In this post, you will find tips for visiting Muscat, Oman’s capital, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.
Being the largest city and capital of Oman, Muscat is the gateway to the wonders of this Arab country. The city was once the main port in the Gulf region and was among the most important Indian Ocean trading ports and, despite being the main city of the country, Muscat is still considered a small city by the standards of those living in large metropolises in other countries. In the city, you will be charmed by the low-rise and neutral buildings (painted mostly white and beige), well-grown flower beds, varied palm trees, and mountains of different colors and shapes that hide the waters of the Gulf of Oman.
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What to do in Muscat
What to do in Muscat – Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
If you only have a short time in Muscat and must choose just one attraction, do not even think about it, go straight to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the main attraction of the city. Being a true architectural masterpiece, one of the highlights of the mosque is the rug that weighs 21 tons and took 4 years to be handmade by some 600 women; most of the colors were achieved through natural, traditional techniques. The large crystal chandelier hanging in the main prayer hall is just as striking as the carpet. Interestingly, these two items – the rug and chandelier – were once the largest in the world until they were replaced by those currently in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, in Abu Dhabi.
At the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, you will also find an Islamic study center, which is open to anyone who wants to understand more about the religion. So, if you have any questions or want to learn more about Islam, be sure to stop by.
Access for visitors is free, and the mosque is open from Saturday to Thursday from 8 am to 11 am (on Friday only Muslims have access). We arrived at 8 am, the opening hours, and were the first to enter.
PS: Visitors should dress conservatively, covering the entire arm and legs up to the ankle. Women are also required to cover their when inside the premises of the mosque.
What to do in Muscat – The Corniche and Muttrah Souq
As you stroll along the waterfront Corniche, you will take in the harbor, inhale the scents of Arabic perfume, see people enjoying the day, and get distracted by the pigeons flying as they flock to get food. You can walk from the City Port to the famous Muscat Fort, stopping at Muttrah Souq (Saturday to Thursday, from 8 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm, Friday from 5 pm to 9 pm), an old-fashioned market full of gold, silver, perfumes, and fabrics. The vendors are always offering frankincense, cashmere, and you can be enchanted with various lamps.
On the Corniche, near the Port, is the Fish Market where fishermen sell their daily catches. If you don’t like to see the animals willingly showcased and offered in a commercial way, you can head to the market, and stay outside, to admire the view of the shore that extends all the way to the Fort.
What to do in Muscat – Muscat Fort
The Muscat Fort is a longstanding, historical building, from the 16th century, originally built when the Portuguese were still the masters of the region. If you have time, be sure to catch the sunset at the top – you will see that from the top that the white houses give the impression of seeing a magazine with pictures of some Greek city (because of the combination of low white buildings with the waterfront and the sea).
What to do in Muscat – Al Alam Palace – the Sultan’s Palace
As I said previously, the whole city has a white, beige tone with arid hills around it, so be prepared to be amazed when seeing the Al Alam Palace – the Sultan Qaboos Palace, with its vivid and unconventional colors (turquoise and glittering gold) standing out in a sea of houses and buildings of neutral tones. The inner part of the palace is inaccessible, but you can still walk up to the gates, see the building and walk through the gardens in front of the palace.
What to do in Muscat – Royal Opera House
At the Royal Opera House, you will be able to watch impressive performances, a diverse mix of opera, ballet, jazz, and Arabic music numbers (check the website to see the schedule and purchase the tickets). Even if you are not able to catch a show, the concert hall inside is worth visiting for its impressive Islamic architecture, made of Italian marble and wooden ceilings. The guided tour is very fast and costs 3 OMR per person.
What to do in Muscat – Beaches
If you are driving your own car in Muscat, take the opportunity to wander around and stop at some beaches in the city. One of them is Qantab Beach, which has cliffs, fishing boats, and a quiet seashore pace.
Where to eat in Muscat
The places I ate at and recommend in Muscat (that are not inside hotels) are: Bait al Luban with tasty food and Arabic decor, including areas to enjoy your meal sitting on the floor, and with a balcony where you can sit to watch the Corniche (order the Karak tea – a hot drink made with black tea, milk, and cardamom); Turkish House, a seafood restaurant – very informal – where you choose the fish and ask them to grill it for you. Suggestions here are the grilled shrimp and the salads, such as fatoush; Kargeen is a very cute restaurant with a large patio with large wooden tables, decorated with cushions of classic fabrics and lanterns. When visiting, ask for the pineapple juice, which comes inside the fruit, and Omani coffee (which is made with rose water, cardamom, and saffron).
Where to stay in Muscat
Muscat does not have a particular area to stay in, especially if you are driving. So, feel free to choose the hotel you like best, without worrying too much about the location. Here’s my selection of possible hotels:
- Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel: a gorgeous 5-star hotel set on the Al Hajar mountains overlooking the Sea of Oman. It features 3 restaurants, including seafood and a Chinese one, and has its own private beach.
- Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa: this adults-only resort is a dreamy place to stay In Muscat. The décor reminiscent of Arabian palaces is seen in the rooms and the entire hotel. Also, Shangri-la has a private beach, and some rooms offer stunning sea views.
- The Chedi Muscat: one of the top hotels in Muscat, The Chedi is a luxury hotel with pristine pools (including an adults-only one) and all the perks you expect from a 5-star resort.
- Kempinski Hotel Muscat: a modern luxury 5-star hotel. The pools are perfect for cooling down during the summer months.
