I was asked by a friend to put some suggestions together for her for upcoming trip to Oman. What I put together was quite thorough so I decided to share it with all you! Hope I can inspire.
What to do in Muscat, Oman
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – This stunning monstrosity can hold 20,000 worshipers at one, and is home to the largest chandelier in the world and the largest hand-woven carpet. This place is absolutely stunning and worth the photos (I would say this mosque even rivals the world famous one in Abu Dhabi). Men must wear pants and woman must have their shoulder, knees and heads covered so dress appropriately and bring a scarf or pashmina!
Royal Opera House – Recently built and reflecting contemporary Omani architecture, this entirely marble complex houses not just the opera house but retail, restaurants, a cultural market, an art centre and beautiful gardens. The inside of the Opera House is even more beautiful as ornate traditional woodwork is used. Tickets are not reasonably priced so it’s worth checking out a performance here even if it’s just for photo of the building itself.
Muttrah Souk – Is the main market in Muscat and a traditional one located just off the Muttrah Corniche (the main promenade) so there is a bit of atmosphere however it was a bit anti-climatic, you will be haggled by locals but also see expat American woman pushing strollers. You may also see the Prince’s mega yacht parked in the harbour, which puts Monaco’s collections to shame. On the corniche itself you can find pristine gardens and water fountains, watch the dhows pulling in to port with all their fresh catches of the day for the fish market.
Sultan Qaboos Royal Palace aka Al Alam Palace – The palace and its grounds are interesting to see although you cannot get too close. The palace is modest yet so colourful you will want photos.
NOTE: All the above can be done in one day, we just organized a city tour with our hotel, it's that simple and was reasonable priced.
What to do in Oman - outside of the capital
Camel Racing – This is truly an entertaining activity, enough said! Your hotel can help you with the scheduling of races.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve – About a 4 hour drive south from Muscat along the coast. You have to be there at 4 in the morning, so you have to leave Muscat around midnight in order to make the “tour” time but it’s one of the few places in the world where these turtles come to lay eggs so it’s a beautiful thing seeing nature at work like this. If you do not want to drive in the middle of the night the reserve also has hotels rooms.
Wadi Shab – This is an absolutely stunning area. Best to actually wear hiking gear as I am not sure how we hiked this for 3 hours in flip-flops on mountain edges without dying. Also, I suggest you take a guide as the epicentre of this is not easy to find on your own.
A night in the dessert – Lots of tour companies offer to take you camping in the dessert for a night. We chose not to do this as we have 4×4’s and slept and everything else in the desert in UAE and Jordan so we were over it by the time we got to Oman but I hear its very well done here.
City of Nizwa – This city is about a 2-hour drive inland from Muscat (and you just by-pass it on the way to Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel). It was the Capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries and has one of the oldest forts in the country. Friday is the best day to visit the souk here as they have a live goat and camel market.
City of Nakhl – This city is located just over an hours drive from Muscat. The main attraction here is the natural hot springs. (I have only read about this I did not venture out there)
Salalah & Region –Salalah is a large city (2nd largest in the country) way down the coast towards Yemen. The surrounding area has a very different landscape from the rest of the country as its green and lush due to the unique climate and its known as the land of Frankincense with history dating over 5000 years. Be warned July and August is monsoon season in this region. Part of the region is market as a UNESCO World Heritage site for the ancient frankincense trees that occupy it. We had no time to do this but I wish we did. My friend from Qatar went and he said it was great. I have been told you will find very fewer tourists here given its proximity to Yemen.
Restaurants and Nightlife
There doesn’t seem to be a huge nightlife scene in Muscat. Local woman typically do not go out its mostly only expat woman and they are not in abundance either. At the hotels you can get away with wearing anything but outside the hotels you do have to be cognizant of what you wear if you are female. I would just always play it safe!!!
At the Al Husn at The Shangri-La the Sultanah and Shahrazad restaurants are some of the best in Oman. Given it was Valentines day when we were there, Sultanah had a special dinner which was basically an upscale buffet with all you can eat BBQ lobster and all you can drink champagne (real champagne) that was roughly 80 Euros per person, probably one of the most memorable dinners I have had. Shahrazad is a Moroccan themed restaurant with exquisite food, a romantic atmosphere and live music that really sets the mood!
