When my family mentioned visiting Oman for our next trip, I lacked excitement as it was somewhere I only vaguely knew existed. But with Istanbul being cold and miserable, the sound of hot weather was appealing and I accepted it being our next vacation spot. Little did I know it would soon become one of my favorite places I have ever visited.
Located on the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has borders to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is home to approximately 4.5 million people, half of which are expats and has a rather interesting history. Previously known as Muscat and Oman, it used to be a powerful empire which had spells of time in which it was influenced by Portugal and Great Britain – this is evident from shops even in little villages that still have English signs under their Arabic names.
In 1970, the current sultan – Qaboos bin Said al Said – who had seen schooling in India and England, and even spent some time in the British Military, overthrew his father and rose to power. He went onto using the revenue from oil to develop the country which severely lacked infrastructure, and only had 6kms of paved roads. As a visitor, the country seems to have developed pretty well, with well-kept roads and drivers which actually respect the speed limit. I was even told by a native that it is illegal to have a dirty car and that they are in the process of making it illegal to spit, which I think says a lot. Of course, as a tourist it is hard to actually know what life is like, but it appears to be pretty good.
Despite being an absolute monarchy, some call it the Switzerland of the Middle East and others see it as Saudi Arabia’s Canada. Omanis are arguably the most cheerful people I have ever witnessed, and I enjoyed immensely going down to al-mouj marinato watch the young locals socialize. The country is ideal for really chill holidays, consisting of lounging about at the beach during the day on the vast beaches, going on excursions to its numerous natural wonders, soaking in Omani culture and socializing while going on cool strolls in the evenings. It is the only country which follows Ibadi Islam and there are no religious police so you are free to wear whatever you want, but it is best to be respectful and dress accordingly to the setting. Also, dissimilar to its neighbors which are in a race to build the world’s tallest building, Oman has a rule against skyscrapers and from its food, to their dress sense, to the way they’ve decorated their grand buildings nothing was overpowering or flashy. So now that I have briefly introduced the country, I think it’s time to get into the details of what the country offers to tourists!
The capital city of the Sultanate, home to just over 1.5 million, is spread along the coast of the Oman Gulf. It boasts huge beaches, numerous museums, historic forts, a grand mosque, and old souk. Here is a photo list of the various places you can visit in the city:
Qurum Beach: A vast beach that goes along a large part of the west side of Muscat, is a great spot to go for long walks, sunbathe and make the most of the sea.
National Museum: An interesting museum which is great for learning more about Omani history and is located in Old Oman, across from the Sultan’s Palace. The museum hosts artifacts going back all the way to the bronze age.
In addition, there are other museums which you can go visit that are near to the National Museum such as Bait Al Zubair, Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, and the Omani French Museum.
Al Alam Palace: Sultan Qaboos’ palace is an original piece of architecture, located by the gulf between two old forts: Al Mirani Fort and Al Jalali Fort. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset and take some photos.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: A grand white mosque built by the Sultan, is open to visitors to see and take photos between 8.30-11.00 Saturday – Thursday. Despite it being ‘grand’ and having a touch of gold it is definitely not flashy and has a lovely garden around its white architecture.
Matrah: an old part of the city that houses the historic souk and cafes with some rather good juices and the sultan’s enormous “yachts”. You can also go up the Old Watch Tower to watch the sunset over Matrah and the mountains that surround it.
Food Recommendations: Kargeen Restaurant is a great spot to get dinner and get a taste of Omani and Arabic food. They have a gorgeous garden where you can dine, just make sure that you book a table in advance or you’ll have to get a table inside instead. Zahr El Laymoun is another good option if you are into Lebanese food and yummy mezzes (they also seem to be a popular place for shisha if you’re interested). Located in Al Mouj Marina it’s perfect for a pre-walk along the marina dinner! Afterwards you can try some Saffron Milk Cake, or any other desert you wish, at a rather popular location among the young Omanis at Tuile Café, which is conveniently located next to Zahr El Laymoun.
With the above being the main attractions in Muscat, there are many more outside of the city which you can easily visit via day/overnight trips in the country – which I’ll be sharing with you in the second volume of this series on Oman. Last but not least here are some more photos of the city.
Written by Sueda