5 THINGS TO DO IN MUSCAT
Muscat is the main entry point for those who wish to visit the sultanate of Oman. It is situated along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, surrounded by mountains, and dotted with homogenous houses, the majority of which are one-story and white (by law they can only be painted white or beige and must be less than six stories high). Yet, the highlight of Muscat isn’t in its edifices, but in the sympathy and hospitality of the Omani who always have a smile on their faces.
Despite being a relatively small capital, the city is spread along the coast, making it a somewhat challenging place to explore if you don’t have your own transportation. In fact, Muscat feels like many cities under the same name: There is New Muscat, an extensive area which includes the entire western section of the capital, with modern buildings, large avenues and idyllic beaches where to go for a sunset stroll; Ruwi, the hub of businesses in Muscat and area of great Indian influence; there is the ancient zone of Mutrah, with the famous souk and coastal avenue known as Corniche; and there is still the so-called Old Muscat, in the extreme opposite of the “new city”, where the forts of Al Jalali and Al Mirani, as well as the Al Alam Palace, are situated.
That being said, Oman’s capital is indeed a place worth spending a few days. So, here is a list of 5 things to do while in Muscat.
VISIT THE SULTAN QABOOS GRAND MOSQUE
This masjid is by far the main attraction in Muscat. The sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has been in power since 1970 and belongs to a lineage of sultans who have been governing the country for more than 200 years (when Oman was taken back from the Portuguese by the Ottoman Empire). So far, he has managed to govern in a pacific and neutral way, without getting involved in the conflicts taking place in the Middle East. In order to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his sultanate, he presented the nation with this mosque.
Much like other mosques, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque boasts an array of details and grandiosity. Its interior is carefully worked and luxurious, with the highlight being a huge crystal chandelier that hangs from the ceiling in the main prayer room. Another feature that stands out is the immense carpet covering the inside floor, which took four years to be crafted by over six-hundred women, making it (until recently) the largest Persian carpet in the world.
Since this is a place of worship, it is important to bear in mind what to wear, as well as the fact that the mosque is only opened to the public from 8h till 11h in the mornings of Saturday through to Thursday.
EXPLORE THE SURROUNDINGS OF AL ALAM PALACE
Located in the old centre of Muscat, the palace Al Alam of sultan Qaboos is another interesting stop while exploring the capital. It lies at the end of a large avenue, boasting its bright blue and yellow facade. The blue colour represents the sea and the sky of Oman, while the yellow represents both the sun and the oil found underground. Behind the palace is the sea, and next to it stands a guest house that hosts international authorities and chiefs of state who visit the country. Further up on a hilltop, with earthy colours, is the Portuguese Fort from the time Oman was ruled by the Lusitanian nation.
GET LOST IN THE MUTTRAH SOUK
Bazaars are often vibrant places, very common all around the Middle East. To walk along its corridors and alleys is a great way of catching a glimpse of the locals’ everyday life, even if you are not interested in buying anything. On the seafront section of Mutrah district, along the boardwalk waterfront of Corniche, is the Muttrah Souk, a true Arabic souk (open-air market) and the most popular of Muscat. There, all types of spices are sold, together with traditional Arabic shoes, gold, fabrics and high-quality cashmere, souvenirs, decorative items and other miscellaneous trinkets. An interesting feature is that its interior has an utterly ancient and traditional feel to it, yet the building where the souk is situated is rather modern and clean. It is worth getting lost through the neighbourhood streets nearby, since the further you move away from the main avenue, the closest you get to discovering another Muscat – traditional, fascinating, and with a strong Indian influence.
GO FOR A STROLL ALONG CORNICHE
For those who enjoy people-watching or sitting on an esplanade/park bench and simply observe the surroundings, the Corniche of Muscat is a great alternative. It is a waterfront avenue with paths and viewpoints, situated in the Mutrah zone of the city, near the main entrance to the souk. The place gets particularly lively once the sun sets and temperatures lower, creating a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere, perfect for a late afternoon promenade.
SPEND AN AFTERNOON AT AL QURUM BEACH
The Qurum Beach is a relaxing and enjoyable spot where to spend an afternoon in Muscat. It stretches along the Al Shati Street and into the Shati Al Qurum district where various cafes, restaurants, resorts, and the Royal Opera House can be found. At dusk, Omanis and expats head to the city’s coastal areas to walk, run, play football or simply unwind.