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48 hours in Muscat, Oman: what to eat, drink, see and do

 (The Chedi Muscat)
(The Chedi Muscat)

The desert kingdom of Oman is still somewhat of an overlooked gem for travellers — but that’s quickly changing. The Middle Eastern country is home to awe-inspiring mountain ranges, endless deserts and enough sun to make wintery Britain a distant memory: bliss for anybody planning their escape from the rain and cold, and especially in the first few months of the year.

Any visit to Oman starts and ends in its capital Muscat — and though many people tend to breeze straight through on the way to the countryside, Muscat offers plenty of delights of its own. From the bustling souqs to coral islands teeming with life, it’s a great place for curious travellers to spend a stopover, or indeed a weekend break.

What to do

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Sharon Ang/ Pixabay)
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Sharon Ang/ Pixabay)

Home to several sprawling suburbs that surround its ancient core, Muscat is surprisingly spread-out, which means that the best way to see it is either via a tour (which most hotels will offer, including The Chedi below) or by renting a car.

Fortunately, nothing is more than a ten-minute drive, so we recommend starting your trip with a visit to the epic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Finished in 2001 and free to visit until 11am every day except Friday, it’s a paradise of creamy stone walkways, huge gardens and nooks from which to hide from the sun.

Heading inside, the men’s prayer space is jaw-droppingly lavish, adorned with rugs imported from Iraq and the second-largest chandelier in the world, which is of course dripping with Swarovski crystals. If you’re a female traveller, do bring a cover up along with you or ask to borrow one, as you’ll be asked to cover your head as a sign of respect.

From there, head into Mutrah — the town-slash-suburb adjoining Muscat’s city centre — to visit the famous Mutrah souq. Hidden away from the sun, it’s a maze of alleyways and tiny shopfronts: the perfect place to hunt for souvenirs, paintings or kaftans to take home.

The Mutrah Corniche in Muscat (Muhammad Shoaib/ Unsplash)
The Mutrah Corniche in Muscat (Muhammad Shoaib/ Unsplash)

From there, it’s time to see Muscat proper. Take El Riyam Road over the mountains for a gorgeous view of the old city: flanked by the imposing old Portuguese Mirani Fort (which is set to open to the public in 2025) and bordered by ocean views, it’s a picture-postcard sight.

Old Muscat itself is home to the rather funky Al-Alam Palace, one of the Sultan’s official residences. Not open to the public, it’s nevertheless worth making a stop-off, simply to appreciate how bizarre the 1970s remodelling of the ancient building looks. Also, for history buffs, it’s right opposite the National Museum, which is massive, sprawling, and well worth spending a few hours exploring (tickets cost 5 Omani rial, or £10; nm.gov.om).

The other must-see in Muscat is the lavish Royal Opera House (rohmuscat.org.om). Built at the Sultan’s own expense, this mountain of white marble is filled with gold leaf, teak wood and intricate decorations, and if you’re there in theatre season, it’s surprisingly cheap to get a ticket, with seats starting from 3 Omani rial (around £6).

Dalmaniyat Islands off Muscat, Oman (Vicky Jessop)
Dalmaniyat Islands off Muscat, Oman (Vicky Jessop)

Sick of the city? Then spend your second day on a trip out to the Dalmaniyat Islands. Located about forty minutes off the coast, these tiny red-stone islands are home to some gorgeous coral reefs, which make them the perfect place to spot blacktip reef sharks, whale sharks and green turtles. Half-day trips leave in the morning and afternoon (the morning offers better weather) and can be booked via your hotel or tour operators such as Silent Sands Oman (silentsandsoman.com). Prices vary, but expect to pay around £80 — the same applies for trips to Wadi Shab and Bimmah Sinkhole, which features gorgeous walks, oases and plenty of swimming on the city’s outskirts.

Where to eat

Muscat is the metropolitan heart of Oman, and as such, there’s plenty of good food to find — if you know where to look.

For breakfast, a trip to the trendy urban hotspot of Al Mouj is a must. Initially built as an expat neighbourhood, it’s now home to a tiny marina, flanked by cafes and dessert shops that service top-notch meals and snacks. Head to Mani’s (almouj.com) for an Arabic breakfast and watch the boats come in.

