Oman is one of my favourite countries in the world! And Muscat, its capital is a great city to spend a few days in. I have been twice for a few days each, and there is still much I haven’t yet seen. But, of the ones I have been to, I share my favourite places to see in Muscat with you here.
One of the best things about Oman is that you can actually easily get in contact with the locals. Almost everyone speaks some degree of English and they are really friendly and interested. Also, they do not try to sell you something, be it souvenirs or services. So don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your waiter, hotel staff or just the people on the street.
One of the annoying things, especially in Muscat is, you cannot just walk around. There is no walking infrastructure, nor are the distances walkable. For example, the opera house is a 15 min drive from the Muttrah souk on the modern highways.
So, you really need to think about what your priorities are before choosing your accommodation and consider renting a car.
Sightseeing in Muscat, the modern part of the city
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is my favourite mosque and definitely a must-see in Muscat. It is kept in light colours and is surrounded by beautiful grounds and gardens. When I first visited a few years ago, I was so impressed by the size, the beautiful gardens with Frangipani trees and the peace and quiet it exudes. I wanted to spend hours just walking around or sitting somewhere watching time pass by.
The main prayer hall can host up to 6500 worshippers. It has one of the most intricate prayer carpets I’ve ever seen, and it’s the second biggest one-piece carpet in the world (used to be the biggest, but Abu Dhabi now has a bigger one). The carpet was handmade in Iran and it took more than 2 years to finish.
The huge chandelier is made with Swarovski crystals and is so big it has a hidden staircase inside for cleaning and maintenance. It weighs around 8 tons, scary thought when you stand under it.
My favourite part of the grounds is the mosaics gallery that surrounds the mosque. The long arcades on the north and south side host niches with mosaics in different styles from all Islamic countries. They are very beautiful, and it is interesting to see the differences in Islamic art in the different regions.
It is open to visitors every morning from 8:30 – 11, except Fridays, and you should come early, as it gets crowded and you probably want to spend around 1.5-2 hours here. The entrance is free, as is parking. You have to wear long sleeves and either long trousers or skirt and women have to cover their hair. Inside the buildings you have to take off your shoes.
Read this article, if you are interested in other mosques to visit as a non-Muslim.
The Royal Opera House
This must be one of the, if not THE most modern opera houses in the world and should be on your list of places to visit in Muscat! Even if you don’t want to watch an opera or ballet while you are here, I highly recommend taking a tour of the Royal Opera House.
Opened in 2011, the building is made mostly from off-white marble with intricate, wooden details on the inside.
The entrance hall is huge and features a beautiful grand staircase, leading up to the galleries. There are also showcases of costumes worn in performances. So, while you wait for your tour to start, there is much to look at.
Once you enter the main theatre, you will be amazed by its level of detail and technology. Depending on the type of performance, the stage can be extended by sinking the front rows of seats into the ground. It is also possible to extend the orchestra area pretty much the same way.
The ceiling can be lifted or lowered to change the acoustics for orchestra concerts. Even the small gallery balconies can be moved to accommodate the stage set-up.
Tours are held from 8:30 – 17:30 every day except Friday and cost 3 OMR per person.
Al Qurum beach
In walking distance from the Opera House is Qurum beach, the longest and most popular beach in Muscat. Here you can go for a walk, a swim or just watch the sunset.
Close to the Intercontinental Hotel, there are also a few cafés and restaurants, some of them with a view of the beach.
The best places to visit in Muttrah, the old part of Muscat
The corniche in Muttrah is best enjoyed around sunset, as it doesn’t offer much shade. But, it offers great views over the bay as well as the old town with its blue-roofed mosque. Wander on the water side in one direction and return on the other. That way you can admire the traditional buildings with their intricate balconies and check out the little shops along the way.
The definite highlight of sightseeing in Muscat is the Muttrah souk. While modernised in recent years, it still gives you a feeling of having travelled in time. The small, crowded stalls are full of delicacies and souvenirs, from Omani Halwa (a traditional sweet) to Khanjars (the traditional Omani daggers) to Pashmina shawls and pillowcases and of course Frankincense, the oldest Omani export product.
