The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Oman
On the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has picturesque desert landscapes, incredible mountain ranges, historic forts and stunning beaches. This exotic and intriguing country is warm all year round and ready for exploring.
Oman's capital city is home to forts, palaces, museums and markets. The Islamic architecture is reason enough for this city to be one of the top places to visit in Oman.
Head to the harbour for amazing views of the impressive Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace. Standing guard over the palace are the twin forts of Al Jalali and Al Mirani which have been converted to museums and are open to the public.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is truly majestic. It's a stunning modern mosque with space for 20,000 worshippers. The extravagant main prayer hall has patterned white and grey marble wall panels, a spectacular crystal chandelier and the second largest Persian rug in the world.
For the best concerts, go to The Royal Opera House as it's the leading arts and culture centre in the Sultanate of Oman. Another stunning building, you can stay for dinner and enjoy the landscaped gardens.
Muttrah is one of the most well-known districts in the capital and a walk around the town is a visual adventure through Omani culture and heritage. Muttrah Souq is an authentic Arabian market. Bring cash and be ready to haggle and you could take home traditional Omani items such as dishdashas (men's clothing), khanjars (curved daggers) and frankincense. Or you can choose a fluffy camel and genie lamp instead. And before sunset, join the locals for a stroll along the Mutrah Corniche where white buildings and mosques are backed by rocky mountains and forts that glow golden in the late afternoon light.
In the Dhofar region in southern Oman, Salalah is considered the country's second city to Muscat. It is the ancestral home to the Sultan Qaboos, the reigning sultan in Oman since 1970, and you can see the incredible Qaboos Palace. During the Khareef (monsoon) season from June to August, the coastal region around Salalah is transformed into a green oasis with seasonal waterfalls and streams.
Older architecture can be seen in the Old Town, known as the Haffa, or older still at the Al Baleed Archaeological Site. Dhofar has its own history, traditions and culture and Salalah is known for its frankincense trade. You can buy some of the aromatic resin at the souq in the Haffa.
SANDS OF RUB' AL KHALI
The Rub’ Al Khali desert is located in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula in the Dhofar region. Known in English as The Empty Quarter, it is shared by four countries: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. It is the largest continuous sand desert in the world, covered by iconic golden-orange sand dunes which explains why you might recognise the area as it has become a popular film location. Those dunes can reach around 250 metres (820 ft) high so are spectacular to see.
As you would expect, the rainfall here is very limited (less than 3 cm/1.2 in each year) but there are Bedouin people who welcome visitors to share stories about Oman, its culture and life in the desert.
AL-KHALUF / SUGAR DUNES
Al-Khaluf is a traditional fisherman village with pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear water with millions of pink shells. It's also near to the Sugar Dunes (Ras Bin Tawt) desert with untouched white sand dunes only accessible with a 4X4. One for the more adventurous visitor but well worth it as it's incredibly beautiful.
A day trip from Muscat, Wahiba Sands is where the Bedu people live and the desert dunes stretch for miles. There are tours so you can experience the traditional nomadic way of life with camel rides and desert camping. You can also come by 4X4 and go dune bashing as it's wildly exhilarating to careen down copper-coloured sand dunes with an expert local driver.
Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the most stunning wadis in the Al Sharqiyah region and one of the most famous wadis in Oman. It is a stunning oasis in the desert with crystal clear green water surrounded by date palms and rugged mountains. The wadi has a constant flow of water all year round and the pools are huge so perfect for a refreshing swim in the desert heat. Family-friendly and accessible by car, visiting Wadi Bani Khalid can be a relaxing stop after an early morning turtle-watching in Ras Al Jinz.
While Wadi Bani Khalid is all about relaxation, Wadi Shab is about adventure. About a one-hour walk will get you to the first of the turquoise water pools but take the boat across the river, a hike followed by a swim through pools and caves and you can reach an amazing waterfall.
And for the best views from above, Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat is the highest dam of this man-made project and part of an 8 km long lake. It's monumental and definitely worth seeing.
BIMMAH SINKHOLE / SUR / RAS AL JINZ
About halfway between Muscat and Ras Al Jinz, it's worth stopping to see Bimmah Sinkhole. There are a lot of steps to reach the turquoise green pool but the cold water is refreshing for a welcome swim. Or just stand at the top and look down to take photos which is the preferred option for many visitors.
Sur is a port city so different from the endless desert. You’ll find long empty beaches, the picturesque fishing village of Al Ayjah and a dhow boat building yard.
Nearby, on the easternmost tip of Oman, is the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve where turtles are preserved and protected. Green turtles often visit Oman to lay their eggs and from May to October you can see turtle nests along the beach and even watch the baby turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean.
