Things to do in Muscat + Covid Guide
Muscat will be lifting the travel ban to welcome out-of-state guests by the end of the month
Muscat, the country’s capital, and its most populated city, has a rich history, tracing its roots back to being a trading port between the West and the East as early as 1st century CE. Muscat underwent a series of changing rulers and civilizations, and was ruled by indigenous tribes, foreign powers – including the Persians, the Portuguese, and the Ottomans – before finally coming under the domain of the Sultan of Oman in 1970. In the 1970s, Muscat went through rapid development in terms of infrastructure, which resulted in a thriving economy and a diverse population. In terms of geography, the Western Al Hajar mountains dominate the city’s landscape; Muscat also lies on the Arabian Sea, along the Gulf of Oman, which makes it a valuable sea-port. The proximity to the sea also makes it a popular spot for tourists and visitors, thanks to the stunning sea-scape and the city harbour.
The capital of Oman is famous for its seafood, its souks, and its stunning landscape. The Hajar mountains are perfect places for treks, and the blue waters of the Arabian Sea are thriving with marine life. The city’s ancient history means that the architecture is stunning, and there are many historical landmarks to visit to relive Muscat’s vibrant history. Muscat’s sandy beaches, too, are a popular visit for tourists, residents, and citizens alike – swimming with the marine life is a popular pastime, and the seafood in Muscat is highly recommended.
The city of Muscat, and the Sultanate of Oman, will be open to tourists and visitors on the 29th of December, 2020. In time for the new year, the restriction on vehicles entering the country will be lifted on December 29th. Following this, all travellers to Oman are required to have a negative result of a PCR test, conducted at least 72 hours before the scheduled departure to the country. Guests are also required to book a PCR test which will be conducted upon their arrival, and download the Tarrasud+ tracking application. When visiting Oman, all guests must go through another PCR test on arrival, wear the Tarrasud+ tracking bracelet, and isolate for 7 days. On the 8th day, another test will be conducted. If this test is negative, then the guests are free to experience the sights of Oman. Keep in mind that those who are coming for less than 7 days are no longer exempt from the quarantine requirements, so it’s important to keep this in mind when planning a holiday in Oman.
Sights to see in Muscat
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Locally known as the Grand Mosque, the structure is stunning, and dominates the city’s skyline. The mosque is a square structure, topped by a central dome that’s 50 meters high. The 5 minarets (to represent the 5 pillars of Islam) surround the mosque, and the tallest one is over 90 meters high, while the others are 45 meters tall. The mosque is built to have around 6,500 worshippers, while the women’s prayer hall can accommodate about 750 women at a time. The exterior of the mosque is beautifully done as well, with a large garden – the garden can accommodate around 8,000 more people, increasing the total capacity for the mosque to around 17,000 people or so. Built over 102-acre area, the Grand Mosque covers around 40,000 square meters, and was built in 2001, to celebrate 30 years of the Sultan’s reign in Oman.
The mosque took six years to build, and houses the world’s largest chandelier. Located in the centre of the men’s prayer hall, the chandelier is 14 meters and weighs around 8,500 kilograms. The chandelier is filled with six hundred thousand Swarovski crystals, and took over 4 years to complete. The mosque also has the world’s second largest single piece carpet, and is a highlight in the mosque’s interior decoration. The carpet measures 60 meters by 70 meters, weighs around 21,000 kilograms, and took four years to weave. Produced by the Iran Carpet Company, the carpet brings together various Iranian traditions, including Persian, Ifsahan, and Kashan elements into the mix.
Royal Opera House Muscat
The Royal Opera House in Muscat opened to the public in 2011, and is a popular landmark within the city. Close to the Qurum Beach, the Opera House is meant to serve as a centre for global cultural engagement. The Opera House is also the leading arts and culture organization in Oman, and is worth the visit, even if you are unable to get tickets to one of the performances that happen within its halls.