Breakfast is one thing, but for lunch or dinner there’s no better place to go than Bait Al-Luban (baitalluban.om). Located in a gorgeous old stone building on Mutrah’s seafront, Bait Al-Luban is a sea of brightly-woven cushions, low tables and windows that look out onto the azure ocean. The food isn’t half-bad, either: once, this place was the home to the Sultan’s ex-chef, and while they have gone, the cuisine is still just as good — think dishes of Qabouli Laham, aka slow-cooked lamb in rice, fragrant Saloonat Dijaj (chicken curry) and to finish it all off, delicate dumplings of Luqaimat, soaked in condensed milk and date syrup.

The Beach Restaurant at the Chedi Muscat (The Chedi Muscat)
The Beach Restaurant at the Chedi Muscat (The Chedi Muscat)

If you’re here for longer, then make time to visit Rozna (roznaoman.om). Located in a traditional Omani mud house (though this mud house is more of a palace), their biryanis are especially good. But for those in the mood to eat like a local (and like a king), then follow your nose to The Beach Restaurant at the Chedi (ghmhotels.com).

Frequented by Omanis as much as by tourists, this restaurant is located right next to the beach and serves fish fresh from the sea, any which way — though, if we had to pick, the prawns with trofie and cuttlefish salad are the stuff of dreams. Be warned: tables get booked up fast during the winter months, so make sure to reserve well ahead. Pick a table next to the ocean and enjoy a glass of wine as the sun goes down over the ocean. Bliss.

Where to stay

The long pool at the Chedi Muscat (The Chedi Muscat)
The long pool at the Chedi Muscat (The Chedi Muscat)

Top of the list for weary travellers (or simply those looking for some R&R) has to be The Chedi. Opened in 2003, it still feels strikingly modern: stand-alone white villas are dotted around acres of green lawns, long sea grass sways in the wind, and white stone walkways give onto tranquil ponds, while the fragrance of frankincense is everywhere. Entering the massive foyer (which is decorated like the inside of a Bedouin tent, complete with hundreds of lanterns) is like a window into another world.

It’s kryptonite for stressed professionals: there is no way to stay here and not feel more zen upon leaving. Maybe that’s due to the three huge swimming pools built for lounging by, or the excellent spa with sea views (which is currently advertising a Chedi Glow relaxation package; our recommendation would be one of the cupping massages), or perhaps it’s the food, courtesy of the hotel’s three excellent restaurants (the Friday brunch is famous around Muscat). The only caveat is that the WiFi can be a tad ropey — but hey, maybe it’s a good excuse to unplug. For maximum tranquillity, a Deluxe Club Suite is the way to go, but rates start from £213 at peak season (ghmhotels.com).

That said, if you fancy staying slightly closer to the action, then W Hotel in Muscat’s city centre is a good bet (rooms from £171; marriott.com). More contemporary in style, the hotel is ideal for more party-focussed travellers — their WET venue, for instance, lets guests enjoy a dip in the pool while DJ beats reign overhead.

And heading further out of the city, Al Bustan Palace offers views of both the mountains and the sea (rooms from £148; ritzcarlton.com). A 45-minute drive from the airport, this tranquil beachside location is unbelievably opulent. As is the newer Jumeirah Hotel, which is located in Muscat Bay and marries a chic layout with an emphasis on ‘adventurous wellbeing’. Head here for kayak tours, mountain hikes and open-water swimming opportunities (rooms from £209; jumeirah.com).

When to visit

The sea off the coast of Muscat (Sevenseastravel / Pixabay)
The sea off the coast of Muscat (Sevenseastravel / Pixabay)

Temperatures in the Omani summer can reach up to 50 degrees, so visiting between May and September isn’t recommended. Head instead between December and April, when visitors can sunbathe and explore at a relatively balmy 23-25 degrees. This being Oman, there’s sun all year round: no need to worry about avoiding the rainy season.

How to get there

Flights leave daily from London Heathrow and take about seven hours each way; Oman Air flies direct and return prices start from £668. If you don’t mind a stop off in Doha, airlines like Emirates will get you there in nine hours from £570.