Muscat

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat (Arabic: مسقط) has been inhabited since at least 1000 BCE and for centuries was an important trading port on the Maritime Silk Road. Today it is the the capital of the Sultanate of Oman and its most important and populous city (at 1.2 million). It is home to a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, and receives the largest number of foreign visitors to the country.

Understand

Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the rugged Western Hajar Mountains, the city referred to as Muscat is in fact several smaller towns which have grown together over time. These include old Muscat (also known as the 'walled city'), site of the royal palace; Mutrah (also spelled Matrah or Matruh), once a fishing village and home to the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq; and Ruwi, which is the commercial and diplomatic quarter of the city. The metropolitan area covers 3,500km, and this tripartite division can be inconvenient for the visitor especially as much accommodation is located a fair distance from sights of interest.

Unlike other cities in the Gulf, notably in the UAE and Qatar, Muscat does not have an ultramodern skyline. Following the preferences of the Sultan, modern construction is required to adhere to traditional Arabic architectural styles, resulting in a more low-key urban landscape.

Get in

By plane

Oman Air at Muscat International Airport
Airport Amouage perfume shop

Muscat International Airport (IATA: MCT, ICAO: OOMS), also called Seeb International Airport (tel. +968 24 519223 or 519456) is located 37 km west of Mutrah. A new terminal is being completed in 2014 and will have a capacity of 12 million passengers per year. The number of airlines flying to Muscat increases each year, although the Omani sale of their part of Gulf Air has meant a temporary decrease in passengers.

Taxis from and to the airport should cost between 6 OMR (Golden Tulip, near the airport) and 12 OMR (Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Al Bustan). Taxis can be booked at the Taxi Counter (tel. +968 24518780 or 24518781, email: taxi@omanairports.com). Make sure you agree the fare with the driver before commencing your journey. Fares should be agreed before commencing the journey and may be pre-paid at the Muscat International Airport Taxi Counter. There are ATM machines inside the terminal just prior to exiting on the left side of the doors.

Public buses, run by the Oman National Transport Company, stop on Sultan Qaboos Highway outside of the Airport. If you wish to catch public buses, you will have to walk the short distance to the bus stops on the Highway.

By bus

By car

You can reach Muscat by road from the United Arab Emirates. The journey takes about 5h by crossing the border in Hatta/Al Ain.

You can drive from Al Ghaydah in Yemen. The journey is about 6 hours via the border crossing at Sarfeit to Salalah and then another 10 hours to Muscat.

Get around

By taxi

Route taxi, or 'maxi taxi'
Standard taxi

Maxi taxis (minibuses, known throughout the expat community as baisa buses) ply the highway from Seeb to the Corniche area. The charge is OMR0.100 (100 Bzs) from the Corniche area to the church roundabout and another 100 Bzs from the church round about to Wadi Adai.

On arrival at the airport, situated approximately 40km from the main Muscat CBD, you can get a baisa bus down the main highway in either direction.

The (mostly orange and white) taxis are a bit pricier, and they hang around the hotels where they get juicy fares from unwary travellers. They will charge OMR8 for an airport trip if you don't haggle, but you should be able to agree OMR5. They always say they will give you "good price", but it's best to figure out what you want to spend then agree before you get in.

The Maxi Taxis ply the main routes through town, and they go where they want so you might have to find one going your direction. Once you are on one, they will make sure you get there. The place to wait for them is on the on-ramps of most of the main highway junctions, when you'll usually see a few people waiting around for one. A journey within the Muscat area should not cost more than OMR0.300 each, but if you look like an experienced traveller and hand them OMR0.200 then you can usually get away with that.

By car

For visitors staying in Muscat for longer than a day, renting a car provides the most flexibility and is far more economical than using taxis, as one taxi ride from Ghubrah to Muscat and back will cost about the same as hiring a car for one day. A 2WD is fine to see the sights within and around Muscat, but if you're planning to explore wadis and mountains you'll need a 4WD.

Road signs in Muscat can be confusing, and motorway exits are not always clearly marked. Compared with elsewhere in the Gulf (e.g. Dubai and Doha) Muscat drivers are reasonably disciplined, but visitors from outside the region may find the local driving style erratic. For a gentler introduction into Muscat traffic it may be easier to take a taxi (or hotel-provided shuttle) from the airport, and arrange for a rental car through your accommodation – rates are usually the same as if not better than at the airport.

Most local and international rental agencies have offices at the airport. An international driver's permit is theoretically required to rent a car, but usually agents will request only your national licence. All car hires include mandatory insurance. The cheapest car hire is about OMR15 per day for a 2WD economy car with manual transmission and sometimes no air-conditioning; for a 4WD, expect to pay double that amount.

See

Muscat

Detailed map
Muscat Gate Museum

Mutrah

Detailed map
Fish market in Mutrah
Portuguese watchtower near Mutrah Souq

Formerly a fishing village, Mutrah is known primarily for its extensive souq and waterfront corniche. Mutrah harbor is also where the Sultan's royal yacht is docked.

Ruwi and Qantab

Detailed map
Detailed map
Ruwi skyline

Ruwi is Muscat's primary commercial district, as well as the gateway to Qantab south of the city.

Al Ghubrah, Al Khuwair, Al Qurm, and Bawshar

Detailed map
Detailed map
Dome of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque with Swarovski crystal chandelier
Qurm National Park

As an alternative to the main CBD of Muscat, Mutrah, and Ruwi, there are plenty of places to go to and things to see along the main highway that heads northwest out of the CBD. This main road, the Sultan Qaboos Highway, goes past many areas on its way out to the airport and further still to Seeb, Sohar and eventually the northernmost tip of Oman. Heading along this road you pass the districts of Al Qurm (Qurum), Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, Al Khuwair, Bausher, Al-Hail and Seeb. Each one has a number of sights and places to stay.

