The capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat, has a much slower pace of life than its glitzier neighbours, and as a first-time visitor, it can be hard to get a sense of the best places to visit and things to do.
There isn’t a clearly defined ‘centre’ in the way there is in many cities and Muscat is more a collection of different neighbourhoods sandwiched between mountains and sea. So, here is a quick guide to the best attractions in Muscat, and a few day trips, to help you find your feet.
If you are visiting Oman for a holiday and have already decided upon the best time to visit, I recommend a day in Muscat at the start of your visit to set the scene with the cultural sights, and then a few days at the end in a five-star beach hotel to recuperate after a jam-packed road trip.
If you're living in Muscat, Oman though like I am, you'll have plenty of time to see and do everything this beautiful city has to offer.
At a quick glance, these are the best things to do in Muscat that I'll dive into in more detail:
- Marvel at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
- Soak up the History at the National Museum
- Explore Muttrah
- A Cultural Excursion at the Royal Opera House
- Spend a Day – or Night – at the Beach
- Brunch, Brunch, Brunch
- Spoil yourself at a Five Star Hotel
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
If you can only do one thing in Muscat, it should be a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque! It really is a must-see and one of the best places to visit! It is one of the few mosques in Oman that non-Muslims are permitted to enter.
Built in 2001 to mark 30 years of the late Sultan Qaboos’ reign, everything here is superlative. The chandelier in the men’s prayer hall is 14m high, holding 600,000 Swarovski crystals and 24-carat gold plating. It was the largest chandelier in the world until the Qataris created an even larger one! Likewise, the 70m by 60m handwoven, central carpet was the longest in the world until the Emiratis pinched that title for Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It took Iranian weavers four years to complete.
And a fun fact not many visitors know… the 90m minaret is the tallest budling in Oman! No other structure is allowed to be built in the Sultanate taller than this.
The mosque is open to non-Muslims every day except Friday, from 8am-11am. Both men and women must cover their arms and legs from ankle and wrist, and women must cover their hair with a scarf. Entrance is free, and I recommend getting there at 8am to enjoy the tranquility before the tour groups arrive at 9am.
The National Museum
At the eastern end of Muscat, around a small bay, is an area known as “Old Muscat.” This is the original settlement of Muscat. It has a really different feel to the rest of the city; it's much quieter and has a more historical vibe.
One of my top places to take visitors in Old Muscat is the National Museum – an elegant white building opened in 2015 to showcase Oman’s long history and culture. It's definitely worth visiting.
My favorite exhibit is on the ground floor, in the central courtyard. It displays examples of Oman’s traditional crafts, including examples of brightly colored traditional dress from the various regions of Oman.
Also, if you aren’t planning an extensive off-road trip whilst in Oman, be sure to head up to the first floor and see one of the famous “beehive tombs” of Bat. These tombs are thought to be nearly 5,000 years old, and are only found in Oman. There is also a room with models of all the most famous Omani forts.
There are fourteen permanent galleries over 13,700 sqm so you will want to allow a couple of hours to explore.
When you have finished exploring the museum, cross the road to see the brightly colored Al Alam Palace – the Sultan’s ceremonial residence. It was built in 1972 as a way to showcase contemporary Islamic design. The palace isn’t open to the public, but you can peer in through the iron gates and admire the overflowing flower beds out front.
If you want to find out more about Oman's history, the lovely Bait al Zubair, not far from the Sultan's palace, focuses on the cultural history of Oman.
If you have seen a photo of Muscat, you will almost certainly have seen a photo of Muttrah (sometimes spelt Mutrah or Matrah on road signs)! The heart of the old Portuguese colony and an old fishing village, it is the most historic part of the city and a top place to visit.
I recommend coming in the late afternoon to walk along the Corniche and explore the maze of streets around the souq. The 16th-century Muttrah Fort, built by the Portuguese to defend their colony, is free to enter and has great views back down Muttrah Corniche.
Muttrah Souq has incense burners, frankincense, and Omani trinkets galore. The souq is a good place to find some souvenirs – haggling is expected, although prices are unlikely to drop by much. If bargaining isn’t your scene, I really recommend the wonderful Omani Heritage Gallery (on the Corniche, between the souq and the fort), an NGO supporting craftspeople to maintain traditional skills. Everything is made in Oman, and profits go directly to the artists.
