Visiting Muscat – A City Guide
The capital of Oman, Muscat is at the epicentre of the country’s government, culture and tourism. With a prime spot on the Gulf of Oman, its port district of Mutrah is also an important centre for trade and commerce. It’s a sleek and bustling city where turreted marble mosques and 16th-century forts blend with white-washed architecture, high-end shopping malls and pristine beaches.
Muscat: city layout and top attractions
The rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains define Muscat’s northern coastline, while windswept tangerine deserts and camel-coloured plains border the city to the south and west.
The Old Muscat neighbourhood is where you’ll find Al Alam Palace, or Sultan’s Palace, the ceremonial home of Sultan Qaboos of Oman. It stretches along the Mutrah Corniche from Port Sultan Qaboos to Al Bustan Beach. From the corniche you can admire the harbour, the city skyline, ancient buildings and mountains.
Expats and diplomats favour the Shatti al Qurum district on the coast, which is also home to some of the best hotels in Muscat. Business travellers congregate in the Ruwi commercial district, about five kilometres from Al Qurum.
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Eating Out in Muscat
Dining options in Muscat include international fare, but you don’t want to bypass traditional Omani dishes.
Bait al Luban, near the corniche, is typically packed with diners enjoying Omani specialties such as spicy rice qabulis and porridge-based meat harees. Traditional Omani music, tapestries and furnishings complete the experience.
Zanzibar, once part of Oman, has also left its mark on the city’s culinary scene. You can try Afro-Arab specialities such as cassava- and coconut-based mohogo at Zanzibar Island Restaurant.
Many expats in Oman are from India, so moderately priced Indian eateries are common throughout the city.
Seafood such as Yellowfin grouper, red snapper and blue crab is plentiful in Muscat. It’s grilled and served with Turkish platters of baba ghanoush, fresh hummus and chutneys at Turkish House in Al Khuwair, west of Shatti Beach.
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Shopping in Muscat
As a cosmopolitan city, Muscat has several western-style shopping malls, but the traditional public markets, known as souqs, are much more popular.
The oldest and most frequented is Mutrah Souq, facing the Sea of Oman near the corniche. The 200-year-old market is known for its spices, perfumes, traditional material and Omani sweets.
You can pick up custom-tailored suits and dresses at the popular Ruwi Souq in the Ruwi business district.
Visit the City Centre Muscat mall on Sultan Qaboos Road for international shopping and entertainment, including the family-friendly Magic Planet amusement complex. Here you’ll find high-end designer clothing, and upscale Arabic fashion in stores such as Al Motahajiba.
The Amouage perfume factory offers a tour and sells luxury fragrances in individually hand-finished bottles. It’s located in Rusayl, inland beyond the airport.
Treasures and Souvenirs From Mutrah Souq
Culture & Nightlife in Muscat
Nightlife in Muscat is lively, but seldom rowdy, and many places don’t serve alcohol. The uber-trendy Rumba Lattina club in The Cave complex just east of Qurm, known for its Latin dance music and late-night opening, offers numerous “mocktails” served in fancy glasses.
Alcoholic drinks are available in most hotel bars, including the Al Ghazal Pub in the Intercontinental Hotel on Al Kharjiya Street, which stays open until 3am. Patrons can enjoy Western-style appetizers, pool, darts and big-screen sport.
The Shatti al Qurum district thrives at night in places such as Tche on beachfront Al Shati Street. On Al Muntazah Street, the Lebanese Al Deyar Café eases into the evening with expats smoking sheesha and sipping tea.
The Sultan Quboos Grand Mosque is at the heart of local religious life. Visitors are welcome to admire its marble courtyards, glittering chandeliers, and huge, hand-woven prayer carpet. Abayas and headscarves for women visitors are available to rent.
Best Museums in Muscat
Leisure in Muscat
Enjoying Muscat’s natural landscape doesn’t require a major outing. At Bawshar Sands, a short walk from the Grand Mosque, you can hire an SUV or buggy to drive on the sand. Rent a sand bike to enjoy the dunes and salt flats at a slower pace.
The Wahiba Desert stretches from the coast to the mountains, about 240 kilometres from Muscat. Here you can visit an authentic Bedouin village on a camel safari, which usually includes camping beneath the stars, a traditional Bedouin meal and Arabic coffee.
Outdoor Pursuits in Muscat