Perched on the Gulf of Oman, Muscat is a hugely important Arabic city that’s quickly becoming one of the region’s hot spots to visit. Not only that, but there’s also a heap of the best things to do in Muscat that are dotted around the city and its surroundings.
Overlooked by the domineering Al Hajar Mountains, Muscat is a beautiful mix of contemporary and traditional culture and design that make for some fantastic places to discover. You'll find several interesting neighborhoods, each with it's own character and highlights. Unlike other capitals in the region, Muscat did not waste money in building extravagant, which makes this city and its welcoming locals very down-to-earth.
Things to See and Do
The Mutrah Corniche is a good place to start your explorations, and this row of traditional white latticed buildings and mosques, gardens and fountains is especially picturesque at sunset when the bleached white buildings reflect many colors. Part of the corniche experience is its souq, a traditional, chaotic market offering some fabulous arifacts, antiques, textiles and jewellery etc. Just a little further on and you’ll find the fish markets and busy port.
Once you’ve seen, and felt, a bit of modern Muscat, you might like to delve into old Muscat, and Oman, at the Bait al-Baranda Museum, and then explore the walled part of Muscat, which was the original city limits.
And then of course there are those miles and miles of beaches, some lined with resort hotels, and some lined with fishermen collecting in their nets. Muscat is also a relatively short drive from the Wadi Shab, one of Oman’s most spectacular wadis, with a collection of beautiful green pools, eery caves and sheer sides.
Ancient castles and fortresses are among the most significant touristic spots of the city. The ancient Al Jalali Fort (also known as the Jabreen Castle) and the Al-Mirani Fort are located not far from the Palace. Two upscale buildings are set close to each other, now they are re-equipped into the Historical Museum. After admiring the outside of the ancient forts, take a look inside the forts and wander the labyrinth of rooms. Check out the defensive methods used, like the murder holes, gaps in the floor where they use to pour boiling date oil on enemies. The halls keep the collections of armory and armor suits as well as historical artifacts, reflecting the course of the history of the city.
Make sure to pay a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It’s a stunning modern mosque that lives up to its name with space for 20,000 worshippers. The extravagant main prayer hall features a massive chandelier, intricately detailed blue mosaic tiles, and the second largest handmade Iranian rug in the world - it took 600 women four years to weave. The mosque’s grounds are a peaceful place to explore the harmonious lines and archways of the various buildings and fabulous gardens.
Another popular fort to visit is the 17th-century Nizwa Fort with its massive circular tower, which you can climb for views of the mosque, souq, distant rocky mountains, and the date palms that surround this oasis city. Discover the historical items on display like jewelry, tools and a timeline of the area’s history. You can also watch women making crafts and baking bread over an open fire.
Sultan's Armed Forces Museum demonstrates the history of the country's military achievements, from antiquity to modernity. The largest collection of weapons, armor, and combat mechanisms, and machines in the country is collected in the museum. Connoisseurs of modern art go to Ghalya's Museum of Modern Art. It is worth noting that you can find not only paintings and sculptures among the exhibits but also items made by local craftsmen. If you are delighted with a variety of flavors, you will appreciate the unique cultural institution called Amouage Perfumery. The perfume factory is located here.
However, Oman is also associated with other things, for example, petroleum, there is a whole museum dedicated to it, the Oman Oil and Gas Exhibition Center. If you visit this museum, you will be able to learn all about its extraction and production, as well as why petroleum is so important for the country and the world. You can get to know the local flora and fauna of the region in the Natural History Museum. A fantastic collection of skeletons and stuffed animals that live in the region is collected here. Marine inhabitants of the Gulf of Oman are among them. You can explore the colonial past of the state and what impact the era has had on modernity in another cultural institution called the French Museum. The Omani Heritage Gallery is the best place to explore the local culture and traditional way of life of the local people's ancestors. There are hundreds of unique products here that are created by local craftsmen.
The cave of Majlis al Jinn deserves special attention among the natural attractions. According to legend, the Jinn live here. This follows from the name of the grotto. It was opened in 1983. The grotto has already become a symbol of Oman. It is also famous because it is the second-largest cave grotto in the world. The cave is located at an altitude of 4,527-ft. above sea level. It is the best cave for rock climbing. However, you will need special equipment and sufficient training to visit it, even as part of an excursion. Another picturesque place worth noting is the Al Naseem Park, where you’ll find lush vegetation, picturesque views, and a and a pleasant, serene atmosphere.
Food and Drink
Muscat is the dining center of Oman and the best place to try some of the more interesting dishes of the Sultanate, including spectacular seafood hauled fresh from the Arabain Sea. A traditional treat is Samak meshwi, a fill grilled on charcoal. Those wishing to try something more exotic, order dried fish “laham”. Various seafood platters are popular, which typically include calamari, mussels, and other seashells.
Meat dishes are at the heart of the ethnic cuisine menu. Commonly lamb meat is used in recipes. A number of ways of meat preparation may seem weird and odd to foreign guests as contemporary culinary experts have inherited these methods from their cooking ancestors. An essential treat on every table in Muscat is popular khubz bread, which is made by a specific recipe and an essential part of ethnic culture.
As a rule, Omani cooking is less spicy than in other parts of the Gulf, with lots of dishes based on lamb and chicken, usually served with rice, or fried together with rice in local versions of India’s biryani. Some of the tastiest dishes are reserved for big religious festivals. Locals eschew alcohol in a favorite of strong coffee, flavored with cardamom and served with dates and other sweet treats.
