Trip to Muscat, Oman

January 1st, 2013

I traveled to Oman nine years ago—a family trip that has become a blur to me. It was now time to go again. So, last week my husband and I traveled there, childfree and with fresh eyes. Four days and three nights. Just the two of us.  

Welcome to Muscat

The city of Muscat, capital of Oman, is so different from Dubai that it’s almost a shock to the system. First of all, it’s all stretched out along the coast of the Gulf of Oman—miles and miles of undeveloped beaches.  

And not a skyscraper in sight. Instead, you find a city of mostly white low buildings nestled between the sea and rugged mountains. Relaxing and pleasing to the eye, it feels like a kind of urban retreat.

Also, the city is not overrun with expatriate workers (like another city I know). Most of the people you meet in Oman—hotel clerks, shopkeepers, baristas, waiters—are actual Omani people.

Mutrah ~ The Port of Muscat

This is my favorite part of Muscat. Mutrah is the capital’s main port area, yet it feels more like a fishing village with its fish market, souk, sidewalk cafés and a corniche. In short, this picturesque area is an ideal place to stroll.


Old merchant homes line the waterfront. 

The Souk

Tucked behind the sidewalk cafés along the corniche is the Mutrah Souk. Authentic and lively, the souk is a traditional Middle Eastern market.

This shop sells bags of frankincense, alongside other “beauty items.” 

It addition to the usual Arabian and Indian bric-a-brac, you can also find some interesting artifacts, as well as Omani hats, chests and jewelry.


Beaches, Beaches Everywhere

I was amazed by the wide-open beaches, such as this one in Qurm.

This beach is a long strip with only a small shopping area and a few stand-alone cafés, like this Starbucks. If this were in another city I know, the area would be overdeveloped with steel skyscrapers, luxury hotels and a mall. 

I try to seek out a Starbucks in every country I visit. I realize this may be weird or even offensive to some, but for me, it’s a little piece of Seattle. I like to see if they carry the Pike Place Blend. (They did.) This particular Starbucks was especially nice. The outside seating provided a perfectly unobstructed view of the beach across the street.


Due to the aesthetic requirements of the city, structures are whitewashed or sand-colored and a limited number of floors high. Also, it seems every structure has some arabesque element—arches or domes or lattice. This gives the city a unique character, as well as a whimsical and unified look. Even though Muscat has a population of one million, it feels more like a small town in places. 

These contemporary-styled white villas have beach views and seem to be typical high-end homes.  

Oman is known for its forts. Much of the architecture is fort-like with thick walls and huge arches. All over Muscat are moutains like these. 

Muscat, Tidy and Charming

The city is surprisingly tidy and clean (almost spotless) with colorful flowers all over.  This roundabout features a replica of a dhow that traveled from Oman to China in the 8th century—and not a single nail used to build it.  

All around the city are sculptures of fish, a tribute to the Omani fishing heritage.

Oman 101

If you are thinking of traveling to Oman, take note that Oman is a peaceful and stable country with low crime. An Arab and Muslim country, Oman is predominately Arabic-speaking with English as a second language. In my short visit, I found the Omani people to be gracious and friendly.

The ruler of Oman is Sultan Qaboos. The leader since 1970, Sultan Qaboos is known for easing the country into modernity by investing heavily in education and by developing a well-trained local work force. 

Getting There

Our flight was through Emirates Airline, Dubai to Muscat, exactly one hour at 2:00 in the afternoon—what a civilized time to fly!

Turns out we misread. Our flight was actually at 2:00 in the morning, and we missed it.

So we drove.

Everyone says it takes five hours to get to Muscat. However, it took us seven hours each way. We had to stop for lunch and coffee (Starbucks, naturally). Also, there was a lot of construction on the road; it appears Oman is converting their roundabouts into flyover bridges, which will  eventually improve things.

But for now, it was slow going. Coming back from Muscat seemed especially long. When we neared the city and I saw the Dubai skyline—the row of steel and glass skyscrapers, punctuated with the Burj Khalifa, I breathed a sigh of relief. Back to civilization.

Next post: Where we stayed: Al Bustan Palace

Question: What are your impressions of Oman?

  1. Lainey
    January 1st, 2013 at 22:06 | #1

    Great photography as usual.
    Happy to hear you and Sami got some alone time for your birthday.
    We loved Oman as well.
    I only regret we didn’t see more of it.
    Happy new year, Holly.
    Blessings in 2013.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      January 2nd, 2013 at 00:46 | #2

      Happy New Year to you, too, Lainey. Thank you for stopping by. 🙂

  2. January 1st, 2013 at 22:20 | #3

    I visited Muscat when I was a teenager (in the 90s) and it was also nearly spotless.

