Time Out Melbourne

Adventure, relaxation and Arab history await in Muscat

There's plenty of things to see and do in Muscat, Oman. Some great places to eat and drink. We've found a place for you to stay, worked out how to get there. Read on!

See and do

The rise of Emirates and other Gulf carriers over the last decade has put the Middle East firmly on the map for travellers. Journeyers flying to Europe on Emirates are frequently stopping over in the region, and not just for a night or two in Dubai, a city of manmade islands and freakishly tall skyscrapers. Muscat doesn’t have the glitz or the glamour of Dubai, but instead a range of back-to-nature and historical experiences.

The capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat is reputed as the friendliest and safest city of the Middle East, and one that puts good hospitality before luxury. Here, it’s about relaxing over partying and adventure over shopping.

Leading the adventure path is scuba diving and rock climbing. Operators in Muscat offer diving courses and dives for the qualified, particularly night dives and wreck dives. For climbers, Oman features rugged mountains that rise to around 3,000 metres.

Back in the water, Oman is also a great destination for turtle watching, especially around the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Junayz, and the island of Masirah, where turtles will come to lay their eggs.

Oman is renowned for its antique silver and the best place to find good quality affordable pieces is at one of the many souks in both Muscat and Salalah in the south. Frankincense, which was once more prized than gold, permeates the air throughout the Sultanate.

Muscat’s architectural wonders include the enormous Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – up to 20,000 of the devout worship here at once, and its musalla (prayer room) contains the world’s largest hand-woven carpet. It’s open to non-Muslim visitors but remember to wear appropriate clothing (no shorts for men, while women should be well covered, including a headscarf). Don’t miss seeing the 16th-century Al Jalali Fort, built on an outcrop on Muscat Bay; and the City Gate to Old Muscat.

Located in a historic building on Muttrah seafront, the new Bait Al Baranda museum traces the story of Muscat from over 100 million years ago to the present day through interactive exhibits. The National Museum charts the history of the last five Al Said Sultans of Oman. It also has a collection of silver jewellery, ladies’ national dress, household items, model dhows and guns.

Last but not least, camel racing is a popular sport to watch in Oman, so try and catch a race if you get the chance.

Eat and drink

Those with a love for Moroccan or Arabian food will enjoy Muscat’s eclectic food scene. Four of the best traditional-style eating houses are Left Bank Bar, Kargeen Caffe, Turkish House and Ubhar Restaurant. At the Chedi hotel (+968 2452 4400), book a table at the city’s top fine diner, the Restaurant.

Over at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa (+968 2477 6666), you’ll find restaurants including Shahrazad, which serves up contemporary Moroccan cuisine, and Sultanah, a luxury cruise-themed dining house. For a late lunch hit Bait Al Bahr at the beach where the focus is on traditional Omani seafood. The Piano Lounge features views over the Gulf of Oman and a good wine list; while for a nightcap, make sure you swing by the Long Bar, serving signature and classic cocktails until 2am.

Where to stay

Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa features three hotels, 20 restaurants and bars, recreational facilities and a day spa spread out over 125,000 acres alongside the 500-metre-long Lazy River (+968 2477 6666).

Getting there

Emirates flies daily from Melbourne to Muscat via Dubai. Emirates has just introduced a new widescreen 'ICE' system offering 1,200 channels of movies, TV, audio and games, along with SMS and email. The airline is also launching Airbus A380 superjumbo services from Melbourne to Dubai in October.

Fellow Middle East airline Etihad Airways flies daily from Melbourne to Muscat via Dubai and guests can expect hours of entertainment on demand, high quality food and a good selection of drinks.

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Updated on 25 Mar 2014.

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