What to know for visiting Oman
Citizens of almost all nationalities, including the US and European Union, need a visa to enter Oman. It can be obtained online with a stay permit of 10 or 30 days, and the cost starts at 5 OMR.
When applying for an Oman visa, attaching a copy of the passport and a photo is necessary. After that, just wait to receive the email with the approval (mine took 24 hours), then print it to present to immigration on arrival.
Along with the visa, all travelers arriving in Oman are required to present a COVID-19 vaccine certificate stating that they have received two doses of any COVID-19 vaccine approved in Oman (Pfizer BioNTech, Oxford Astrazeneca, Covishield AstraZeneca, Sputnik, Sinovac, Moderna, and Sinopharm), or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. The last dose must have been received not less than fourteen (14) days ahead of the estimated arrival time.
Additionally, having international health insurance is one of the latest requirements for entering Oman. My recommended and used travel insurance resource is SquareMouth is a platform for searching for the best option amongst travel insurance companies. It allows travelers to instantly purchase a travel insurance policy from every major provider in the US and it also makes clear each policy’s COVID-related coverage.
Also, all Oman visitors on long international flights (that take 8 hours or more ) must present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours before arrival. For shorter flights (with less than 8 hours), the PCR test can be taken within 72 hours before arrival.
Read the updated travel restrictions to Oman related to Covid-19.
The voltage in Oman is 240 V and the power plugs and sockets are the type G (the same as the UK).
The currency used in Oman is the Omani Rial (OMR). You can check the current exchange rate on Google.
While traveling, I use a free Charles Schwab Debit Card that provides unlimited worldwide ATM Fee Refunds, no foreign transaction fee, and the actual exchange rate.
Best time to visit Oman
The best time to visit Oman is from October to April, when temperatures are milder. Be cautious when visiting the country from May to September, when the thermometers can easily reach 50 °C.
Regardless of the season, be prepared for low temperatures in the mountains of Jebel Akhdar and in the desert Wahiba Sands, where you will need to wear a sweater and/or a windbreaker jacket.
Best tours in Oman
Some of the best tours and things to do in Oman are:
- Wadi Shab and Bimmah Sinkhole Private Full-Day Tour: see two of the best natural attractions of the country on the same day and without worrying about driving to and from.
- Cruises to Daymaniyat & Snorkeling: one of the best experiences to have in the country – the Daymaniyat Islands are an idyllic getaway from Muscat and a must-do day trip.
- Full-Day Private Wahiba Sands Desert and Wadi Bani Khalid Tour: are you short on time to visit the country’s highlights? This tour allows you to explore two wonders – the ochre dunes of the Wahiba Sands desert and the raw, unspoiled nature of Wadi Bani Khalid.
Where to stay in Oman (the best hotels in the country)
I recommend booking your hotels on Booking.com to get the best rate and other perks such as genius discounts and free cancellation if your plans change.
Expedia is also a great place to find hotel deals and unique stays.
The best hotels to stay in Oman, beyond Muscat, are:
BEST HOTELS IN NIZWA
- Golden Tulip Nizwa Hotel: the best hotel to stay in Nizwa, Golden Tulip offers comfortable accommodations and a heated outdoor pool.
- Intercity Hotel Nizwa: modern, comfortable hotel in Nizwa.
BEST HOTELS IN SUR
- Zaki Hotel Apartment: this hotel is an excellent place to stay in Sur – it features comfortable rooms and has a great seafood restaurant.
- Sur Plaza Hotel: though Sur doesn’t have a great variety of hotels, Sur Plaza is a good place if you just need a bed for the night.
BEST LUXURY HOTELS IN OMAN
- Alila Jabal Akhdar: a luxury hotel overlooking the mountains of Oman. It’s the perfect place to relax by the heated infinity pool while soaking in the views, have a spa treatment, or go for a hike. Alila is one of the best hotels in Oman for a honeymoon or other special occasions.
- Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort: being the highest 5-star resort in the Middle East, Anantara offers impressive views of the Omani mountains. The entire property is fantastic, but the gorgeous infinity pool wins as the most beautiful feature.
- Six Senses Zighy Bay: a luxury beachfront hotel surrounded by mountains. One of the most unique experiences is choosing to arrive on this secluded paradise either by speedboat, 4×4, or paraglider. The stunning villas of Six Senses have private pools and are designed like a traditional Omani village.
- Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara: an oceanfront hotel in the southern part of Oman. This oasis hotel is the first and only luxury pool villa resort in the area – a perfect place for an off-the-beaten-path itinerary through the country.
Transportation in Oman
Rental Cars: The best way to get around Oman is by car. Plan on renting a car as soon as you arrive in Muscat, so you can explore the country at your convenience. I use RentalCars for my car rental needs and it’s the company I recommend.
Ever since the pandemic, travel insurance has become almost essential for every type of travel and is currently one of the requirements for entering Oman.
My recommended travel insurance resource is SquareMouth, a platform for searching for the best option amongst travel insurance companies. It allows travelers to instantly purchase a travel insurance policy from every major provider in the US, and it also makes clear each policy’s COVID-related coverage.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ
- The Complete Guide to Oman
- Top things to do in Oman: unmissable places to visit in the country
- All you need to know before visiting Oman
- What to do in Sur, Oman
- What to do in Nizwa, the historical city of Oman
- Wahiba Sands Desert FAQ: all you need to know about spending a night in the desert
- How to visit Wadi Shab in Oman