The last few years have seen Oman rise up the lists of top tourist destinations thanks to its rich culture, beautiful landscapes and welcoming people. The capital, Muscat, provides a snapshot of the country’s beauty, mystery and hospitality. We’ve put together this guide so that you can make the most of a day in Muscat and experience “the greatest holiday destination you hadn’t thought of” for yourself.
Like its other Gulf cousins (Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi…), the Omani capital of Muscat is often a transit-stop on a traveller’s journey between East and West. Yet relatively few people venture out of the airport to explore what the city has to offer. It can also make for a great day trip or weekend getaway if you’re based elsewhere in the Gulf.
Here are our top picks for 24 hours in Muscat…
Breakfast on the move
If you’re taking a taxi from the airport, be sure to ask the driver to stop for karak chai – spiced tea with cardamom – and khubz Omani – flaky flatbread with cream cheese and honey. You’ll find these local specialities at many of the numerous roadside coffee shops. Your driver will likely pull up, beep the horn and order from the window of the car. It will be ready in minutes and shouldn’t cost you more than a rial (around £2 or $2.60) or two.
If you’re hopping straight off the plane, the delicious, sugary tea will give you an energy boost after a night flight and the khubz Omani provides the perfect fuel for a day of exploring the city. If you’re not a lover of sweet stuff, ask for Arabic coffee instead and swap the honey in your khubz Omani for egg.
Visit the iconic Grand Mosque
A visit to Muscat is not complete without a trip to the world famous Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Built in the 1990s over the course of six years, the Grand Mosque can hold thousands of worshippers. The impressive main prayer hall bears the hallmarks of Persian design and contains a 14 meter chandelier bearing 600,000 crystals.
The Grand Mosque is open to visitors between 8:30-11:30am Saturday to Thursday. Entry is free, but bear in mind that non-Muslims are required to cover up (i.e. long sleeves, trousers or skirts to your ankles, and headscarves for ladies).
Take a walk along Shatti al-Qurum
Located on the corner of the Arabian Peninsula on the shores of the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, Oman is home to two thousand miles of pristine coastline. On Muscat’s beaches you’ll find Omanis swimming, playing football, and enjoying relaxing on the sand. Shatti al-Qurm (shatti means beach in Arabic) is one of the city’s most popular and picturesque beaches, and it makes for a beautiful afternoon walk. The Qurm district is home to a number of restaurants and cafes – so grab a Starbucks Frappuccino and go and dip your toes in the water!
Note, a walk on the beach will NOT be an enjoyable experience during the summer months, when temperatures soar above 50°c.
TOP TIP: If you’re in Oman for longer than a day and you’re a big beach fan, take a boat trip to the stunning Daymaniyat Islands for white sand, crystal clear waters and incredible marine life.
Immerse yourself in Omani culture at Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art
Despite the name, Ghalya’s Museum is not quite what you’d expect. Although there is a modern art gallery at the back of the museum, the main attraction is undoubtedly a walk-through, immersive experience of a traditional Omani house. It offers a fascinating view of what life was like in the Sultanate before the “modern” era – i.e. before the 1970s, when Omanis lived a relatively simple, traditional lifestyle without modern luxuries such as electricity and air-conditioning.
Oman is known for its rich culture; however it can be difficult to experience this authentically as a foreigner, particularly if you’re there for just a short time. This small and somewhat undiscovered museum gives a unique insight into Omani society and traditions.
Ghalya’s Museum is open daily from 9:30am-6pm (image: Oman Tripper)
Shop for souvenirs at Muttrah Souq
As the day draws to a close and the sun begins to set, Muttrah Corniche comes to life. Although fairly touristy, Muttrah Souq is an essential stop on Muscat’s tourist trail. You’ll inevitably come across a lot of tourist tat, but it’s the hustle and bustle of the experience that make it worth the visit.
If you’re prepared to look and, of course, haggle (expect tourist prices), you’ll find some absolute gems hidden in the Souq’s criss-crossing pathways, from Dhofari frankincense to traditional Omani silver jewellery – not to mention the elusive call to prayer alarm clock (Arabic students, you know what I’m talking about…). Fill your suitcase with sticky dates, and don’t forget to take home some halwa – the traditional Omani sweet desert made from dates and flavoured with saffron, cardamom and rosewater.
End the day with dinner and shisha
One of the best places to unwind after a busy day in Muscat is Kargeen’s Café, where you can soak up the relaxing atmosphere in the outdoor majlis and chat over a shisha and a lemon mint juice. They offer a selection of Omani and Middle Eastern food (and even have a wood fired pizza oven if you’re not feeling adventurous). We recommend trying their take on the classic Omani shuwa, slow-cooked lamb – traditionally wrapped in palm leaves and cooked under the ground for 24 hours – marinated with spices and served with rice.
So if you’ve got a day in Muscat coming up, we hope we’ve given you a few ideas of how to spend it!
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Cover image: greatbritishchefs.com