A city wrapped in old world charm and edged by stunning deserts to the west and the sublime Gulf of Oman to the east, Muscat is straight out of an Arabian dream with its ancient souks, gorgeous medieval architecture and a delectable culinary canvas.
Situated right on the coast in the Gulf of Oman is the city’s historic quarter, often referred to as Old Muscat, where most of the city’s most atmospheric architecture can be found. The zone, which separates itself from rest of the capital by craggy hills, retains an archaic charm despite this being the home of the ruling Sultan. Old Muscat also features quite a few iconic landmarks such as the Portuguese-built Jilali and Mirani forts, the old gates of Muscat and several museums.
Built in 1972, the flamboyantly gorgeous Al Alam Palace boasts of a stunning architectural design and regarded as the most opulent residence of the reigning Sultan. Entry is restricted, but the front gates offer a gorgeous view of the stunning façade.
The iconic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque with a central dome rising to a height of 50 metres magisterially overlooks the city. The main minaret along with the four flanking minarets together make this a superbly aesthetic architectural gem, and the major feature of the interior design is the prayer carpet which covers the entire floor of the prayer hall, bringing together the meticulous motifs of Persian Tabriz, Kashan and Isfahan design traditions.
Sur Al-Lawatia, right next to Muttrah Souq, is an enclosed enclave of the affluent trading community of Al-Lawatia. The neighbourhood is replete with medieval townhouses, palatial in proportion and dazzling in sheer opulence with the magnificent facades, dainty arches and ornate balconies. Wander through the zone that was once off limits to outsiders, and be transported to another era.
A prime bayfront spot, Al Qurum Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sands flanked by elegant houses, arty cafes and trendy boutiques. This is Muscat’s wealthiest neighbourhood, and oozes a vibe that is classy and friendly, at once. A perfect place for a relaxed evening.
For breathtaking views of the bays and the rocky crops of mountains that lies yonder, together with the glittering skyline of Muscat ensconced in this wild peninsula, climb the 250 steps atop Muttrah Fort, the 16th-century citadel that the Portuguese built after they arrived on the Arabian shores.
Located on Sultan Qaboos Street, Royal Opera House Muscat is the pre-eminent arts and cultural centre in the Sultanate of Oman, and its grand architecture and opulent interiors resonate with the rich cultural tradition of the region. From ballet to jazz concerts, and from traditional Omani dances to iconic theatre performances, this magnificent venue encompasses myriad avenues of art in its state-of-the-art, lavishly designed auditorium. The picturesque gardens, luxury retail boutiques and fine dining establishments add up to make the Royal Opera House an unmissable stop on your Muscat itinerary.
Muscat is a city designed for the shopaholic in you – from ancient, atmospheric souks to modern megamalls, the capital of Oman packs a punch for every kind of traveller.
Muscat Grand Mall blends the best of both worlds boasting of more than 150 retail outlets of global superbrands housed in a state-of-the-art department store at one end of the sprawling complex and a traditional Arabic souk at the other, with a beautifully landscaped oasis perched in the middle. The family-friendly food court with 30 upscale dining venues is near the entertainment arcade with electronic games, rides and three cinema complexes. The upper level commands scintillating views of the marina. The ground floor has a supermarket and various service outlets, with easy access to the 1,800 bay parking lot.
A division of renowned LuLu Group International based at Abu Dhabi, Oman Avenues Mall is the Sultanate’s largest mall hosting an impressive lineup of uber-upscale luxury retail labels, finest selection of fashion and beauty lines, modern entertainment venues and an eclectic food court with fine dining restaurants and ethnic food outlets. The 72000 sq. mt. mall spread across 5 levels is the one-stop shopping destination for the global fashionistas looking to overhaul their wardrobe.
One of the oldest marketplaces in the world, the Muttrah Souk is probably the most popular souk in Oman. Historically, with its large harbour, Muttrah was the preeminent commercial hub of the Sultanate of Oman, and the rich legacy finds brilliant testament in this atmospheric traditional market. Wander through the warren of alleyways in the covered marketplace, which is a favourite with locals, and forage through the exotic spice stalls, be overwhelmed by the smouldering smell of frankincense piled high in the age-old shops, bargain for the traditional and authentic souvenirs and plant yourself in one of the cafes after walking through the length of the souk to replenish yourself with traditional Omani snacks and sweetmeats.
Restaurants & Bars
Enchant your palate at Bait Al Luban right from the word go when you a find pleasant surprise in the water they serve – it is infused with frankincense! Housed in a traditional khan (guesthouse), it offers the most authentic Omani cuisine paired with exquisite décor (think dark wood and vibrantly colourful upholstery) and splendid views of the marina. Local seafood from the nearby Muttrah fish market and meat preparations cooked on a slow fire are the eternal favourites, best enjoyed if you get a table on the balcony that overlooks the Corniche.
Fancy some Arabian night style dining during your holiday in Muscat? Head straight over to The Restaurant at the Chedi Muscat that dazzles with its elegant Omani arches and vaulted crystal chandeliers. Indulge into the finest Omani seafood grill, or exotic Oriental fare, or even contemporary continental cuisine as renowned performers entertain the guests with live performances on a grand piano. The wine pairings are always perfectly matched.
Situated near the Royal Opera House Muscat, Ubhar rolls out elevated uptakes on Omani classics like slow-cooked camel shuwa and harees. The desserts on offer are opulently decadent, especially the frankincense ice cream and halwa pastries. The décor is traditional and sophisticated and the hospitality oozes the famed Arabian warmth.
