MuscatNestled between the imposing Al Hajar Mountains and the salty waters of the Arabian Sea is Muscat, the cosmopolitan Omani capital. Now home to almost half the country's population, the city is an expat's darling and has a lot to offer in the way of historical sights, culture, and entertainment. Muscat has managed to remain relatively concealed from the touristic eye and retains a sense of inwardness and an unspoiled quality long lost by some of its Emirati neighbours.
The CityWhat once was three small villages of Muscat, Muttrah and Ruwi today constitutes the modern, ever-growing and very cosmopolitan Omani capital, with each of the three areas still preserving some of their individual flair. Old Muscat, the historic heart of the city, contains some of the finest Arabian architecture and cultural heritage sites. Old Portuguese forts and historic buildings breathe the charm of foregone ages. The opulent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a rather new addition to the local architectural landscape, has grown to become the country's major religious centre and is open to visitors of all convictions. The scenic, vibrant port area of Muttrah is the place to be right before sundown. A promenade along its seaside Corniche lined with stylish hotels and eateries makes for a perfect kick-start to the evening, to be continued exploring the Muttrah Souq and Muscat's somewhat hushed, but very present nightlife. Neighboring Ruwi is, perhaps, best explored during daylight hours, when this newly emerged business districts' eclectic make up becomes most apparent. Some distances might prove too long for walking, but commuting between Muscat's historically detached areas is made easy by omnipresent minibuses and taxis, easily hailed down from any point in the city.
Do & See
Muscat's geographical positioning in close proximity to the sea, desert and mountains provides visitors with an endless list of possible activities. With natural beauty, beach resorts, an emerging cultural scene (facilitated much by the recently constructed Royal Opera House) and historical relics, the nation's capital is guaranteed to keep travelers busy both on land (mosques, forts and souqs) and at sea (dolphin-watching tours and snorkeling, to name a few).
Omani cuisine is halal meat-dominated, with Arabian and Indian influences easily traceable. Some of the typical local dishes include grilled meats, shwarma, and biryani. Muscat's seaside location makes for a heavy emphasis on seafood in local cuisine as well. Restaurants in Muscat are often located on hotel premises and cater primarily to expats and tourists (most locals favour cafes over fine dining). The variety of cuisine choices, however, is certainly impressive and ranges from traditional Omani to Indian, Pakistani, European, and Asian.
Western-style restaurants are a foreign import to Oman, while cafes enjoy a much higher popularity among locals and often make for dining experiences no less tantalizing. "Shwarma" is, perhaps, the most popular local eat, and is made with roasted beef or chicken wrapped in bread with salad and vegetables. Grilled meats (or "kebabs") are another local speciality, often served with flatbread and hummus. Another dish typical of the area is "biryani", which often simply means chicken leg with rice and spices. Cafes normally offer a variety of fresh juices to go with a meal, along with coffee ("gahwa") spiced with cardamom and cloves.
Bars & Nightlife
Muscat is an unexpectedly vibrant and photogenic city by night. Taking a stroll along the Corniche or wandering through the Muttrah area may offer a glance into local life hidden from sight during daytime. Those interested in smoking shisha will not find themselves at a loss - cafes that serve shisha are widely available throughout. When it comes to bars and clubs, most local nightlife is limited to hotel premises due to restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the country. However, some hotels do pack a punch, and finding a suitable venue should not pose much difficulty.
Visitors to Muscat are free to choose between an authentic shopping experience in the souqs and modern, air-conditioned shopping malls established in the recent years (primarily in central Muscat and its upmarket suburb of Qurum). The souqs in Muscat and Muttrah are a vibrant, lively experience fit for those ready to haggle and actively pursue great bargains. Clothing, leather goods, local art and handicrafts, ceramics, gold and jewelry are some of the items on sale in the city's windy souqs. Western-style shopping malls, on the other hand, sell primarily international brand clothing and accessories, and often house grocery stores, food courts and entertainment venues.