    But have been to other cities later such as Shnas and Sohar.
    I like their laid back lifestyle. It teaches you to relax a little.

    Happy New Year Holly!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      January 2nd, 2013 at 00:48 | #4

      Thank you for reading, La Mere Culinaire. We stopped in Sohar on the way back & ate lunch at Sohar Beach Hotel. So quaint–a world away from Dubai!

  3. Jeannie Neely
    January 1st, 2013 at 22:57 | #5

    How I wished, after reading your great and charming description, that I had gotten to Oman. Marlin was able to go and enjoy it, and was also charmed. What good writing, as usual, Holly. I so enjoy your blog!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      January 2nd, 2013 at 00:50 | #6

      Thank you for reading and for the kind words, Jeannie. Yes, I’m sure you would love Oman. 🙂

  4. January 2nd, 2013 at 00:57 | #7

    Sounds like a good break from the hustle and bustle of the city life 🙂 Happy New Year Holly!

  5. January 2nd, 2013 at 00:58 | #8

    Gorgeous photos, Holly. Makes me want to go there. Looks to be even drier than Boise too!!

  6. Francine Soltani
    January 2nd, 2013 at 08:27 | #9

    I always wanted to go there, but now I’m even sorrier that I didn’t get the opportunity. Could you please go to Rome, Athens, Madrid, and a few other places I didn’t get to visit and blog about it? Then I can visit vicariously through you! haha

  7. Natalie
    January 4th, 2013 at 02:10 | #10

    OMG, we totally hunt down Starbucks as well, ever since our honeymoon in New Orleans when we saw one in the Garden District. Fabulous. I too love Oman. It’s so…real, after Dubai. I adore the UAE, of course, but the people of Oman are another breed entirely and a breath of fresh air in so many ways. Happy new year to you!

  8. January 5th, 2013 at 15:44 | #11

    I agree with you – Muscat is delightful. Our weekend there last year was one of the best trips we made 2012. The Oman people are so gracious and the food wonderful. We got an unexpected tour of the city when I, as navigator, misread the expressway exit and we traveled clear around the city. Nothing lost, everything gained as we saw parts of the city I am sure we would have missed. Only disappointment was we were unable to go see the Opera House. Glad you got a great weekend away with your husband!

  9. Barbara Scott
    January 5th, 2013 at 20:40 | #12

    I just came across your recipe for knafeh … and your request to recount stories about eating or making it. In 1998 I spent a few months in Amman teaching teachers and their government tutors. Whenever we were invites to a meal we picked up pastries at a local pastry shop. The men in the shop became so accustomed to seeing us that they began to feed us huge amounts of knafeh … it was delicious … and so rich we would arrive for dinner with distended bellies and be unable to do justice to the meals we were served. Like many of the experiences we had in Jordan and Syria, this one taught a great deal about the generosity and hospitality of the Arabic world.

    Oh … by the way … I think I will attempt to find my knafeh at the Middle East store I frequent in Ottawa rather than attempting it in my own kitchen … but thank you for reminding me of my time in Jordan and Syria.


  10. Zvezdana
    January 10th, 2013 at 09:08 | #13

    Love your descriptions and photos. They brought Oman to life through your “fresh” perspective. I am happy you had such a beautiful break with your husband. Precious:)

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 6th, 2013 at 17:09 | #14

      Thanks, Zvezdana, for reading & for your comment. It reminds me that I need to travel more!

  11. January 17th, 2013 at 10:09 | #15

    Such wonderful pictures – makes me quite keen to stop in on our next trip to the Middle East! I can imagine how wonderful it must have been to go, just you and your husband, somewhere so beautiful for a few days.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 6th, 2013 at 17:05 | #16

      Yasmeen, thanks for reading & commenting.
      I think that many visitors combine Oman and UAE into one trip. I think that’s a great idea because the two places are so different–even though they are both Arab countries & neighbors. I hope to visit all the Arab countries–just to see the similarities & differences. (And to eat the food, of course!) Holly

  12. January 24th, 2013 at 22:01 | #17

    So pleased to stumble upon your blog. Such a treat!!
    I am currently in Oman in a town bordering Al Ain. You’d be surprised to know that Muscat is considered a hustling-bustling, noisy and crowded city in Oman with Oman’s 1/3rd population living there. Surprised?!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 6th, 2013 at 16:49 | #18

      Hi Fizz!
      Thanks for stopping by. I’m sure if one lived in a town like Sohar on the Omani coast or in one of the smaller towns around there, then Muscat would seems like a loud, bustling city. It’s all relative! For me, everywhere seems quiet compared to Dubai, where life is buzzing well into the night. I will have a hard time adjusting to a new place after this…. However, a quiet town has its perks, too! 😉

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