Looking for a place to stay?
Check my guide on how to find the right accommodation in Muscat
Conveniently placed on a millennia-old trade route which served as an important, natural itinerary to Mesopotamia and Persia and, today, where a significant part of world’s petrol passes by, Muscat, the capital of Oman, has been a city of vital importance for centuries.
Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Muscat is one of those capitals with so many layers of history, whose strategic location made it particularly appealing for quite a few empires, from the Persian Sassanids to the Arabs, the Ottoman and the Portuguese, the last one being defeated in 1744 by the same dynasty that has been ruling since then.
Today, Muscat is a modern metropolis, where you can find all the luxury the Gulf Monarchies are famous for, yet, unlike Dubai, it has a real soul, its own character, traditions, and history.
It’s a fascinating capital, like nowhere else in the region.
This guide contains everything you need to know to visit Muscat, including places to visit, how to move around, where to stay and other curiosities and tips.
For more information on the country, check my Oman travel tips
Muscat is a city that has been growing on me.
I have visited Muscat several times and when I first visited it, I actually didn’t like it much.
We had come during the utterly hot and humid month of July, plus we had done absolutely no research about the city, as we were just expecting to hang out in the city’s downtown for a while, but it turns out that Muscat doesn’t really have a city center.
It is a city composed of several cities located all over the place, so if you don’t really know where to go, you just end up seeing wide avenues and traffic.
But then, I kept coming back, with a little more knowledge and traveling experience, so I started discovering all those neighborhoods and places to visit in Muscat, one by one, learning about its great history and hanging out with the kind Omanis.
What I love about Muscat is that, unlike other capitals in the region, they didn’t need to waste money in building extravagant buildings in order to appear in the World Guinness Records, I guess because they didn’t need to, as people travel to Oman and Muscat because this is a real, welcoming city, inhabited by down-to-Earth Omanis who will bless you with their kindness and hospitality.
It is important to travel to Muscat during the right season:
Muscat is kind of a linear city that stretches over 70km following the coastline.
The city is spread out, making it impossible to walk, and difficult to move around by public transportation, and it is composed of several neighborhoods, so different from each other that they could literally be like small cities, most of them not being walking-friendly either.
This means that Muscat isn’t one of those cities where you just go for a random walk and see what you bump into, but planning ahead before leaving your hotel or house is a must.
Sultan Qaboos Street is a multi-lane highway that goes through the middle of the city, making it pretty easy to orientate, as no matter where you go, you need to enter it and then leave it at the respective exit.
It is a weirdly planned city, but the fact is that all capitals in the Gulf Monarchies are planned in a similar way but, once you get used to, it should be easy to navigate.
That’s why choosing the right area to stay in Muscat is key for your trip
These are just a few examples. For a more comprehensive guide, check my guide:
Best areas where to stay in Muscat
Muscat is very big, so it is important to choose the right accommodation based on your preferred area. Here is some guidance.
For budget travelers and backpackers. It is like Little India, where you find the best and cheapest Indian restaurants and it has the most convenient location, as it is close to everything and it is where the main bus station is, with buses going to Salalah and Dubai, ideal for those who don’t have a car.
Budget Hotel – Golden Tulip Headington – A really good value-for-money option in the most convenient area.
5-star Hotel – Sheraton – The best hotel next to the Ruwi area. It is a luxury hotel but prices are relatively low due to the location.
Where expats live in, so you find the largest selection of Western-style restaurants, bars, hotels, and the nicest beach.
Budget Hotel Apartments – Coral Muscat – A fantastic value-for-money option, these apartments are some of the best in town.
5-star hotel – Intercontinental Hotel – A fancy hotel in the best area of Qurum.
Cheaper than Qurum and close to Oman’s main attractions. Perfect for sightseeing.
Budget Hotel – Naseem Hotel – A simple, but very clean hotel, located next to most attractions.
You may also be interested in reading my Salalah travel guide
Muscat International Airport is growing so, today, you find plenty of connections with several cities in Europe and Asia. Nevertheless, I recommend you check the flights to Dubai first, as it is usually cheaper.
Oman shares a border with UAE, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
UAE – Traveling from Dubai to Muscat is a 400km drive. You can come by car but there are also buses from Bur Dubai. Read my 1-week itinerary to the UAE
Saudi – Apparently, the border was recently opened, but there are no buses and it is actually faster going through UAE, which would be a 1,300km drive from Riyadh to Muscat. Read my travel guide to Saudi Arabia.
Yemen – The border is open but it is a very long drive and, most likely, you won’t be coming from there.
Traveling to Muscat by boat – You can come by ferry from Musandam, an exclave within UAE that belongs to Oman. Read my Musandam travel guide.
Looking for a day trip?
Check the best excursions and activities you can do from Muscat
Essentially, there are 4 neighborhoods worth visiting in your Muscat itinerary: Mutrah, Al-Bustan, Ruwi, and Al-Qurum.
And then you have Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which is located somewhere on Sultan Qaboos Road.
Click on the below image to see the interactive map
Mutrah and Al-Bustan, the last one being the actual Old Muscat, were two separate cities, or localities, whose harbors used to compete with each other somehow, Mutrah mainly serving as the engaging harbor of Al-Bustan, therefore Muscat.
However, Mutrah also became a prosperous town for the simple reason that Muscat was not easily accessible by land, due to the mountains, so the camel caravans preferred to enter the region via Mutrah.
They were two cities that complemented each other and today, they are the actual soul of the city and where the most interesting places to visit in Muscat are.
Fish Market – From giant tuna to marlin, this is one of the best places to visit in Muscat and the greatest fish market I have ever visited in the Gulf, better than the one that used to be in Dubai, for the simple reason that here, the stalls are run by local Omanis. Try to go early, around 6-7am, when the market is busier. If you come at 9-10am, some of the stalls are already empty.
