Our First Stop in Oman
There are lots of things to see and do in Oman. We just scratched the surface on our cruise visits. If you are looking for things to do in Muscat, we have a long list to start you with. If you only have a short visit, don’t miss the Grand Mosque in Muscat!
Our first stop in Oman was in Salalah. We had left Egypt and just finished a tense few days cruising through pirate country. We did not book a tour. While everyone else was off on day trips, we enjoyed having the empty ship all to ourselves. People on the cruise enjoyed their first look at Oman. It will stay on our list for a return visit.
The Port of Muscat
The bay in Muscat was crescent shaped with forts at either end that were built by the Portuguese. Only the Al Mirami fort is open to visit. You will immediately note that the town is all white. From a distance, it reminded me of the white hill towns of Italy. No permission is needed to paint houses white. But red tape is needed to get any other colour. Doors are used to distinguish one house from another.
Muscat is a busy port. Unlike some very bad ports we visited in India, the ship was docked right at a large cruise terminal. All manner of ships can be found in the harbour but we were on the lookout for the Sultan’s yacht. It looked like a small cruise ship. But the supply ship used to house staff and supplies for the royal yacht was bigger.
Getting Around in Muscat, Oman
There were a lot of tours offered to take you to the things to do in Muscat. The pier was lined with tour buses and the hop-on-hop-off buses. Tour guides were ready as the passengers departed.
On two different visits to Muscat, we decided not to take an organized tour. The cruise shuttle took us to the main street. From there we found it easy to negotiate a taxi rate for several hours. We got pulled in by a young guy with great English and a wonderful sales patter. After we agreed to take a taxi, he then handed us off to an older man with almost no English. The first guy settled the rate and passed on our tour interests. Then we were on our own.
It was a good thing we had attended the ship briefings on Oman before we landed. We got little information from the driver as we explored the things to do in Muscat. We had a good sense for what we might find in this country.
Oman is one of the oldest states in this part of the world, continuously inhabited for over 4000 yrs. However, Oman is relatively new to tourism. The current Sultan was educated in England and has been driving modernization since 1970. There is a very high rate of literacy (91%). Woman have more rights than in many Muslim countries. Drinking is allowed with a license that costs about 10% of an annual salary. But Mountain Dew is apparently the most popular drink in Oman!
7 Things To Do in Muscat
We would find lots to see and many things to do in Muscat! We had a busy couple of days exploring this city in Oman. There was still so much more to see when we left.
1) Shop In A Souk
Our cruise shuttle bus dropped us off at the Mutrah Souk. This is the souk closest to the harbour. We took a short tour around the souk before we headed on our way.
The outer corridors were broad and bright. They seem designed to pull in the tourists. As you got deeper into the souk, the aisles narrowed and seemed to be more populated with locals. We really were not shopping for anything but we did browse for a bit and tried not to look too interested. Once we spent too much time looking and were chased down the aisle when we moved on.
There are many other souks in Oman that you can visit. If you are looking for local goods or like to bargain, then shopping may be one of the things to do in Muscat for you!
2) Get A Sense of the Country As You Drive
Catching a sense of the country as you drive around is one of the things to do in Muscat. The first thing you will notice is the number and variety of mosques. While the buildings must be white, many were decorated with colour and art.
Oman derives the majority of its wealth from oil. We were not really surprised when we saw large oil derricks as we drove around.
The mountains ring the city and provide a backdrop for all of the sights in Muscat.
If you are feeling homesick, we even found a Starbucks in Muscat. We did not go in. But we did wonder if in Oman Starbucks served coffee with dried dates. That is the way the locals take their coffee.
3) Explore Riyam Park
Enjoying a slow leisurely drive along the promenade one of the things to do in Muscat. This is also a nice walk if it is not too hot.
Along the waterfront we came to Riyam Park. If you are looking for something playful to do with kids, you can spend time in the amusement park at Riyam Park.
Riyam Park was also the location of the iconic Riyam Monument. The monument was high on a hill and was the first and last thing people saw in Muscat. It looked sorta like a flying saucer! We found stairs that went up the hill to get a closer look. But the gate was locked. So I am not sure if you can get up for a panoramic view.
4) Admire The Grand Mosque in Muscat
No visit to Oman is complete without a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It is rivalled only by the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as the largest and most beautiful mosque in the world. The woman’s prayer hall was smaller but provided a first look at the beauty of this mosque. The main prayer hall was massive and ornately decorated. Everywhere you looked there was art and beauty.
The grounds were treed and a tranquil spot to relax. Five minarets defined the limits of the site and represented the 5 pillars of Islam. You can climb the towers for a better view of the mosque property. For a complete walk-through of this amazing mosque, check out our detailed blog.
If you do nothing else in Oman, make sure to visit the Grand Mosque in Muscat! It is one of the most amazing things to do in Muscat. Check on the rules in advance to be prepared. You must be well covered or you will not be allowed entry
5) Tour The Royal Opera House
If you visit the Grand Mosque in Oman, you can make a stop at the Royal Opera House. The building almost looked like a castle from the outside. If you don’t want to go in, long covered porticos lead away to a big shopping mall.
When we went inside, we found a beautiful, decorative interior. We wandered mostly around the main foyer area. For a nominal fee, you can get a tour of the inside of the whole opera complex. We ran tight on time, so had to pass on a tour.
If you are looking for a cultural experience, then trying to see an opera may be one of the things to do in Muscat. But even if you are not into opera, consider visiting the Royal Opera House.
6) Wander Around Old Muscat
After you have visited the newer areas, you can find more things to do in Muscat in old town. After we passed through the gates into old town, we got a great view of this area. We saw the palace and forts in the distance by the water. That was where we headed.
We reached the water. From here we got a closer look at the three old forts on the hills (Al Jahali, Bahla Fort and Mutrah). We also had a view of the water side of the palace.
Our driver parked the taxi and we walked to get a closer look at the back side of the Oman Royal Palace. We did not get around to the main entrance of the palace or get inside. That will need to wait for another visit.
Old town is still in great shape. We found it interesting as we wandered along the streets.
We saw so many interesting mosques on our visit but we had a chance to see one more close to the palace. The Al Khor Mosque sits nestled under one of the forts. As we had seen with many of the mosques, it was decorative and colourful.
7) Stay After Dark To Say Goodnight To Muscat
We got a special treat late in the day. As the sun began to set, the city sites glowed. When it was completely dark, the lights came on for a show. We could see the white buildings in the town glow. The forts on either side of the bay were lit. We played with the camera settings and got an artsy image of one fun lighted building.
Seeing Muscat after dark is one of the things to do if you stay for a couple of days. Or if you get lucky like we did and leave port late.
Lots of Things To Do In Oman
We headed back to our cruise ship after long days exploring.
We found a lot of things to do in Muscat. You can take an organized tour or hire a taxi for a few hours. If you get a taxi, be prepared for little English. This may mean you want to hire a tour guide at specific sites where you stop. Oman is a Muslim country and as such, dress conservatively for your outings.
We loved our visit to the Grand Mosque in Muscat. There were other beautiful sites that we saw mostly from the outside. Plan enough time in your Oman itinerary to really explore this country. Don’t miss all the things to do in Muscat alone! After such a great introduction to the Arabian countries, we were excited that this trip included the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
What was one of your favourite things to do in Muscat? What other cities in Oman are worth exploring?