Muscat is an amazing city! It is Middle East’s best-kept secret. It is located on the Oman Gulf at the Arabian Sea and surrounded by the rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains. A city which will become the top travel destination soon (or maybe it already is…) What makes it so special ? Muscat is considered as one of the smallest capitals in the world, but this relatively small city has a lot to offer. The Omani culture and history, architecture, beautiful sandy beaches along the Arabian Sea, mountains, delicious food, local markets, amazing people (some even claim that the Omanis are the most hospitable people on earth !). There is so much to see there. Oman advertises its natural beauty with the following campaign: ‘Beauty has an address – Oman’.
SULTAN QABOOS GRAND MOSQUE
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a magnificent building. Visiting Muscat without being in the Grand Mosque would be like visiting Guinness Brewery in Dublin and not having a pint of Guinness … It is a must. Here some interesting facts about the Grand Mosque:
- The only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims (8:30-11:00, Friday closed, free admission)
- Built from 300’000 tonnes of Indian sandstone
- Total capacity: 20’000 worshipers
- The height of the main minaret is 90 metres
- The chandelier located in the men’s prayer hall measures 14 metres. It is huge !
- The carpet covering the prayer hall floor used to be the largest in the world. It measures 60x70m, contains 1.7 million knots, weighs 21 tonnes. It took 4 years to produce it! Now it is second largest in the world, after Emirati took measurement and produced a bigger one for Abu Dhabi mosque.
- Total capacity: 20’000 worshipers
- The mosque is built on a site occupying over 400’000 square metres (60 soccer fields)
The traditional Arab markets are magical places. Like the amazing Souks in MARRAKECH, the Old Muttrah Souk in Muscat takes you for a journey in time to a place full of colors and sensual scents of frankincense, perfume oils, fresh jasmine and spices. The Muttrah Souq, located adjacent to the harbour of Muscat, is considered as one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. The local name Al Dhalam Souq comes from Arabic word Al Dhalam meaning Darkness, which relates to fact that the there is almost no sun coming into the Souk during the day.
Muttrah Fort is located on top of a rocky hill about 400m east from Muttrah Souk. Built by the Portuguese in the 1580s, it consists of three circular towers overlooking Muttrah harbour and surrounding mountains. There are still some old cannons in the fort and one ‘modern type’ at the top. It is the best place in Muttrah to fully appreciate the beauty of the city. From here you can also see multiple watch towers scattered all over the mountains.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
Royal Opera House was built on the royal orders of Sultan Qaboos and reflects unique contemporary Omani architecture. It can accommodate 1’100 people.
Website: Royal Opera House in Muscat
Omani fishermen sell their daily catch at the local fish market in Muscat. The old, traditional fish market was still running when I was there in August 2017 but it will be soon relocated to the new building.
Qurum Beach is a long sandy beach stretching along the northern coast of Muscat west from Qurum Hills. The shallow water and wide strip of sand makes it an ideal place for family gatherings, walking, chilling and enjoying sunset. It is probably the busiest beach in Muscat.
There are also some small beaches around Qurum Hills (for example Coral Beach) but it seemed to me that the only way to get there through land is using private roads (I didn’t try…) The only beach which I have managed to explore was a small public beach near Qurum Heights Mosque where I enjoyed the sunset.
DAY TOURS FROM MUSCAT
Having enough time in Muscat it is worthwhile dedicating some time to explore the Al Hajar Mountains or join a day boat trip for diving, snorkeling or dolphin watching. There are lots of trips starting from Muscat. Avoid big companies/agencies and try to find a small operator or a local guide. This will not only save you money but also get you closer to the Omani culture. Through tripadvisor I found a group of local guides who operate as CAMPFIRE OMAN and joined a 1 day trip with overnight camping at Jabal Surra altitude 2000m, which is the balcony of Jabal Shams. We had an incredible view over the Omani Grand Canyon, spent the evening at the campfire grilling lamb and chicken. On the way we have visited several sites such as Wadi Tanouf village, Al Hamra town and Misfat Al Abriyeen village. It was an unforgettable experience! A blog post will follow soon…
WHERE TO STAY IN MUSCAT ?
There are many hotels in Muscat. Here are my favourites:
Beach Hotel – A traditional Omani hotel located 200m from Qurum Beach
Al Falaj Hotel – Great hotel with many facilities and good food
Mutrah Hotel – Ideal location. Only 5 min walk from Mutrah Souk
Coral Muscat Hotel and Apartments – Hotel located in the heart of the city
Crowne Plaza Muscat – Superb hotel overlooking the Gulf of Oman
www.omantourism.gov.om – Oman Tourism Portal
www.omantripper.com – Great travel blog about Oman
www.destinationoman.com – Website about Oman
www.campfire-oman.com – Group of tour guides in Oman
www.roughguides.com – 10 reasons to visit Muscat
www.gov.uk – Oman Travel Advice
www.worldtravelguide.net – Oman Travel Guide