Muscat - Abbey Travel, Ireland


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Welcome to Muscat


Muscat is the largest city in Oman, but the bustle of the modern capital city is easily forgotten with rug merchants, cannon-protected forts and an ornate sultan's palace overlooking the historic city harbour. The once important maritime city underwent a resurgence in the 1970s, when the Sultan Qaboos bin Said began to develop museums, mosques, palaces, and to restore relics of Muscat's history. Although Muscat is a popular destination for sightseeing tourists, many of the attractions are primarily regular fixtures of Omani life. The mosques are important religious sites, the ancient forts are still operated by the military and the palace is the seat of Oman's government. While this gives visitors an authentic experience, tourists can find playing second fiddle a little inconvenient. The beauty of the city, especially near the harbour, is what makes Muscat so alluring. The smooth curved stone architecture is a transition from the rocky landscape to the inviting water of the harbour. Many new buildings have continued with classic Arabic architecture, further protecting the city's legacy from the ravages of the modern world. Muscat is one of the safest, most cosmpolitan and open-minded city in the entire Gulf Region, and is fast becoming a Middle East tourism hotspot.

Information & Facts


Despite being on the coast, the weather in Muscat can be unbearably hot. The best time to visit is between December and March, when the more temperate winter season provides humane temperatures. February is the coolest month. The rest of the year temperatures can be well over 100°F (38°C). Sudden rain can cause flash floods, although precipitation is unusual.

Getting Around

Buses are the best and cheapest way to get around in Muscat. Modern buses travel major roads with specific bus stops. For more out of the way destinations, Baiza buses are common and zigzag through the back roads effectively, although the buses themselves are sometimes a bit dilapidated. Taxies are widely available and an easy way to get to and from the airport. Insist that the driver uses their meter unless there isn't one, in which case agree on a price before getting into the car. Taxis are expensive but convenient when you can't find a bus or don't want to wait in the sun. There is no subway or railway in Muscat and some travellers decide to rent a car and drive themselves around.

The official language of Oman is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. Hotel staff often also speak German and French.

The currency of Oman is the Omani Rial (OMR) divided into 1,000 baisa. Notes come in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 rials, and 500, 250, 200 and 100 baiza. Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks, exchange bureaux, hotels and at the airport. Outside banking hours, moneychangers operate between 4pm and 7pm in the evenings and at weekends. US Dollars are recommended. American Express, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are readily accepted in large shops and hotels and by an increasing number of traders in the souq. Most banks in cities and towns have ATMs.


Shopping in Muscat is a rewarding experience for travellers, with a range of goods available from local souqs(markets) and shopping centres. It is acceptable to ask for a discounts or a 'last price' from independent outlets, while supermarkets and shopping centres or malls display fixed prices. Most shops are open from 9am to 1pm and from 4pm to 9pm, Saturday through Thursday; the Sultan Centre is open 24 hours a day. The Muscat city centre is the primary shopping hub, and nearby Muttrah is also quite popular. Best buys include folk art and craft such as kelims(carpets), wall hangings and pottery, while frankincense and myrrh are also very sought after Omani souvenirs. Silver and gold jewellery and accessories (priced by weight) are also a good buy. Muscat shopping centres include the Muscat City Centre mall, the Sultan Centre and the Al-Zakher Centre, hosting big-name brands such as Zara and Gap, as well as computer shops, book stores and furniture shops. The best souqto visit is the one in Muttrah, where bargaining is expected.

Local time is GMT +4.

The Al Hajar Mountains stretch from Muscat, through northern Oman and into the United Arab Emirates. While they initially appear inhospitable and arid, they are becoming an increasingly popular destination for adventure travel. The picturesque range offers dramatic vistas of canyons, gorges and plateaus and the rich colours of the igneous rock formations make for unforgettable sights.

The Al Jalali and Al Mirani Forts were built during the Portuguese colonial rule of Oman during the 16th Century, and now are beautiful windows into that era. They are situated on either side of a palace giving a fotified appearence to Muscat's harbour. The forts are examples of traditional architecture: and Al Jalali, especially, is bedecked with traditional doors, rugs and pottery. Both Al Jalali and Al Mirani have ancient war memorabilia such as armour and weapons on display. Their strategic position on a mountain overlooking the harbour gives tourists commanding views of the city and Arabian Sea below. Opening times can be fickle but many undeterred tourists enjoy the scenery from outside their walls.

Bahla is an ancient city in the northern part of Oman, not far from Muscat. It was founded at an oasis for caravans and travellers to stop and rest on their desert journey, and was the capital of Oman between the 12th and 17th Centuries. The famous Bahla Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates back to 1,000 BC, and remains the city's most popular attraction. Bahla has a rich tradition of pottery, and you can still see potters working at their kilns - and haggling over their wares!

Even for those without an interest in Muscat's history, the Bait Al Baranda Museum presents a fascinating if long (750 million years) story of the region. The interactive exhibitions take visitors through tectonic plate shifts to recent folk art with an adherence to detail and historical fact. Instead of simply housing artefacts the Bait Al Baranda's dynamic exhibits often require audience participation. The museum is situated in a remodelled historic building which also periodically features local contemporary art exhibits.

