While searching for things to do in Muscat, we settled on taking a private taxi tour of the capital. Jumping into the taxi, the driver asked us in broken English, “Where you from?” Laura replied simply, “the United States.” He had begun to drive away from the hotel to show us some of the local attractions in Muscat, but immediately stopped on the driveway before reaching the main road. He put the car into a park and turned around looking at us in shocked disbelief. “America?” We nodded. We didn’t know if we were about to be on the receiving end of an anti-American political rant in this Islamic country.
He got a big toothy smile and said, “Welcome to Oman!” He proceeds to tell us that they get lots of Germans and some Brits, but never Americans. “You are the first Americans in Oman!” We nodded, but knew it wasn’t true. Lance’s parents had visited Oman only a few years before. But this relative obscurity put it high on our list of places to visit in the Middle East and was precisely the reason why we had made the long drive through the desert to visit Oman.
Oman is an enigma for many westerners. When we told friends we would be coming here, the most common question we got was, “Where is Muscat, Oman?” It borders Saudi Arabia and Yemen at the base of the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent to the Sea of Oman. In a part of the world that that has been rocked by instability, terrorism, and general ugliness, Oman has been a pillar of calm. Largely isolated until 1970, the country has a moderate, relaxed atmosphere while the cities in Oman provide an opportunity for sightseeing. The country has incredible scuba diving and broad, sandy beaches. The lure of an Oman vacation proved too much and we made our way here.
As we discovered, it’s a cool country. Here are our favorite points of interest in Muscat. In fact, the capital of Oman is fairy company city and most of these things can be done in a single day.
Things to Do in Muscat in One Day
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is the centerpiece of Muscat tourism. While located in Muscat, it feels like it is a bit outside the side and sits adjacent to the main highway. It is one of the largest mosques in the world (technically considered the 2nd largest by area). The carpet was the largest ever woven until a new one in Abu Dhabi was created. But the stunning Swarovski crystal chandelier is a sight to see! The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque really is one of the most beautiful places in Oman.
The Muttrah section of the city along the harbor is an excellent place to explore. Once a fishing village, it is now an integral part of Muscat. Most of the major attractions in this part of the city are all within a mile of each of other and can be easily explored on foot. They include:
The Muttrah Fish Market
Nearly all fish markets are the world have the same pulsing energy in the mornings as the fresh catch is delivered and buyers (from restaurants to locals) all show up to score the best pieces. In all the fish markets we’ve ever visited, we’ve never seen the variety (and abundance) of fish as at the Muttrah Fish Market.
The Muttrah Corniche
The Muttrah Corniche, a sidewalk along the harbor, runs for a mile or so from the fish market out to the Muttrah Fort. Along the path, there are sculptures as well as fountains and gardens that seem out of place in this arid landscape. It’s the perfect place to see the Sultan’s impressive yacht, as well as other exotic boats which may be in the harbor.
The Muttrah Souq
The Muttrah Souq is the market part tourist market and part local market. During our visit, it was packed with European tourists, mostly Russians and Germans, on a Middle Eastern cruise. There was also an old woman who appeared to shopping for Iranian saffron, so everyone uses the market. For us, we went from silver store to silver store looking for necklaces for Laura. Finally, we found what we were looking for at the Mohammed Ali Murad Trading store. Visiting the Muttrah Souq is one of the top things to do in Muscat…and all of Oman for that matter.
The Muttrah Fort
On a rocky outcrop above the harbor is the Muttrah Fort. Dataing from the 1580s, this fort was one of nearly a dozen of military forts built along the Arabian coastline by the Portuguese. The fort is closed to the general public, but has incredible views of the corniche and the harbor.
Beyond the Murrah section (just to the south), lies the Al Alam Palace and the Government section of the city. There are number of museums in this area, but the real reason for visiting are the twin forts on opposing sides of the harbor:
The Al Jalali Fort
The Al Jalali Fort, like the Muttrah Fort, dates from the Portuguese period of Oman’s history. This fort guards the harbor of Muscat. It has a long history of battle and conflict: from the Portuguese, the Ottoman’s, and the Persians. It eventually became the primary prison for the Oman. Today, it is used for royal and governmental meetings and events, including hosting foreign dignitaries.
The Al Mirani Fort
Opposite the Al Jalali Fort, Al Mirani guards the Muscat harbor. This fort was built atop an original Islamic fortification and was completed in 1587.
Al Bustan Palace Hotel
Set into a remote cove at the base of the steep mountains as they plunge into the sea, the picturesque Al Bustan Palace Hotel, currently operated by the Ritz Carlton corporation, is one of the world’s most lavish hotels. It was originally built over 30 years as the location of the GCC conference, but it now mostly hosts European holiday makers who are visiting Oman. One of our favorite things to do in Muscat is visit the Al Bustan Palace for tea. It’s worth noting that the beach at Al Bustan Palace is among the best beaches in Muscat.
Al Qurum Park
The large Al Qurum Park is an oasis of green in the rocky and sandy environments of Muscat. While it is a chance to enjoy vegetation, Al Qurum Park is also the site of many festivals in Oman. This is a great chance to rub shoulders with the locals. During our time, we spent an evening at the annual Muscat Festival, which constitutes much of the nightlife in Muscat. It’s a cross between a state fair and cultural festival, and is one of the best things to do in Muscat at night if it is happening (usually for four weeks from mid-January to mid-February every year). We walked through the festival and spent some time in the global village – a small expo with vendors from India, Morocco, Iran, Croatia and several other countries. The Muscat Festival also had a replica native Omani village. They were filming for TV, so it was brightly illuminated and looked surreal. Festivals like this are a chance to connect with the local culture.
More Information on Things to Do in Muscat
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: Visiting hours are Saturday-Thursday from 8:30am-11:00am. No visiting on Friday. Women must be fully covered (hair, neckline, etc.). Website: http://sultanqaboosgrandmosque.com/
Muttrah Fish Market: Best hours to visit from 6:00am-10am.
The Muttrah Corniche: Always open and available to walk.
The Old Muttrah Souk (Al Dhalam Souq): Hours are Saturday-Thursday from 9:00am-9:00pm and Friday from 9:00am-1:00pm.
Where to eat: There are some really excellent restaurants in Muscat. Two of our favorites were the local institution known as the Kargeen Caffe (odd location, but relaxed vide and good food) and D’Archy’s Kitchen (a local favorite serving a range of international cuisines).
Getting to Oman: We took the Mwasalat Dubai to Muscat bus. It was certainly an adventure and not an experience we recommend since the bus broke down in the desert.
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