Muscat is a shy, respectful grand dame, who shows a different side of her character each time you visit.
The old city of Muscat has been the country's capital since 1793, and it is still the palaces, souqs and museums detailing the rich history, that draw thousands of tourists.
But in terms of modern development, Muscat’s crown jewels include the Opera House and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, along with a growing handful of modern, luxury hotels, which are supplying the increasing demand from Western tourists.
Muscat means “place of anchorage”. It is one of the few natural harbours in Oman, and so the watery docks are a great place to start any tour of the city. Here are some highlights:
· A great day out starts at the fish market on the Corniche, which offers the hustle and bustle of a traditional market. Then visit the Bait al Baranda museum for a historical perspective, and return to the Corniche, where you can walk all the way to Al Alam Palace, which is the ceremonial palace of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Visit the Mutrah souq in the evening.
· Visit the rambling streets of the souq at Mutrah in the evening, and spend time talking to the shopkeepers, who offer wonderful insight into life in Muscat. From beautiful Syrian marquetry boxes to traditional Omani silver khanjars and to pure silk pashminas from Kashmir, you can travel the globe just by walking through the souq. Take in the sounds and smells as well as the sights. Breath in the incense, listen to the music. Although becoming more and more geared towards entertaining tourists, it’s still one of the best souqs I’ve been to.
· If you’d like to do some walking, you can trek from Riyam to Mutrah (path C38) along a historic path that used to serve as the only way to get to Muscat other than by sea. There are some great views over the Gulf of Oman, but remember that the sun sets very quickly so don’t leave too late in the day as the route is quite remote. The walk takes around three hours, depending on whether you have young children with you.
· Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: A modern beauty with carved stone archways, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets and five minarets representing the five pillars of Islam, the mosque was opened in 2001.
Partly due to modernisation, but partly due to her rich tapestry of proud heritage and history, the city can be visited time and time again and each visit will leave you with contrasting memories.