We arrive in Muscat late at night, after a rather frustrating day on the road, including sleeping past our alarm, slow rental-car pick-up process, troubles at the border and some occasionally rather interesting traffic conditions. We are both tired but happy to finally make it to our hotel. After checking in, we head out on the streets to find some dinner.
Our hotel is located a bit further away from the main attractions and the surrounding area is more popular among locals. After walking on the streets for just a short time, I realize the area does really not look like I had imagined, not how I had seen Oman in my mind. The streets are clean and in good condition, palm trees lining the streets beautifully. The buildings are new and the lightning around the buildings makes them stand out beautifully. Somehow, I had expected to find Muscat more arabic – you know, dusty streets, lots of people and low-rise, sand-colored buildings. Of course, I really do not know if that is what any of the cities on the Arab peninsula looks like, but for some reason that was the picture I had in mind.
Already during the first evening I notice the laid-back and friendly atmosphere on the streets. Clean, modern, warm and safe. Those are the words I would first use when describing the area. The first impression is extremely positive, at it only grows stronger during the next few days we spend exploring Muscat and the surrounding areas.
Somehow, I never really managed to get a good understanding of what there was to see in Muscat before our trip. But still, I had read from many different sources that the city would be an interesting, versatile and fascinating city, a jewel of arabia, some claim.
On the first morning in Muscat I spend a long time googling what to do, where to go that day. I end up finding the map of the Big Bus tours. After taking a good look at it, I realize it holds pretty much all the interesting places along its route. I save the map on my phone, we jump on our car and take off. Later I had to say I could’ve not been any happier with the decision as we had a great day driving around Muscat, getting to know different sides of the city.
The more we see the city, the better I understand the comments I had read about Muscat. There are so many interesting points in and around the city to see. Old and new. Big and small. Peaceful and hectic. Muscat really is an interesting mixture of different things. Somehow, after going around the city, it is really hard to name just one or two things as the highlights. Honestly, I still am not sure what would count as the city center or what would be the area best for tourists to stay in. But, what I know is that I really liked the city.
From the tourist point of view the only downside of the city is that it is a rather widely spread and to get around, you need either a driver or a rental car. The good thing is that the traffic in Muscat is rather clean and easy one.
But, what is there to see in Muscat? Naturally, after staying in the city for only a couple of days, I’m not an expert, but the following are the ones I can easily recommend, out of the places we visited.
Al Qurum was our first place we visited. Here you’ll find a lovely small strip with a beautiful beach and a nice boulevard lined with palm trees. The beach culture in Muscat is not strong as you are more or less expected to be covered up in public, but despite the area offers a lovely spot for a relaxed afternoon strolling along the boulevard and stopping for a cup of coffee or a meal at one of the cafes/restaurants at the end of the boulevard. Just a short hop away from the beach you’ll find the Royal Opera, an impressive looking building that really is hard to Miss when you are in the city.
Besides the beach area, Al Qurum is also an upscale residential area, popular among expats. Here, you’ll also find the Al Qurum park, where you can easily spend a moment or two just strolling around. The Al Hajar mountains are dominant to the city landscape, but here in the park, they really stand out in a positive way. The beautiful park in the front, the mountains at the back – the views are just beautiful. The whole park area is surprisingly large and well looked after. Surprisingly, we found there not to be that many people around, so it is also a perfect stop if you want to spend some time in peace and quiet.
Old Muscat – Al Alam Palace and the forts
In old Muscat the old forts of Mirani and Jalali meet the modern palace, museums and mosques. With the mountains on the back and the sea in the front, the area is like a miniature Oman. Only, there is hardly any people, cars or shops around. I have to say I found this area very confusing. Polished streets and building, very modern look with two old forts around them. No people. So much potential, yet so.. well, soulless.
Muttrah is not only known for its corniche, but also the souq – a traditional market area. I thing Muttrah is the most common place to find on any top3/5/10-list of Muscat and also, because of this, the place where most tourists were. Still, the place did not feel too touristy and plenty of locals were around. Walking in the soul I actually could easily think that it could be a place where locals often go shopping, unlike in Dubai where the souqs felt like horrible tourist traps.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The biggest Mosque in the country is an impressive sight worth seeing. With the capacity of 20 000 people, home to the world’s second largest carpet (4300 square meters) and the second largest chandelier (height of 14 meters), this really is a place you should not miss. The mosque is a rather new one, finished at 2001, and beautifully build, both from the inside as from the outside.