Oman's up-and-coming capital is packed with historical treasures and fantastic food, and has one of the most enchanting souks you'll ever set foot in. Here are our highlights...
Your first stop in Muscat should be the National Museum, where you’ll find a brilliant introduction to Oman’s fascinating history.
Until just a few decades ago, the country was mostly tribal and nomadic, with widespread illiteracy and only a handful of paved roads. Its transformation into the wealthy, forward-thinking country you see today has been remarkable. The National Museum charts its metamorphosis, as well as its sea-faring and tribal origins.
Feast your eyes on Oman’s finest architectural treasure: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, an opus of shimmering white marble and gilded domes, decorated with some of the region’s finest religious artwork.
Pearly Egyptian-style minarets tower over the gardens’ lush treetops, while the interior is adorned with swirling tilework and ornate Persian florals. Everywhere you look, you’ll spy something dizzyingly beautiful: glittering Swarovski chandeliers, stone archways hand-carved with Qur’anic script, a vast Iranian carpet that took 400 weavers four years to craft... It’s more than a mosque: it’s a work of art.
Lose yourself in the maze of Muttrah Souk: an enchanting warren of dusty antique shops, spice stalls and gold merchants. Life here continues much as it has for centuries: burka’d women dash between stalls for their weekly shopping, and shopkeepers crouch over al hawalees – a local board game – while waiting for trade. It’s a friendly, hassle-free souk; haggling is good-natured, with the deal often sweetened by an offer of coffee and dates.
There’s no better place for souvenir shopping: look out for ornate silver jewellery, hand-carved trinket boxes, and sweet-scented mountains of frankincense.
Did you know that Zanzibar, an island just off the coast of Tanzania, was once the capital of Oman? The country’s sea-faring, land-conquering history has long inspired its food: a blend of Middle Eastern, Indian and East African flavours. It’s totally unique, and utterly delicious.
For traditional cuisine, you can’t go wrong with Muscat’s Bait Al Luban restaurant, whose shuwa – succulent lamb slow-roasted in an underground fire pit – is the stuff of legend. Chappati breads, cardamom-infused karak tea, and saloonat rubyan (coconut curry with locally-caught shrimp) are tasty reminders of Oman’s far-flung influences.
Nowhere expresses Oman’s love of music and dance quite like Muscat’s magnificent Royal Opera House, the region’s hottest ticket for classical performances. Orchestras, ballet companies and opera singers come from all over the world to appear in this state-of-the-art space – alongside the Middle East’s finest maestros.
During the day, local musicians, dancers and singers host interactive masterclasses and workshops for kids. For an extra-special evening, look out for performances by the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, who revel in the venue’s world-class acoustics. But you’ll need to be quick: tickets can sell out months in advance.
With its golden pillars, turquoise trimmings, and gardens of pink bougainvillea blooms, Al Alam Palace is a striking example of contemporary Islamic architecture – more Disney decadence than imposing bureaucracy. While you can’t enter the palace, its Old Muscat location is a pleasure to walk through: all grand government buildings and manicured gardens, a peaceful retreat from the busy city centre.
Look up to the tiny forts on the hills around Old Muscat: legend has it that Horatio Nelson climbed these rocks when he docked here in the 1770s. A ten-minute stroll away, Muscat’s old harbour is covered in graffiti by notable crews – including HMS Falmouth and HMS Perseus – who’ve visited over the past 500 years.
From the outside, Bait Al Zubair looks little more than a house, but inside you’ll find Muscat’s finest private collection of heritage treasures. Battle-worn swords, antique maps, silver coffee pots, ceremonial khanjar daggers... this eclectic hoard, gathered by generations of the Zubair family, traces Oman’s cultural roots back to the days of pearl fishing and nomadic farming.
The history lesson continues upstairs with a cherished collection of black-and-white photographs and old Islamic coins, alongside paintings and models of traditional dhow fishing boats – which are as prized in Omani culture as camels and coffee. Next door, an art gallery showcases traditional and contemporary pieces by artists from all over Oman.
British Airways flies directly from London to Muscat up to five times week. To find out more visit ba.com/muscat.
Just outside Muscat city centre, nestled against the backdrop of rugged mountains lie two distinct Shangri-La Resorts. Spread across Al Waha and Al Bandar hotel wings, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa is a fully integrated destination resort. Its adjacent sister property, Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa, offers unapparelled levels of luxury and authentic cultural experiences.
Every inch of Al Waha was designed with families in mind – from the excellent kids’ club and children’s swimming pool, to the in-room PlayStations and action-packed watersports centre.
We love: That the restaurants are family-friendly too. Samba’s huge menu will please even the pickiest eater, while Surf Cafe – with its computers and smoothies – is a popular hang-out for teens.
In true Omani style, this five-star hotel is renowned for its hospitality and warm welcome. It’s the perfect couples’ retreat, with romantic restaurants aplenty – such as Bait Al Bahr, which serves fresh seafood just a few steps from the beach – and the fabulous CHI, The Spa, which boasts a Turkish hammam as well as spa treatments galore.
We love: That all rooms have balconies, overlooking either the gardens or the beach.
Perched on a clifftop, Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa offers a higher level of service, upscale amenities and luxury privileges, including complimentary minibar, afternoon tea, and pre-dinner drinks to the most discerning of travellers. With butler service, a glorious infinity pool, and acres of pretty gardens overlooking the sea, it’s like staying in your very own Arabian castle.
We love: Relaxing with a lavish ‘Omani Honey Heaven’ treatment at the new Hareer Spa by L’OCCITANE – a softening scrub and deep massage using local honey.
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