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Wedged between the Al Hajar mountains and the Arabic Gulf coast, Oman’s capital is an Arabic city which retains its old world charm – a rarity among the ritzy, high-rise cities of the modern-day Middle East.
Unfazed by keeping up with their flashier neighbours in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Omanis are known to be a laid-back lot who greet travellers with open arms. This relaxed but traditional atmosphere is what makes Muscat special – it’s a place where biblical history meets the 21st century. A sea of domed roofs and white buildings sparkle in the sunshine, the heady smell of frankincense lingering down narrow alleyways a reminder of the city’s rich religious heritage, while forward-thinking citizens make it a cosmopolitan metropolis which is both materially and culturally rich thanks to a thriving port.
Buy fresh fish at the bustling harbour, venture into the desert or grab an ice-cold drink and hit the beach to watch locals play football as the sun goes down. Everything a contemporary traveller could wish for, Muscat really is the Arabian dream.
When to go?
Summer is scorching and so best avoided. Head there between November and February when temperatures are in the high 20s.
Most likely to bump into…
Hagglers, bartering for goods in the colourful and vibrant souks.
Who to bring with you?
Someone with a taste for the exotic.
There is something magical about the desert, known as ‘The Empty Quarter’. The wind whips up the sand causing it to spin and twirl in the sunlight, while the dunes are carved into waves, creating a dramatic horizon. Also great for all the adrenaline junkies, ‘dune bashing’ is certainly a way to get the heart pounding.
The intricate mosaic works at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – a stunning example of modern Arabic architecture and the only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims.
Muttrah Souk, a vibrant labyrinth of chaos. Test your bartering skills on ceramics, jewellery, spices and a sizeable selection of camel-themed souvenirs.
Visit the Bedouin tribespeople, Arabic nomads who shun modern existence. Watch traditional camel racing or, even better, a camel beauty competition.
Stroll along the beach at night and see the waters glow as a result of luminescent algae.
An essential to bring with you
The desert heat means light, loose-fitting clothing is a must. A scarf is also a necessity – despite Oman’s religious tolerance you must cover your head in order to enter the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
How to get there
There are direct flights to Muscat from London with Oman Air and British Airways.
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