The discreet capital of Oman has changed over the past five decades but retains a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere, as well as many reminders of its long and cosmopolitan history. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Muscat.
Muscat offers a pleasant mix of traditional and modern. This once modest group of small towns and autonomous villages has evolved into today’s sprawling modern metropolis but remains committed to honoring traditional Arab culture. Here is our selection of things to do in Muscat to give you a complete experience of the discreet capital of Oman.
To the south of the city is the original settlement of Muscat. They are known as ‘Old Muscat,’ his neat group of old and modern buildings clusters around a rocky horseshoe bay. A pair of old Portuguese forts stand proudly on either side of the bay: Al Mirani to the west and Al Jalali to the front. Both quite unlike the traditional Omani forts – each is essentially a narrow building perched on top of a rocky outcrop on the sides.
It is nestled between the two wartime communities below the kind of Al Alam Palace, one of the six authorized residences of Sultan Qaboos. Built 1972 in modern Islamic style, it features towering blue and gold columns. Even though the public is not open, you can go up to the main gate to see the façade.
Nearby, the National Museum of Oman displays 6,000 years of Omani heritage and history in numerous thematic galleries exploring the country’s geography, people, wars and religion.
Bait al Zubair Museum is set in three old traditional houses around a garden. It’s worth visiting to get a sense of what life in Oman was like before modern amenities. The exhibits include an excellent selection of weapons, jewelry, household items, and old photographs, as well as a replica of a typical Omani village.
Mutrah herself is the old commercial heart of the city. Busier and built-up than The Old Muscat, it is arranged around a ledge in front of the enormous patios and docks of Sultan Qaboos’ port. Mutrah Souk is the most popular tourist attraction in the neighborhood, if not the whole country. Although modernized, it remains one of the most authentic souks in Arabia, its alleys laced by the scent of incense and sandalwood.
The Museum of Modern Art in Ghalya presents exhibitions of typical Omani houses from the 1950s to the 1970s, showing how life was in the country when people lived without electricity or running water. This intimate museum also includes modern works by Omani and international artists. Further along the ledge is Bait al Baranda. It now houses a modest museum dedicated to the history of Muscat.
Ruwi is the main financial center of the city, with a series of banks lined by the middle of Markaz Mutrah Al Tijani Street. Old Bait Al Falaj Fort is home to the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, which is much more interesting than it may seem. This is a huge selection of lace on the Omani history, including the impressive shows of weapons.
Souk Ruwi Street is filled with bright shops selling gold, textiles and electronics, while Ruwi Roundabout, home to many simple curry houses, is one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods.
Qurm to Ghubrah
Qurm is one of the mud’s best shopping venues with a dozen or so compact malls clustered around Qurm roundabout on main Sultan Qaboos Road.
North of Qurm you will find Shati al Qurm (beach of Qurm). It’s long gold sand that passes several miles behind many of the city’s most upscale hotels. The beach is open to the public. The Qurum Nature Park and the Children’s Museum are nearby and entertain children.
Royal Opera House is located in the Shati Al-Qurm district. An impressive modern building inside and out, it houses a varied program of opera, concerts and performing arts. Surrounded by gardens, the Opera Galleria shopping center is located next to the property and features numerous shops, cafés, and restaurants.
The Khuwair Natural History Museum offers a comprehensive overview of the country’s regions and their flora and fauna. Perfect for those interested in the natural world, the museum houses stuffed animals, geological exhibits, and a complete skeleton of a sperm whale.
Gubra is the site of the majestic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It is one of the largest and most spectacular mosques in the Gulf, built in a minimalist, modern Islamic style and lots of white and red-brown marble. The mosque’s two prayer halls and surrounding courtyards can accommodate about 20,000 worshippers. The interior of the main prayer hall is a microcosm of wealth. The carpet is the second largest in the world, while the Swarovski crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the ceiling is 14 meters high. It is the only mosque in Oman that is open to non-Muslims.