In 2018, Forbes nominated Oman as the best place to travel in the Middle East. I could not agree more after my trip – the place is surreal! Compare to its neighboring countries, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, you haven’t heard much about Oman. Probably because not that many tourists come here, but this is also one of the reasons why I love this country. After my experiences in Qatar and the U.A.E, I expected Oman to be very similar, because it is also a country rich in oil. One thing I noticed when visiting other Gulf countries was that, most of the people you meet on the streets, shops and restaurants are either expats or tourists. But this is not the case in Oman. Here you actually get to come across the locals and interact with them, and Omani people are incredible welcoming and friendly. They have a modern way of thinking and most of them speak English. Oman is an extremely well developed country and has been voted to be one of the cleanest and safest countries in the world.
What to do in Oman
Muscat is unlike most capital cities that I have been to. Instead of tall skyscrapers, new buildings have no more than 5 floors and built with an original Arabic look, which makes the the city really charming. I stayed at the Radisson Blue in the city center near many good restaurants, especially the seafood here is mouthwatering! The area felt quite local and there is a fresh fish market every night, where local omanis just sit on the street and hangout.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Number 1 thing to do in Muscat is to visit the beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It’s not as old as the Blue mosque in Istanbul or big as the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi, but it’s marvelous in its own way. The architecture is amazing and every single detail on the site is incredible. Just as any other mosques, you have to dress appropriate and women must cover their hair, but there are scarves and dresses you can borrow at the entrance.
Royal Opera House
Another beautiful attraction in Muscat is the Royal Opera House. Again, the architecture is amazing and it’s probably the cleanest attraction that I have ever been to. Everything is almost sparkling in the bright sun. The architecture is a mix of a traditional 16th century Italian opera house and contemporary Omani style. I didn’t go inside the Opera House, but you can book a visit to go inside as well.
Where to eat in Muscat
In Muscat you can find everything from Shake Shack to local Omani cuisine. In shopping malls and 5-star hotels, you will find fine dining and international chains like Shake Shack, Paul, PinkBerry, Wagamama etc. If you want to taste the local cuisine, you can head down to the city center where you will find plenty of Arabic restaurants.
Breakfast at Roselle
I found this cute breakfast place in the Oman Avenues Mall. It’s called Roselle and everything on the menu is totally instagrammable. I had a rose latte, açaí bowl and bread roll.
Lunch at Kargeen
Well hidden in an expat neighborhood, this place feels like an oasis in the city. It’s also quite popular among bloggers and influencers. Kargeen is a must place to go for lunch or dinner. You will find western and local omani food on the menu.
Local dinner at Turkish House Restaurant
A few minutes walk from the Radisson Blu hotel, I found this high rated restaurant serving fresh seafood and Arabic grilled meat. It is quite local and prices are cheaper than other international restaurants, and the food was so good that I went here twice!
Day trip to Nizwa
Nizwa is about 1,5-hour drive from Muscat and the drive is extremely scenic. You will drive through the mountains and smaller cities. It was interesting to see other sides of Oman, and how local people live. If you are lucky, you will even spot a few wild camels on the way. The main attraction is the majestic Nizwa Fort built in 1650s. The fort is the most visited national monument in Oman, but it didn’t seem like it when I visited it. It was quite empty and peaceful to walk around the site.
Exploring Wadi Shab & Bimmah Sinkhole
The drive from Muscat to Bimmah Sinkhole is around two hours and Wadi Shab is located 20 minutes further ahead. So rationally, I went to Bimmah Sinkhole first and was there right at the opening time. However this was a mistake as the sun is not shining right down the sinkhole at 8:00 AM. Looking down the sinkhole it all looked dark and not very appealing, so I decided to drive to Wadi Shab and visit it again on the way home.
Wadi Shab (meaning gorge between the cliff) is THE thing to do in Oman! It’s quite the adventure going from the parking lot to the emerald green water pool at Wadi Shab. First you pay 1 OMR to cross the river with a boat, the trip only take 2 minutes, then you have to hike 1 hour to the water pool. First part is flat and quite easy. Then you must go through (sometimes climb) the rocks and continue for about 40 minutes. I definitely recommend to go in the morning since it is very hot! Even though the canyons will provide you with some shade during the hike, but you will also be exposed to a lot of sun. It’s quite a hike and there are no signs, so you just have to continue straight until you reach the water pool. But it is definitely worth the effort and time! I saw some elders doing it and it seemed like they struggled a bit.
After hiking for 1 hour in the sun, you will finally arrive to the water pool and the water is so refreshing – it is almost glittering. You can swim through the cave and reach a waterfall, but I didn’t do it as I’m not the best swimmer. You can easily spend 2-3 hours here (remember snacks and water!).
On the way home I stopped by the Sinkhole again. It’s was much nicer, but more like a stop and not a destination.
Spending a night in the Oman desert – Wahiba Sands
Since I saw an Instagram post about the HUD HUD Camping site (also featured in this article), I dreamed of going to the Oman desert and spend the night. But a night at the HUD HUD camp starts from €1.850,00 which is waaaay above my budget. So I took the second best – the Desert Night Camp and paid €250 for a deluxe tent suite. I highly recommend this accommodation as the surroundings are beautiful and the camp site has everything you could possible think of in the desert. I arrived at 15 o’clock and was picked up at a nearby gas station since it’s located in the middle of the desert. I was so happy with my tent and it really felt like a 5-star accommodation. For sunset, the staff drove me to the top of the sand dunes for coffee and tea. This is the best time to take pictures as the lighting is perfect!
Staying a night in the Wahiba Sands has been one of the best experiences so far! It’s an amazing experience to walk around the camp site under the stars during night time and see camels walking freely around.
I was in Oman for 8 days and felt that I experienced most things. However, I feel there is more to see and do such as exploring the Jabal Akhdar Mountains and Salalah, which can easily be mistaken for the Garden of Eden. If you want to experience the latter, I would say 14-16 days would be perfect!
You definitely need a car in Oman to visit the different places as there is no public transportation. I didn’t have a car the first few days in Muscat, and it was a bit expensive with taxi. Muscat is not a city where you can walk from one place to another, as everything is very spread out.
Price level: Moderate. I actually expected Oman to be more expensive like Qatar, but local food is very affordable. Accommodation and international restaurants are slightly expensive, but comparable to Western Europe.