Set at the crossroads of three continents and four seas, Oman is hemmed by the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea and protected by the jagged Al Hajar mountains and the Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter) desert. Drawn by its strategic location at the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the Portuguese briefly occupied Oman’s coastal areas and set up forts, but were finally expelled in 1650. Oman’s seaside capital Muscat, with its craggy coastline, still bears these historical traces blending Arabic tradition with modernity, besides ample avenues for entertainment.
Best time to visit: October to March is the ideal time to visit Muscat.
Visa and immigration: If you are an Indian passport holder either residing or holding an entry visa to US, Canada, Australia, UK, Japan, or any of the Schengen nations and travelling to Muscat, then you are eligible for visa on arrival. The visa will be provided for a fee of 20 Omani Riyal and valid for a month.
How to reach
By Air: Muscat International Airport is the nearest airport, located 32 km away from the old Muscat city. IndiGo operates flights to Muscat in Oman with non-stop flight between Mumbai and Muscat. Starting this year, flights between Kochi and Muscat will also be operational.
Getting around: Bus or Baisa is the most popular means of transport in Muscat. These buses are economical and run across the city. There are taxis also but comparatively expensive.
An Omani hut or wooden cottage, Kargeen is the perfect place for a traditional meal with indoor dining in a sit-down majlis or an open-air garden. Try Arabic staples like moutabel (aubergine dip), crispy Zatar bread (flatbread seasoned with herbs), shuwa (slow-cooked lamb shank) with Moroccan tea, Turkish coffee and flavoured apple and julash (watermelon) sheeshas.
An Omani restaurant opposite the fish market in Muttrah with excellent views of the Sultan Qaboos Port. Wash your hands with frankincense water before embarking on a sensory, culinary journey—gheleambe (traditional salad), saloonat khudhar (veg curry), qabouli laham (rice cooked in meat broth) and shuwa (best eaten with Omani brown rice). Wash it down with a tamarind juice, date smoothie, ginger juice or laban (yoghurt).
Sharing its name with a buried ancient city, Ubhar’s décor and food blend modern and historical Omani cuisine and design. Try the camel biryani and halwa-based dessert.
The focus here is on fresh seafood sourced from the Gulf of Oman with an international touch and dishes that complement the view¬—mussels with kaffir lime and coconut, lobster tail carpaccio and whole grilled fish. The downside? It’s open between September and May, only for dinner.
Authentic Omani cuisine and hospitality with traditional floor-seating on beautiful multi-coloured cushions and dishes like mutton magbous, halva and harees (cracked wheat with meat).
Duke’s is a popular pub and restaurant known for its lamb chops, kebabs, tagines and curries.
Muscat has several Turkish joints, and this large restaurant is the pick of the lot; there’s Turkish flatbreads or pides, kebabs, yoghurt toppings and Turkish coffee served in ornate silver cups to choose from.
Missing the flavours of India? Try this popular Indian restaurant that recreates Mumbai’s street food with Bollywood posters on the wall. Choose from their chats, dosa, pani-puri, snacks and other Indian vegetarian fares, including a decent daily buffet.
For centuries, frankincense, dates and perfumes from Oman have been traded far and wide to distant lands, and even now, it’s a great place to pick up these specialities.
Muttrah Souk: The first stop for any shopper should be the historic Muttrah Souk by the waterfront. Here, one can buy silver trinkets, Turkish plates, Moroccan lamps and traditional souvenirs like Omani khanjars (ornamental daggers). Vendors hailing from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan offer to tie a keffiyeh (checked scarf) over a kumma (embroidered Omani cap) into a neat turban for a selfie. Others offer little dabs of perfumes.
Amouage Factory: Visit the Amouage Factory to pick up exclusive perfumes and to understand how the world’s most expensive fragrances, are made as each ingredient is beautifully analysed. Pick up a bottle or two from the factory or at the duty-free shops at the airport.
LuLu Hypermarket and malls in Muscat: Grab Omani halwa, camel milk chocolates and the best quality Khalas dates from LuLu Hypermarket. Or drop by for some retail therapy at Oman Avenues Mall and Muscat Grand Mall, the largest in town.
Most of Muscat’s party scene is confined to bars and lounge-restaurants in five-star hotels:
Club Safari and Habana Sports Bar: Themed like a jungle safari park, Club Safari is one of the most popular nightclubs in Muscat. Located in the Grand Hyatt at Al Khuwair, Thursday and Friday nights are packed. On the hotel’s ground floor is Habana Sports Bar with billiards tables, table soccer and large-screen TVs.
