & Desert
1. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The mosque opened in 2001 as a marker of thirty years of reign by Sultan Qaboos. It is a truly stunning piece of architecture, absolutely huge (although not compared to some other mosques in the Middle East!) and can hold up to 20,000 worshippers. The men’s prayer hall is incredible, the carpet is supposed to be the second largest in the world and unbelievably detailed; our guide told us it took six hundred women four years to weave. The dark wood detailing is incredibly ornate, but the show stopper for me was when I looked up; a 45 foot, eight ton Swarovski crystal chandelier.
I can’t tell you how much I love chandeliers and I was just absolutely blown away. Hands down, best one I’ve ever seen. Now I just need to get one for my house…and a house I could fit it into….something to work towards!
Don’t miss the on site library, it’s open to all but we were the only ones in there who were visitors of the mosque. We finished our tour off by going into a little room where an Omani lady gave us dates and coffee and encouraged us to ask questions about the mosque and Islam. I, of course, had lots of questions which she was really enthusiastic in answering. They also have free books and leaflets on Omani history, sites to visit etc. to take away if you wish.
I thought it was lovely as it really came across that they appreciate visitors and the opportunity to share their knowledge and love for their country.
Entrance is free before 11:00am to the mosque, watch the opening times though as they only reopen some afternoons and are shut on Fridays. Ladies, you need to cover up, long trousers, long sleeved, high necked tops and a scarf to cover your hair. Gents, not the time to try out the short shorts trend, you will get some very strange looks.
2. Muttrah Souq
Muttrah Souq is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oman. Now usually when I hear this about somewhere I am about to visit I debate whether or not to go, decide to go anyway because there’s generally a good reason it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions and then brave myself for immense amounts of irritation and exhaustion at battling through the excessive crowds.
Well, I didn’t see anyone who resembled a tourist in the souq (we were there for about an hour). Now I don’t know whether it was because we visited in October, the shoulder season as Oman starts to reopen after the very hot summer, or because Oman is still a bit under the radar when it comes to travel. It could be a combination of both factors, but it was awesome!
An Ancient Arabian Experience
Anyway, the souq, no one knows exactly how long it’s been around, but it is allegedly one of the oldest souqs in the Arabian world. It is directly opposite the harbour that is now a mini container port (I love commercial ports, but I will save that long and slightly odd story for another day) which would have seen lots of trade from the east in days gone by. The souq is undercover and looks quite wide and spacious (for a souq) at the beginning, but the further you go, the narrower and more winding it gets. We had great fun trying to navigate round and inevitably getting lost. If you do find yourself a bit unsure of how to get out, the market is on an incline, so go downhill and eventually you’ll find yourself back at the entrance.
It wasn’t nearly as noisy and busy as other souqs I’ve been in, the sellers were also not aggressive in the slightest. It was so enjoyable just to wander around and be nosy without being hassled (or not too much anyway) and were able to buy without the pressure (ish). I got a beautiful ring pot made of Omani silver and some “tat” for my dad which he has quite a collection of from many countries around the world!
Top Tip: It’s worth just having a wander around the harbour as well, there’s some lovely old coffee shops to sit and people watch and we also had a look around the old fish market. Not for everyone, but I love the atmosphere of these things and I love fish, so I always find it interesting going round and seeing if there’s any I haven’t heard of or eaten before.
3. Bait Al Zubair Museum
I really enjoyed this museum, it was really quiet so we went around at our own pace. It gave a really great insight into the history of Oman, the different cultures, how they dressed, how they lived etc. The display is mainly an impressive array of artefacts rather than art, with helpful signage that takes you in a journey through time. Outside in the gardens there is a traditional Bedouin house you can go inside (remember to take your shoes off). There is also a café and a shop selling some lovely souvenirs. This museum is small, but I personally can find a huge one overwhelming as I don’t think you can absorb all of the information in one go.
Entrance fee is 2 OMR for adults (about £4), 1 OMR for children aged 10 – 15 and free for under 10s. It is open 9:30am – 6:00pm every day except Friday. You can rock up and pay on the door, or if you book a Muscat City Tour, most of them include a visit to this museum and entry is included.