There is also a very long beach road from Al Qurm to Seeb, some 50 km. Situated along this are some of the large international hotel chains but, more importantly, you discover the true beauty of the Oman coast-line: kilometres of beaches, fishermen with drag nets and open space to walk for hours.

Do

The Royal Opera House Muscat

Festivals and cultural events

Outdoor activities

View of Mutrah harbor from trekking path C38
Along the coast of Bandar Jissah, near the Oman Dive Center

Trekking

There is some outstanding trekking in northern Oman, and for a taste there are a couple of easy treks within or very close to Muscat.

Diving

Sea turtle near the Oman Dive Center

Mountain biking

With many excellent trails nearby, Muscat has a fast-growing mountain bike community. Bike Oman organizes weekly mountain bike excursions on Thursday, most of which begin within a 20-45 min. drive from Muscat. During the summer they organize weekly night time rides, usually on Mondays.

Beaches

Qurum Public Beach

On private beaches (i.e. those attached to hotels) western swimwear is acceptable. On public beaches, however, visitors should be mindful of Omani conservative norms. Women are advised to stick with one-piece suits, and men should opt for longer swimming shorts (not speedos); keep shoulders and knees covered unless you are actually on the beach. Women may find a parasol helpful to hide from prying eyes.

Beaches with a sign 'Family Beach' are closed to single or bachelor men.

Bird watching

There are some good areas for avian enthusiasts, within and around the city.

Buy

Mutrah Souq
Antique sextant for sale in Mutrah Souq
Silver ceremonial daggers for sale in Mutrah Souq

Malls

Hypermarkets

Tailors

There are numerous Indian-run tailors. An Italian-style suits typically costs 5 OMR.

Money Changers

Eat

Budget

Omani food is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine, and is generally centered on richly-seasoned chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as rice.
A traditional meal of lamb, compressed wheat sticky pancake, and sweet bread pudding at Bin Ateeq Restaurant

Food is relatively cheap in Muscat, a meal can cost just a couple of rials. For inexpensive Indian food, there are many restaurants catering to Indian guest workers in Al Khuwayr. In Mutrah you can walk down the waterfront in the Corniche area to catch a cool sea breeze, and treat yourself to some sandwiches and Halib (tea with milk) or Sulaimani (black tea) at one of the wayside restaurants. A cup of tea costs about OMR0.050.

Mid-range

Splurge

Brunch buffet at Al Khiran Restaurant (Al Bustan Palace Hotel)

Grocery stores

Drink

Every road, street corner or little collection houses, huts or businesses has a 'Coffee-Shop' - basic but worth a go. Fresh fruit juices are delicious and available from a number of stalls and cafes in Muscat. Expect to pay between RO 0.500 and 1.500 for these juices depending on type and size.

Lounges

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Al Bustan Palace Hotel
Grand Hyatt interior

Muscat offers a considerable range of luxury hotels, including those listed below.

Stay healthy

It is advisable to drink bottled water while in Muscat. Oman Oasis, Tanuf, Arwa, Salsabeel and Aquafina are the most recognisable brands of mineral water and is available in most convenience shops. "Masafi" and "Darbat" are also brands at reasonable prices - RO 1 for 12*1.5 litre. Tap water is generally not safe, and so use bottled water.

Connect

Omantel offers pre-paid Hayyak SIM cards and top-up cards, which can be purchased at mobile phone shops and hypermarkets. Also available are pre-paid Jibreen Cards, good on both mobile and landlines, in denominations of OMR5 and OMR1.5. An OMR5 card gets you 11 minutes of talk time.

Skype is blocked in Oman, and can only be accessed through a VPN. Other VoIP services have been blocked in the past; currently Google Talk, Viber, FaceTime and MSN Messenger are all accessible.

The calling card Global One does not work in Muscat. Although the Global One website lists the rates for calls from Oman there are no numbers listed alongside. The nearest Global One help line is in Dubai.

Free Wi-Fi is available in several public parks, including Qurm National Park, Naseem Garden, Al Amerat Park, and Wadi Kabir. For access, visitors are routed to an Omantel landing page requesting a mobile number, to which a password will be sent; customers are limited to 1.5 hrs/day. Costa Coffee also offers free connection in five locations: Qurm City Centre, Muscat City Centre, MQ, Bareeq al Shatti, and Oasis Mall.

Omantel Ibhar hotspots are scattered throughout Muscat, mainly in coffeeshops, restaurants, and shopping malls. Pre-paid Ibhar cards are available at any Omantel counter or at the hotspot location.

Cope

Emergency number (ambulance, fire and police) is 9999.

ATMs

ATMs are very common now, especially in the Embassy district and near most shopping malls, larger hotels, petrol stations and supermarkets. Also, every little neighbourhood has a several bank branches.

Bank Muscat is by far the largest bank in Oman and one of the largest in Gulf. It has over 230 ATMs all around Muscat.

Gyms

There are some very good gymnasiums in the 4 to 5 star hotels and some privately run gyms in other places like Millennium Gym, Horizon Gym etc. You may pay money for that extra with the number of days you stay in Muscat.

Hospitals

Laundry

Laundry charges 4-star hotel are high. Prices are much lower at any of the numerous Indian run laundries, although clothes left on a Monday typically won't be ready until Wednesday.

Newspapers

Embassies

Tourist information

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.