Alcohol: Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests. Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol if they purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants. To buy alcohol for home consumption, Western nationals must obtain a licence from their embassy. The legal drinking age (for non-Muslims only) is 21.
Lively, colorful markets with a huge selection of national products can be found throughout Muscat. The Old Market, called Matrah Souq, is a real attraction where visitors will find chic costumes in national style, jewelry, handmade carpets, various handicrafts and souvenirs, spices and tea, as well as popular Oriental sweets. Handmade jewelry boxes are a popular souvenir sold here, along with unique antiques.
There are also major shopping centers in the city. They offer products from world-famous manufacturers. Sabco Center is one of the oldest and most popular shopping centers in the city. You can visit many interesting shops of both local and European manufacturers here. The famous perfume store Oman Perfumery is also located here where you’ll find a huge selection of world-class luxury perfumes.
Al Araimi Shopping Center is where you’ll find famous European manufacturers. In addition to clothing and accessories, the mall sells electronics and home goods. There are various cafes located here as well.
If you are looking for high-end shopping, head to Al Khamis Plaza shopping center where you’ll find the most exclusive boutiques. You can shop designer clothing stores, jewelry, sunglasses and more. An art gallery with unique works from local artists is also found here.
CCC Mall is very popular for more inexpensive items. Here, you’ll find various stores selling locally produced goods at very attractive prices. It is a great way to find luxury clothing and fabrics from local manufacturers at a fraction of the cost, along with interesting souvenir shops. A large supermarket is located on the first floor, also selling local products at affordable prices.
You can also go to the Al Sarooj shopping center to buy interesting national products and souvenirs. One of the largest bookstores in the city is open here. There is also an interesting pharmacy here selling organic locally produced cosmetics.
The largest shopping mall, the Muscat City Center Mall, is where the famous carrefour hypermarket is located. Dozens of clothing, footwear, and accessories stores can all be found here along with a large entertainment center that attracts visitors with families.
Traditional souvenirs include silver and gold jewelery, khanjars (Omani daggers), coffee pots, saddles, frankinscense, hand-woven textiles, goat-hair carpets, baskets and camel straps.
Traditions, Culture and Festivals
Local people are rather sociable and hospitable, they are respective and attentive towards foreign guests and are eagerly interested in traditions and culture of foreign visitors. City residents are tactful, polite and well-mannered, however they honor their native culture above all things and require the same highly respective attitude from foreign visitors as well. It is important to respect the local culture, such as avoiding smoking and eating in public places as this is not common and looked down upon. Smoking and eating is acceptable only in allotted places.
Alcohol can only be consumed in specialized places, and it is important to note that alcohol intoxication is considered to be rude and offensive, as well as carry a penalty.
In regards to attire, Muscat, along with other cities of Omar, do not accept bright and revealing clothes. Locals dress modestly, with long-sleeved robes and dresses. It is important that visitors respect their culture and try to dress conservatively, always cover your shoulders and knees. There is no need to cover your hair (except women when visiting mosques). Also, it is not advisable to swim in a bikini in the wadi.
Muscat is a modern city which in a unique manner fuses the traditions of past ages and the achievements of modern civilization. Many citizens give preference to European way of life devoting major time to work, family life and routine. However there are many local residents who have devoted their lives to ethnic crafts: fishery, farming, breeding of camels, horses and goats, which are the main ethnic crafts and occupations.
The main Muscat Festival starts in early January and continues until the beginning of the last winter month. Al Emarat Public Park, Oman Automobile Association Karting Track and Naseem Gardens are the main venues of the festival. They become points of attraction for hundreds of tourists and locals alike to enjoy music, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, sports events, as well as conferences and seminars.
Sultan Camel Race Cup is one of the most prestigious festivals in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). It is a great opportunity to get acquainted with the traditional way of life of local residents. Riders and their camels are trained in a special way before the event to become the first in the race. The colorful spectacle takes place at the Royal Cavalry Track in mid-March. Wonderful activities for children are also organized here. Qaboos bin Said Al Said regularly attends the festival. He is a big fan of this kind of activity. It is worth noting that the love of camels is a distinctive feature of local residents.
Oman is a Muslim country. Its residents strictly honor the customs of Islam and celebrate Muslim holidays. Local residents widely celebrate the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan. They get up before dawn, drink water and eat, and say prayers. It is worth noting that it is forbidden to eat and drink during the day during the celebration. Entertainment activities during Ramadan are also prohibited. Tourists should refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages in public places. Eid al-Fitr brings the end of Ramadan. Men pray on this day and women cook food. It is worth noting that shops, markets, restaurants, and cafes are not open during Eid al-Fitr.
Muharram, or Islamic New year, is celebrated throughout Oman. Huge festivities are held on this day. Eid al-Adha (feast of sacrifice) is considered one of the most respected celebrations in the Islamic tradition. Muslims should perform ablution, put on clean clothes, and say a festive prayer on this day. Laylat-al-Miraj is also a significant holiday. Muslims go to the mosque, listen to the sermon, and pray on this day. It is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages during this holiday as well as during the celebration of Ramadan. This ban applies to both adherents of Islam and tourists.
The Day of the Nation and New Oman is traditionally celebrated on the birthday of Qaboos bin Said on November 19, it was he who created the state. The leader of the country visits all major cities of the state before the celebration. Each person can ask a question that interests him. The ruler is highly respected because he does not leave questions unattended. He listens to each person and tries to improve the situation for anyone interested.