As I found on my three day visit, Muscat Oman offers so much more than its neighbouring capitals. Here’s why.
With the Al Hajar Mountains lining the coast, Muscat, Oman offers unparallel natural beauty when comparing it to other gulf capitals. Being at the entrance of a trade route spanning centuries, it also has its share of history. As such, there is no shortage of things to see and do.
Come along as I recap my highlights from spending three days in Oman’s capital city.
Day One – See the City
On top of having a mountain backdrop, Muscat is blessed with beautiful buildings and mosques. Unlike Dubai or Doha, Muscat Oman has largely avoided shiny skyscrapers and stuck with white buildings. There’s also a bylaw in place to limit new towers to a height of 10 stories. Combined, this gives the city character that others in the region lack.
Amongst the sea of white buildings are several notable ones of culture and historical significance. Many of these can be explored by spending a day taking them in. To do so, I highly recommend booking a private guide. This will not only get you around the city comfortably but also gets you a knowledgeable guide who can explain the history along the way.
If you are travelling on a budget or are pressed for time you can take a group tour and tick off a lot of the following sites quickly. Even though your time is limited at each location, it gives you an overview of the city and allows you to choose what you may want to circle back to. That said, you will definitely miss out on some of the history compared to going on a private tour.
I went with Grayline’s Half Day group tour as options were limited for private guides due to Ramadan. It was affordable and a great way to see the city but I would hire a private guy next time as I certainly missed out on some key facts.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
With a capacity of 20,000, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is Oman’s largest mosque. It’s open to non-muslim guests and allows visitors to wander its expansive grounds to take in the unique mix of modern architecture. The buildings and columns are a mix of Omani, Islamic, and Middle-Eastern architectural styles. The mosque also houses the second largest chandalier in the world.
Note – Although the mosque is open to guests, there are rules to enter. There is no eating in the prayer hall and cell phone use is prohibited. Like other mosques, women must cover their hair. If you do not have a cover, you will not be allowed in. A couple of very entitiled Russian tourists had a hard time with this on my tour and made a scene. Don’t be like them, come prepared.
Royal Opera House
Known as Oman’s premier destination for arts, and culture, the Royal Opera House consists of an auditorium, theatre, and an art centre. It also features a cultural market for special events. The Sultan Qaboos of Oman is an enthusiast of classical music and ordered the construction of the opera house in 2001 which officially opened 10 years later in 2011. Be sure to check ahead to see if your visit aligns with any shows or events.
Al Alam Palace
Known as Sultan’s Palace, Al Alam Palace is one of six royal residences of Sultan Qaboos in Muscat and arguably the most photogenic. The palace is known for its colourful Islamic architecture, something not overly common in the city. This makes it pop in the sea of white buildings and amongst a beige mountain backdrop. The grounds are also very colourful with a lush green garden filled with bright flowers.
Bait Al Zubair Museum
The Bait Al Zubair Museum offers a great look into Oman’s history with a full-scale souk and Omani village replica on its grounds. Inside, the museum houses an extensive collection of ancient musical instruments, weapons, costumes, and household items. There’s also an extensive private stamp collection on display, something I enjoyed geeking out to.
The National Museum Oman
Although the Bait Al Zubair Museum is great, Oman’s best collection of historical items and artefacts can be found in the National Museum. As the Sultanate’s flagship cultural centre, this museum takes visitors through the country’s history from the first settlement on the Oman Peninsula over two million years ago all the way to the present day. With over 5,000 artefacts and objects on display, one can spend several hours exploring Oman’s past.
Al Mirani Fort and Al Jalali Fort
Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Al Mirani Fort and Al Jalali Fort were key to keeping this port town safe for centuries. They have traded hands between the Portuguese, Ottomans, and Omanis over their life span and served as a prison. You can get great views of old Muscat from here.
Day 2 – Exploring Outside of Muscat, Oman
As mentioned, Oman has no shortage of natural beauty to explore. On day two let’s get out of the city and do just that.
In short, Wadi Shab is a magical mix of deep pools and streams nestled in a canyon. Truth be told, it was images of its turquoise waters that drew to Oman in the first place. After visiting, I can say it did not disappoint. It truly feels like he belongs in a fairytale.
Be warned though, that getting to the first pool can be a bit intense, especially in the heat. Those that stick it out are rewarded with a cool dip and peaceful experience. To make the most of the experience, I definitely recommend hiring a guide or taking a tour.
For a full rundown on how to get to Wadi Shab including what to pack for the day out, check out my full review below.
If you aren’t too tired from the hike and swim, stop in to check out the Bimmah Sinkhole. Combined with Wadi Shab, it makes for a perfect day out of the city.
This limestone sinkhole is just 600 m from the sea and, at its deepest, is over 300 feet! It is a local favourite for a refreshing dip and relief from the hot Oman heat.
Day 3 – Wind up or Wind down.
On your last day in Muscat, Oman you have a few options.
