Dating back to the 1st century, Muscat gained prominence in the 14th century when traders used it as a maritime hub on their way to or from India, the far East, Zanzibar and Europe. Indeed, the capital of Oman is located in a natural harbour ideally suited for the safe mooring of vessels that has made the Sultanate a nation of seafarers. Today, Muscat is a vibrant city open on the world that is worth spending a few days exploring.
The sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a splendid example of Islamic architecture combining traditional workmanship with modern building techniques. Open to non-Muslims in the morning (8-11), dress appropriately and wander through its gardens before entering the main prayer hall. What used to be the mosque of the superlatives with the largest chandelier, the largest handmade Iranian carpet and simply the largest mosque in the world has been only recently downgraded to second positon behind the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless despite the grandeur and refinement of the mosque, the Omani humility is omnipresent giving it a charm that is merely second to none.
After your visit, stop by the information centre where you can discuss religion openly around dates and Omani coffee. Plan for one hour if you just want to visit it, if you want to discuss a bit plan for about two hours.
The Royal Opera House
Another gift of the Sultan Qaboos to his people, the Royal Opera House was the first in the Arabian Peninsula. The gift is not only the magnificent building in Omani style with its richly decorated interior and excellent acoustics, it is also literally speaking propelling Oman on the international stage. Dancers and musicians from all over the world come and play creating an emulation around music: western ballets and operas are performed as well as traditional Islamic singing shows. The emulator worked so well that Oman is the first GCC country with its own orchestra of nationals, the Royal Omani symphonic orchestra.
Take a tour to visit the building and admire its precious marble inlays, Swarovski chandeliers, delicate wood carved ceilings, and the sultan’s collection of rare musical instruments and make sure to see a performance at night. Inquire about tour times, and plan for one hour.
Leave the west side of town to go to the Muttrah area where you can grab lunch in one of the seafront restaurants and take a stroll along the water with its balconied old merchant houses.
Discover Oman’s history at Bait al Baranda museum
Head towards the Bait al Baranda museum at the western tip of the Muttrah seafront. In this traditional 19th century house with verandas (that gave it its name), the history of Oman from its unique geological formation until present days is showcased in an interactive way. Plan about one hour for the visit.
Get lost & shop your way in the Muttrah souq
The Muttrah market is very touristy and very authentic at the same time. It all depends on the time of the visit. So wait until after sunset when Omanis visit the souk, and get lost in its many narrow alleyways following the scent of Frankincense and searching for gold and silver jewellery, antiques, precious stones, handicrafts, traditional Omani clothes, spices, perfumes, or more. Don’t forget that bargaining is part of the purchasing process! Whatever time you planned, double it!
Enjoy a traditional Omani dinner at Bait al Luban
Located on the western side on the Muttrah seafront on the top floor of a former khan, Bait al Luban is the perfect place to get introduced to the Omani cuisine. Lead by the scent of Frankincense to a beautiful and refined decor where the Omani hospitality and traditions are omnipresent, you will taste traditional dishes served with delicious juices. From slowly cooked stews to the freshest seafood, let the Omani specialties take you along the spice route that has made the prosperity of the sultanate.
Muttrah fish market
Early in the morning, fishermen bring their catch that is auctioned off often on the pontoon. If not sold there, it is taken inside the new fish market to be sold.
Even if you do not wake up to see the fishermen arrive (shortly after sunrise), it is worth taking a stroll through the fish market. You will see locals buying kingfish, yellow fin tuna, grouper, shark, or sea bream to name only the most popular species. Plan about half an hour.
Short hike from Ryiam to Muttrah
This short 2.5-kilometre hike in the mountains links the former village of Ryiam to the one of Muttrah before they got merged with Muscat. After the first steep uphill, the hike is easy and gives you a good idea of what to expect in the Omani mountains following a wadi. You will reach the backside of Muttrah with splendid vistas and arrive by the Muttrah fort that is worth visiting to admire the view on the bay.
If today this hike is recreational, know that the beautiful coastal road is fairly recent and before the only land way between the villages was via the mountains.
The best option is to park in Ryiam by the start of the hike and loop back following the seafront boulevard (adding another easy 2 kilometres to the hike). Plan about two hours and a half.
Plunge into Omani traditions and culture at the Bait al Zubair museum
Pursue your exploration of Muscat along the coast to the Old Muscat, home to many museums like the new National Museum of Oman or the Oman French museum. Our preference goes to Bait al Zubair Museum located in a beautiful mansion, where Omani culture and traditions are showcased. Push its carved wooden doors and discover one of the finest collection of Omani artefacts from silver jewellery worn by women of different tribes all over the country, to khanjars (Omani dagger), male and female attires, and household articles. The photo exhibit of Muscat over the years is quiet interesting. Plan one hour and a half for the visit.
Take a break and grab lunch at Bait al Zubair’s coffee shop in a traditional decor.
The palace of the sultan
Make sure to check out the palace of the sultan. Go to the backside of the palace, and see how it is guarded by two forts built by the Portuguese: Al Jalali and Al Mirani. Plan about 15 minutes.
Cool down by the water
In the heat of the afternoon, freshen up by the seaside. Whether at the beach (Al Jissa, Yiti, Al Sifah, or Sifat al Shaikh to snorkel are good options) or on a boat tour or even scuba diving the excellent Dimaniyat islands.
Attend a performance at the Royal Opera House
If you are in luck, there may be a performance at the Royal Opera House at night and you may be amongst the thousand spectators. The best way to fully appreciate the auditorium and its excellent acoustics is to attend a show. Whether it is an opera, a ballet or a traditional Islamic singing show, the auditorium is adapted to enlarge the stage or to make room for the orchestra thanks to a smartly engineered hydraulic system making the front rows and balconies movable. The acoustics are adapted in consequence by adjusting curtains hidden in the thick wooden walls for the best effect whichever performance you will be attending.
If you do not have a proper casual smart outfit – covering shoulders and knees for women – a dishdasha (for men) or abaya (for women) can be borrowed at the box office.
Marcella & Claire
- A car (a rental or a taxi) is a necessity in Muscat and distances can be long. For these reasons, the location of your hotel is not that critical: you’ll need to drive anyway.
- Dress modestly, and for women cover knees and shoulders. Carry a large scarf at all times in case you want to pop in and visit a mosque (you need to cover your hair).
- For women, if you go to a public beach, swim and sunbath with a t-shirt and a pair of shorts (bikinis are a no go and are disrespectful except for private beaches or swimming pools where you should enquire about the dress code).
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Zoom in on the area of interest, and check out the black pins: each of them corresponds to an article.
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