Guide to Muscat, the Capital of Oman

muscat guide capital oman

Located at the centre of an ancient trade route, Muscat, the capital of Oman, has a long and storied history which has seen the city ruled by a number of occupiers, including the Persian, Arab, and Ottoman empires.

Modern Muscat stretches around 70 kilometres along the northern coast of Oman and is actually composed of several smaller cities without a clear center. As the city is quite extensive and it is possible to walk for miles without encountering the main attractions, it is important to know where they are and plan how to get there in advance.

It is also important to investigate the best time to visit Muscat in order to avoid the high temperatures and humidity which can affect the city in the summer months. As the heat can continue to be stifling during late spring and autumn, tourism to Muscat is at its most popular during the winter, when temperatures are the most pleasant.

What Is Muscat Famous for?

One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Muscat, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, is located in the center of the metropolitan new city close to the Wadi river. The rest of the majority of historic attractions are located around 25 kilometres away across the city in Old Muscat:

  • Grand Mosque – Commissioned by Sultan Qaboos in 1992 and completed in May 2001, the Grand Mosque was built using 300,000 tonnes of sandstone and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. The most striking features are the 50-meter high central dome and 90-meter tall main minaret, and the mosque also contains a 70 x 60m hand-weaved Persian carpet, one of the largest in the world.
  • Al Alam Palace – One of 6 royal residences of ruling monarch Sultan Qaboos, the Al Alam places dates back over 200 years and is renowned for its elegant blue-and-gold facade. Although the public is not permitted inside the grounds, the front gates are a popular spot for visitors to take a striking photo souvenir.
  • Bait Al Zubair – A privately-owned museum which boasts a large collection of historic Omani artefacts and also hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary international art. The cosmopolitan cafe and the full-scale traditional Omani village outside are both popular spots for tourists to visit.
  • Royal Opera House MuscatOman’s premier venue for musical arts and culture, the Muscat Opera House has hosted some of the most famous names in international opera and ballet. Built by the same architects as the Grand Mosque, the building is worth visiting if only for the elegant arabesque design.
  • Al Jalali Fort – Standing guard to the entrance of Muscat harbour, this historic fort was built on Arab foundations during the Portuguese occupation in the 1580s. Located at the top of a flight of steep steps, the fort now hosts a private museum of Omani culture as well as occasional military parades complete with spectacular fireworks.
  • National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman – Opened in 2016, the National Museum contains a range of exhibits which chart the heritage of Oman from the earliest human settlements over the following 2 million years. The impressive features include a range of prehistoric artefacts, 43 digital exhibits, and an HD cinema.

When choosing accomodation in Muscat, it is a good idea to try to make bookings close to the majority of attractions, in the Old City. There is a range of affordable accommodation within Old Muscat itself, while the Ruwi district nearby also offers good hotel and hostel options for budget travelers.

Travelers looking for a little more luxury in their accomodation could consider staying in the Qurum district, popular with expats and western tourists. Close to Qurum beach, considered the best in the city, and Qurum National Park, it is also located roughly midway between Old Muscat and the attractions of the new city, including the Grand Mosque.

Is Muscat Safe for Tourists?

Foreign travel advice for Oman states that Muscat is very safe for tourists to visit in general. The crime rate in Oman is low compared to many western countries, and most visits to Muscat are trouble-free.

Nevertheless, travelers to Muscat are advised to avoid any large demonstrations if they arise, and leave expensive valuables at home or in a secure place when exploring in the rare case of pickpockets. Tourists should also avoid walking in sparsely populated and poorly-lit areas at night, and only use officially licensed taxis.

Visitors to the city should also be aware that road traffic conditions in Muscat can be a little chaotic, with right of way rarely given to pedestrians at zebra crossings. Therefore, tourists are advised to consider taking a taxi or public transport to cover distances in the city, rather than walking along Muscat’s busy highways.

Do I Need a Visa to Visit Muscat?

Before visiting Muscat, foreign citizens should check Oman visa requirements to see whether or not they require a visa to travel to the country. There are only a few nationalities who do not require a visa to visit Oman, citizens of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

Some foreign citizens are required to apply for a visa from an Omani embassy or consulate in advance. However, a number of nationalities are now able to apply for an Oman online visa to travel to Muscat, which is available as either a single or multiple-entry visa and permits a stay of up to 30 days for purposes of tourism.

Eligible applicants can complete the Oman eVisa application in a matter of minutes to receive a tourist visa to travel to Muscat sent via email. Travelers are then able to present a copy of the approved eVisa at Omani border control to gain access to the country and the capital city.

What Should I Wear in Muscat?

Before visiting Muscat, travelers should first familiarize themselves with the Oman dress code for foreigners. The dress code for both men and women is quite strict within Oman, although most locals in Muscat are generally friendly and accepting and won’t judge tourists too strictly for their attire.

Nevertheless, there are some basic dress code rules that tourists should follow while in Muscat:

  • Although shorts may be acceptable in some situations, men are generally expected to wear long-sleeved tops and pants. If visiting during the hot season, linen clothing can be a good option.
  • Women are expected to have their arms and shoulders covered at all times, and dresses and skirts are expected to cover the knees at least. Pants are a good option,  and women may wish to carry a shawl to cover their hair in conservative areas
  • Swimming shorts are generally acceptable for men, but some beaches may have signs asking male bathers to cover up
  • Although some swimming spots are not as strict with female swimwear, women are generally expected to swim in a t-shirt and shorts covering the knees.

If visiting a religious building such as the Grand Mosque in Muscat city center, it is important to wear loose clothing covering arms and legs. Men should completely avoid wearing shorts while inside, and all women and girls over the age of 7 are expected to cover their hair. Many mosques, including Sultan Qaboos, hire out full-length dresses and scarves for a small fee at the entrance.