Things to do in Muscat

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I always like a window seat on my flight to any destination as I believe I can make my first impression of the destination I am visiting. So on my maiden visit to Muscat, I did ensure the same and as the flight lowered into the city limits, I was greeted by the magnificent Al Hajar mountains with a beige and brown facade that seemed to extend into miles. Soon after, I saw a vast expanse of desert and in quick succession a lovely beach. And when we were landing I noticed a valley. So in a matter of a few minutes, I had basically seen everything. Naturally I was thrilled and knew that Oman’s capital Muscat had many secrets up its sleeve. In fact the city reveals so many shades as you look around that you will need to come back and explore it again. Unlike its glitzy neighbours, Muscat has a skyline that is white and beige with no high rises. Sultan Qaboos the monarch of this country is again largely responsible for much of the beauty, culture, heritage and tolerance that is unmistakable. However if you have limited time on hand make sure that you do not miss these attractions.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

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The cream- beige structure has four minarets and a 50metre high gold dome and is set amidst beautiful gardens and lawns. From the outside, it is hard not to be smitten by the colourful bougainvilleas that play perfect foil to the pastel facade of the mosque.  Usually mosques are closed to non-Muslims but this one is an exception. Men and women are required to be fully clothed covering their hands and legs and women need to also cover their head and follow the list of rules documented on the outside! There are two halls one for women and one for men. I first went to the women’s hall and ornate wooden doors here are a marvel. However it is the men’s prayer hall that is magical and takes your breath away. Ornate with a 14 metre chandelier that has 600000 Swarovski crystals and 24 carat gold plating and a single hand woven carpet said to be among the largest in the world, you will be left at a loss for words here. However it is beautifully embellished walls and central structure that has colourful mosaic designs that takes the cake as far as the architecture here is concerned. The mosque is open from 8:00 am to 11:00 am for non-Muslims every day except Friday and there are no charges to see the same. After the tour you can also pick up books for free if you want to at the interpretation center.

Corniche

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The corniche in Muscat is a beautiful promenade that overlooks the Sultan Qaboos Port east of the waterfront and is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. It stretches for three kilometres and has gardens and fountains alongside the stretch. A fish market at one end is where the catch of the day is unloaded. This is where you will see kids enjoying an ice cream, women relaxing after shopping and some men jogging too. You can see the blue hued Al-Lawati Mosque and Muttrah Souq on one side and the Sultan’s private cruise line and traditional sailing boats here. As you walk along the waterfront you can see a line of sculptures as well like one I noticed with some dolphins and waves in sand stone. There are some restaurants on the other side where you can sample some local food and enjoy lovely views of the water along with the cool breeze which will make this a pleasant way to spend the evening too. Also if you are here in the evening you can catch a magnificent sunset and actually see the water changing colour – a truly lovely sight!

Amouage Perfume factory

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Located close to the Muscat airport, the Amouage Perfume factory welcomes you with a whiff of fragrance – quite literally. This is an establishment that has been around for about 35 years and is easily one of the best perfumes that the country has to offer. The reason for that is simple. The factory only uses natural flowers in all their perfumes that give it well a lovely fragrance! This is a niche luxury fragrance house that is well known for its finely crafted fragrances using natural and best quality ingredients. At the factory you have a guide to show you around the process and photography is not allowed. Starting with ingredients (the flowers), the distilling and filtering process to capture the essential oils and bottling and final packaging – the entire process is shown behind a glass case where the workers are doing their job. Naturally the brand has found much favour among discerning clients, royals and global leaders apart from celebrities. The factory also has a store where you can buy the perfumes – you just need deep pockets! The store also retails a line of exclusive leather bags and purses. The visiting hours are Sunday to Thursday between 8.30 am and 4.30 pm.

Royal Opera House

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The Royal Opera House is Muscat’s premier venue for musical arts and culture and opened in 2011. The impressive opera house was built in contemporary Omani style and has a capacity of 1100 people. It is the first of its kind in the world to feature the Radio Marconi multimedia interactive display seatback system, Mode23 that gives the audience an unrivalled operatic experience. The iconic opera house has hosted performances from some of the world’s leading classical artists such as Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Andre Bocelli. The opera house complex also houses a concert theatre, formal landscaped gardens, auditorium, luxury restaurants and an art centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions. Watching a performance here where world class operas and musicians perform round the year is a privilege. Several acclaimed Indian artists like flautist Pt. Chaurasia, vocalist Pandit Jasraj and sitar star Niladri Kumar among others have graced many evenings presenting a musical treat for the audience. The Royal Opera House is closed on Friday.

Muttrah Souk

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If you like to shop at local markets, head to the Muttrah Souq, which is the oldest Souk in Muscat. Housed in a heritage building, I was quite amazed to see the ornate wooden ceilings, stained glass details and a coloured chandelier on the roof. As soon as you enter the souq, you will be greeted by the heady scent of frankincense and this is the best place to pick up all your souvenirs and gifts. Navigating through the narrow passages, you will discover a charming world of frankincense, bukhoor, old silver khanjars, Bedu jewellery and myrrh. You will need to have your bargaining skills handy when you shop here and since there are a large number of stores that sell similar stuff, it is a wise idea to do a quick recce and then decide on what you want to buy. Apart from the usual souvenirs like magnets, this is also the place to buy real silver jewellery. The jewellery however is sold by weight and there is little scope for bargaining there. However there are some shops that sell local spices that is an interesting buy. A shop selling Omani Halwa is another good place to stop by. The souq is closed between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

The National Museum

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The museum is spread over a whopping 13700 square metres and gives you a good insight into the history of Oman and is a fitting tribute to its rich cultural heritage. Apart from the 14 galleries, there is a space earmarked for exhibitions that keep changing with time. The museum is a great place to understand the history of Oman through its people – their costumes and jewellery. Also the maritime history gallery showcases the trade route and tradition of dhow (boat) making. The Arms and Armour Gallery will take you through the different kinds of arms and weapons that were used through the ages. The Civilisation in the Making Gallery is what I found most interesting as through its six sections you get some great insights into the history of architecture including its forts and palaces. I also found the Aflaj Gallery most interesting for its award winning water management systems still seen in parts of the country. If you like coins, the currency gallery has an impressive display of coins. As you navigate the galleries, you get a good idea of the rich culture of the city and the well laid out plan makes this a visit worth your time.

This story appeared in Happytrips.com here.

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