Muscat's nightlife has grown significantly with a significant influx of expats in recent years. Spruce up your Arabian nights at Rock Bottom. With live music every night played by in-house and guest DJs and a cosy dance floor, this is a wildly popular enclave among expats and the city’s party-loving crowd.
Another perennial hotspot is Copacabana, the nightclub at Grand Hyatt Hotel. Music ranges from sultry Arabian tunes to blues and hip hop, and the dance floor is huge if you are in a mood to have a night fiesta with friends.
Museums & the Arts
Located in Al Saidiya street in old Muscat city, the privately-owned Bait Al-Zubair provides fascinating insights into Oman’s military, social, and cultural past with its eclectic collection of weapons, khanjars, jewellery and costumes. Funded by its founders, the Zubair family, the space that has expanded to a cultural centre serves as a window to Oman’s rich heritage and culture. Bait Al-Zubair collaborates with international museums and art galleries for use of the space as a learning and research resource on Omani heritage and also for hosting temporary exhibitions.
The largest museum in the country, The National Museum of Oman, situated right across from the Sultan’s palace in Old Muscat, meticulously trails the history of Oman from ancient architecture and culture, the role of the Sultanate during the colonial era and its modern-day economic resurgence since the last five decades. This is Oman’s, if not Arabia’s, leading institution showcasing the cultural heritage of the peninsula through tens of thousands of artefacts, multiple digital immersive experiences, conservation facilities, an ultra-high definition cinema, a Learning Centre and discovery areas for children.
Contemporary works of art are wonderfully juxtaposed with traditional pieces exploring the country's traditional heritage at the Ghalya's Museum of Modern Art. The star highlights of this celebrated space on the Muttrah Corniche are its fascinating collection of paintings and its charming sartorial showcase – where ethnic, custom attire is displayed in conjunction with modern outfits.
Tear yourself away from the glitter and glam of Muscat for a day, and explore the ruggedly beautiful landscape of this Arabian country with a trip to Wadi Al Abyadh. A 4x4 vehicle is necessary to maneuver the challenging terrain vested in white boulders and rocks in the South Al Batinah region of Oman, which is about an hour drive away from the capital city. Indulge in sumptuous traditional cuisine in a local restaurant and find some time for a quick detour to the grand Nakhl fortress, a grand citadel hemmed with palm orchards, perched on a rocky spur at the foot of Jebel Nakhal.
Hop aboard a traditional wooden dhow for a spectacular Sunset Dhow Cruise, and set out into the rippling Gulf of Oman to immerse yourself into the panoramic views of the coast of Muscat. On this evening tour relax on the cushion-covered deck and sip soft drinks, as you soak in the glittering seaside promenade, the portside views of the desert city and the magnificently lit up Al Alam Palace.
Spread across three levels within an Arabian citadel-esque structure, Al Bustan Palace Spa by The Ritz-Carlton is a quietly hidden beachfront wellness sanctuary. Inspired by ancient Omani culture in its design and its concept treatments, it relies heavily on locally sourced ingredients and indigenous techniques. Treatment rooms include six hammam rooms, and separate ladies’ and gentlemen’s relaxation zones that feature infrared saunas, ice fountains and steam rooms. The highlight of this premium spa experience is hammam - one of the oldest cleansing rituals in the world. A 60-minute signature Arabian Hammam will make you feel squeaky cleaned, supple and exhilaratingly reinvigorated.
Camel races here are a must see for its electrifying atmosphere and the number of people who come to witness it. Camels in Oman are bred specially to take part in the many camel racing events that are held from April to August. Almost all cities have tracks built for camel races. Seeb, about 20 minutes away from Muscat, is the main hub for camel racing. Races take place only on Fridays and on public holidays.
Muscat is the perfect location for a golf holiday with a few exceptional golf courses. Located 6 kilometres from the city centre, Ras Al Hamra Golf Club is a desert style golf course set within wadi, ringed by coastal hillsides and the Gulf of Oman. The 18-hole, par-71 championship course features floodlights, so you can tee off even at night after a day of sightseeing. The first links-style golf course in Oman, designed by the legendary Greg Norman, Al Mouj Golf Club is another splendid option that throws up a few interesting challenges to the professionals as well as enthusiasts with its bunkers, water hazards and natural dunes.
Muscat is a great place to be in if you are a motorsport aficionado. Watch professional competitions or go for kart rentals to blaze your way through the leisure tracks at the Oman Automobile Association that have premier tracks and facilities.
Must Buy Souvenir
A unique testimony of traditional Omani culture is the Khanjar – the dagger that is an integral part of Omani male national attire. Still worn today the ornate dagger is tied around the waist using a belt in formal meetings and ceremonial festivals as well as in weddings and important social events. Conventionally, the handle is wooden or made with camel bones or even with ivory and the amount of gold and silver used reflects the status and wealth of the Khanjar’s owner. The government-owned heritage shop at Opera Mall is a good place to hunt for a high-end Kahnjar, and the city’s souks are also great options, if you have a local guide.
From unique palace experiences curated by some of the world’s best hospitality brands to sublime beachfront properties with stunning ocean views, exuding class and character, the capital of Oman offers lavish lodgings for the discerning jetsetters.
The BusinessClass.com guide to the best luxury hotels in Muscat and Oman:
The 35 kilometres distance from Muscat airport to the Old Town (Al Alam Palace) usually takes about 30 minutes.
Taxis are the most convenient way to move around the city. The white-and-orange cabs can be flagged down anytime of the day. For shorter hauls, minibus can be an option, though the timing can be a bit erratic.
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