The musician may have cancelled his Oman gig at the last minute, but Muscat is still worth a visit. Here’s why.
See and do
Muscat doesn’t have the glitz or the glamour of Dubai, but instead a range of back-to-nature and historical experiences. The capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat is reputed as the friendliest and safest city in the Middle East, and one that puts good hospitality before luxury. It’s about relaxing over partying and adventure over shopping.
Leading the adventure path is scuba diving and rock climbing. Dive companies in Muscat offer courses and organised dives for those who are PADI qualified, particularly night dives and wreck dives. For climbers, Oman features rugged mountains that rise to around 3,000 metres.
Back in the water, Oman is also a great destination for turtle watching, especially around the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Junayz, and the island of Masirah, where turtles will come to lay their eggs.
The nation is renowned for its antique silver and the best place to find good-quality affordable pieces is at one of the many souks in both Muscat and Salalah in the south. Frankincense, which was once more prized than gold, permeates the air throughout the Sultanate.
Muscat’s architectural wonders include the enormous Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – up to 20,000 worshippers pray here at once, and its musalla (prayer room) contains the world’s largest hand-woven carpet.
It’s open to non-Muslim visitors, but remember to wear appropriate clothing (no shorts for men, while women should be well covered, including a headscarf). Don’t miss seeing the 16th-century Al Jalali Fort, built on an outcrop on Muscat Bay; and the City Gate to Old Muscat.
Located in a historic building on Muttrah seafront, the new Bait Al Baranda museum traces the story of Muscat from 100 million years ago to the present day through interactive exhibits. The National Museum charts the history of the last five Al Said Sultans of Oman. It also has a collection of silver jewellery, ladies’ national dress, household items, model dhows and guns.
Last but not least, camel racing is a popular sport to watch in Oman, so try to catch a race if you get the chance.
Eat and drink
Those with a love for Moroccan or Arabic food will enjoy Muscat’s eclectic food scene. Four of the best traditional-style eating houses are Left Bank Bar, Kargeen Caffe, Turkish House and Ubhar Restaurant. At
the Chedi hotel (+968 2452 4400), book a table at the city’s top fine diner, the Restaurant. Over at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa (+968 2477 6666), you’ll find restaurants including Shahrazad, which serves Moroccan cuisine, and Sultanah, a luxury cruise-themed dining house. For a late lunch hit Bait Al Bahr at the beach, where the focus is on traditional Omani seafood. The Piano Lounge features views over the Gulf of Oman and a good grape list; while for a nightcap, make sure you swing by the Long Bar, serving classic mixed drinks until 2am.
Why not try a bit of opera? The breathtaking Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman’s premier venue for musical arts and culture is located in Shati Al-Qurm – it opened in October 2011 and has staged productions including Aida, The Nutcracker and Madame Butterfly. The theatre has a capacity for 1,100 people.
On Wednesday May 8 and Friday May 10, Wagner opera The Flying Dutchman will be on stage, while Teatro Colón from Buenos Aires will showcase a ballet performance on Wednesday May 15 and Thursday 16. See the website for more details.
Where to stay
Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa features three hotels, 20 restaurants and bars, plenty of recreational facilities and a day spa spread out over 125,000 acres alongside the 500-metre-long Lazy River.
www.omantourism.gov.om (+968 2477 6666).
Flydubai flies daily from Dubai to Muscat, with fares starting from about Dhs400return. Emirates and Oman Air also operate direct flights, with prices from Dhs1,125 and Dhs2,045 respectively.
www.flydubai.com, www.emirates.com, www.omanair.com.
Dubai to Oman
Flight time: Approximately one hour.
Time difference: None – Oman is in the same time zone as Dubai.
Dhs1 = 0.1 Omani rials.