Oman’s capital is visually striking, perhaps because it looks so little like a normal city; rather than a bustling CBD characterised by countless skyscrapers, gridlocked traffic and smog, Muscat has many separate areas nestling between the low craggy mountains and the Indian Ocean. The main areas worth exploring are around the Old Town and the fishing port of Mutrah, although walks along the beach in Qurm or exploring the lagoons in Qantab are recommended too.
Located on the coast at the eastern end of greater Muscat, the Old Town is a charming cluster of pretty, whitewashed buildings sandwiched between rocky hills. It is home to the very interesting Muscat Gate Museum, which chronicles the history of Muscat and Oman from ancient times up to the present day. The view from the roof is worth the visit alone. Other highlights include the striking Alam Palace, home of Sultan Qaboos, Bait Al Zubair, Jalali Fort and Mirani Fort overlooking the harbour.
Arguably the best beach in Muscat, this expanse of golden sand starts from the Crowne Plaza Muscat and stretches through Shati Al Qurum to Azaiba and beyond. It’s well set up for visitors, with a number of picnic and shaded areas, as well as jet ski rentals. When the tide is low, nature lovers can take a scenic 4km walk towards the Embassies’ area in Shati Al Qurum.
Qurm Park & Nature Reserve
This park and nature reserve is Muscat’s main park and features sprawling lawns, a boating lake, beautiful gardens and a nature reserve made up of tidal wetlands and a mangrove nursery. It is home to the Sultan’s Rose Garden and a large fountain, as well as the City Amphitheatre which seats up to 4,500 people.
Diving & snorkelling
For a nominal fee you can get a day pass to the Oman Dive Centre. Take a dive class or head out on an expedition, or just laze by the shaded pool and watch the boats come and go. There are 20 dive spots, all reached in between five minutes and 1.5 hours. Snorkelling gear and paddle skis are available to hire, and there is an excellent licensed restaurant.
There’s no better way to experience the beauty of Oman’s magnificent coastline than with a sailing trip, and Ocean Blue Oman will help you do just that. It offers a range of experiences, from dolphin watching excursions to night charters. You can even splash out on a private charter for a special occasion, whether it’s a party for friends or a romantic dinner for two in Mutrah Harbour. Ocean Blue Oman organises tours of the Damaniyat Islands, one of Oman’s best snorkelling spots, aboard a 75-foot luxury catamaran.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
Watching nesting turtles lumber up the beach to lay their eggs, then make their way back into the sea, is to see nature at its most miraculous. You are virtually guaranteed a sighting at this reserve in Sur, south of Muscat, where you can camp overnight. After arriving, you’ll be served a beach BBQ before night falls and the turtles come onto the beach. After a few hours’ sleep, return to the beach to watch the mass of tiny hatchlings struggle out of their eggs and make their journey into the sea.
Haggling & bartering
One of the best markets in the region, the warren-like covered Mutrah Souk is a hotspot for souvenir-hunting tourists. Once inside, enjoy the mixed scent of frankincense, perfume oils, fresh jasmine and spices. The real excitement lies in exploring the side streets, where you’ll discover a selection of tiny shops full of Omani silver paintings, pots, hookah pipes, and incense.
Eat like the locals
Sebalt Al Bustan offers a traditional Omani experience in Arabic tents set up in the hotel’s gardens every Wednesday night during the cooler months. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a night’s stay, go for the legendary high tea in the Atrium Tea Lounge.
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