With a coastline stretching 1,060 miles (1,700km) along the Arabian Sea, it is unsurprising that Oman boasts a stunning array of sunny, swimmer-friendly beaches. As the Omani government seeks to promote tourism throughout the country, its beaches have become a focal-point for this exercise, with more and more fun beach activities - such as diving, kite-surfing and jet-skiing - being offered on its shores. There has also been a huge spike in the development of luxury beach resorts up and down the Omani coastline, offering visitors an air-conditioned retreat from the blazing sun and sand. Some of Oman's best beaches include Qurum Beach, which is located in Muscat (below the Crowne Plaza Hotel) - a beach which is perfectly set up for family vacationers, featuring picnic areas and shady palm trees. Qantab Beach, located a short drive from central Muscat, has an established local fishing trade, and tourists are strongly encouraged to take a trip out with one of the local fisherman to explore some of the area's sheltered coves and sea-caves. Finally, Marjan Beach features small coral reefs ideally suited to novice divers and snorkellers - and also boasts a lively nightlife, with several restaurants and hotels often frequented by expatriate workers in Oman. Tourists don't need to worry unduly about the dress-code for Omani beaches - western swimwear is perfectly acceptable while you're on the beach, just make sure to cover up appropriately when you're on your way to and from your hotel or beach resort.

An attraction that offers visitors a wonderful taste of local produce is a trip to the Muttrah fish market. Every day, the market turns out a vast selection of ocean-fresh fish, squid and crab to choose from. Visit the neighbouring vegetable market for any other fresh produce required to put together a delicious feast!

Oman's most-visited tourist attraction, the Nizwa Fort stands as a monument to architectural ingenuity, and a fascinating record of the fort-building practices of a bygone age. The fort's underlying structure dates back to the 12th Century, though it was completed by Imam Sultan bin Saif al Yaarubi in 1668 as a defence against invaders looking to exploit the region of Nizwa's valuable natural resources. The historical interest of the Nizwa Fort is significant, as it represents a major advancement in military engineering in the early days of mortar-based warfare. The centrepiece of the fort is a drum-like tower that reaches 98 feet (30m) into the air and has a circumference of 118 feet (36m) - and is fitted with 24 openings for mortar fire. Visitors to the Nizwa Fort are allowed to freely explore the area, which consists of maze-like stairways and corridors leading to high-ceilinged rooms and terraces which afford great views of the city of Nizwa and its surrounding plains. A highly recommended tourist sight in Oman, budget at least three hours to take it all in.

Old Mutrah Souk is the most popular traditional bazaar in Muscat. The market is a small maze of narrow alleyways formed by adjoining stalls. Tourists can bargain with stall clerks over the prices of gold and silver jewellery, antiques and other traditional goods. The market has a less forceful air than others, so tourists are free to wander at their leisure without overt pressure from touts. Although the Old Muttrah Souk is popular with tourists, locals shop here as well, giving authenticity to the market and mixing ornamental souvenirs in between household products and food.

Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace is the working office for Sultan Qaboos. Built in 1972, it is flanked on each side by the ancient Al Jalali and Al Mirani Forts making an impressive and well-fortified greeting to ships entering Muscat's harbour. Tourists are not allowed inside the classically styled building for obvious security reasons, but it remains a popular area to walk around and to photograph.

The capital of the southern-most Omani province of Dhofar, Salalah makes for a wonderful contrast to the hot, dry desert conditions that predominate throughout the country's interior. Known as the 'perfume capital of Arabia', Salalah experiences a monsoon season (known as the Khareef Season) between June and September, which sees the surrounding countryside become lush and green - surprising visitors with the sight of herds of cattle calmly grazing in verdant fields. Its relatively cool climate makes Salalah a great family holiday destination in Oman, and it is a great place to buy Omani souvenirs for friends and family back home. Frankincense trees line the roads in Salalah, and it is unsurprising that most visitors to the region leave with an assortment of perfumes safely packed away in their luggage. Notable sights in Salalah include the al-Hisn Souq, a traditional market-place brimming with great things to buy, and the Sultan Qaboos' Palace, a graceful building that commemorates the birthplace of the current Omani leader. Salalah is also home to a gorgeous coastline, offering wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Swimming and diving are also possible, but only in limited areas due to dangerously strong ocean currents.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a new yet architecturally classic building completed in 2001 after six years of construction, and is the third largest mosque in the world. Equally impressive is the hand-made Persian carpet on the prayer floor, also one of the largest in the world, weighing over 21 tons. This is a religious site rather than a tourist destination so visitors need to be respectful of some rules, although English-speaking guides are available to help navigate the visit. Women must be fully covered before they are allowed access. Muslims can visit any time of the day but tourists of other faiths, while very welcome, should only come during visiting hours.

All travellers to Oman, whether young or old, are strongly encouraged to make an excursion to the desert region known as the Wahiba (or Sharqiya) Sands, a surprisingly fauna and flora-rich area of 4,800 square miles (12,500 square kilometres) near the country's northeastern coastline. In addition to the area's interesting natural bounty - which includes thousands of invertebrate species, birds and 150 species of native flora - the Wahiba (or Sharqiya) Sands is also home to a Bedouin population that is becoming increasingly (and regrettably) marginalised as the modern world exerts its influence over Oman. The nomadic Bedouins are a colourful, friendly people, and visitors to the Wahiba Sands will love the casual and spontaneous manner in which they are able to interact with them. Visitors are able to explore the region by themselves, but should not go in the height of summer (April to October), and will require a 4X4 vehicle to navigate the dunes. However, since it's no fun getting stuck in the sand, a far more popular option is to book a tour to the Wahiba Sands with one of the ubiquitous tour organisations based in Muscat. Typical tour packages include 4X4 transportation through the desert (although camel rides are possible), and an overnight stay in a desert camp.

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