I suggest coming to Muttrah for dusk, when the white-fronted Corniche glows in the evening sun, to check out the views from the Fort. Afterwards, stop for a drink on the rooftop terrace of Juice World, before heading to the other end of the Corniche for dinner at Bait Al Luban. Directly opposite the Fish Market in Muttrah, this wonderful restaurant serves traditional Omani food. You can choose to eat traditionally in one of the side rooms - sitting on large floor cushions – or at tables on the lovely balcony overlooking the Corniche.
Brunch, Brunch, Brunch
As with much of the Gulf, brunching is a way of life in Muscat. Families and big groups of friends will meet up for long leisurely breakfasts every weekend.
My favorite is definitely the wonderful Turkish House Restaurant. Don’t let the slightly shabby exterior put you off. There are three options all next to each other. The café on the right (as you look at them) is the place for a quick shawarma, whilst the original dining room is at the back. The muhammara (spicy Turkish red pepper and walnut dip) is some of the best I have had. The fish is always incredibly fresh and the shrimp are so large they are more like lobsters! Ask the waiter for advice on which fish to pick depending on your numbers, and you can choose how it is cooked.
If you are after something more extravagant, all of the five-star hotels also offer over-the-top brunch deals, with The Bustan and The Chedi being the top picks. Take a group of friends and plan to spend many hours slowly working your way through the vast buffets.
The Royal Opera House Muscat
The Opera House was only opened in 2011 and is one of the most architecturally attractive modern buildings in the city. If you want to go further than the main hall, you will need to book a tour. Tours run daily and cost 3 OMR per person. You can’t book online, but you can email or call them to reserve your place in advance.
The season at the Opera House runs from September to June, and tickets are available to buy as soon as new productions are announced. There is no in-house company, so performances are from a range of international opera and dance companies. Unusually for Oman, tickets can be bought in advance online. The Opera House has a formal dress code, so be sure to dress up if you attend a performance.
I recommend visiting at sunset when the walls glow a beautiful golden color. The French café in the courtyard – Fauchon – is a good spot for a sunset mocktail.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Muscat, you won't be short of options for a bit of luxury!
The Chedi is undoubtedly Muscat’s most visually stunning hotel, with traditional Omani architecture and cool courtyards. It is proudly home to the Middle East’s longest pool (103 meters in case you were wondering!) and probably the most beautiful gym I have ever seen!
And who wouldn’t want to stay in a Sultan’s actual palace?! The ninth floor of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel is reserved for the exclusive use of the Sultan. This Muscat institution may seem a bit out of town but offers free shuttle services to the Grand Mosque and Muttrah for guests.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a night in one of Muscat’s five-star hotels, you can still sample their luxurious lifestyle by booking a day pass or booking a massage at the hotel spa. Afternoon tea at The Al Bustan Palace in particular is not to be missed and is amazingly good value. One portion is plenty between two and is served by friendly staff in the cathedral-like central foyer.
Muscat is right on the coast, meaning there are plenty of beaches to laze away the day at or to head to for an evening walk.
Shatti al Qurum
Shatti al Qurum (Qurum Beach) stretches for 2.5 miles (4km) along the Gulf of Oman, parallel to the center of the city, and is one of the most popular beaches in Oman. Many sections are fringed by palm trees, and in the quieter spots it can be hard to believe you are mere meters away from flat whites and sleek malls. At dusk the beach comes to life, with large groups setting up for friendly games of football, and couples and families heading out for a stroll along the sand.
Bandar al Khirian
Further out of Muscat, Bandar al Khirian is made up of a series of rugged inlets and is a popular weekend day trip for Muscat’s residents. A long afternoon of kayaking, snorkeling, and BBQing on the beach is virtually obligatory here – many also choose to camp overnight.
There are no facilities at Bandar, so bring a picnic, plenty of water and something to offer shade from the sun. You can rent kayaks from a man on the beach for about 5 OMR per hour.
Ad Daumaniyat Islands
But if you want to check out the best snorkeling Muscat has to offer, you need to head to the Ad Daymaniyat Islands for one of the best day trips from Muscat. Located an hour off the Muscat coastline, this string of beautiful islands is an incredible day trip from Muscat.
From November-April you can obtain a permit (either privately or through a tour company) to camp here overnight, and if you are on the water between July and September you might even spot one of the famous whale sharks. Check out Daymaniyat Shells if you want to plan a trip – they are a wonderful company with a real environmental and sustainable ethos.
Enjoy the Best Things Muscat Has to Offer
I hope that this travel guide will help you plan your visit to Muscat and you find all the best things to see and do in Muscat!
Photo by shutterstock.com/Frantisek Staud.