Oman’s capital city of Muscat is found on the northeast coast of the country, bordering the Gulf of Oman. It is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East, likely founded before the 2nd century AD. Early in the 16th century, the Portuguese invaded and captured it, fortifying the city and remaining there for almost 150 years. The evidence of this occupation can be seen in the area’s three imposing forts. The city now known as Muscat is composed of three separate towns that have grown together (the walled city Muscat, Muttrah and Ruwi) and you may need to drive between the different parts.

Today, Muscat’s ancient history as a prosperous international trading nexus has been supplemented by money from more modern industries; for the last 40 or so years it has been a major oil-producing region. Although Oman is a Muslim country, the government is far more tolerant of other cultures and religions than neighbouring Saudi and the migrant labour force and expat population contributes to the city’s relaxed and cosmopolitan feel.


The Muscat Festival, held every year (in different months from year to year – check with tourist information if you are interested), is one of the city’s foremost attractions, celebrating Muscat’s heritage in music, dance, sport, theatre performances, local and international folklore displays and fashion shows.

There are several good beaches in Muscat, though some of them are privately owned by various clubs (you can use them if a member signs you in). Of the public beaches, Marjan beach (next to the Petroleum Development Oman staff club) is best for snorkelling. Muscat is also a popular destination for divers; you can take lessons, or hire equipment at one of the dive clubs if you are already qualified. For a drier experience of the country’s diverse marine life, try the Muscat Aquarium (near the Marina Bandar Al Rowda, Sidab). Considered to be the best aquarium in the gulf, it showcases Oman’s 150 native species of sea creatures. Notes to these are given in English and entrance is free.

Qurum Natural Park, found between the Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza Forum hotels, is worth visiting. It has gardens, a man-made waterfall and a boating lake. There are lights and music shows on Monday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Funworld, a children’s entertainment park, can also be found there.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world (40,000 square metres) and boasts the world’s largest Persian carpet. Entrance is free, though for non-Muslims this will be dependent on festivals and prayer times. Men must wear trousers (no shorts) and women need to cover their hair and forearms.

If you visit the Muttrah souq you will pass the Jalali and Mirani forts. Originally Portuguese-built fortifications of the 16th and 17th centuries, these are now used as museums housing military relics such as cannons and swords, as well as some curious inventions and other old Omani paraphernalia. The forts provide exceptional views of the harbour. The Oman Museum in Medinat Qaboos (a little west of Muscat) has exhibits covering the country’s varied 5000-year history.


Shopping is one of the main forms of entertainment in the Gulf and there are some excellent places to visit. Muscat is an old trade city and its traditional exports are frankincense, dates, mother-of-pearl and fish. These can all be found in the souqs (bazaars) of Old Muscat (some shops will even season and grill the fish for you). Other typical crafts include carpets and textiles, camel trappings, coffeepots and khanjars – Omani daggers.

Muttrah souq, near the seafront, is a good source of souvenirs, though quite touristy: bargain hard. Muscat is a very good place to buy silver and gold jewellery, which are sold by weight. Look out particularly for Bedouin silver ornaments – this is one of the only places in the Middle East you will still be able to find them. Souq al Juma, a Friday souq at Wadi Kabir, is a busy flea market.

There are a number of large, Western-style shopping centres in Muscat. The City Center complex, which includes a Carrefour hypermarket, is situated near the University.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Oman is a Muslim country and although it is not as strict as some of its neighbours, entertainment opportunities are far more limited than in the West. Eating out is one of the most popular forms of socialising. Muscat is famed for its seafood (lobsters, crabs and squid are local specialities). Healthcare and hygiene are priorities for the government and the standard of cleanliness in restaurants and cafés is very high. It is becoming increasingly customary to give a 10% tip.

Although Muslim law prohibits Omanis from drinking alcohol, visitors are allowed to buy it in some licensed hotels and restaurants. If you want to buy alcohol to drink at home, you will need a licence from your embassy.

There are a few nightclubs and bars, again usually in the hotels. Some of the five-star hotels also have extremely good restaurants, if somewhat expensive. In town, if you have women in your group, you will need to find a restaurant with a “family area”.

In Ruwi (east Muscat) there are three cinemas showing Arabic, Indian and English-language films.

There are regular classical music concerts, many of them at the Oman Auditorium in the Al Bhustan Palace Hotel. Palm Gardens at the Intercontinental Hotel holds 60s and 70s music concerts.

Tourist Information

P. O. Box 200, Postal Code 115Muscat, Sultanate of Oman Tel: +968 2458


Muscat’s main airport is Seeb International Airport, around 20 miles west of the capital city itself.

Seeb is served by British Airways and Lufthansa, amongst other airlines. Planes fly to London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Geneva and many Middle Eastern destinations.