Muscat is the capital city of Oman and is located at the foothills of Hajar mountains, facing the Arabian sea. Unlike Dubai or Doha, the Muscat skylines are dominated by oriental arabesque architecture and it blends quite superbly with the stunning geography. Muscat is blessed with quite a few sandy beaches where the land meets the sea and the views can be stunning from the high hills overlooking the city.
Top sights in Muscat (I visited)
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is unarguably breathtaking and though it is relatively new (opened in 2001, to mark 30th year of Sultan Qaboos’ rein), the architecture and the stance is quite remarkable. I was unlucky enough for not being able to enter inside the mosque (as the entry timings for non-Muslims are mostly on working days) , however I managed to fill my camera with its external beauty. Muslims can visit any time of the day, but tourists of other faiths, the entry is restricted to visiting hours (8:00 AM-11:00 AM Saturday to Thursday). Visitors should dress modestly, and women are required to cover their hair.
Mutrah Corniche stretches to about 3kms along the Muscat harbour and is an ideal place in Muscat for an evening stroll. The best time to visit is of course at dusk where the temperature cools down a bit, lights and fountains along the pavement invites you for a relaxed walk. Though Muscat Port is not in operation as in the past, it provides anchorage for Sultan’s luxury yacht “Al Said”, high speed passenger ferry to other parts of Oman and a few naval vessels.
For anyone visiting Muscat, a visit to the Mutrah Souq should always be there on the list, if you want to experience traditional Arabic marketplace (without any chaos) and wish to take back a souvenir. The entrance to the souq located around 600m from the Western end of Mutrah Corniche and is quite visible from the road. Once you enter the souq, you are welcomed by a series of shops selling mostly Arabic artifacts, souvenirs, perfumes, jewelry, clothes, coffee shops, juice stalls etc. Most of the shops offer discounts depending on your negotiation skills. The best part is that you are free to take a look at what’s on offer without being pushed by the vendors. I had been to the souq countless times as I enjoyed exploring the shops under the fully covered souq street.
Al Riyam Park
Al Riyam park is located at the Eastern end of the corniche and can be easily located from a distance, as the park features a tower in the shape of an “Incense burner”. The park is lush green with a few joy rides for kids.
Sultan’s Palace (Al Alam Palace)
Al Alam palace is one of the residencies of H.M Sultan Qaboos and is in Old Muscat, far away from the busy city roads. For me the architecture of the palace looked a bit different from the traditional Arabic style, with shades of blue and gold covering its huge mushroom shaped pillars. From the seaside, the palace is under the constant surveillance thanks to Al Mirani Fort on the West and Al Jalali Fort on the East enjoying a perfect vantage.
Entry to the palace is closed to the public, however the place offers an ideal location for some stunning pics. Some of the other attractions like “The National Museum”, “Omani French Museum” and Bait Al Zubair Museum are all located in its vicinity.
Qurum beach is the most popular beach in Muscat and it extends to about 2 kms from the edge of Qurum Nature reserve to the junction in front of Crowne Plaza Muscat. I was there at the time of sunset and it was spectacular. The beach offers a relatively gradual slope making it popular for the visitors to have a safe dip, however do keep an eye on the rising tide. It’s also an ideal place for family picnics, volley ball etc.There are also water sports like jet ski, banana ride etc. on offer. I found the restaurants on the beach fronts to be on the expensive side, however none of them were empty either. The beach road with a series of traditional looking street lamps runs parallel to the beach with the marshy lands of Qurum nature reserve on the other side.
Parliament Building (Majlis Oman)
Oman though is an absolute monarchy country, it has a bicameral parliament which assists the government in drawing up the general policies of the state. The parliament building, with its cream shade stands majestically in front the brown shaded backdrop of Muscat’s mountains. The Parliament is located at Al Bustan, facing Al Bustan Palace hotel. The Parliament is not open to the public however that shouldn’t stop you from capturing its beauty through your lens from the outside.
Location : Bandar Khayran
A short 30 minutes drive from the heart of Muscat will take you another hidden jewel in Oman named Bandar Khayran. The Bandar Khayran reserve consists of a number of khors or inlets and is considered home for varied organisms and fishes. Most of the tourists visit this spot through boat trips starting from Muscat and only a few venture through the roads. It was a bit difficult to reach the view point the very first time we went there, as there weren’t enough signboards to lead the way.
Apart from being rich in mangroves, Bandar Khayran is a paradise for snorkelers and divers, thanks to the coral reefs. In fact, I did snorkeling for the very first time in my life at this place, after buying a kit from a sports shop in Muscat.
I had been to Bandar Khayran at least 5 times during my Oman days doing snorkeling, barbecuing, hiking, trekking, swimming, boating (a fisherman took us around once) and the best part is the sheer beauty added with the tranquility of this amazing place.
Yeti (Yiti) Beach
If you are looking to escape from the crowded beach of Qurum, the best alternative in the vicinity of Muscat would be Yiti beach (it can also be listed as “Yeti” or “Yitti” all being the same beach). The visit to this beach can be clubbed with your visit to Bandar Khayran, as they share the route from Muscat, up until a “Y” junction, 5 kms before the beach. You will be driving in a quite scenic and curvy roadway in between the mountains. Once you start seeing the horizon, the tiny village of Yiti, with a mosque and a small shop will be visible to you, virtually becoming the gateway to the beach.
As of 2015, the beach was yet to be commercialized you will get ample space for playing volleyball or have a ride in your 4×4. The water is good with gentle beach slope and I’ve seen people snorkeling as well (just be careful with sea urchins). If you wish to spend considerable time there, then it’s better to carry your own food and there aren’t any fuel stations as well. I had been there for at least three times and had some great time playing, hiking and barbecuing.
Other attractions in Muscat
Although I haven’t got a chance to visit these attractions, depending on your taste, you can pick any and I have given “Lonely Planet” link to the listed attractions.