Mutrah Souq and lanes – Mutrah Souq is yet another souq and, honestly, my one of my least favorite things to do in Muscat, as it has become a touristic souq filled with souvenirs and very annoying sellers who don’t let you enjoy the place. There are, however, some parts of the souq where the locals buy, like the Gold Souq, but overall, after visiting tens of souqs all around the Middle East, this one isn’t particularly exciting.
More interesting for me was wandering around Mutrah’s maze of streets, discovering traditional shops and kind-hearted Omanis, but also a large Indian and Bengali population. You will notice that this area is actually inhabited by the Omani poor, something you will never see in Qatar or UAE, which leads to the conclusion that Oman is a normal country.
Shia District (Sur Al Lawatia) – Like most Shia communities around the Arab world living in primarily Sunni countries, the Omani Shia population living in Sur Al Lawatia is paranoid about outsiders, as the small Shia districts have always been a target for terrorist groups such as ISIS, especially in Lebanon.
I read that visitors are not welcome in the area, but I did enter and nobody said anything to me. However, hide your camera and don’t take photos, not even with your phone.
Corniche – A cool place to walk around and take pictures of Mutrah’s skyline. Also, check out the harbor, where the Sultan’s impressive private yacht is anchored – when he is not using it.
Mutrah Fort – Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century during their rule, Mutrah’s fort dominates the eastern edge of Mutrah. The fort isn’t very exciting but the views are great and entrance is free.
Al-Bab al Kabir (Muscat Gate Museum) – This beautifully renovated building used to be the main entrance to Muscat and today, it has a museum that showcases the history and development of Oman.
Al Mirani Fort – Also built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, this is my favorite fort to visit in Muscat (there is a third one visible from here named Al Jalali) but you are not allowed to enter.
However, from outside you have great views of the Old Harbor and a different perspective of Sultan Qaboos’ private palace.
Al Alam Palace – The Sultan’s private home design seems to have been taken from Aladdin’s movie. You can’t enter, and I doubt they offer tours, but the exterior of the building is unique.
National Museum – It showcases the history of Oman, from the first human evidence 5 million years ago to today. Entrance costs 5OR (13USD), which is quite pricey for a museum in this region, as both Riyadh and Dubai’s national museums cost a few cents.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – Of all the tourist places in Muscat, this is, definitely, the most visited one. An absolutely outstanding mosque mainly made of marble that has one of the largest Persian carpets in the world, weighing 600 tonnes of fine wool and cotton in 28 colors and made by 600 female weavers.
It also has a huge chandelier which used to be the biggest in the world, until its neighbor Abu Dhabi built a bigger one for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
An amazing mosque, really. Try to go there early because it is worth spending two hours at least and it only opens from 8 till 11am (for non-Muslims). On Friday, the mosque is closed. Remember that men should cover their knees and women their head, shoulders, and legs. Entrance is free.
Ruwi – Skipped by most travelers but, in my opinion, one of the top places to visit in Muscat, Ruwi used to be a small village attached to Muscat and Mutrah and, today is popularly called Little India, similar to Deira in Dubai, as most of its population are Indians, Bengalis, and Pakistanis, from many different social and economic levels.
This means that here you find the largest selection of amazing Indian restaurants, most of them being very cheap. In the evening, Ruwi’s souq gets very busy, especially on Friday.
I was actually staying here during my last visit to Muscat, as it is cheap, has the best food, is close to everything and has the main bus station to go anywhere in Muscat and Oman, including a direct bus from the airport.
Chill out in the expat area – If you want a change from Arabic and Indian food, this part of Al Qurum (highlighted in the map) has a large range of restaurants and shops of all kinds, from French bakeries to seafood restaurants and several international chains. The area also has 5-star hotels where you can find bars. I had a beer at the Trader Vic’s inside Intercontinental Hotel.
For this reason, this is where most Western expats live, and you will see that it is actually a completely different world from Ruwi and Mutrah.
Al Qurum Beach – The best and cleanest beach in the city, along whose shores coconut palms grow, which provides a sort of Caribbean touch. Local families also come here for a picnic on weekends.
Royal Opera House – One of the most iconic buildings in Muscat is the Royal Opera House. I recommend you come here at sunset, when the building walls acquire a beautiful orange color and, when it gets dark, they light it up with different colors.
You can enter the main hall but, if you want to visit the entire building, you need to go on a tour, which costs 5OR.
For more information, check trips and tours you can do from Muscat
These are some of the tours they offer:
Muscat half-day city tour – An easy way to explore the city.
Nizwa day trip from Muscat – Visit one of the oldest cities in Oman.
Wahiba Sands and Wadi Bani Khalid – Go to the actual desert dunes and to one of the greatest wadis.
Dolphin watching and snorkeling – The waters outside of Muscat are full of dolphins and an incredible marine life.
If you don’t have a car, taxis are the way to go in Muscat. They don’t have taximeters, however, and taxi drivers from Muscat are really annoying because they always try to rip off tourists. Like I said, your best bet will be using either Careem or Uber.
Renting a car will actually be cheaper than relying on taxis all the time, and it’s a super convenient way to visit Muscat.
The bus that goes all the way from the airport to Ruwi stops in a bunch of places in between, including the Opera House (Qurum) and near Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. There is also a bus that goes from Ruwi to Mutrah. A single ticket costs a maximum of 500 baisas, depending on where you go.
For budget backpackers, I have to say that hitchhiking within Muscat is fairly easy, so don’t be afraid of doing it! Omanis are super kind and love meeting foreigners! For more budget tips, read my backpacking tips for Oman.