Dubai is glitzy and Saudi Arabia is the hottest new spot to check out thanks to its tourist visa, but in Muscat, the capital city of Oman, there’s an otherworldly landscape that awaits you. Vast mountain ranges that stretch across as far as the eye can see, with terrain so rugged that you’d be forgiven to think nothing survives here. The country is filled with mountains, freshwater wadis, date plantations, Bedouin villages, and culture and history that dates back centuries, seamlessly blending traditional with modern.
Unlike its Middle Eastern counterparts, Muscat has none of the glitzy skyscrapers. Rather, it’s a city that seems almost suspended in time – with low-lying buildings in cream and white hues, nestled in the mountains and framed by the glimmering ocean. Its incense-filled souks sit comfortably with luxury resorts alongside traditional architecture that’ll make you want to whip out your camera at every corner. To make the most of Muscat and beyond, here’s your ideal travel guide.
Muscat is a foodie’s delight and you can’t miss sampling Omani food. If you’re a fan of slow-cooked meats, Shuwa is a marinated lamb that’s cooked in a sandpit for several hours and often served as a celebratory meal in homes. Most traditional restaurants will have this on the menu. Alternately, Mishkak is a popular street snack; barbecued meat skewers flamed over a charcoal grill. You can try these in the street stalls of the Qurum neighbourhood, Muscat.
Popular among locals is Rozna, a traditional Omani fortress with enclosed sections. It’s perfect for intimate family meals. We suggest getting the date juice shots, seafood platter, and dum-cooked Kabuli rice studded with potatoes and meat.
Bait Al Luban is another fine dine restaurant serving traditional and contemporary Omani cuisine. Get the assorted breads such as mandazi (sweet, fluffy bread) or maldouf (date bread with mixed grills). Make sure you end your meals on a sweet note with dates and coffee (Arabic-style Qahwah made with ground coffee, sugar, cardamom, and rose water).
Skip the malls and head to a local souk instead. The Muttrah Souk in Muscat is a little commercial but you can find great Turkish lamps, artefacts, ceramics, and frankincense at bargain prices here. For a more authentic experience visit the local souk of Nizwa, which is two hours from Muscat. Home to date, pottery and spice markets, lose yourself in the alleyways filled with old shops and coffee houses. While you’re there, visit the Nizwa Fort for its sheer scale and architecture.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Muscat)
The Grand Mosque is an architectural masterpiece. Heavily influenced by the Persian-style of architecture, the main prayer hall is a visual delight with large Swarovski chandeliers, stained glass windows, and millions of blue mosaic tiles that make for an awe-inspiring image.
Royal Opera House
Muscat’s Royal Opera House is lavishly built in the heart of the city. It’s the perfect chance for you to dress up and attend a show here.
Go off-roading into one of Oman’s many wadis. Its picturesque lush landscape against a stark background makes for a stunning scenery. During monsoon, these wadis fill up with turquoise water and thrive with the incredible ecosystem.
The waters off the coast of Muscat are home to spinner dolphins and on good days you can spot pods of these playful creatures. A speedboat ride from the marina is your best bet.
Jebel Sifah is a relatively new integrated beach town development about an hour away from Muscat. The smooth drive opens you to new sights of quaint Bedouin villages and shepherds herding their mountain goats. Once you’re here, stay at the Sifawy boutique hotel. Spend evenings sipping cocktails by the pool at The Bank Beach Club. There’s a 9-hole golf course too.
Jebel Shams is the highest peak in Oman and offers sweeping views of the valley. Besides being a great sunset spot, explore the wilderness on a 4×4 vehicle or trek through 300-year-old villages for the ultimate adrenaline rush. Stay at The View, an eco-friendly property with an infinity pool.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.