4. The Palace
The Sultan’s Palace is an interesting building, that I don’t really know how to describe. I’ve put a picture of it below which I’m sure does a much better job of conveying the architecture than I could ever do in writing! You can’t go inside, but you can walk around the exterior and take photos. The Sultan doesn’t actually live here and generally only goes there for ceremonial events, preferring a quieter residence outside of Muscat.
The Palace is surrounded by Al Jalali and Mirani forts which were built in the 16th century. We walked around the back of the Palace to have a look at them and you can also see a different perspective of the Palace.
5. Boat Trips
We went on two boat trips during our stay in Muscat and I would whole heartedly recommend trying to see Muscat from the sea, the views are incredible.
However, even though they were slightly different, I would probably only recommend you do one if you don’t have that much time in Muscat. My favourite was the dolphin and whale watching tour, purely because I am a morning person and it was first thing and I like going fast on a boat (seeing the dolphins was pretty good as well!). We had also seen a lot of the sites that the dhow cruise focussed on during our private city tour of Muscat.
Related Post: A One Day Itinerary for Muscat in Oman
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Dolphin & Whale Watching
There are several during the day, but I would recommend taking the early morning one; despite the covered boat it gets hot on the water (you spend about two hours on the boat).
I love the sea, I find it so calming and it just makes me happy! We got some amazing views of the coast on our journey along the shoreline, the landscape is mountainous so it is not obvious you are alongside the capital, it’s just looks like a collection of small towns interspersed along the shore. The boat was comfortable with about fifteen of us in total and seats for a few more. I am going to class the boat as small, so for those of you that don’t like that, be aware!
Anyway, main event, we saw lots of dolphins! They were truly beautiful and it was so lovely to watch them jumping up out of the sea. We followed a couple of pods, the team on board were experts at spotting them and we would only know they were near when we slowed down and then really near when the engines switched off. They would then generally leap out of the water somewhere near the boat and take us by surprise!
I really enjoyed it, it was quite relaxed and it didn’t ever feel like we were “chasing” them as we kept our distance and after about ten minutes we would drive (is that the correct terminology for a boat?) to another location to find a new pod. We didn’t see any whales, but apparently their viewings are much more seasonal and it was not quite the right time of year for them to be confident of a sighting.
Dolphin Watching Cruises are around 20 OMR per person, so about £45. This included pick up and drop off via a shared transfer to and from our hotel and drinks and snacks aboard the boat.
Twilight Dhow Cruise
We also did a Twilight Dhow Cruise on a different day that was more relaxed and focussed on the scenery. It was on a dhow, a traditional wooden boat that was quite large and much slower than the boat we went on for our dolphin trip. I’m not sure how many people were on this (maybe twenty five?) but, again, not crowded in the slightest, so Danny and I had our own little corner.
Watching the sun set over the gorgeous landscape was fantastic and we drove along the coast with the key buildings being pointed out to us. They did this through the skipper on the deck rather than through a speaker system which was a bit more chilled and allowed us to ask questions (he also could do more specific pointing for me when I couldn’t see what he was talking about, I have such bad eyesight!). We saw the Al Bustan Palace hotel, the Sultan’s Palace, the harbour in Muttrah and various historical forts.
A Sunset Dhow Cruise includes Omani coffee, dates and soft drinks served aboard and again, the price of 25 OMR per person (around £50) included shared transfers to and from your hotel.
Final Thoughts: Five Things to Do in Muscat, Oman
This is probably the least I have ever done in a capital city, but I actually really enjoyed the slower pace. When places are super hectic it can also be more tiring, but I actually found we had a really great balance and generally did a half day of activity and the rest of the day spent at our hotel. I usually struggle with this as I worry that I’ll come home and feel like I didn’t make the most of the experience! A private city tour of Muscat was also a great idea, it makes everything much more relaxed and I always love chatting to the drivers, you can learn a lot about where you are visiting.
If you can have more than a few days in Oman, head out to the mountains and stay at the Alila Jabal Akhdar for the most stunning views I have ever seen from a hotel. The desert is also only a couple of hours drive from Muscat, we did some dune bashing (which didn’t end so well, you can read more about it here!), watch the sun set behind the dunes and spend the night at Wahiba Sand Desert Nights camp.
What do you prefer to do when visiting a different city, action packed or combine with chilling out?
– View and book your Private Muscat City Tour, Dolphin Watching Cruise or Dhow Sunset Cruise.
– 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.