How to spend 24 hours in Muscat
With a rich cultural heritage, buckets of adventure and striking desert and canyon landscapes, Oman is an Arabian gem, and my recent visit has only reaffirmed why it should be on everyone’s lists of places to visit, and sooner rather than later.
With a rich cultural heritage, buckets of adventure and striking desert and canyon landscapes, Oman is an Arabian gem, and my recent visit has only reaffirmed why it should be on everyone’s lists of places to visit, and sooner rather than later. Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate, is often overlooked as a dusty gateway into the country, however it is home to some magnificent treasures, and is a fantastic place to while away anything from 24 hours up to a week at the beginning or end of a trip to Oman.
Unbeknown to many is Oman’s spectacular coastline, azure seas, and uninhabited island paradises, which lie just an hour or so off the coast of Muscat. Stepping straight off an overnight flight from London, into a hazy and humid May morning in Muscat, I was immediately whisked away to the Al Mouj port where I boarded a small speedboat and headed out to the Dimaniyat Islands, part of Oman’s only Marine Nature Reserve. As we approached the low-lying protected islands, and hopped into the delightfully warm, crystal clear waters, it became so apparent why scuba divers and snorkellers alike love it here. The colourful sea-life was in abundance and it was exhilarating to be surrounded by such intrigued creatures, from bright and sprightly nemo fish, cuttlefish and turtles to healthy corals, a rarity these days. We stopped at a couple of contrasting dive sites, before then heading back to the mainland. If it’s a little more privacy, space and exclusivity our clients are after, the 44 ft catamarans we can charter would be ideal. With a private chef, paddle boards, snorkelling equipment, and more, this is a superb, hassle-free and relaxing way to view Oman’s pristine oceans, perfect for families and small groups.
The following morning, I was up early to explore Muscat, although not such a hard task when faced with the sumptuous breakfast spread at The Chedi. Discovering Muscat was like stepping back in time to ancient Arabia, full of charm, character and some spectacular mosques and palaces, a far cry from the big bright city lights of neighbouring Dubai. A highlight of mine, and something I won’t forget quickly was visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a staggering piece of architecture, and home to some of the most intricate carvings and mosaics I have ever seen. Our guide, Rashid was spot on to have taken us there first thing, as we almost had the entire place to ourselves for the first half an hour, which only enhanced our experience.
We then moved onto the much talked about Muttrah fish market, a focal point for the community and the region’s fishing trade connections. I was, however, surprised to have found that an architecturally striking structure, standing in a commanding position along the lively corniche, serves as the new home to Oman’s thriving fishing industry. Not quite what I had expected as it lacked the charm, hustle and bustle of a traditional market space. Although all is not lost. If a little more time is on your hands, and for a true taste of Omani lifestyle, a glimpse of the fish market where the atmosphere and daily routines have remained unchanged for many years, our guides can take you just north of Muscat to Barka and Seeb. Although we arrived a little after the traditional trading times at Seeb, the sound of bartering still echoed throughout the market, you could feel the salt in the air, and there was a great buzz amongst the traders and stall holders. Whilst it’s not for the fainthearted – it’s smelly and messy – the short drive out of Muscat is enough to make it feel like a bit of an adventure.
Back in Muscat, our next stop was the Muttrah Souk, believed to be one of the oldest markets in the Middle East, jam-packed with Bedouin textiles, frankincense, perfume oils, sandalwood and gold. The animated traders bustled around in the winding lanes under the palm-fringed canopy roof trying to get our attention at every corner, although never was the hassling too overwhelming. My tip would be to remember to bargain – halve what they offer and work your way up from there, but be firm as they do like to challenge!
On my final evening in Muscat, I was privileged to have been able to get tickets to the season finale at The Muscat Opera House, and what an evening it was. The magnificent piece of architecture is astonishing, and as I approached my jaw dropped in awe. I hadn’t even stepped inside. Italian marble and Burmese teak are used in beautiful ways to make up the interior of the building, and with touches of Arabic, Islamic and Moroccan design, the Opera House is a melting pot of influences. If your stay coincides with a performance, whether it be opera, theatre or music, we will be sure to let you know as it’s not worth missing!
I encourage my clients not to overlook Muscat and its rich cultural heritage. This Arabian gem is crammed full of opulence and curiosity, yet still off the beaten track enough to feel like an adventure. With majestic palaces, bustling bazaars, golf courses to stunning beaches, if you’ve got 24 hours or more to spare on your discovery of Oman, we’ve got just the itinerary for you.