The opera house complex includes a concert theatre, an auditorium, landscaped gardens, a cultural market complete with shops, a few restaurants, and an art centre for theatrical and operatic productions. The opera house was constructed by the order of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who is a fan of the classical music and the arts. In an attempt to liven the cultural scene in Muscat, the construction of the opera house began in 2001, and took around 10 years to complete – the opera house now serves as a key location for performances in fine art, and is the city’s cultural hub. The exterior of the complex is covered with Arabic design, and contrasts the calm interior.
Qurum Beach, located in the upmarket neighbourhood of Qurum, is a popular tourist attraction and a well-loved spot by the local population. The beach stretches for four kilometres along the city’s coastline, and the beach is a popular place for family picnics, water sports, or just enjoying a swim in the ocean’s waters.
The beach’s location in a popular neighbourhood and its popularity ensures that there is a wealth of experiences to be had. The Crowne Plaza at the end of the beach offers sessions for water sports, from parasailing to jet skiing on the water. The beach is also a great spot for snorkelling and scuba diving, with boats ready to take guests out to deeper spots for scuba diving adventures. Finally, the shoreline is dotted with restaurants and cafes that offer a wide range of cuisine, from traditional Omani food to more international options.
Muttrah Corniche and Souq
The Muttrah Corniche is one of the most popular locations in Muscat, and is an age-old attraction that’s become a must-visit for tourists and a favoured space by the local population. The corniche is a great space for people to walk and soak in the sights and smells of the city, and of the ocean. The corniche acts as a conduit between Port Sultan Qaboos (one of the country’s sea ports), and the old city of Muscat – which is home to Al Alam Palace, one of the official residences of the royal family. The corniche is also lined with buildings, restaurants, café’s, and mosques, set against the backdrop of the Hajar mountains. The corniche is a great place to be during the sunset, as the setting sun over the ocean waters is a stunning sight, while the city comes to light on the other side. Regardless of what time it may be, the corniche is a delightful place to visit, be it for a calm walk along the water or to soak in Omani culture.
A must-visit space within Muttrah is the Muttrah Souq. The souq is a fascinating market to visit, due to the wide range of goods available within its stalls. Vintage goods, artefacts, spices, jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs are just some of the items that guests can find within the souq. The souq is similar to older Arabian markets, but isn’t an open market – the roof is made of timber, making the experience a little cosier. This also means that visiting the souq during the summer will be a pleasant experience, as it’s a great way to escape the summer sun and shop around for some hidden gems to take home.
One particularly interesting section is known as ‘Souq al T’halam’, which translated to ‘market of darkness’. Located in one of the souq’s largest alleys, this stretch is famous for its beautiful lanterns, made of coloured glass and wooden frames. Walking through this alley is a delightful experience in and of itself, and is a fantastic gift or souvenir for friends and family back home. The souq itself is structured and organized well, with areas dedicated to selling particular items. It makes it easier for shoppers who are looking for particular items, and makes it easier for guests to orient themselves when they visit the souq for the first time.
The Muttrah corniche leads to Al Riyam Park, a green, leafy space with incredible views of the harbour. On weekends, the park becomes a poplar attraction due to a small fun-fair that’s popular with the local population. The park’s unique landscape and picturesque setting make it the perfect place to spend a quiet evening after a long stroll on the corniche. Perched on a tiny peninsula with two hills, one hill is topped with the Muttrah Fort, while the other hill is placed inland, complete with a sheer white watch tower that looks like an incense burner. This white tower is extremely popular, as it offers guests a panoramic view of Muscat, from Muttrah down to Old Muscat. The park also comes along the path of a popular trail that once linked Muttrah with Old Muscat, so it’s a great space to walk and explore the city.
Muttrah Fort is a relatively small one, and is one that’s open to the public. This fort is one of the many that’s been built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, as a form of defence against the Ottoman army. The fort was initially for military use, but was later converted to a prison, before finally being converted to a museum. The interior contains a display of canons, and the fort has three circular towers that are well-equipped with canons to fight an oncoming army. The renovations done have maintained the 16th-century architecture of the fort, and the sense of history is well-preserved. Multiple sets of stairs climb up to the top, rewarding guests with a stunning view of the harbour, the fish market, and the deep blue sea.
