Muscat lies on the Gulf of Oman at the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The entry point to the vast Sultanate of Oman, Muscat is where the majority of visitors arrive and stay; it is also the hub for cruise ships and the starting point for desert drives and ventures farther inland or down to Salalah.
While there is a lot to see and experience outside of Muscat, the city itself has much to offer, giving visitors a good overview of the Omani culture and lifestyle and a sample of the country’s many delights.
I have been lucky to call Oman home, and I often think back on my time living in that beautiful, varied country. The friendly locals are thrilled when visitors take an interest in their country and will go out of their way to teach you about their culture, history, and traditions.
Here are some of the best things to do when in Muscat.
1. Shop Until You Drop In The Mutrah Souq
Hands down, my favorite spot to take visitors to Oman is the Mutrah Souq, a bustling maze of little shops selling everything from Omani silver, frankincense, traditional jewelry, and khanjars (the local daggers) to pashminas, textiles, knickknacks, old furniture, and intricately carved doors. There is much to see, so take your time. You can haggle for everything, but note that when it comes to silverware, the price will depend on the daily silver price.
2. Sneak Into The Secret Quarter
Sur Al-Lawatia, right next to Mutrah Souq, is an enclosed quarter of the Al-Lawatia, an ethnocultural group made up of wealthy merchants living in and around Muscat. Containing stunning townhouses in the old Arabian style with enclosed balconies and arched entrances, the quarter used to be locked overnight and closed to outsiders. Today it is no longer off-limits, but do ask at the gate if it is okay for you to come in and have a look around.
3. Enjoy Fish And Architecture At The Fish Market
At the other end of the Mutrah Corniche lies the fish market. Once a smelly old shed (you had to throw your shoes out after visiting!), it is now an interesting combination of old and new with a modern architectural design that plays beautifully with shadow and light while allowing fresh air inside. The hustle and bustle on a Friday morning is amazing.
4. Climb To The Top Of The Mutrah Fort
Built by the Portuguese back in 1580, the Mutrah Fort itself is not that exciting, but I still highly recommend climbing the 250 steps to the top -- there are several viewpoints on the way up where you can catch your breath. Not only will you get superb views across the bays and the city, but you’ll also get a sense of the area’s history. Can you imagine what this place was like back then? A wild peninsula in the ocean, forbidding mountains in the background, all those rocky bays… The Portuguese immediately went around and made sure that the cliffs and mountains were fortified with forts and lookout towers.
5. Walk Around The Sultan’s Palace
A few bays along, you will find Al Alam, the colorful Sultan’s Palace. Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who took the reins after the death of the much-beloved Sultan Qaboos bin Said in early 2020, has several palaces around the country, but this contemporary palace dating only to 1972 is the only one in public view -- if, sadly, not open to the public. Flanked by the 16th-century Portuguese forts, it makes for an interesting sight.
6. Appreciate Local Arts And Crafts At Bait Al Zubair
Located in a restored private residence -- bait means “house” -- this privately owned museum exhibits a superb, eclectic collection of Omani handicrafts, artifacts, traditional furniture, and even stamps and coins. On the grounds there is also a small art gallery that hosts regular exhibitions.
7. Be Wowed At The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
This truly is a grand mosque. Five slender minarets, representing the five pillars of Islam, reach for the sky, and the large dome looks like it’s made from golden mesh. It is a huge mosque, if not quite the size of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and can hold up to 15,000 worshippers at any one time. The sandstone architecture is a photographer’s dream, with symmetry wherever you look, serene arches, shining marble, and quiet colonnades.
8. Visit The Oman National Museum
This purpose-built museum nestled against the stark Al Hajar Mountains is a thoroughly modern structure with many interactive experiences and hand-on exhibits that showcase Oman’s long history, from prehistoric to current times. Learning about the country’s past is a real eye-opener.
9. Catch A Performance At The Royal Opera House
Inaugurated in 2011, the Royal Opera House is not only a center for the performing arts in Oman, but it’s also a beautiful building set in an expanse of marble. The gleaming white building is equipped with some state-of-the-art technology, giving it an advantage over older opera houses. Try and catch a ballet or concert if you can. It makes for a very luxurious evening out.
10. Go Dolphin Watching
Dolphin watching is just one of many incredible animal encounters you can have in Oman. The coastline of the entire country is simply stunning, with its mix of rocky coves and sandy beaches, but being on a boat off the coast of Muscat, you’ll see the forts dotting the cliffs, the splash of color from the Sultan’s Palace, plus dolphins frolicking around your boat. This is simply the best way to start a day in Oman.
11. Walk Along The Beach
Qurum Beach is one of my favorite places to walk and take a quick dip in the waves. You can walk from one part of the city to another on this beach where fishermen come to moor their boats and mend their nets. Stop for a coffee along the way and cross over the road to see the lagoon and watch the birds that call it home.
12. Indulge In Afternoon Tea
Located in its own bay, the Al Bustan Palace is a Muscat icon. Stunning architecture and facilities, a superb beach, and beautiful views -- what’s not to love? You can stay there, but if you are not, you can still visit for an indulgent afternoon tea with some Omani sweet treats in the atrium. Expatriates and locals alike visit this hotel to relax and catch up with the neighborhood gossip.
13. Have Dinner With A View
This Indian restaurant is located on a hill overlooking Muscat and is worth visiting for its views and, of course, its food. Cozy seating arrangements make for a comfortable evening, which you must round off with a snake coffee, or a coffee with burning alcohol poured down a curled orange peel.
14. Enjoy Street Food On Souk Al Khuwair Street
If you want to try Omani street food that’s cheap but extremely tasty, then head out to this street near the Radisson Blu in the evening. This stretch of road is home to plenty of small cafes that will cook up traditional Middle Eastern dishes for passersby. Try the Yemeni dishes, especially those with chicken. The meat is always succulent.
15. Relax With A Massage
Oman is famous for its honey, so why not indulge in a honey massage at the luxurious Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa? You can visit for a few hours, use the facilities, and get thoroughly pampered.
Pro Tip: Take it from someone who has lived in three Middle Eastern countries and has traveled widely to others -- it is rare to be able to converse with the locals anywhere but in Oman. In Oman, the taxi drivers, supermarket employees, and shopkeepers will be as interested in you as you are in them. So, strike up a conversation wherever you can! You will get much more insight into this gorgeous country through the eyes of a local.