Relaxing in Muscat
If the hike and swim at Wadi Shab were enough adventurings for you, there’s no shortage of relaxing activities to take in.
Enjoy your Hotel
Alternatively, there are several budget-friendly hotels with rooftop pools overlooking the mountains and white buildings below. I stayed at the Ramada Encore by Wyndham Muscat Al-Ghubra and can recommend it for the price. The pool was great for sunsets but has an obstructed view of the city. Next time I will check out the Royal Tulip as its pool overlooks the city and mountains.
Like other gulf countries, mall culture is very much a thing in Muscat.
Since there is no VAT /Service Tax, you can find deals on things like gold and electronics. There are several major malls in the city with the Oman Avenues Mall being the largest. There is no shortage of international stores to check out along with chain restaurants from around the globe. I found the latter particularly interesting as you get a bit of local flavour mixed in.
Those looking for a more traditional shopping experience need to visit the Mutrah Souq. This collection of stalls winding through narrow corridors is worth getting lost in. Like all souqs, you can find anything here from knock-off Nikes to high-end jewellery and local spices.
Being a coastal city, Muscat, Oman also has several great beaches with Qurum beach being one of the nicest. Located in the upscale suburb of the same name, Qurum beach is a favourite amongst locals, tourists, and ex-pats. Thanks to its sand quality and palm trees, it’s easy to see why. There are also a lot of accessible coffee shops and restaurants in the area making it a great spot to spend an afternoon and evening.
Speaking of ways to spend an evening, the Muttrah Corniche is a seaside walkway with beautiful views of the city and mountains. The spot is especially popular at dusk when the area comes alive with locals taking in the sunset. There’s also a local market to explore offering the day’s freshest catch.
Adventures in Muscat
If beaches and malls aren’t your things, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of adventure to be had in Muscat.
Dolphins and Diving
Dolphin watching and snorkelling are very popular activities in Oman. There are several tour operators departing from the city each day that will get you up close with dolphins as well as some incredible dive sites.
Scuba diving is also very popular in Oman. There are a collection of shipwrecks to explore as well as chance sightings of humpback and blue whales as well as turtles and whale sharks. Daymaniyat Islands & Fahal Island are arguably the most popular spots to dive and are accessible by a 90-minute boat ride.
The Grand Canyon of Oman
This is definitely a hike out of town but worth it. Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Oman, Jabel Shams is located 200+ kilometres from Muscat and can be explored on a full-day trip from Muscat. It offers visitors scenery unlike anything in the region. You can hike along the steep canyon walls, explore abandoned villages, and even stretch the visit out to camp under the stars.
Where to Eat in Muscat, Oman?
Noe normally, I like to seek out local dishes and share where to find them when I visit somewhere new. Since I was visiting Muscat during Ramadan, this wasn’t an easy option for me.
Instead, I found myself eating at Tim Tim Hortons (and oddly loving it) and breaking Iftar early in the parking lot of a supermarket.
I did seek out Omani coffee at Bait Al Luban and really enjoyed it. I also had my fill of dates and stocked up on those at Hypermarket. Exploring this massive supermarket was an experience on its own.
What Time of Year Is Best To Visit Muscat, Oman?
As mentioned, I visited Muscat during Ramadan which I wouldn’t recommend. Much of the country shuts down so arranging activities and even eating can be a challenge.
If I were to do it again I would visit between October and February. The country is hot year-round but is scorching from June through August. My visit in March was plenty hot enough.
Where to Stay in Muscat, Oman?
From seaside resorts to budget-friendly hotels, there are plenty of options to stay comfortably in Muscat, no matter your budget. Here are my recommendations depending on what you are looking for.
Resort – The Chedi Muscat
The Chedi Muscat is Oman’s first modern contemporary hotel and mixes Omani architecture with elegance. Its best feature is its pool however it is also located on a beach, offering guests a true resort getaway.
Midrange – The Royal Tulip
As mentioned, the Royal Tulip has a postcard-perfect rooftop pool. Mixed with a great bed and breakfast rate, this mid-range hotel is perfect for those looking to explore Muscat as well as relax.
Budget Friendly – Swiss-Belinn Muscat
Don’t let the price fool you, the Swiss-Belinn Muscat is not your average budget hotel. The rooms are modern and decorated in an Arabic style. It has a rooftop terrace with beautiful gulf views and also has a decent restaurant on site. It is located in the Al Azaybah North district which is on the outskirts of the city, thus the budget price. That said, nothing in Muscat is within walking distance so don’t let this deter you.
Thanks to its unique location, Muscat has plenty to keep you busy over three days. That said, for those looking for more of a luxury retreat you can certainly relax in style.
On my visit, I had an interesting mix of both. Although a touch mundane due to Ramadan, Muscat is a deserving highlight of the Gulf countries in my opinion. I suggest stopping in if connecting between Asia and Europe. Muscat international airport is quickly becoming a great hub airport and Oman Air is one of my new airlines of choice.
What say you?
Thoughts on this 3 Days in Muscat Itinerary?
Let’s hear it!