If you are wondering what to do in Muscat then look no further, this tried and tested Muscat itinerary demonstrates the best things to do in the Omani capital with a short amount of time.
Muscat is not the easiest city in the world to navigate and getting around is virtually impossible without a car since the city spans over 60km in width and the main sites of interest are dispersed and not within walking distance of each other. There is no “city centre” in Muscat, with the city being comprised of lots of different little neighbourhoods.
Unfortunately, I found that these neighbourhoods didn’t have an awful lot of personality either. Think huge sprawling highways scattered with industrial estates, American style car dealerships and giant billboards and you’re picturing Muscat.
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Renting a Car in Muscat
Though there are some public transport links in Muscat, they do not cover all areas of the city and run very infrequent services. As such, the best way to get around Muscat is either to hire a car and self-drive, or to hire a private driver for the day. In the interests of being more economical I would recommend the former (unless perhaps you can’t drive or you are travelling as a group and can split costs).
Renting a saloon car will not cost you more than $40 per day – a figure which becomes cheaper if there is a group of you travelling together, or even if you are travelling solo and you are able to meet fellow travellers via Couchsurfing to pitch in. Though I would say that you need a 4×4 to access many of the sites in wider and more rural Oman, it is not necessary for Muscat.
I spent a few days in Muscat but there isn’t really an awful lot to do there. You can see the main highlights of the Omani capital in a day, and I would say that you are better off reserving most of the time on your Oman trip to enjoy the country’s beautiful nature. This one-day Muscat itinerary will help you to see the main highlights of Oman’s capital in a short space of time. It contains a mixture of “must see” things to do in Muscat, and off the beaten track activities and attractions that were introduced to me by locals.
Making the Most of Your Muscat Itinerary
Visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Embellished with stunning mosaics in vivid hues of blue and green, the spectacular Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a breath-taking sight to behold and is surely a highlight of any Muscat itinerary. The beautiful structure took over four years to build and previously housed the world’s largest carpet and chandelier (until neighbouring Emiratis and Qataris came across to take measurements and steal the title!). Spanning 416,000 square meters and large enough to house over 20,000 worshippers at any given time, the space that the mosque occupies is expansive.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is open to non-Muslim visitors between the hours of 8.00 and 11.00am every day excluding Friday. Entrance to the mosque is free.
Visit the Royal Opera House Muscat
The Royal Opera House in Muscat is a beautiful example of contemporary Arabian architecture and acts as a cultural crossroads to introduce locals to artistic performances from around the globe. You have the option to take a tour inside the opera house, but if that isn’t really your thing then you can just stop by and snap some photos out front since this place is both beautiful and conveniently close to the Grand Mosque.
Try Traditional Omani Shuwa
After a short time in Oman you will discover that it is very difficult to find authentic Omani food since the majority of Omanis do not work in restaurant or service industries. You can find eateries that serve Omani dishes, but they are operated by people from Yemen, India and Bangladesh and will arguably never be quite the same as what Omanis eat at home. For authentic Omani food (that is well worth the price tag) head to Bait Al Luban. Alternatively, venture inside one of the many Yemeni restaurants that serve Omani dishes.
Lamb Shuwa is the national dish of Oman, often eaten on special occasions and is comprised of tender, flavourful lamb seasoned with black pepper and cooked by steam underground. The traditional Omani/Yemeni way to eat food is by hand while sitting on the floor. If you wind up throwing rice all over the place however like I did, you can always ask for cutlery (something which absolutely cracked one of my Omani friends up watching me eat lamb with a knife and fork!)
Witness Ferocious Haggling at the Muttrah Fish Market
The Mutrah fish market is open daily between 8am and 6pm and is an interesting site to behold. Here, vendors and locals haggle ferociously to agree upon a best price for the day’s catch. Over 100 vendors set up shop here each day, in addition to an expanded market section for fruits, vegetables and fresh produce.
Explore Ancient Muttrah
Ancient Mutrah is one of the oldest parts of Muscat and an area that is bursting with personality. There’s a souk here but it predominantly sells tourist tat and is not all that authentic, and so you are better off waiting until you reach Nizwa to shop at the local souk there. Stroll along the corniche and enjoy navigating the winding pathways here.
For an excellent viewpoint over the city, ascend to the top of Mutrah fort (entrance is free).
Drink Copious Amounts of Omani Karak Tea
Much like most of the Arab world, Omanis love their tea. However Omani tea is much different to what you will have tasted in the Middle East previously. Omani “karak” tea is prepared with cardamom and milk and possesses a taste that strongly resembles Indian chai.
As you drive around Muscat, you will encounter dozens of tea rooms. Oman doesn’t really have a “sit down and people watch with a cup of tea” kind of culture though. The Omani way is to park up out in front of the tea room, wait for the server to run out to you and ask for a Karak chai to then take with you and enjoy on your drive.
Have a Picnic at Yiti Beach
Yiti is a special place that was introduced to me by an Omani friend. Since the weather here is consistently good, and spending time with family is important, Omanis love to eat picnic style several times a week during meal times and Yiti beach is perfect for that.
Located at the outskirts of the capital, Yiti beach is an undisturbed slice of natural paradise where you are unlikely to encounter other tourists. Stop by a local eatery to pick up some dinner to take with you or pick up some skewers of mishkak from a roadside stall. Mishkak is delicious smoked, marinated meat often drilled in chilli sauce and is the perfect Omani snack.
Where to Stay in Muscat
The best place for you to stay in Muscat during your Oman holidays depends largely on both your personal preferences and travel style, and your budget. Some of the best accommodation in Muscat options are outlined below for your consideration.
Muttrah may be a little touristic, but it is possible to find airbnb accommodation and hotels here that do not break the bank. I stayed in Muttrah and rented a studio apartment from a local family for just under $30 a night. Opting to stay in Muttrah places you right in the centre of the action with some of Muscat’s main sites right on your doorstep. The added benefit is that the area is pleasant for evening walks or grabbing a cup of tea.
The centre of Muscat is not overly attractive and can be difficult to get around if you don’t have a car since you pretty much have to drive to get anything – even a simple cup of tea. Assuming that you do have a car though, central Muscat is fine.
In a similar fashion to Dubai, Muscat is home to plenty of exclusive beach resorts offering access to luxurious, private beaches. This could be an option if you want to enjoy a little rest and relaxation during your Muscat trip and you are not travelling Oman on a tight budget.
Have any questions or concerns about what to do in Muscat or Oman tourism in general? Feel free to reach out to me or drop me a comment below!
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