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Things to do in Muscat

The capital city of Oman has a full and rich history. There’s plenty to see and do, with winding, raucous souks to explore, different flavours to indulge in and a patchwork of colourful culture to unpick. Here’s our pick of the 10 essential things to do in Muscat


Make yourself at home

Check into the Hormuz Grand Muscat, A Radisson Collection Hotel, which overlooks the vivid and brooding Omani mountains, where you can tap into local culture as well as all the mod-cons of luxury living. The hotel blends into the landscape with its fort-like architecture, and friendly Omanis in national dress greet you with coffee and homegrown dates. Once inside, you can sip creative cocktails by the pool (with high-speed Wi-Fi) or unwind in its excellent spa. In the rooms are Amouage toiletries, freshly prepared dishes at the click of a button any time of day or night, and powerful rain showers (as you won’t experience much real rain around here). Ask for a pool-facing room and admire the view of the palm-tree-lined modern-day desert oasis.

2

Breakfast like a local

Top up your energy levels as the sun rises at local hot spot Habboh Café (pictured above). The cute coffee shop has been designed to replicate the old houses you find in the small villages of Oman, decked out with wooden tables, colourful tiles and cool concrete floors. Recipes are inspired by the founders’ grandmother’s cooking (habboh means grandma in Omani slang): order a mardhoof, a traditional Omani flatbread made from date syrup, flour and ghee. While the recipe is centuries old, here you can slather your warm bread in cream cheese, Nutella, honey or jams and wash it down with a sweet, karak tea (black tea with milk, sugar and cardamom).



3

Take a stroll in the souks

You won’t find sprawling mega malls in Muscat, but you will find several hidden, higgledy-piggledy souks filled with artisans selling colourful shawls, rugs, silver and Bedouin jewellery. The best of the bunch is Mutrah Souk. This traditional Arab market (albeit with updated modern timber roofing) is the place to go and hustle for bargains. Tell your taxi to drop you off at the Mutrah Corniche, which is where the main entrance is, and rehearse your bartering banter as you’ll be expected to engage in a friendly haggle. Credit cards are taken at most shops but bring cash for an even better final price. Female visitors should remember to cover shoulders and avoid wearing anything too short while wandering through the souk.

4

Have a lazy brunch

For the city’s best brunch, local institution Nana’s tends to get busy first thing, especially at weekends. Wait until a little later on in the morning and you can bag a seat outside and sip coffee and eat eggs-over-easy while looking over the glistening waters of the Arabian Gulf and the quiet sands of Al Qurum Beach. The menu includes international favourites such as burgers, wraps and sandwiches, but be sure to make the most of the breakfast menu, which is served until 1pm. Nana’s is renowned for its French toast, served with an Arabian twist: brioche toast with star anise, cardamom, orange flower yoghurt and mixed berries.



5

Breathe in history

The Middle East has been crafting perfumes for centuries, and Oman is the historic trading centre of incense and myrrh. Both precious ingredients can be found exclusively in the south, in the mountainous area of Dhofar, though the easiest way to find it is by visiting the Amouage Perfume Factory. The opulent fragrance brand was founded here in 1983 and the perfumes are now sold worldwide (in the UK they’re exclusively stocked in Harrods). A free tour of the factory offers a brief but interesting insight into the creation process, along with complimentary Omani coffee and locally grown dates that are generously handed out at the start. If you’re looking for a gift to take home, the bestseller is Amouage Gold Woman, concocted by French nose Guy Robert (who also created Hérmes Caleche, Gucci No. 1 and Dior Dioressence fragrances). Yes, it's pricey, but British jewellers Asprey developed the crystal bottle and the label is 18-carat gold.

6

See an architectural masterpiece

Even if you’re not an enthusiastic theatregoer, step inside the Royal Opera House Muscat simply to appreciate its incredible structure. Combining traditional architecture with groundbreaking audio technology, the seven-year-old building is a world-class masterpiece and one of the most technically advanced opera houses in the world. It’s open every day apart from Fridays, and a friendly Omani in national dress will take you on a personal tour behind the scenes, into the orchestra pit and up-close-and-personal with its beautiful artistry, inspired by a fusion of Islamic, Mughal, Oriental and European art. Don’t forget to look up – some of the most remarkable artwork is on the ceiling.



7

Immerse yourself in local traditions

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the only religious buildings in Oman that allows non-Muslim visitors. Wander through the cool, quiet halls (mobile phones are not allowed, so it makes a good digital detox) that play host to more than 20,000 worshippers on a Friday, the day of prayer. Look up and you’ll see one of the world’s largest chandeliers, an exceptional 14-metre fixture made from more than 600,000 Swarovski crystals. Look down and you’ll see you’re treading on the world’s second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet, which took 600 women four years to weave. Entry is free, and don’t be afraid to accept coffee and dates from any one of the friendly Omani women you’ll meet along the way. Women and girls over the age of seven will be asked to cover their hair and shoulders with a shawl but don’t worry, these can all be hired for a small fee before entering.

8

Step back in time

Save two hours to visit the National Museum of Oman and gain an understanding of the country’s ancient culture. A bold contemporary building in Old Muscat, the museum has an easy-to-digest retrospective of Oman, covering its long, long history. There are 14 permanent exhibitions to explore, all with information in English, displaying more than 5,000 artefacts. Don’t miss the stone flint that’s believed to be two million years old — the oldest man-made object discovered in Oman. Start by watching the 15-minute short film in the museum’s high-tech surround sound cinema located in the heart of the high-ceilinged building to figure out what you want to prioritise.



9

Visit a desert oasis

A 90-minute drive from Muscat’s city centre will take you to Nizwa, an atmospheric district of leafy date palm trees and some of the highest mountains in Oman. Nizwa was also the old capital of Oman, which explains the dramatic fort standing proudly in the heart of the city. The 17th-century castle has been carefully restored so allow time to wander around its rooms. Climb the stairs of the fort tower in the early evening to watch the sun melting over the mountains, before heading back down as the surrounding souk comes alive. Your hotel can easily arrange a day trip to explore both, but hiring a car will give you more freedom. The drive through the Hajar Mountains is beautiful and takes you along the single road from Muscat – so it’s impossible to get lost.

10

Discover local artists

If you’re interested in exploring Oman’s art and culture scene, make the Hormuz Grand Muscat, A Radisson Collection Hotel, your starting point. The bright lobby serves as an exhibition space that showcases local, contemporary artists, and the team at the hotel work to support regional talent all year round. Past exhibitions have included shows by Omani painter Fakhrataj Al Ismaily in collaboration with the Omani Society of Fine Arts, and an exhibition of the latest works by Oman-based, Columbian artist Rebeca Nigrinis. Ask the friendly front-desk team for tips on up-and-coming shows.
Travel advice, tips, Muscat

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