Muscat, the capital city of Oman, lies on the Gulf of Oman and is an understated breath of fresh air with a stunning setting. It lies between a beautiful coastline and the spectacular Hajar Mountains, which together provide a pleasing holiday contrast between city life and outdoor activities. Within the town, a rich heritage, vibrant souks and restaurants serving superb freshly caught fish and seafood are made even more enticing by the famously warm Omani welcome you're sure to receive in the city. Owing to its history, the city has grown from the merging of three smaller districts into a large town that now spreads out along the bay: the original walled city was the site of the royal palaces, Matrah was a small fishing village (where you'll now find the bustling Matrah Souq) and the town of Ruwi became the diplomatic and commercial heart of the city. Muscat has been a trading port since the 14th century and has at times been under Portuguese rule. It became the capital of Oman in 1793 and remained a walled and isolated place until the 1970s.
A stroll or drive around the streets of Muscat is a good way to introduce yourself to the delights of the city, taking in its palatial modern architecture that seems to blend the best of art deco with Moorish influences. Test your bartering skills in the colourful souks, keeping your eye out for local ceramics, jewellery and beautifully soft llama-wool shawls and pashminas while the camel-themed items you'll see everywhere make quirky souvenirs and gifts. Museums, galleries and mosques await you while taking a boat ride in the Bay of Oman provides a welcome breeze and some relief from the heat along with the opportunity to spot the cavorting spinner dolphins that make their home here.
The Omani are warm and welcoming and like nothing better than getting together with friends, family and visitors at the annual social events that fill the city's calendar as well as during its religious and public holidays. National Day and Renaissance Day celebrate the country and city's history while other events span traditional dance and music as well as firework festivals. Sporting events range from camel racing to charity marathons and a grand cycling tour.
Things to Do
History lovers will want to check out the gold-domed mosques and city museums where collections run from science and weaponry to culture and heritage or why not try something a little out of the ordinary with a visit to the Amouage perfume factory with its intriguing exhibition centre? Amouage perfume is considered to be the most valuable in the world. If the outdoor life and adventure call you then Muscat is the perfect base for scuba diving, safari jeeps into the desert, camel riding and horseback trekking.
The real jewel of Muscat
Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos has invested much of his wealth into the beautiful buildings of Muscat, not least being the gleaming Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It shines from the tip of its four minarets and gold dome right down to the white marble floors. Inside are luxurious Persian carpets and staggeringly huge chandeliers. Remember to cover your arms and legs when visiting the mosque, and women should also cover their hair.
Saving the turtles
The Muscat-Omani Aquarium and Marine Science Centre has something for the whole family as well as being a place of conservation, particularly for the endangered Greenback Turtle. Its exhibits celebrate the marine life of Oman's 3,000-mile-long coastline.
A day at the beach
When it's time to hit the beach and indulge in some sunbathing, swimming or water sports then head to the local's favourite spot, Qurum Beach. With its long stretches of golden sand, it has plenty of room for everyone.
A calm oasis of peace
It's worth taking a day out from your city sightseeing to visit the magnificent
Nakhal Fort. Dating from pre-Islamic times, it is believed that parts of it are more than 1,500 years old. Even better, it is surrounded by the picture-perfect palm-lined oasis of Nakhal.
A fish lover's paradise
Muscat is a city of fish and seafood lovers. No surprise when fresh catches arrive in the markets and restaurants every day. Be sure to try kingfish curry, where strong-flavoured fish is cooked gently in a coconut and turmeric broth, or dine simply on grilled fish in restaurants while you admire the luxury yachts in the marina.
Calendar of Events
Whatever time of year you visit Muscat you will find something to enjoy in the city's annual calendar of festivals, events and national holidays. Enjoy classical music and opera as well as a pleasing combination of Osmani and French musical heritage. Or, indulge yourself to the full in the colourful world of traditional folklore, legend and magic along with the breath-taking antics of the country's leading acrobats.
The Muscat Festival. This colourful festival is held every January and February and is a perfect celebration of the country's myths and legends told through music and dancing.
Fete de la Musique. Organised by the French Embassy this annual event takes place in the city in June and brings French and Omani music together -- since 1976 it has been a pleasing contrast of two cultures. Although this event takes place around the world, Oman makes great efforts to promote its own young and talented musicians.
National Day. This is celebrated on the 18th November and commemorates Oman's independence from Portugal back in 1650. The following day is Sultan Qaboos Bin Said's birthday, an excuse to stretch the extravagant celebrations of fireworks, music and camel racing over two days.
The Royal Opera Season: Although not a festival as such, Summer sees the start of the Royal Opera Season in Muscat, an important date in the city's cultural calendar. The beautiful Royal Opera House hosts international performances of ballet, classical music and, of course, opera.