Best things to do in Muscat

Oman’s low-key capital city has been transformed over the past five decades but still retains a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere, as well as many reminders of its long and cosmopolitan history. Here is our guide to the best things to do in Muscat.
Mutrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman. Photo: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock
Mutrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman. Photo: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock
Muscat provides a pleasant mix of the traditional and the modern. This formerly modest cluster of small, self-contained towns and villages has transformed into the sprawling modern metropolis of today, yet still remains committed to honouring traditional Arabian culture. Here is our selection of things to do in Muscat to give you a comprehensive experience of Oman’s understated capital.


Old Muscat
To the south of the city stands the original settlement of Muscat. Known as ‘Old Muscat’, its neat huddle of ancient and modern buildings clusters around a rocky horseshoe bay. A pair of old Portuguese forts stand proudly on either side of the bay: Al Mirani to the west and Al Jalali opposite. Both quite unlike traditional Omani forts – each is essentially a narrow building perched on top of a sheer-sided rocky outcrop.

Nestled between the two forts lies the striking Al Alam Palace, one of six official royal residences of Sultan Qaboos. Built in 1972 in a striking modern Islamic style, it features towering blue and gold columns. Although not open to the public, you can walk up to the main gates for an excellent view of the façade.

Nearby, the National Museum of Oman showcases 6,000 years of Omani heritage and history in numerous themed galleries exploring the country's geography, people, wars and religion.  

Bait al Zubair museum occupies three old traditional houses set around a garden. It is well worth a visit to get a feel of what life was like in Oman before modern conveniences. Exhibits include an excellent selection of weapons, jewellery, household items and old photographs, as well as a recreation of a typical Omani village. 

Old wooden ship in Mutrah harbour. Photo: Shutterstock


Mutrah
Mutrah itself is the old commercial heart of the city. Busier and more built-up than Old Muscat, it is arranged around a sweeping corniche opposite the huge gantries and quays of the Sultan Qaboos Port. Mutrah Souk is the most popular tourist attraction in the district, if not the entire country. Although modernised, it remains one of the most authentic souks in Arabia, its alleyways laced with the fragrance of frankincense and sandalwood.

Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art features displays of typical Omani houses from the 1950s to the 1970s, showcasing how life was in the country when people lived without electricity or running water. This intimate museum also includes modern works by Omani and international artists. Further along the corniche is Bait al Baranda. An attractively restored old Muscati mansion, it now houses a modest museum devoted to the history of Muscat.

Royal Opera House, Muscat, Oman. Photo: Shutterstock


Ruwi
Ruwi is the city’s main financial hub with a string of banks lining the central Markaz Mutrah al Tijari Street. The Old Bait al Falaj Fort is home to the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, which is much more interesting than it might sound. It houses a wide range of exhibits on Omani history, including impressive displays of weaponry.

Souk Ruwi Street is packed with brightly lit shops selling gold, textiles and electronics, while Ruwi Roundabout, home to many simple curry houses, is one of the liveliest areas in the city.

Qurm to Ghubrah
Qurm is one of the Muscat's best shopping areas with a dozen or so compact malls clustered around Qurm Roundabout on the main Sultan Qaboos Road.

North of Qurm proper you will find Shati al Qurm (Qurm beach). It is a long swathe of golden sand running for several miles past many of the city’s most upmarket hotels. The beach is accessible to the public. The Qurum Natural Park and Children’s Museum are nearby, offering entertainment for children. You can discover Oman's many beaches as part of Insight Guides' Oman Beach Holiday trip.

The Royal Opera House is situated in the Shati Al-Qurm district. A striking modern building inside and out, it hosts a richly varied  programme of opera, concerts and performing arts. The venue is surrounded by gardens, while the adjacent Opera Galleria shopping centre houses numerous boutiques, cafés and restaurants.

The Natural History Museum in Khuwair offers a broad overview of the country's regions and their flora and fauna. Perfect for those interested in the natural world, the museum houses stuffed animals, geological exhibits and a complete skeleton of a sperm whale.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is of Muscat. Photo: ShutterstockSultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. Photo: Shutterstock


Ghubrah is home to the majestic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – a must see. One of the largest and most spectacular mosques in the Gulf, it is built in minimalist modern Islamic style and dressed in vast quantities of white and red-brown marble. The mosque can hold an estimated 20,000 worshippers in its two prayer halls and surrounding courtyard. The interior of the main prayer hall is the epitome of opulence. The carpet is the second largest in the world, while the Swarovski crystal chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling is 14 metres tall. This is the only mosque in Oman that is open to non-Muslims.


Ready to take a trip to Muscat in Oman?

Insight Guides can help you plan, organise and book incredible trips to Oman. Simply get in touch to let us know your travel ideas and when you'd like to visit. Our local experts will then create an itinerary based on your preferences which you can amend until you're completely happy with every detail before you book. Our existing itineraries can offer inspiration, and all of our planned itineraries can be personalised to meet your specific requirements.


Updated 31 May, 2019