Having travelled to many countries I have to say that Oman is a country that truly surprised and impressed me with its varied landscapes, incredible history and some of the friendliest people you could hope to meet. If you want to see the representation of Arab culture as seen in movies then you have to come to Oman. You will see some of the best examples of Arabic architecture, Forts (on every hill), Arabian Desert landscapes, bustling Souks (markets), Wadis, incredible mountains and modern Arabic extravagance in the 5 star hotels that dot the country. (Disclaimer: this trip was meticulously planned by my mother).
What to do in Muscat
Muscat is a city that manages to marry old with new in a seamless way with its gorgeous Mosques surrounded by modern buildings with the backdrop of a spectacular mountain range. Don’t bother with a fancy hotel because Muscat has too much to offer to just sit in a pool in a hotel.
The Royal Opera House is a must see with its incredible contemporary Arabic architecture full of carved details which give the massive structure a lighter feel. We didn’t have time to see a performance there but it would be worth it to see the rest of the inside of the building!
We went down to the port of Muttrah which was used historically and still is today with more of an industrial feel now. The Souk in Muttrah was quite interesting with its narrow winding streets packed with stalls mostly selling tourist souvenirs but with some beautiful colours great for a bit of photography. It definitely wasn’t the most traditional souk but it’s still worth a visit.
Old Muscat is definitely worth a visit as you approach it from the mountainside and look down on the old gate and walls that are still there, you can see out to the numerous forts dotted around with my favourite being the Mirani Fort due to an interesting story of how a Hindu man was able to trick the Portuguese and help the Omanis retake the Fort. Al Alam Palace is still used today by the Royal Family, worth a visit to see the grand architecture and beautiful gardens around it.
Next we went further away from Muscat to visit some of the famous hotels we had heard about which are attractions in themselves. The Al Bustan Palace Ritz hotel almost looks like some kind of rocket ready to launch as you approach it. But when you enter the hotel you will see a grand lobby with an atrium that extends hundreds of meters up with a massive chandelier that drops down from the centre. The grandeur is further enhanced by the scent of burning frankincense. The gardens and pool are absolutely stunning but definitely out of my price range! The shops in the hotel include the famous perfumery Amouge which has some very expensive scents many of which include some frankincense..scent. The next hotel we hit up was the Shangri La which actually consists of 3 different hotels in the same resort. Absolutely gorgeous with its impressive buildings and sprawling gardens over a lagoon beach. Would be a great relaxing break from the adventures that the rest of Oman has to offer but don’t just stay at the hotel and miss out on the wonders that lie beyond!
What to do around Muscat
There are many things to do around Muscat that are within driving distance, many of which are along different driving circuits that are easy to follow. We went for the Al Rustaq Circuit which was easily done as a day trip from Muscat. The first stop was a fort called Harat Asfalah which was set in a date palm plantation. It was a small fort but with some magnificent views of the palms with the backdrop of the mountains behind. We also enjoyed wandering through the palm plantation that used the traditional ‘falaj’ system for irrigation.
The next stop was Nakhal Fort which has been perfectly restored with informative plaques and rooms set up with the furniture to bring the fort to life. A maze of stairs up and down all over the place help to guide you around while you get lost in the wonder of this fort that seems to sprout from the rocks beneath. The last bit of the circuit was a spectacular drive to Al Rustaq surrounded by some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. To one side we had the Hajar mountains and to the other side the Ophiolite mountains which both have their own unique geological beauty. The drive was made all the more dramatic by the end of the world weather that hit us with torrential rain becoming hail and then suddenly bright and sunny again within the space of 5 minutes! A truly spectacular drive, oh and in case you at any time forgot you were in Oman you may see the Oman flag painted on the side of some mountains.
A town that is a days trip from Muscat is of Nizwa which is definitely worth a visit to see the famous Souk and Goat market that takes place every Saturday. The goat market is one of the most interesting spectacles I have ever seen. As you approach the market you can see goats tied up all over the souk as the result of successful sales. The market itself was an open space with rails set around in a circle where goats and cows were tied next to their owners who haggled with perspective buyers. Next we stumbled across a coffee stall giving free samples of the famous Omani coffee which was next to a stall giving free samples of ‘Halwa’ (a gelatinous Arabic sweet). The next truly unique spectacle we came across was the impromptu gun market which was basically a bunch of Omani men haggling over rifles that were just leant against a tree in the middle #justOmanthings.