Another place to see turtles is Masirah Island, off the main coast of Oman. There's a small ferry to reach the island and just a few towns and villages there that mainly involve fishing. It is never crowded with people but you can see more than 30,000 turtles that appear annually in hatching season. As well as swimming in the sea, Masirah is good for exploring shipwrecks just off the coast.
Separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates, the northernmost point of Oman is the Musandam Peninsula. Known for being the Norway of the Middle East, the region has breathtaking fjords, desert mountains, blue waters and a variety of wildlife like nowhere else in the Arab Gulf. The Musandam Fjords offer spectacular mountainscape views and there are boat trips available to explore the coasts and peaks rising up from the water, as well as the dolphins.
Khasab is one of the four provinces in Musandam Governorate and it has one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. You can reach Musandam via a fast ferry boat connecting the region to Muscat.
Samail Castle is one of the most spectacular castles in Oman. Nestled amid a dramatic backdrop of mountains and date farms, it holds a position affording commanding views of the area. The military importance Samail town once had is still in evidence with the fortifications and watchtowers that litter the route to the castle. Sympathetic restoration means this castle is a fascinating place to visit.
In the sixth and seventh centuries, the city of Nizwa was the capital of Oman. Today, it is best known for its impressive 17th-century fort with its massive circular tower which you can climb for views of the mosque, souq, distant rocky mountains and the date palms that surround this oasis city. The fort also has some interesting defence mechanisms including honey traps and strategically-shaped windows for shooting approaching enemies. The fort is also a museum showcasing 17th-century life in Oman with a timeline of the area's history. You can also watch women doing handicrafts and baking bread over an open fire.
While in Nizwa you can also check out the souq as well as the Friday goat market in the city centre.
Just 40 km (25 miles) from Nizwa, the oasis city of Bahla has been a travellers' stopping point for centuries. The spectacular 13th-century Bahla Fort is the country's only UNESCO World Heritage Site listed fort. It reopened in 2012 after many years of restoration, and the dried mud brick walls stretch for nearly seven miles. The local tribe are craftsmen of pottery who earn their living by selling their handmade souvenirs at the local market.
Built at the beginning of the 18th century, towards the end of the reign of Al Yarubi tribe over Oman, Al Hazm Castle is one of the most magnificent in Oman. (Al Yarubi tribe is most known for removing the Portuguese from Oman.)
While Nizwa Fort was built to withstand gun attacks, Al Hazm Castle was constructed to withstand cannon attacks. The Castle is a square shape with two large cylindrical cannon towers on the north and south corners. It is a fortified structure and also a palace in which the Imam resided. Therefore, even though it was designed primarily for defence purposes, it has many artistic architectural elements. The castle also has a prison, mosque, religious classroom and tombs for the castle's founder and his son. Underneath the Castle, a falaj provides vital water to many date trees and other agriculture treasures in the area.
MISFAT AL ABRIYEEN
Many of the old villages in Oman have been abandoned but Misfat al Abriyeen is still inhabited and is one of the most picturesque in Oman. Perched high in Oman’s Jebel Shams mountains, there are traditional mud houses with palm frond roofs built on the mountains' solid rock foundations. There's a viewing platform near the entrance to the village as it rises around 1000 metres above sea level.
Named after the original inhabitants, the Al Abri tribe, it’s a maze-like village with narrow shaded passageways sloping down the mountainside. Many villagers rely on the agricultural terraces for their livelihood to grow bananas, pomegranates, papayas, mangoes and citrus trees. The mountain slopes are watered through an intricate falaj irrigation system that has been carved through the hard rock of the mountain.
Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in the country. Located within the magnificent Al Hajar Mountain range, it is believed that Jebel Shams is the first point on which the sun rises in Oman and that's how it got its name: the Mountain of Sun. It has two summits and is one of the best hiking tracks in Oman. If you have no fear of heights, the dramatic 'balcony walk' winds around the cliffs halfway up the rim of the canyon to the abandoned village of As Sab. It's worth it for the stunning views deep down into Wadi Ghul known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia.
Translated as Green Mountain, Jebel Akhdar is actually primarily limestone. But it is one of the highest points in Oman which means cooler temperatures. An easy day trip from Nizwa or Muscat, this is the perfect place for hiking which is a surprise in a desert country.
The area is protected and you can hike through beautiful terraces and even spot trees laden with fruit. The cool air is a relief and the views from the top of the villages surrounded by jagged peaks are spectacular.
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Written by Laura Porter - Travel writer for Frasers Hospitality