19 April 2020
Often being compared against two of the Middle East’s mega-cities, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Muscat may not match them in size but it certainly has its own charm and draw. While its neighboring cities are filled to the brim with the pulse of the future, the capital of Oman embraces the rhythm of the past while quietly building on its optimistic present.
According to regulations issued by the Sultan, new buildings can’t be more than seven stories high, leaving just scattering of old buildings that rise up above this old port-town. The buildings in Muscat are neatly arranged in the country’s traditional white-painted style and, flanked by the arid mountains, they evoke the image of eggs in a bird's nest.
Under the rule of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said the country has become a prosperous and peaceful nation with a modernised culture. Muscat is home to many locals who have moved from the villages for a better life and the area radiates a relaxed energy which ensures visitors feel safe.
An exotic, historic, unusual, and adventurous experience is packed into the small package that is Muscat. The desert merges into rugged mountainous coastlines and beaches which provide bases for water sports and diving while old forts every few miles look out over green valleys.
Visitors will get a feel for the history and culture at the various palaces, forts, and museums and can marvel at the Arabian architecture at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman's premier venue for musical arts and culture that opened in 2011.
Located on the edge of the azure Gulf of Oman, the ocean plays an important role in city life to this day. No longer just for the fishing industry, the sparkling waters provide visitors an inviting place to cool off with a swim from the sandy beaches.
Meanwhile, at the center of the city’s attractions is Mutrah Corniche, Muscat’s popular promenade that stretches about three kilometers along the harbor. Strolling along the Corniche is particularly spectacular at sunset. Enjoy feeling the sea breeze and taking in the sharp, salty smell of the ocean while passing 18th-century buildings and the 17th-century Mutrah fort. Not far from the Corniche, there is another must-visit place, Muttrah Souk, that is a shopper's delight. Local sellers hawk ancient and traditional goods in a myriad of passageways that form this vibrant traditional bazaar.
The city’s majestic deserts, Nizwa and Wahiba Sands, offer adventure for visitors to Muscat. Get the adrenaline pumping on 4x4 ride across the dunes or take it easier by renting one yourself, go on a trek to explore the Saiq Plateau in the Hajar Mountains, visit Jebel Akhdar (green mountain) and the weekly livestock market in Nizwa, or stay a night in Wahiba to experience the culture of the nomadic Bedouin, a group of Arab people who have historically inhabited the desert regions.
Don’t miss taking a trip to Wadi Al Arbeieen, one of the most amazing Oman wadis located just 90 minutes outside of Muscat. This lush desert oasis is popular with Omanis who head there to enjoy hanging out in the lagoons and having a picnic or barbecue surrounded by the spectacular and lush natural landscape.
PLACES TO VISIT
Al Alam Palace
Known as one of the six royal residences of Sultan Qaboos, Al Alam Palace was built in 1972 but holds a history of 200 years. The palace is surrounded by lush green gardens and the Mutrah Harbour. Despite the palace being closed to the public, you can still get some good snaps and a quick selfie in front of the outermost gate of the palace.
Mutrah Corniche is a promenade stretching three kilometers along Muscat’s waterfront. Morning, evening, or night, it is always a good time to visit this area lined with restaurants, cafes, and markets. Visitors will enjoy the views of Oman Port and the harbor and also the beautiful rock formations of the Hajar Mountains and the Portuguese watchtowers. In front of the main street, there is Muttrah Souq, a traditional Arab market that sells Omani and Indian artifacts together with a few antiques that jostle for space among traditional textiles, hardware, and jewelry stores.
Al Mirani Fort
Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Al Mirani Fort is one of Muscat’s most fascinating historical places. This fort displays ancient weaponry and historical evidence about the downfall of the Portuguese who colonized the area. Although visitors cannot enter inside the fort, there is plenty to view outside.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Wadi Bani Khalid is popular because of its large pools of emerald green water that are surrounded by tall palm trees. Unlike other wadis in Oman that are dry in the summer months, Wadi Bani Khalid always has a constant flow of water throughout the year. This wadi is a favorite spot for hikers and is also a famous picnic spot. In addition to its green water, the rocky canyon and cliffs of the Hajar Mountains surrounding Wadi Bani Khalid make the place breathtakingly beautiful. Allocate a full day to enjoying this wadi because it takes two hours and 30 minutes drive to reach there.
These beautiful dunes, still referred to locally as Wahiba Sands, offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Arriving on the ocean of dunes that seem to stretch out endlessly before you will make the four-hour drive feel worth it. Planning to stay a night at a desert camp allows you to enjoy the majesty of the night sky and the pleasure of dawn in the dunes.