Insider's Travel Guide to Muscat, Oman

Musact is Oman’s capital, and most famous for the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House Muscat and the Mutrah Souq. From Muscat, you can easily access much more of the country’s varied landscapes including the Wahiba Sands Desert, the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman.

Muscat itself is compact but offers plenty to see, eat, drink and do - once you know where. Welcome to Muscat, Oman, through the eyes of our insider.

Our insider, Amanda Houston, in Oman.

Our insider, Amanda Houston, in Oman.

A BIT ABOUT OUR INSIDER

Name: Amanada Houston
Hobbies and interests: Photography, Scouting, Exploring!
How long have you lived in Muscat, Oman?  I’ve been here for 6 years. 

A BIT ABOUT MUSCAT OMAN:  

How do you best navigate your city? 
Muscat is a long, narrow city that is sandwiched between the Gulf Of Oman and the Hajar Mountains and it’s over 40kms from one end to the other. The easiest way to get around is by car. Taxis are also convenient and you can either grab one off the street or use one of the local taxi apps. 

Exploring Oman’s mountain ranges.

Exploring Oman’s mountain ranges.

What do you think Muscat does better than other cities? 
Hospitality! Omanis are the most welcoming of people, and will engage you in conversation at the drop of a hat, readily sharing their tips to their country.

Where is your favourite view of the city?
It’s always fabulous to watch the sun go down from the terrace of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Qurum.

Where is your favourite respite from city life? 
There is so much more to Oman than Muscat. Oman is an adventure tourism destination, with so much to offer. If you want to dive or snorkel head to the Daminiyat Islands. Or head to Sur for wild camping, Ras al Jinz for turtle-watching, the west coast for kite-surfing, the Hajar Mountains for hiking, the Bimmah Sinkhole for a dip, or watch the sun set from the top of a dune in the desert. During summer head to Salalah to experience the monsoon rains (known here as the Khareef).  When I want to escape the city, I pack my tent into the back of my Jeep and head inland for 3-4 hours to the top of Jebel Shams - the Omani Grand Canyon. It’s lovely and cool with some spectacular scenery, and a perfect antidote for when the hustle and bustle of the city gets too much.

What is your favourite building in Muscat?
I have two in Muscat; The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House - both stunning buildings with intricate stonework and Arabic design. But my heart lies with old buildings and if you venture outside of Muscat, you can find the ruins of the abandoned towns of old Izki and Birkat al Mouz, and the historic oasis village of Misfat Al Abriyeen which was recently much admired by Prince Charles.

Where do you consider to be Muscat's most underrated location that is worth a visit?
The majority of private beaches (where it is acceptable to wear more revealing swimwear) are attached to resort hotels and can be costly to visit. However, The Capital Area Yacht Club costs just 3 OMR per adult for the day. It’s a little basic but there is a lovely sandy beach, sun-loungers, and they serve food and soft drinks (it’s not licensed). It’s a great beach day on a budget.

Alila Jebel Akhdar hotel, Oman. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

Alila Jebel Akhdar hotel, Oman. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

Where would you stay if you were visiting, and why?
For a relaxing high-end beach resort break, the Chedi Muscat, the Shangri La Al Husn or The Al Bustan are fantastic. Personally, I would head to the mountains to the Anatara Al Jebal Al Akhdar or Alila Jebal Akhdar. If you have a family then the Shangri La Al Waha is perfect. And if you are on more of a budget, there are so many great options like the Sheraton in Ruwi, or the Hormuz Grand at Airport Heights

Any etiquette tips for visitors?
Oman lives up to its reputation for being welcoming and friendly. It’s not as conservative as some parts of the Middle East, but it does help to apply some basic rules, especially when going to the shopping malls or venturing out of Muscat. Women should keep their shoulders and knees more or less covered (t-shirt and long shorts are ok) and men should keep their torso covered. If you are camping on the beach or swimming in a wadi outside of Muscat, wear swimsuits or rash-vests and swim shorts rather than bikinis. Be respectful. There is obviously some leniency in the resorts. As with anywhere in the Middle East, while alcohol is available to purchase in duty free and in bars in Oman, being drunk is an offence and is taken into consideration if the police have to get involved in any incident.

