Situated on the Gulf of Oman, the charming port city of Muscat is a place where history melds beautifully into the modern age. Great efforts have been taken to preserve the traditional character of the city, and the lack of ultra-modern high rises gives this place a unique point of difference from other capital cities of the world.
The hot, sultry summers are long and can feel never ending, giving Muscat a shimmering, exotic atmosphere. A city for culture vultures and adventure-junkies alike, spend your days exploring historic sites, shopping at traditional bazaars, wandering through fascinating museums, spotting local wildlife, scuba diving, beach lazing and conquering the desert landscape in an all-terrain vehicle.
Begin your love affair with Muscat by taking a stroll around the Muttrah Corniche, a beautiful waterfront promenade. The contrast of rugged mountains on one side and the Gulf of Oman on the other makes for a particularly serene amble at sunset. Look out for Muttrah Fort, one of the city’s many Portuguese military forts. In the city centre, the impressive Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque welcomes visitors to experience its breathtaking interiors, including the second biggest hand-woven Persian carpet in the world and a grand Swarovski crystal chandelier.
Muscat is also home to a generous handful of museums, the most popular being Bait al-Baranda and the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum. Over in the Shatti Al-Qurm district, the relatively new Royal Opera House is the city’s art and culture jewel. The best way to get off the beaten track in Muscat is on an all-terrain vehicle safari tour, where you can take the desert by storm or visit exotic hidden oases, waterfalls and pristine swimming holes.
Eat and Drink
Foodies will appreciate that Muscat boasts the best dining scene in all of Oman. Generally, the luxury hotels have their own restaurants serving up sumptuous Lebanese and Irani cuisine, traditional Omani dishes and Western favourites. For dining with a view, check out the restaurants along the waterfront.
Muttrah is a great place to tuck into delicious Arabic shawarma (grilled meat), while the Little India area in Ruwi is home to many Indian expats, authentic Indian eateries and vibrant little shops. While you will find some pubs and swish bars (mainly in the up-market hotels), the local beverages of choice are coffee and fresh juice. Sit down at a coffee shop with outdoor tables along the Corniche and people-watch as you sip qahwa (Arabic coffee) like a local.
Where to Stay
There’s no doubt that Muscat is home to some magnificent luxury hotels and resorts. The beachside hotels in Qurum, Shatti Al-Qurm and Al Khuwair all offer delightfully indulgent experiences. For something a little more low-key, staying in Muttrah around the Corniche puts you in the centre of the action and close to popular sights and attractions. The business and financial district of the city, Ruwi has a good range of hotels that cater for tourists and business travellers.
Muttrah Corniche is home to the most exciting shopping destination in Muscat, and indeed, all of Oman – Muttrah Souk. This traditional Arabic covered market is an enchanting maze of alleyways with colourful shops showcasing local handicrafts, Omani silver jewellery, antiques, textiles, clothing, herbs and spices. The exotic atmosphere, complete with the buzz of locals chatting and sipping coffee, is enough of a draw card in itself. Give yourself plenty of time to explore and make your purchases, keeping in mind that bargaining is expected. Perfume lovers will enjoy a tour of the Amouage Perfumery (Oman’s famous luxury perfume) before sampling and selecting from an exquisite array of scents.
Muscat Like a Local
Qurum Beach is where local families and groups of friends go to chill out, socialise, picnic and watch the sun set. Enjoy people watching from the cafés along the beachfront. The best time to visit is in the evening, just before sunset.