What to do in Nizwa, the historical city of Oman

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Nizwa is a mountainous city located in northern Oman, about 1,5 hours from Muscat, the capital of the country. Rich in history and culture, the place holds, still to this day, the importance it conquered in past centuries through its connection between the rugged interior and the other regions of the coastal plain. If you’re planning a trip to Oman and want to visit this stunning city, find here a guide with the best things to do and the best places to visit in Nizwa.

In Nizwa you will find the most visited monument of Oman, as well as other historical and cultural symbols of the country. In addition, by visiting Nizwa you can take advantage of other experiences that make the city and its surroundings one of the most intriguing places in the Sultanate of Oman.

Read more about Muscat, the capital of Oman.

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What to do in Nizwa, Oman – Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort is a 17th-century building that still stands proudly, welcoming visitors with its striking structure that took 12 years to build – an extraordinary example of ancient Omani architecture. This colossal construction is the most visited attraction in Oman and was extremely important in protecting the city of Nizwa against invading forces who wanted the region’s natural wealth and its strategic location at the crossroads of vital trade routes. As you walk through the fortress, be sure to climb to the top of the circular tower so you can have a spectacular view of the rugged mountains, the sea of green palms, and the surrounding white-washed houses.

The Fort is one of the best places to visit in Nizwa and it’s open from Saturday to Thursday from 8 am to 6 pm, and Friday from 8 am to 11 am. Admission costs 5,000 OMR.

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What to do in Nizwa, Oman – Nizwa Souq

The city of Nizwa was the meeting point for merchants who brought goods from the mountains and the merchants who brought goods from the sea. With the city being the regional marketplace, it’s no wonder that until today Nizwa Souq is one of the main places to visit in the area.

And although you can find a large number of shops and stalls that cater purely to tourists, at Nizwa Souq there are still an abundance of traditional goods, food, and products for locals. Here you’ll find numerous spices, rose water, dates, carpets, and lamps at your disposal for purchase.

Also, while wandering through, you’ll be charmed by the streets full of richly designed pottery. And the vendors sitting in front of their shops and inviting you to visit the store and have coffee with dates are a display of true Omani hospitality.

Pro tip: be sure to visit the corner of the market that is dedicated to jewelry, as many consider the best in the country.

In my opinion, Nizwa Souq is better than the one in Muscat, as it still retains certain authenticity. And considering that it is located very close to the Nizwa Fort, it is possible to combine the two in a single day. It’s good to know that, during the week, most shops open from 6 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm. On Fridays, shops only open until 11 am.

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What to do in Nizwa, Oman – Bahla Fort

Bahla Fort is another secular protection building that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is one of the top things to see in Nizwa.

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The fort complex is massive and can easily take hours to explore each corner. So, take your time to explore Bahla Fort and check out its many towers, mosques, and wells.

You can visit the Bahla Fort from Saturday to Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm; Fridays from 8 am to 11 am. The entry fee is 500 OMR.

What to do in Nizwa, Oman – Jabreen Castle

Unlike other structures mentioned above, Jabreen Castle was built in times of peace by a leader passionate about science and art, making Jabreen the most beautiful castle in the Sultanate of Oman. The castle’s design and architecture are rich in preserved details seen in its adorned rooms and ornated features such as wooden balconies, Arabic calligraphic portals, and even colorful decorations on the ceiling.

Jabreen Castle is truly a work of art. In addition to the stunning building itself, be sure to visit the famous part called The Sun and Moon Hall – a room with 14 windows in two rows, in which half were made to let the sunlight in and the other half the moonlight. With this, the room always had light, either solar or lunar.

And to bring even more charm to the place, the area around the castle is full of palm trees.

Pro tip: Jabreen Castle isn’t part of many itineraries to Oman (it was a bit empty when I visited). However, I strongly recommend that you include it in your itinerary since it’s one of the most beautiful places in Nizwa.

Jabreen Castle is open from Saturday to Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm, and Friday from 8 am to 11 am. The entrance costs 500 OMR.

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What to do in Nizwa, Oman – Visit the nearby mountains

Another activity to do while in Nizwa is to visit the stunning nearby mountains. One option is Jebel Shams (the mountain of the sun, in Arabic), which is the highest peak of the Arabian peninsula and is often called the Grand Canyon of Oman. Additionally, many visit Jebel Akhdar (green mountain, in Arabic) – an abundant region which, depending on the time of year, you’ll find roses, pomegranates, and peaches blooming widely, as well as goats and donkeys grazing in the canyons.

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And although it is common to visit the mountains from Nizwa (or vice versa), I recommend splitting your stay and spending at least one night in each place. One night in Nizwa and one in Jebel Akhdar where luxury resorts, such as Alila Jabal Akhdar (where I stayed for two nights) and Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, are located.

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Important: drivers are required to have a vehicle with four-wheel drive to go up to the mountains of Oman. So, be sure to rent one, since there are checkpoints and the police won’t let you drive up without it.

Getting to Nizwa

Nizwa is approximately 1,5 hours away from Muscat, the capital of Oman, which is one of the reasons the city is mostly visited as a day trip from Muscat. However, Nizwa deserves to be explored calmly, so plan on staying at least one night in the city to enjoy its charms.

In addition, a road trip through Oman is the best option to explore the country. So, the best way to get to Nizwa is to rent a car in Muscat and then drive to the city, stopping in the coastal town of Sur and exploring the Wadis of Oman along the way.

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Where to stay in Nizwa

Golden Tulip Nizwa is the most comfortable hotel in town and is a good alternative if you want to stay relatively close to the main places to visit in Nizwa.

Note: I saw some guests at Alila Jabal Akhdar going on day trips to Nizwa, but I don’t recommend doing so. If you are staying in this luxury hotel, try spending a lot of time in it enjoying the gorgeous views of Oman.

What to know for visiting Oman

Visa

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.

Electricity

The voltage in Oman is 240 V and the power plugs and sockets are the type G (the same as the UK).

Currency

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:

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 are:

BEST HOTELS IN MUSCAT

  • 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.

BEST HOTELS 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.

Travel Insurance

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 company 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.

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Make sure to check other destinations in Oman:

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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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