O'Malley': If you like beer and whiskey, head straight to O'Malley's on the ground floor of Hotel Radisson Blu in Al Khuwair—an Irish style pub with a beautiful wooden bar counter.
Trader Vic's: It is a popular tourist bar in Hotel InterContinental in Qurum that has good live music and signature cocktails. The gardens serve as a concert arena for big international acts.
Zouk: The nightclub and lounge at the Crowne Plaza Muscat is another premier party spot with a busy event calendar.
Rock Bottom: Rock Bottom at Ramee Guestline Hotel is a bar that doubles up as a discotheque and serves the best steak in town.
The Roof Top Club: This club at the Golden Tulip in Seeb has a great view of the airport with two bar areas with drinks and food that won’t bust the bank. There are plenty of live-music bars in mid-range hotels as well such as the Marina in Muttrah, or the Mutrah and Ruwi hotels in Ruwi.
Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resorts and Spa, About half an hour from the city, is this troika of luxurious hotels—Al Waha, Al Bandar and Al Husn—with date palms, traditional Dhofari architecture and Chi spa offering a 4-hr Serenity Ritual with frankincense scrub. The balconies overlook majestic cliffs, and there’s a large swimming pool in which to cool off.
The Chedi, Al Khuwair A luxurious 158-room hotel with Omani style rooms and villas, six restaurants, three pools and a Balinese spa. This is one of the most premium Muscat hotels you can reside.
Al Bustan Palace, Al Bustan Opulent Arab-Art Deco resort with luxurious rooms, grand 38m domed atrium lobby, five pools and a kilometre-long private beach, the longest in Oman.
Grand Hyatt Muscat, Al Khuwair Great beachside location with an exclusive hotel lobby. Palatial gardens, several swimming pools with access to the beach and top-notch food make it a popular choice.
Crowne Plaza Muscat, Qurum Overlooking the corniche in Qurum, the hotel built in the style of a cruise ship, with elegant restaurants like Shiraz for Iranian and Arabian cuisine is a must visit. There is also a great pool, private beach and excellent views over the bay from the hotel terrace and rooms.
Museums in Muscat: Muscat has plenty of small but interesting museums – Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art, Bait Al-Baranda (great if you’re into geography) and the Natural History Museum that showcases topography, geology and more. At Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, once a royal fort, soldiers double up as guides explaining Omani military history. The Oman Oil and Gas Exhibition Centre too, has a beautiful museum that deconstructs the whole business of oil and gas in two sections - Petroleum Development and EcOman, on the Sultanate’s eco-friendly push. If you are a history buff, visit the Muscat Gate Museum to learn more about the glorious past of the city.
Seeb and the Omani Dive Centre: And if you love the outdoors, there are sandstone cliffs for hiking, wadis to swim in, desert for sand boarding and dune bashing, stunning seaside views at Seeb and the Omani Dive Centre near the harbour. With a 1600km long coastline, Oman is perfect for swimming, kitesurfing, diving and sports fishing. The coastal highway from Muscat whizzes southward past old towns like Qalhat to the ancient dhow-making town of Sur and Ras al Jinz where the annual nesting of green turtles takes place between July and October.
A great way to see Muscat at a leisurely pace is the Big Bus Muscat Hop On Hop Off Tour. Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), Oman’s premier performing space, is only the second opera house in the Middle East after Cairo; it opened in 2011. It showcases traditional Omani arts, ballets, musicals, military brass bands, flamenco and jazz artists! Muscat has some great seaside haunts like Qantab, Qurum and Seeb beaches. Yiti beach is beautiful with clear waters, clean sand and a small fishing village located by the beach, often frequented by locals for barbecue parties; it’s also an excellent location for photography. Take an off-road drive and hike to Wadi Al Aribeieen with a shallow pool and a deep end where you dive from a small cliff. Another exciting day trip in a 4X4 past mountains, beaches and bays takes you to Bimah sinkhole at Wadi Shab. Enjoy a sunset dhow cruise along Oman’s rugged coastline with some dolphin watching. Or head two hours out of Muscat to Marjan Beach, home to small coral reefs and a large variety of fish, which entice snorkelers to explore its waters. Also known as Turtle Beach, for the seasonal phenomenon of turtle breeding, a time when thousands of turtles hatch on this beach before crawling slowly out to sea.