The Voya guide to the stunning coastal city of Muscat, Oman.
Muscat is a fantastic place to start a trip to Oman, learning about the people and culture before you explore the many delights the country has to offer. Omani people are extremely proud of their cultural heritage, and so, unlike its neighbours, Muscat has not been overtaken by modern skyscrapers as the city grew. Most of the buildings are a maximum of two stories high, and historical buildings or monuments have been well-preserved.
The Omani people are also extremely friendly and hospitable; when you travel outside of the capital, it is not uncommon to be invited back to local’s houses to share a meal and your story. In Muscat, like many other capital cities, it is a bustling commerce centre, but the people are still extremely polite and friendly. As long as you follow local customs and are respectful of their national pride, you will be welcomed with open arms.
The beaches in Muscat are a tropical paradise, the sands are pure white, the waters turquoise, and the sun is always shining. When selecting a hotel in Muscat, choose one with a private beach as they are often the nicest and you can comfortably wear whatever you like. Even though it is an Arab country, it is acceptable to wear swimsuits on the beach. A woman wearing a bikini will draw attention, but will not be harassed. Just change into conservative clothes before you head into town. If you are heading to a public beach, the ones just outside of Muscat are the best, such as Qantab which is quiet and great for watching fishing boats just offshore.
Nightlife is low-key in Muscat, with most bars and clubs found in hotels and aimed at western expats and tourists. Alcohol is very expensive, but the popularity of live music at bars creates a fantastic atmosphere of low-key fun. Just be prepared to mingle only with tourists, locals tend to head to shisha bars to enjoy shisha and Turkish coffee. There are no clubs in Muscat, and only two places in the whole city have a “dancing permit” which means any boogying is strictly off-limits.
Muscat is a beautiful place to explore, but after a few days, be sure to head out on day trips or drive around and explore the rest of the country. Some stunning scenery awaits you, mountains populated with cheeky goats and disinterested camels, secluded swimming holes with underground caves, sprawling deserts, golden beaches, and tiny picturesque villages. It is hard to believe so much variation can exist in one country. Some are easily done in a daytrip from Muscat, but others will make an enjoyable road trip.
From Muscat, join a favourite local pastime of dune bashing out in the desert. A local driver will take you zooming across dunes, laughing manically at your squealing. It is not for the faint-hearted but is a lot of fun and a great talking point when you meet friendly locals. Look for a dune bashing trip that includes a stop at one of the nearby Wadis, or oases where you can stop for a picnic and a hike up the dunes for fantastic photos.
Muscat is mostly hot and dry, so any time of the year is great to visit. It is best to avoid June to August where the summer sun is a scorching 45 degrees Celsius. October to April is generally agreed upon as the best months to visit as the weather is warm and there is little rain.
Arabic is the official language of Oman, though some regions of Oman will speak different dialects of Arabic. English is widely spoken, especially in Muscat, and Urdu, Portuguese, and Hindi are spoken by some.
VOYA’S FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT INCLUDE
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an attraction you cannot miss. It is only open between 8 am and 11 am for non-muslims and is closed all Friday, so plan your visit. The mosque is made entirely of marble, ornately decorated, and home to the biggest Persian rug in the world, weighing 600 tonnes and taking a team of 600 weavers to make. It is also home to the second largest chandelier in the world. Remember, men must cover their knees, and women must cover their legs, head, and shoulders.
The National Museum of Oman is a fantastic way to learn all about the history and traditions of Oman. The exhibits are extensive and cover everything from traditional dress, to the maritime history of Oman. Audio guides are available to explain the interactive exhibits further.
VOYA’S FAVOURITE PLACES TO STAY INCLUDE
The Chedi Muscat is an iconic hotel, well-located for exploring the city. It boasts the world’s largest pool, which also happens to be adults-only, and a private beach. Everything is designed to cater to discerning tastes, and though it is a popular hotel, the scale of the resort means it is never crowded.
The Kempinski Muscat is a perfect example of the Middle Eastern love of scale and opulence. Its facilities boast a culinary concierge, a cigar lounge, and a bowling alley amongst many other things. It is located on a six kilometre long beach and has a lively beach club offering drinks and music.
VOYA'S FAVOURITE DISHES TO TRY
Shuwa is a popular traditional Omani dish which you will find at most restaurants you visit. It is lamb or goat covered in spices and cooked in an underground oven. The meat is so flavourful and well-cooked when it comes out. It is served family style on a bed of rice and therefore is a popular dish for celebrations and weddings.
Mushaltat is a flatbread which is stuffed with ingredients like meat, honey, spinach, or cheese and baked. It is a great option for a quick but filling bite and will be found all over Oman.