Exploring Oman – Muscat and beyond

Oman probably isn’t the first location you think of when you are planning a trip away but after spending three days here I realised just how underrated this country is as a travel destination. The Middle East doesn’t always receive great press either – it’s the centre of many turbulent disturbances, controversial wars and unequal women’s rights. The latter probably deters many Western women from visiting, but our hosts were quick to inform us that Oman has been a pioneer in the Gulf when it comes to this sensitive subject.

View from top of nizwa fort Outside Grand Mosque

The country is run by the respected Sultan of Oman is Qaboos bin Said Al Said – and since the start of his leadership, he’s spent a lot of money developing his country, which included personally funding the building of the Grand Mosque and the Royal Theatre. He is passionate about not imitating Dubai and Qatar and risking his country’s identity by building seas of towering skyscrapers – all the buildings have a tasteful balance of Islamic and Omani style.

As a result the land has remained relatively underdeveloped and is also beautifully diverse – a rarity in the Middle East – and ranges from sprawling deserts and mountain ranges to vast areas of greenery. It’s not short on activities on offer either – Oman offers an excellent range of activities including boating, fishing, diving and messing around in the desert!

Making the most of Muscat

Grand Mosque Oman

Two of the most impressive buildings in Muscat are the Grand Mosque and the Royal Theatre. The Grand Mosque in particular really stands out (but if you are a non-Muslim make sure you check when you are allowed to visit). It’s a beautifully ornate building which took six years and four months to build and the huge chandeliers hanging in the mosque are worth the visit alone. The Royal Theatre is another important attraction and since opening in 2011 a host of Arabian and International artists have treaded its boards. Some of the operas only cost from 2 OMR per person as it’s the Sultan’s aim for the theatre to be as accessible to the general public as possible.

Suset on the water


Oman Sail is another stand out place. It’s the home of the Oman sailing team who will compete in the Asian Games this year and it’s also where young Omani children come to master this nautical art. Here you can arrange a tour on a catamaran and during our trip we ventured out on a scenic sunset cruise overseen by charismatic Abdullah, our skipper (who even skilfully caught a fish for our evening meal).

Nizwa Souq


Whilst Nizwa’s fort is the town’s main attraction, I personally think the souk shouldn’t be missed. The souk has been split into different areas including a ‘dates souq’ and a ‘cattle souq’. The latter is only open on a Friday and this is the time people come to buy cows, goats and other livestock. Although it’s the spice market with its wonderful array of colours and potent aromas which is the most attractive part of the market.

Mutrah Souq

Muscat Souq

Our final stop on the Muscat bus tour was to the impressive Mutrah Souq on the Mutrah Corniche. It is a traditional covered Arabian market full of treasures and as soon as you walk in you are instantly hit with the smell of frankincense and other potent – but pleasant – aromas. As you head down the winding lanes you find stalls selling lots of different kinds of textiles, gold and some interesting antique shops. As in any Arabian souk you’re expected to haggle, but unless you’re accompanied by a local you’re unlikely to get a price as low as you want!

Venturing further

Abdulla looking over grand canyon 2_Snapseed

sunset near grand canyon

If you’re going to make the most of the diverse landscapes you’ll need to venture outside the capital. Your first stop should be the impressive Grand Canyon – a place reached by a long windy road trip either by a 4×4 self-drive or by an organized tour. Once there the views are truly incredible – especially at sunset when you see the brown rocks transform to a wonderful rusty red colour.

photo 4_Snapseed

Perched on the edge of the canyon is the extraordinary and aptly named ‘The View’ which is a collective of Eco-pods that overlook the town of Jebel Shams and the Grand Canyon. The pods have a full glass fronts and balconies and if you opt for a Premium Pod, you can even sit in the bath while you enjoy your view!

Overall Oman is a beautifully diverse and fascinating travel destination – a culturally rich country with a healthy dose of Middle Eastern exoticism thrown in for good measure. I was delighted to have discovered this underrated country.

Getting Around

We explored the city via the Big Bus tour (for an adult it is 22 OMR and 54 OMR for a family) which takes you around the city. Like most good tours it is a hop-on and hop-off service and provides commentary as it journeys around the city’s highlights. (1 OMR = 1.59 GBP).

Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland and the UK but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and has also just started his own blog called Bars and Spas. As well as Rome he also counts Melbourne and Tel Aviv among his favourite places and now permanently resides in Dublin. Follow Scott on Google+ and Twitter


  • Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren

    21 October, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Ooooo, I love these pictures! Especially the first one. Definitely putting Oman on my travel list now. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Happy travels 🙂

  • Ryan Biddulph

    20 October, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Scott,

    Any country ruled by a sultan is WAY cool in my book. Your photos are stunning! We’re doing the Middle East but just for a layover; hanging in Kuwait while we wait to fly back to NYC. Should be neat, even in the airport, because you get a feel for a nation and region just about anywhere in the country. Looking forward to do Oman too.

    Thanks! Tweeting from Fiji.


  • Miriam of Adventurous Miriam

    20 October, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Oops, pressed enter too fast 🙂 These are incredible photos! Oman looks so diverse and cultural. I’d love to visit some day.

  • Marina from MadeinMoments.com

    20 October, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    It’s a relief to hear that this amazing place is a pioneer in Middle Eastern women’s rights. I think if I were to go to the Middle East, this would probably be my first pick, just judging by this post.

    • Scott Balaam

      21 October, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      I am so pleased you liked the piece.

      It was very clear that women played an important role and personally I felt they were classed as equals.

      It seems a very progressive country whilst sticking with traditions.

  • Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    20 October, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Oman looks incredible – I love that they’re making a conscious effort to avoid immitating the skyscraper appearance of Dubai and trying to keep the influence of Islamic architecture in the buildings. I’d love to visit one day and glad to hear that they’re trying to ensure it is a safe and welcoming environment for female travellers.

    • Scott Balaam

      21 October, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      I felt that if I was looking for winter sun or wanted to take a trip to the Middle East then Oman would be the perfect option. It has so much to offer – I would quite happily move there!

    • Scott Balaam

      21 October, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      The markets were incredible and not too pushy and no grabbing at your arms like there are in some countries.

      Sadly it wasn’t the cattle market day when we were there but it’s on every Friday (Holy day) – it would’ve been interesting to see.

  • Tiana in Florence

    17 October, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    What a trip, amazing how many different worlds exist. I’ve only been to Egypt, but am interested in exploring more of the Middle East.

    • Scott Balaam

      21 October, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      I would love to go to Egypt – their history is really fascinating.

      I’ve been to Dubai, Qatar and Oman and my favourite so far is the latter.

      Oman was a lot of fun – I just wish I had stayed longer

  • Chris w/ Wall and Wall Attorneys at law

    17 October, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Your pictures are beautiful! Oman is definitely a place I want to be able to visit one day. Thanks for sharing your experience, it made me that much more interested!


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