I spent some time living abroad in Muscat. Oman is a small country of 4 million people and has a history unlike most of the traditionally Middle Eastern countries. As such, I would say it certainly deserves a second look and a visit!
Living in Muscat was a wonderful experience – it had nearly all the elements of being connected to a bigger city without much of the frustrations. Currently, Muscat is a city of about 1 million people, and while that traffic can get backed up in some areas, for the most part getting around is quick and easy. In addition, the city is extremely family oriented and very welcoming. I recall each time at the airport a taxi driver would ask if I needed a taxi, and when I politely declined, they responded with, “Ok, welcome to Oman.” In terms of history, Oman actually has strong ties with East Africa as far back as 1698, and the Sultanate was even ruled from Zanzibar in mid-1800s. Oman is unique in and of itself, and the city of Muscat leaves much to be enjoyed on its own. Unlike the towering skyscrapers of Dubai, Muscat keeps its original character among the shorter buildings and more classic architecture.
From the food to the hospitality to the history, there is a lot to enjoy in Muscat. Some highlights from Muscat to share would be the Royal Opera House Muscat, the Al Alam Palace, Mutrah Souk, Qurum Park and Jassa Beach.
The Royal Opera House Muscat is center of culture. Performers from all over the globe come to play here. Almost certainly, during any visit, you will be able to find a performance, and I would encourage you to go and see it (no matter if the performance is your preference or not). The Opera House itself is a site to behold – beautifully crafted with walls of wood and intricate gold inlay carvings. The comfortable seats even have small screens in which translations are displayed for some performances!
Al Alam Palace is located in old Muscat and is one of the palaces for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. While in Oman, you will assuredly feel the peoples’ immense adoration for Sultan Qaboos. He is widely respected both in Oman and throughout the region for the strong improvements in Oman during his reign, his peace keeping efforts and his generosity. Also not to miss, across the street from Al Alam Palace is the The National Museum, which just opened in 2016. The museum is an excellent walk through the history and culture of Oman.
Down the street from the Al Alam Palace is Mutrah Souk. Here you can walk through the underground shops to find all the gifts you could imagine from Oman. A particularly popular item would be frankincense. Oman is actually also known as the “Land of Frankincense”, and this is found all over Salalah, which is a city in southern Oman. There is even a Unesco World Heritage Site in Salalah for the frankincense trees. Another item Oman is known for is the khanjar, which is the bent knife in the Omani crest.
Qurum Park is situated in the middle of Muscat and is a great area to walk through for a change of pace. The upkeep of the landscaping is impressive, especially considering the frequently challenging climate!
One more activity not to miss is a trip to Jassa Beach. This beach is actually situated between two rock faces, and you will need to take a boat trip with a touring company out to see it. On the way to the beach, you can find dolphins out in the open ocean jumping around. A whole day out at the beach encompasses a served breakfast and lunch, access to kayaks and beach chairs, a short trip to a snorkeling area (which includes sea turtles!), and a beautiful boat ride back in the evening.
Another place worth to see is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The mosque now has a listening tour in which you are given your own headset to walk through and listen to the history. The mosque is truly a beautiful site and very classic to the Omani architecture. Be sure if you include a visit here that you bring clothing to fully your cover arms and legs. Ladies will also need to bring a head scarf. A particularly unique part of this mosque is that there are volunteers at the Islamic Center who will sit with you to discuss Islam and clarify any questions you have about the religion. I especially encourage visitors to come here if that are not familiar with the Middle East or Islam – it’s a wonderfully interactive way to learn more.
Lastly, if you do decide to come to Muscat, the Al Bustan Palace is definitely my top place to stay. This hotel is situated in old Muscat near the Al Alam Palace, and it is easily my top hotel in the Middle East. Everything from the entrance to the room to the food to the beach is just breath-taking and relaxing. Even if you stay elsewhere, a dinner or a brunch here is well worth it.
A huge thank you and shukran to Mohamad for inviting me to post! If you would like to see more on Oman, the Middle East, and other travels, visit my blog at www.notcomingdown.com.