TELL US ABOUT THE FOOD SCENE:  

Which dish is a must-try?
I love Kargeen restaurant in MQ - a Muscat institution with a magical outdoor setting. It has a huge menu covering all sorts of cuisines, including the best Italian pizzas in Muscat! But eat in the evening and their flame cooked kebabs and their Shuwa are wonderful. And the breads…. just wow. Kargeens special bread and the Yemeni bread are my favourites. I bring all my visitors here at least once. 

Is there a local delicacy we should try?
The food here is a bit of a mix, thanks to Oman lying on the trade routes between India and Europe. There is a clear Indian influence in the local cuisine. Oman's heritage is also in evidence with the extensive amount of fish and seafood available across the city. However, if you are after a true Omani speciality, then you need to try shuwa, where meat is covered in a thick blend of oil and spices, wrapped in palm fronds and cooked over hot embers underground, usually for a day or more. The result is meltingly tender, flavoursome meat, often served with rice. 

Kargeen in Muscat Oman. Photo Credit:  @saltinourhair

Kargeen in Muscat Oman. Photo Credit: @saltinourhair

Now, on to the nightlife:

Which bar has the best atmosphere? 
I love Muscat Hills Beach Resort on a weekday afternoon and evening, especially when they have their Beats on the Beach events. It has a very chilled and mediterranean feel. Even Avicii came to hang out here when he was on his ill-fated last trip to Oman. I like B.O.B Lounge at the Shangri-La for the same reason. In the centre of town, try Prive, Caramel or Milly O’Briens Irish Pub at Hay Al Sarooj.

And Muscat’s best winelist? 
Caramel in the Opera House Galleria. Alternatively, you need to go to one of the big hotels - the Chedi, the Piano Bar at the Shangri-la, and the John Barry Bar at the Grand Hyatt are good examples. Most of them will serve the cheaper wine by the glass but the better wines by the bottle. For better value and with food thrown in, go for one of the Friday brunches. 

Which bar is the best value for money? 
Happy hour at Trader Vics (at the Intercontinental Hotel) - 50% off and live music to boot! Milly O’Briens is also good. Al Ghazal Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel is very Traditional British Pub in feel, as is Dukes Bar at the Crowne Plaza in Qurum. 

And the best splurge? 
Caramel or Zale at the Kempinski.

And finally, where is the best place to carry the night on, post-midnight? 
Caramel has two sets of clientele - the pre and post-Opera House set, and the party set. The latter don't get going until late and Caramel has a very cool vibe with good music and DJs. I’m not often out this late these days (unless its at one of Muscats many balls!), but when I am, it’s always Caramel. Also try out Prive in Shatti and Route 66 at the Cave complex in Qurum.

 

FOR CULTURE VULTURES: 

Ali Al Tajer, ‘Confused’  - on display at Stal Gallery. Photo Credit:  @stalgallery

Ali Al Tajer, ‘Confused’ - on display at Stal Gallery. Photo Credit: @stalgallery

Where is your favourite gallery? 
There are several art galleries in Muscat. The best of these are Gallery Sarah by Bait Al Zubair museum in Old Muscat which is especially well known for photography; Stal Gallery in MQ which promotes the work of young and emerging artists and Bait Muzna Gallery in Shatti Al Qurum which promotes contemporary art from local and global artists while also supporting projects aimed at preserving traditional Arabic culture.

FINAL WORDS: 

Can you sum up why you love living in this city? 
Muscat, and by extension Oman, is safe and friendly. If you enjoy the outdoor life then it’s fantastic mix of beach, desert and mountain, all within easy reach of Muscat. This makes it a magnet for those who like to make the most of their surroundings - be that camping or relaxing by a pool with a cold beer. It doesn’t have the level of kids entertainment in the malls that Dubai has, which can be a challenge in the hot summer months - but it’s slowly getting there, and there are perfect alternatives in nature, such as climbing juniper trees in the mountains or swimming with the turtles. I came for two years and I’ve reached my 6th anniversary with no plans to leave. If I need a big-city glitz-fix, then Dubai is just an hour’s flight away. But I’m just as happy finding adventure closer to home. 

See more photos of Oman:

Sand dunes in Oman

Sand dunes in Oman

Mountain range in Oman

Mountain range in Oman

Locals in Oman

Locals in Oman

Door in an old Omani town

Door in an old Omani town

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