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This coastal country has been blessed with breathtaking natural views ranging from vast turquoise oceans to cocoa brown mountaintops, and is the home to many legends, ancient structures and ultra-modern architecture. We explore 10 must see attractions, sites and sights in Oman, from Muscat to Nizwa and from Sur to Majlis Al Jinn.
This market could not ooze more culture and charm. One of the oldest markets in the Arab world because of Oman’s rich trade history, the souq is filled with various stalls and shops, some of which are hidden away in dark lanes beautifully lit by antique lights, making the architecture of the souk one of its prominent features. One part of the souq is called Souq Al-Tha’laam, which in Arabic means ‘Market of Darkness’, ironic, considering how busy and colorful it is inside.
Almost anything can be found here, from handmade jewelery from Nepal, Afghan war hats to British coins and compasses (some of which are said to be from the Second World War). Pure Omani frankincense perfumes made from natural oils such as jasmine and rose scents and Omani khanjars (the infamous handmade dagger that is found on the national flag) are among the national treasures commonly sold at the market’s numerous stalls.
Nizwa is one of the largest cities in the Ad Dakhiliyah (interior) region of Oman and is also the former capital. Nizwa breathes culture and history, as one of the oldest cities in Oman, it has so many different historical sites and ancient forts to explore and see. Not to mention that every Friday there is the colorful livestock market, which is an experience everyone should get a taste of. Nizwa Fort is a historical and cultural experience not to be missed as one of the largest forts in the country, and home to a museum, various exhibitions and a beautifully furnished rooms.
Built in 1675 AD, Jabrin Castle is said to be one of the most picturesque castles in the whole of the Sultanate. Built by Imam Bil’arab Bin Sultan of the Ya’ruba dynasty who is believed to have been a lover of the arts and poetry, and whose father is well known for ousting the Portuguese from the country. Bil’arab was known for his strong admiration for poets and scholars, which can be readily seen in the picturesque castle with different etchings and decorations. Ancient paintings, Koranic verses and even some quotes and lines of poetry can still be admired on the walls.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since the 1990s, the beautifully built Bahla Fort is one cultural site that must be seen and experienced. Now open to visitors, the historic fort was built around 3000 BC when Bahla was a prosperous oasis open to trade and visitors from around the region. Inside the fort visitors can see the areas where the traditional souqs were, the different alleys, houses and chambers, all representative of traditional Omani architecture.
Located within the Jebel Bani Jabir in the Al Sahrqiya region of Oman is an impressive site made up of three deep shafts, one of which leads to the infamous Majlis Al Jinn chambers, or the second largest cave in the world. This huge underground cave is large enough to hold a large building and more. Up until recently it was quite difficult to reach the cave by car, so curious visitors had to hike or take donkeys to a nearby village to get there. The Arabic term ‘jinn’ which makes up part of the cave’s name, can be translated into English as ‘spirits’, making it all sound very eerie; but this is fascinating site that should not be missed. It is, however, the meeting place of spirits according to local legends.
The city of Sur is a coastal and ancient port town that is around 300 km away from Muscat. Sur was actually one of the regions occupied by the Portuguese back in the 16th century. This historic port played a crucial role in the trade relations between the Sultanate of Oman India, Africa and East Asia, in addition to it being known as a great shipbuilding town. The port saw many different kinds of products at its peak, such as luscious fabrics, spices and even certain gems and stones. Sur today has many different kind of sites to visit, including forts, a turtle beach and a turtle reserve, in addition to the Maritime Museum and the old shipyards.
Although it cannot be considered as a historical landmark, having opened only in 2011, the Royal Opera House in Muscat is definitely a prominent arts and culture venue. The Sultan of Oman Qabous Bin Said has always been fond of the arts and classical music. Being one of its kind in the whole region, the institution hosts different shows and artists from all over the world. Plácido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli and Yo Yo Ma are just some of the names that performed at the exquisite location. The opera’s remarkable architecture is a fusion of contemporary architecture with historical Omani architectural styles and is a must-see design attraction when visiting Muscat.
This radiant place of worship is a stunning masterpiece of architecture, design and spirituality. Made out of tonnes of Indian sandstone, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful architectural landmarks of the whole region, built before any of the other grand mosques. The courtyard has verses from the Koran etched onto the walls, while the mosque as a whole reveals Islamic art from all angles. The main hall is covered in dark grey and white marble decorated with Islamic art features such as geometric and leafy patterns.
The construction of the mosque took six years. The prayer carpet inside the mosque, which was handmade in Iran, itself took four years to complete and is said to be the second-largest single Persian carpet in the world, made up of up to 20 colors in different shades, all hued using natural dyes. Another interesting feature to see is the chandelier above the prayer hall, which was crafted in Germany and is said to be the second-largest chandelier in the world.
Qalhat is said to be Oman’s first capital and was once upon a time a great, prosperous city, trade hub and old port. It played an important role in the 14th and 15th centuries for the Kingdom of Hormuz and was an important stop on the Indian Ocean trade network.
Today, hardly anything remains of the great city of Qalhat except for one landmark, the tomb of Bibi Maryam, also known as the Mausoleum of Lady Maryam. Legend says that the tomb of Bibi Maryam was built by the King of Hormuz Bahauddin Ayez, or that her tomb is a site of a mosque that Lady Maryam built for herself, as her final resting place. At the peak of Qalhat’s glory, this tomb must have been a stunning, mystical place. Some people claim that just being around the tomb gives them a strange, mysterious feeling that makes them stare at the structure in awe.
Bait Al Zubair translates to ‘House of Al Zubair.’ Formerly a home, the site is now a private museum funded by its founders, the Zubair family. Opening its doors to visitors in 1998, the museum has an exquisite display of Omani artefacts dating back centuries. The museum offers various exhibitions running throughout the year and showcases great displays, with a mix of different cultural and historic artefacts such as old cannons, jewelery and artwork, all of which tell the history of Oman and the ties it had with the different civilizations around the world, from China, India and Persia to Ancient Rome and Greece. The museum also has a well-stocked library, and a falaj, which is an ancient water irrigation system that still plays an important role in Oman and its agriculture around the country.