Scenically wedged between mountains and ocean, with old forts and excellent museums, an opera house and flower-filled parks, the gentle city of Muscat is a delight to visit. Its name means ‘safe anchorage’, and the sea plays an important role in city life to this day, sustaining the fishing industry and providing opportunities for visitors to swim from sandy beaches or dive with turtles in nearby lagoons.
The city has a character quite distinct from neighbouring capitals. There are few high-rise blocks, and even functional buildings are required to reflect tradition with a dome or an arabesque window. The result is an attractive, whimsically uniform city that retains the elegance observed by early travellers. The city is quite conservative in nature, asking of visitors decorum in dress and manner, but in return it offers a warm sense of Omani hospitality and an opportunity to connect with the country's rich heritage.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Muscat.
Many people come to Mutrah Corniche just to visit the souq, which retains the chaotic interest of a traditional Arab market albeit housed under modern timber roofing. Shops selling Omani and Indian artefacts together with a few antiques jostle among more traditional textile, hardware and jewellery stores. Bargaining is expected although discounts tend to be small. Cards are generally accepted in most shops, but bring cash for better deals. The main entry is via the Corniche, opposite the pedestrian traffic lights.
Quietly imposing from the outside, this glorious piece of modern Islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. The main prayer hall is breathtakingly beautiful. The Persian carpet alone measures 70m by 60m wide, making it the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world; it took 600 women four years to weave. Mwasalat buses stop outside the mosque.
If you stand by the harbour wall on Mirani St, the building to the right with the delightful mushroom pillars in blue and gold is the Sultan’s Palace. On the inland side, an avenue of palm trees leads to a roundabout surrounded by grand royal court buildings and the new National Museum. Although the palace is closed to the public, you can pause in front of the gates, at the end of the colonnaded approach, for a quintessential Muscat selfie.
Mutrah stretches along an attractive corniche of latticed buildings and mosques; it looks spectacular at sunset when the light casts shadows across the serrated crescent of mountains, while pavements, lights and fountains invite an evening stroll or a bike ride.
MuseumBait Al Zubair
In a beautifully restored house, this much-loved privately owned museum exhibits Omani heritage in thematic displays of traditional handicrafts, furniture, stamps and coins. The museum has evolved into the cultural centre of Muscat, hosting international exhibitions of contemporary art in Gallery Sarah within the museum's grounds. A modern cafe and a shop selling quality souvenirs usually entice visitors to stay longer than they expected.
Housed in an imposing new building in the heart of Old Muscat, the National Museum makes a fitting consort for the Sultan's Palace opposite. The emphasis of this contemporary museum is on quality rather than quantity, with space, light and height used to enhance the selective displays showcasing the heritage of Oman. Giant screens and high-tech devices bring the artefacts alive. There's a particularly strong and innovative multimedia section on maritime history.
Just outside Al Bustan Palace Hotel, opposite the imposing parliament buildings, a small roundabout is home to Sohar, a boat named after the hometown of the famous Omani seafarer Ahmed Bin Majid. The boat (a replica of one sailed by Abdullah Bin Gasm in the mid-8th century to Guangzhou, China) was built in the dhow yards of Sur from the bark of more than 75,000 palm trees and four tonnes of rope. Not a single nail was used in the construction.
HarbourMarina Bandar Al Rowdha
Apart from offering a full range of boating amenities, Marina Bandar Al Rowdha is a popular launching point for a range of water sports, including fishing and diving. It is also a pleasant place to enjoy harbour activity and relax at the Blue Marlin Restaurant. The marina offers free use of its pool for those dining at the restaurant, making it a potential day's outing when combined with a boat trip.
MuseumGhalya's Museum of Modern Art
This delightful little museum, which encompasses both a modern art gallery and an old furnished house, encapsulates something of the excitement of the new, tinged with nostalgia for a pre-Renaissance world that has so quickly been left behind. The house unfolds like a puzzle, wrapped around a tiny central courtyard, and seems to occupy more space than logic allows.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Muscat.