The Chedi’s Beach Restaurant was brilliant as well in such a great setting. The restaurant also puts on an all you can drink champagne brunch on Fridays for around 50 OMR.
The Grand Hyatt also puts on a Beverly Hills all you can drink champagne brunch every Friday; it may be a bit seasonal so double check with the hotel. They have a huge spread of food and good DJs so it’s also great for a group.
As for nightlife, the Grand Hyatt houses Safari (a rooftop bar and restaurant) and Copacabana (more of a club) and both can get busy some nights. The Long Bar at the Shangri-La can get busy at times as well.
Outside of the hotels, in town, Kargeen and Mumtaz Mahal are great places for dinner. Mumtaz Mahal puts on a dinner show with local inspired food. There is also a lounge/bar next to and almost above Mumtaz Mahal called Left Bank which is known for drawing a crowd. The reason why we mostly kept to the hotels is that the Government had just put an indefinite ban on live music so not all places were operating to their full potential. The ban was not placed on 5 star hotels luckily!
Where to Stay in Oman
The Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa on the outskirt of Muscat is where we stayed (there are three hotels on the property and the Al Husn is the more exclusive one and children are not permitted to use the pool and beach). If you stay in the other hotels you can access the restaurant in the Al Husn hotel, just not the pool as its exclusive. With that being said we spent time all over the resort. There are a variety of quality restaurants, some the best in the city. There is also a fairly popular bar and a jazz club, which was a great after dinner activity for us. Given this place is a “resort” (although I hate to call it that) it was relatively quiet at night, but just the right amount of quiet!
The Chedi in Mustcat is an amazing resort, very chic and clean and not many children, BUT it is on the north side of Muscat, where it’s very flat, we could see construction down the beach and you can see airplanes fly by as its closer to the airport. The Beach restaurant here is amazing and the beach bar provides a good atmosphere.
My two cents - Between the 2 hotels above, I liked The Chedi more BUT the Shangri-La is built on the beach, at the bottom of these vibrant desert mountains and is in such a beautiful setting. When I went to the Chedi I was impressed but glad we chose the Shangri-La. With that being said, the Shangri-La is further from Muscat but there is not a whole lot to do in the city that you will want to be going back forth for.
Newer to the scene is the Kempinksi Hotel Muscat. Located a bit further outside the city, heading west past The Chedi, this hotel is absolutely stunning, equipped with an infinity pool that dissapears into the shoreline AND is comes at a reasonable price tag. Thank you Kempinksi for expanding your brand so perfectly!
As for outside the city....
The Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel is hitting all the “must experience” lists but was being built when we were there so we did not have the option to stay in it. This place looks amazing and if I were to go to Oman again I would stay here for a few days, however you need to note it is up in the mountains, about a 2 hour drive from Muscat so obviously not on the coastline and a destination of its own. It is relatively near a the historic town of Nizwa, which as stated above, was the Capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries and has one of the oldest forts in the country.
Even more recently the Anatara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort the was built, and just like the Alila is hidden up in the mountains even closer to Nizwa, and well, we all know just how swoon-worthy this chain of hotels is. However, this one seems to be a bit more reasonably priced.....think I need another trip here....
Six Senses Zighy Bay is another newer resort. I have been to the six senses in Thailand and these resorts are amazing – BUT this one is way up in the northern tip of the country, right near the boarder to the UAE, about a 5 hour drive from Muscat. This area is beautiful but not near anything, but it all depends on what you are looking for. It would actually be easier to access this resort from Dubai, as it is much closer (approx. a 2 hour drive)! Plus they provide boarder crossing details from UAE to Oman on their website. I would say this resort is absolutely worth it, just not the most functional if you want to see what else Oman has to offer.
We rented a car given we knew we wanted to drive to different areas. Most resorts have shuttles and taxis are always available. Driving is safe but you need to always carry your passport. When we were driving in the middle of the night we got stopped by random “military guys” in the middle of the mountains, I was scared but they looked at our passports and let us go on our way, were polite and gave us no trouble. Oman is a safe country just highly regulated so always be cooperative!