The National Museum of Oman, located opposite the Sultan’s Palace, is housed in a new building that’s in the heart of Old Muscat. The space is worth the visit, as Old Muscat is renowned for its historic architecture, including the Jilali and Mirani Forts, the old gates of Muscat, other museums in the area, and the Palace. History and architecture lovers alike would enjoy a day-long trip to Old Muscat, complete with museum tours, photographs of the stunning architecture, and simply re-living the country’s exciting history.
The National Museum is the largest museum in the Sultanate, and has a comprehensive, detailed approach to the country’s history. The museum houses tens of thousands of artefacts, complete with rare pieces that show Oman’s pre-modern Islamic architecture and culture, along with details on the role Oman played in the region during the colonial era, and the country’s modern resurgence in the 1970s. The museum is a must-visit for families, couples, and groups looking for a slice of Omani history and culture.
The museum’s permanent collection is divided into galleries, with each gallery devoted to a particular theme. The galleries include ‘Land and the People’ (revolving around prehistoric artefacts), ‘Maritime’ (revolving around Oman’s extensive history with the sea), ‘Oman and the World’ (detailing the country’s international relationships), and ‘Renaissance’ (covering Oman’s resurgence to prominence over the past 50 years or so – from the 1970s up to the present day).
Al Alam Palace
The palace, facing the National museum of Oman, is located in the heart of Old Muscat, and is a ceremonial palace for the Sultan. This is the sixth official residence for the royal family, and is often used as a ceremonial palace. Al Alam Palace has a history of over 200 years, and was built under the direction of Imam Sultan bin Ahmed. The current palace was rebuilt as a royal residence in 1972. Though the inner grounds of the palace are off-limits to the public, visitors are allowed to stop near the gates. Compared to other palaces, Al Alam Palace’s design is described as elegant, but humble, contrasted by the grandiose design of other capitals. The palace features polished marble surfaces, and the palace is often used to house high ranking official guests, visiting royalty, and dignitaries.
Fort Al Jalali and Fort Al Mirani
Al Jalali Fort was built to guard the entrance to the harbour from the east, and was constructed by the Portuguese in the 1580s. The Portuguese built the fort to protect the harbour after Muscat was sacked twice by Ottoman forces. Later, during the civil wars between 1718 and 147, the fort was captured twice by Persians who were invited in. The fort was then extensively rebuilt. During the 20th century, the fort served as one of the country’s main prisons, but this practice ended in the 1970s, alongside Oman’s economic resurgence. In 1983, the fort was restored and converted to a private museum of Omani history, open to dignitaries that visit the country. The exhibits within the fort include canons, maps, muskets, rugs, and other artefacts.
The fort consists of two towers that are connected with a wall, pierced by gun ports for canons. The interior of the fort has been changed, and now includes fountains, pools, trees, and gardens, with a courtyard at the very centre. Though the fort as a museum is not open to the public, the fort is worth the visit, because of its ancient structure.
Al Mirani Fort, too, lies in Old Muscat and provides a stunning view of the Sea of Oman. Al Mirani Fort was also built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, at the same time as Al Jalali Fort nearby. The fort is also known as Al Gharbiya Fort, thanks to the view of the rocky hills at the end of the west wall. Though the interior is closed to the public, guests can reach the top by climbing a flight of stairs carved right into the rock, to soak in the views of the sea. The forts are a great way to understand the European influences on Omani history, and are a must-visit for architecture and history lovers. As the forts are located in Old Muscat, visiting the space itself will take the better part of a day, thanks to the many museums, forts, and cultural artefacts found.
The Sultanate of Oman is a relatively small country, and its hotspots – like Muscat, Salalah, Musandam, and more – are known for being calmer places, spaces that focus on history and natural wildlife. Muscat is known for its history, its architecture, and its culture, rather than its nightlife alone. The city carries a lot of its history within, and its evident from its architecture and from its local traditions. If you’re looking for a more adventurous trip to Muscat, the beaches are a great place to have some thrilling parasailing, kayaking, or jet skiing trips, while the museums and forts of Muscat offer a more educational, introspective experience. Regardless of what you’re looking for in Muscat, the city is sure to provide you with an invigorating experience, and a new perspective of this country.
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