Muscat is the capital of The Sultanate of Oman and the biggest city in the country. When you are in Oman, spending a few days in Muscat is a must; just the name itself makes the city sound exotic. Oman is not a country we hear a lot about, and the average Norwegian would probably not even know where Oman is on the map. Oman is actually growing as a tourist destination, and tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in Oman. In addition to the oil, of course; as the rest of the Gulf states, Oman is quite dependent on oil. At the same time, Oman differs from the other Gulf states. Omanis actually have regular jobs and the foreign workforce is smaller than in for example Kuwait and Qatar. One explanations to this can be that Oman’s oil reserve is smaller, but also that the government has a big focus on creating other sources of income than oil.
Muscat and the area around have several nice tourist attractions. Having a car is a must if you want to see the city – Muscat is not made for walking!
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the number one attraction in Muscat. I am not surprised that it is popular among visitors, because it is one of the most impressing religious buildings I have seen. It is extremely big; it took six years to finish the mosque, which opened in 2001.
The mosque is named after the sultan of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, who seems to be a very popular guy (at least on the surface; there are pictures of him everywhere in Oman). No wonder why he is popular though – until the 1970s, Oman did not have infrastructure, hospitals, hotels, schools or anything. When he came to power, everything changed. Today, Oman is a very modern country and I cannot believe how fast the sultan has built this country!
Some practical information: The mosque is open for non-Muslims 8am-11am. At 11am they throw you out, so do not think you can stay a minute longer. You should plan to have at least one hour at the mosque. It is closed for tourists every Friday. The dress code is very strict – women should cover the hair, wear long pants/skirt and a long-sleeved sweater. I do not know the dress code for men, but I assume covering shoulders and knees are required.
Muttrah is the old town in Muscat. The area is facing the ocean, and this is where you find the cornice. The cornice is a nice place for an evening walk, and the cornice is overlooked by Muttrah Fort.
Muttrah is home to Oman’s most famous market; Muttrah souk. The souk might be one of the oldest souks in the Gulf, and it was for a long time the center of commerce in Muscat. Today, the souk is still a place where the Omanis go shopping, but it is also a very popular tourist attraction. The shops sell lots of souvenirs and scarfs/clothes. There is also a gold souk, a fish market, etc. I have been to more interesting souks before, but it is still a nice place to visit.
I love to try traditional food when I am visiting a new country, but in Oman I could not find many nice, traditional restaurant. I was happy when I found Bait Al Luban, a nice restaurant in Muttrah. From the restaurant’s balcony there is an amazing view of the cornice. They have an exciting menu with many Omani specialties. The quality of the food is high and the prices are a bit higher than average, but still OK.
If you drive down the coast from Muttrah, you will see two forts; Al Jalali Fort and Al Mirani Fort. The forts were built in the 16th century. The forts are not open to visitors because they are still in use. Between the forts, the Royal Palace is located. The palace is not a beautiful building, but I found the architecture very exotic and interesting.
If you continue down the coastal road, you will reach some beautiful beaches. There are many (luxury) resorts in the area, and sadly most of the beaches are private. You can still find some amazing viewpoints and a few public beaches.
Qurum Beach is a popular beach in Muscat, but it is not allowed to swim there (at least not at the public beach). It is still nice to walk along Qurum Beach, especially at sunset. There are also many hotels located along the beach. A landmark the Omanis seem to be very proud of is The Royal Opera, which is located close to Qurum Beach. It is a beautiful building.