Wondering what is a souk? Find out more here!
While it is easy to get lost in the maze of narrow alleys, you don’t need to worry. The locals will not try to rip you off or charge you for showing you the way back out. Just enjoy your visit and pretend you travelled into 1001 nights.
Unlike the souks in other places, it is very unlikely to get robbed or pick-pocketed here. But the vendors will try to make good money, so be sure to haggle for a good price. If you think it’s too expensive, just walk away. They will either adjust the price, or you now know the limit and can go find the same thing in another shop (or come back later).
At the other end of the corniche, you can find the modern fish market hall. The waters around the coast of Muscat are teeming with fish, and here you can get a good look at all of them. Head here early in the day, to get the most out of the experience.
The Muttrah fort dates back to the early 16th century, when Oman was occupied by the Portuguese. It is rather small, especially in comparison to Nizwa and Bahla forts.
It is still one of the best things to do in Muscat, if only for the views over the Muttrah corniche.
Sightseeing in Old Muttrah
(even though it looks way more modern than Muttrah proper)
Al Alam, the Royal Palace
The palace is a funny looking building to be honest. Considering the wealth of the Sultan, it is a rather humble palace in size. It was finished building in 1972 and is only one of multiple palaces around the country. You can walk towards the old fort on the waterfront to get a look into the grounds on the backside as well. This tourist attraction seems to be more impressive to local tourists, than international ones.
National Museum of Oman
Opposite the palace is one of the most interesting places to visit in Muscat. The exhibitions include traditional clothes, boat making and the sea faring history as well as other cultural aspects. It covers everything from pre-historic times to the present.
You can find miniatures of the forts across the country and many boat models of all sizes.
There is also a cinema featuring a short movie about the history of Oman.
Definitely plan more time than you think for this visit, it is easy to spend 2-3 hours here.
How to get around in Muscat, Oman
I have a bit of a love/hate situation going with Muscat. While it is one of my favourite places in the world to visit, it also annoys the hell out of me when I’m actually there. This is exclusively due to the fact, that you cannot walk anywhere in this city!
Taking taxies is pretty expensive, unless you share them. One alternative are the busses which are really cheap. But, if you are short on time, or intimidated by the public transport, you need to have a car.
Or, you could book this half day tour, especially if your are short on time.
Restaurants in Muscat
Indian restaurant Ananthapuri
If you love Indian food as much as I do, Oman is a great place! There are Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants everywhere.
From the Riyam hotel (see below) the Ananthapuri Restaurant is just a short walk away. And the food and service are superb! We went 3 times, and I had some take away as well on my last day. Totally recommend eating here!
Fish restaurant The Turkish House
For lovers of the Middle Eastern cuisine, with hummus, tabuleh and great flat bread, this restaurant is heaven. They are famous for their grilled fish, which was great also, but I would mostly return for the mezze!
Snack/Lunch on the Muttrah corniche in the Royal House
If you are in Muttrah and want a quick bite between sightseeing and shopping I recommend the Royal House. They have outdoor seating with comfy benches and some green around. I recommend the fresh juices and milk shakes as well as the mezze type food.
Roof top drinks with a view of the corniche at Marina Hotel
If you are looking for a nice location for dinner with a view, head to the top floor of the Marina hotel on the corniche, close to the fish market. They are one of, if not the only place in Muttrah that serves alcohol. The selection is rather small, but they have a few beers and long drinks, like gin and tonic or Campari with orange juice.
La Brasserie for seafood
Just a few doors from the Marina hotel you can find La Brasserie, which was recommended to me for their sea food. But sadly, they were closed for renovations when I wanted to go.
Hotels in Muscat, Oman
Oman really isn’t a budget location. It is in the country’s tourism strategy, to attract only rather affluent travellers, so you won’t find any hostels or cheap hotels. Here is a list of places to stay in Muscat, that were recommended to me.
The best budget option is the fairly new Riyam hotel in Muttrah. From here you can walk to the corniche and the souk and there is a bus station close by. I stayed here with a friend, and we were very happy with the room and the service.
The other, cheaper, options on the corniche are sadly not very clean or comfortable.
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