While many cities in the Middle East are trying to outdo each other with their towering skyscrapers and man-made islands, the Sultan of Oman has decreed restrictions on Muscat's building height and style. The conservative culture is less about bling and more about restraint, tradition, and history. The Sultan is right to protect the port capital’s natural beauty: It’s carved into russet-colored mountains and graced with a lovely coastline. Cruise ships anchor near the city center and tender guests onto shore, right by the treasure-filled Mutrah Souk.
What We Love
The Royal Opera House Muscat: The Sultan built this palace for the arts in 2011. International stars such as Plácido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma have graced his stage, but it’s also worth a visit simply to admire the traditional architecture and exquisite craftsmanship. It’s open to non-ticket holders first thing in the morning.
Bait Al Zubair: There are bigger museums in Muscat, but the most interesting is this beautifully curated private collection that is displayed in a restored traditional home. The women’s traditional clothing and jewelry are stunning.
Best Known For
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: This is one of just a handful of mosques open to non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula, giving a rare glimpse into the beauty of Islamic culture: exquisite mosaic work, plush carpets, and ornate prayer halls. Ladies, it’s BYO headscarf.
Wadis: Oman has the most stunning and varied nature in the region, with beaches, deserts, and even green(-ish) mountains. But nothing is more important to Omanis than “wadis,” desert oases that turn out to be surprisingly lush. A good day trip from Muscat is Wadi Al Arbeieen, which has a swimmable pool and a restaurant. You can dune bash on the way.
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Who It's Best For
Nature Lovers: The views of the white city snaking through the jagged mountains never get old, and the beaches are soft and stunning. Diverse natural environments are within easy reach.
The Culturally Curious: Muscat has a rich history — its oldest forts date to the 16th century — and a traditional culture. Most Omanis speak English and don’t mind answering polite questions.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Watch Out for Ramadan: Tourism operations run year-round, but the city’s energy lags when most of the population is fasting. Based on a lunar calendar, it’s at a different time each year.
Dress Is Conservative: Visitors aren’t expected to wear the traditional robes (“dishdashahs” for men or “abayas” for women) like most Omanis do, but should be respectful of the fact that dress is more modest. That means covered shoulders and knees — and women should pack a scarf to cover their hair at mosques.
Ann Abel is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Departures.