When cruising around the Middle East, there’s every chance you’ll find yourself in Oman’s historic capital, Muscat. Offering a winning blend of beautiful beaches, fascinating history and attractive architecture, it’s not difficult to see why the city is such a popular port of call for many Middle East cruises.
Muscat can trace its history as a community back to the sixth century BC and as an important trading port back to the first century and has been in the hands of a number tribes, as well as foreign powers and empires such as the Portuguese and the Persians, over the centuries. It was once a significant regional military power and its influence could at one time be felt as far away as Zanzibar and East Africa. Tribal conflicts continued into the 20th century and it was only after Qaboos bin Said, assisted by the British, took the sultanship after a bloodless coup in 1970 that the conflicts settled down and Oman began to truly develop as an economic power, the city of Muscat playing an important role in role in its growth.
Probably Oman’s single most popular cultural architectural attraction is its splendid Royal Opera House. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the building is that it’s only a few years old, but manages to capture the spirit of ancient Arabia perfectly, at the same time offering modern amenities and some fabulous acoustics, which help to make the performances even more special. Located in an old fort, the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum is another vistors’ favourite, offering a fascinating and informative look at Oman’s military history and its long association with the British Armed Forces. Modern art may not be the first thing which springs to mind when you think of the Middle East, but Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art is another of Muscat’s most popular draws, laid out in the thoroughly original style of a 1960’s house, with the exhibits organised around it’s occupants’ lives, each room consisting of a different theme. The Oman Oil and Gas Exhibition Centre meanwhile, is the place to head down if you want the historical low-down on what is traditionally the Middle East’s biggest economic export.
Beaches and nature
Fancy a palm-shaded picnic on a picture-postcard beach? The beauty of Muscat is that, along with its cultural appeal, it offers visitors the chance to do just that. Qurum Beach is the place to go for a relaxing oceanview and laid-back ambience and with plenty of picnic areas, restaurants and a low tide, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll. Qantab Beach is often seen as the people’s favourite when it comes to beaches in Muscat, so it’s naturally a little busier. You can watch the local fishermen at work, book a short coast cruise or simply sit back and soak up the rays. If you find yourself with time to travel a little way out of Muscat and if lush greenery is more your thing than sandy beaches, then be sure to head to Wadi Al Arbeieen, a beautiful leafy oasis in Muscat’s surrounding mountains which is purely breathtaking sight and a must-do experience for all nature lovers.
If you find yourself in need of a real hard-core shopping session, then Muscat’s city centre offers the broadest range of stores and a world-class retail experience. Everything from clothes to state-of-the-art electronic goods is available and you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to which top name store to visit next. If you need to take a load off mid-shop, there’s no shortage of restaurants and cafes either. If you’re in search of a more traditional Middle Eastern bartering experience however, then be sure to head over to Mattrah Souq, where all manner of handicrafts, jewellery, fabrics and trinkets are available. It’s a bustling hive of activity, though not so big that you’ll struggle to find your way around.
By Simon Brotherton