Fancy a minibreak? Try a trip to Oman and take in one of our 10 top spots
Barka Castle: About an hour’s drive from Muscat this castle, which dates back to the thirteenth century. The impressive structure has an unusual octagonal tower and two restored watchtowers. The castle hasn’t been furnished, but you can wander around the prisons and prayer rooms and marvel at its size. Bullfighting is also held in the area, but it’s not the bloody sport as you know it. The Spanish, in fact, would probably laugh this version off: it pits beast against beast, rather than beast against flamboyantly-dressed-man-with-swords, and the first bull to run away or fall down is the loser. Barka, Batinah coast. Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-2.30pm. Free.
Bait Al Baranda: Located in a historic building on Mutrah seafront, this new museum traces the story of Muscat from over 100 million years ago to the present day through innovative, interactive exhibits. These displays – set out in 11 different halls – include plate tectonics, geology, early human settlements and Muscat today. Muttrah, between Al Mina roundabout and the Muttrah Corniche (24 714 262). Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm, 4pm-6pm. Closed on Fri and public holidays. Costs OMR1 adults; 500baisas children.
Jabrin Castle: About 200km south west of Muscat is the striking Jabrin Castle. Built in the late 1600s by Imam Bala’rab bin Sultan Al-Ya’arubi, the castle is more attractive in style than others, because it was originally built as a palace, and later used as a fort. Decorations include intricate carvings in the rooms and balconies, and painted flowers and symbols on some of the ceilings. The fort was restored and furnished in 1982. With three floors and 55 rooms, you may want to spend a few hours here. Unlike most forts, this one sits on flat land, although it was still possible for enemies to be spotted 360 degrees around the structure. A tomb of the Imam remains on the premises. Bahla, 4km past Jabrin (www.omantourism.gov.om). Open daily. Permission needed although not usually enforced. For more info and permission visit the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture’s website www.mnhc.gov.om. Free.
National Museum: This museum charts the history of the last five Al Said Sultans of Oman. It also has a small collection of silver jewellery, ladies’ national dress, household items, model dhows and guns. Nr Al Falaj Hotel, Ruwi (24 701 289). Open Sat-Wed 8am-1.30pm; Thu 9am-1.30pm. Costs 500baisa adults; 300baisa children.
Omani-French Museum: Built on the site of the original French Embassy, this museum exhibits both French and Omani clothes throughout history. It also displays a whole host of paraphernalia that chronicles the relationship between the two countries. Al Sidiyah Street, Muscat (24 736 613). Open Sat-Wed 8am-1.30pm; Thu 9am-1pm. Costs 500baisa adults; 300baisa adults accompanied by children; 100baisa children aged six-12 years; under sixes get in for free. Sur Maritime Museum: Shipbuilding has long been a tradition in Sur, and this museum is full of artifacts relating to its history. Only around an hour’s drive to the east of Muscat, it is worth tying in a trip there with one to the Sur Fort and Bilad Sur Castle. Al Orouba Sports Club, opposite Sunaysilah Fort, Sur. To visit, call Mr Abdullah M Al-Araimi on 99 387 155, Sat-Thu 8am-1pm, 4pm-8pm. Do not call on Fri or during prayer times. Free.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: Similar to other GCC states, Oman has a fascination for breaking world records. In 1992, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos decided he wanted the world’s biggest mosque, and the world’s largest hand-woven carpet in the mosque’s musalla (prayer room). The government conducted a massive competition, and after a design was chosen, construction began. It took six years and four months to build.
The mosque is so big it can accommodate 20,000 worshippers, including 750 women in the private musalla, 6,500 worshippers in the main musalla, and 8,000 on the outer paved ground. One of the few mosques open to non-Muslims, its interior is decorated with white and grey marble panelling, and the dome comprises stained glass triangles. Just south of the mosque area is an institute dedicated to Islamic studies. Remember to wear appropriate clothing (no shorts for men, while women should be well covered, including a headscarf). Al Sultan Qaboos Street, Al Khuwayr. Tours are Sat-Wed between 8am-11am. Children under 10 not permitted.
Marine Science & Fisheries Centre: If fish and sealife rock your dhow, get yourself down to this centre to see an exhibition of fish, both dead and alive, and an extraordinarily beautiful collection of turtle shells. Marina Bander Al Rowdha, Sidab (24 740 061). Open Sat-Wed 8am-2pm; Thu 8am-1pm; Fri 3pm-6pm. Free.
Muttrah Fish Souk: It’s not often that you visit a fish market, so strap on the nose plugs and get ready for some fishy fun. It’s best to go early in the morning when the fishermen are animatedly unloading their catch – and it’s also a lot less smelly then. Everything from prawns to lobster is for sale for next to nothing. Muttrah-end of the corniche, near fish roundabout. Starts at 6.30am.
Gold Souk: Once you enter Mutrah Souk, take a right and along that strip are a number of gold jewellers who specialise in 22-carat gold. In Mutrah Souk. Mutrah-end of the corniche, near fish roundabout. Most shops open Sat-Thu 9.30am-1pm, 4.30pm-7pm. Fri 4.30pm-7pm.