Oman is a land of mystery for many to discover. It is full of uncharted territory and whimsical places to explore like ancient souqs, masterful architectural feats, and stunning beaches to take a swim. The Arab nation also offers many traditional museums and parks to explore, as well as fine-dining to delight upon. Read on for 15 must-do activities while exploring the "Pearl of Arabia."
Marvel at The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is located in the center of Muscat, in the Bawshar wilayat (district). The mosque named after the late HM Sultan Qaboos was built in 2001 and can hold a total capacity of up to 20,000 worshipers. The stunning Islamic design and architecture is a feat to surely marvel upon. It houses a main prayer room with a central dome that rises 164 feet (50 meters) high. It also features a stunning crystal chandelier and the second-larget carpet in the world measuring 45,208 square feet (4,200 square meters). Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque every day, except Friday, from 8:30 until 11 a.m. which is Friday prayer time for locals. Visitors must dress conservatively, thus women covering hair and shoulders, and everyone will need to cover their knees.
Explore Jebel Akhdar
Jebel Akhdar, also coined as the Green Mountain, is a crown jewel of Oman. It is located around an hour outside of Nizwa. The mountain range is in the Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate and is known for its towering height of being close to 9,842 feet (3,000 meters) high and encompassing the Saiq Plateau. It is a part of the Al Hajar mountain range and composes not only lush green rice fields, but also plantations and rose gardens where locally sourced rose water is prepared. Tourists can only reach the mountaintop via 4X4 trucks, as the twisty turns and slopes can be quite dangerous.
Trek Through Wadi Shab
Wadi Shab is located around 1.5 hours from Muscat and 40 minutes from the popular beach town Sur. It is a stunning watering hole that tourists and locals alike visit to cool off during the high heat experienced in spring and summer. It features a huge sparkling blue pool of water and a hidden waterfall, surrounded by a gorge. Please note that in order to view the waterfall, you will need to do a bit of a hike of around 40 minutes and swim through two different pools of water.
View the Historic Nizwa Fort
Known as Oman’s most visited national monument, the Nizwa Fort dates back to the 17th century. It consists of a commanding tower and zig-zagging staircase, which was once used to protect the city from invasion. Next to the fort is Nizwa Castle, which once provided refuge to religious scholars and hosts a prayer room nearby. Special events are hosted at the fort and castle for holidays and local celebrations. The fort is available for tourists to visit daily.
Relax at Wadi Bani Khalid
The stunning Wadi Bani Khalid oasis is a sight to behold during a visit to Oman. The wadi (or valley) is situated in the Ash Sharqiyah region, about a 1.5-hour drive outside of Muscat. It is one of the most famous wadis in Oman due to its massive pools of water and springs for swimming, caves, and mountain backdrop. Wadi Bani Khalid also is home to stunning lush green plantations and several local villages.
Experience Mutrah Souq
Tourists, expats, and locals alike enjoy visiting the Mutrah Souq to shop. The traditional outdoor market is comprised of a host of conventional shops selling Omani goods, traditional clothes such as dishdashas, souvenirs, gold, and silver jewelry. Soak up scents of frankincense and perfumes as you stroll through the marketplace. Restaurants serving locally caught fish and Omani dishes line the nearby roads.
Climb to the Top of Jebel Shams
Jebel Shams ("Mountain of Sun" has been coined the Grand Canyon of Oman. The stunning mountain range is also part of the Al Hajar mountain range in the opposite direction of the nearby Green Mountain i.e. Jebel Akhdar. Mountain of Sun has a peak that's 9,967 feet (3,038 meters) high and is popular for those tourists and locals interested in hiking trails and enjoying the cooler temperatures found atop this spectacular mountain.
Surf and Birdwatch on Masirah Island
Masirah Island is Oman’s largest explorable island escape. It is located off the east coast of Oman directly in the Arabian Sea and consists of 12 villages scattered around the island. It can be reached by taking a one and half hour ferry ride from the Shannon Port, which is south of Wahiba Sands. It is chock full of sandy golden beaches with turquoise blue waters. It’s perfect for surfers and those who love bird-watching, as the island is inhibited by more than 300 species of birds. Additional activities include kite surfing and whale-watching.
Get Lost in Rub' al-Khali
Rub' al-Khali, or the Empty Quarter, is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. It is positioned in western Oman and also covers parts of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. The desert has an area of 250,966 square miles (650,000 square kilometers) and is covered with distinctive biodiversity. Adventure junkies will love exploring this desert landscape and zipping up and down the massive sand dunes in 4X4 trucks. You can also enjoy camping out on the dunes, taking a camel ride, and listening to tales from Bedouin people.
See the Turtles in Sur
Sur is a port city located along the eastern tip of Oman. Known for its maritime past it is where many traditional dhow boats, or wooden vessels, are produced. Just southeast of Sur is the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve, where endangered green turtles nest and nearly 20,000 turtles return each year to lay their eggs along the sandy beaches. Visitors can witness the small baby turtles hatching and then return back to the sea. The best time of day to view this incredible feat is in the early morning hours or in the evening after sunset.
Listen to Music at the Royal Opera House Muscat
The creation of the Royal Opera House Muscat was a feat that Sultan Qaboos was determined to see come to life in 2011. The impressive structure resembles a palace made of white stone and expats, locals and tourists alike surely feel like royalty upon entering the masterfully designed building. It is situated in Shatti Al Qurum beach area and is the cultural hub for musical arts, dance, and more. Greats have performed here including Branford Marsalis, Chick Korea, and numerous orchestras and performers from around the world.
Observe the Bimmah Sinkhole
Situated in the eastern part of Oman just before Sur near Tiwi is the compelling Bimmah Sinkhole inside of Hawiyat Najm Park. It is a natural swimming hole with a unique history. It was made when the limestone naturally eroded giving way to the now stunning natural pool of water. However, local legend has it that a meteorite hit the area, forming the pool. It is a famous attraction to spot in Oman due to its amazing rock formations surrounding the crisp blue waters.
Take a Dip at the Beaches
Oman offers an array of beautiful beaches for visitors to explore. If you are looking for a family-friendly beach just a bit outside of the capital city of Muscat, then the pristine blue Yiti beach is a great choice. It offers a small stretch of a sandy beach area that locals and visitors sometimes camp out at throughout the year. Additionally, Qurum beach inside of the Muscat city limits is home to a huge Starbucks and several cafes that are great for sipping tea or smoking shisa while overlooking the waves roaring up on the sandy shores.
Learn Salalahs Trading History at Museum of the Frankincense Land
The city of Salalah is home to the Museum of the Frankincense Land. The museum is situated next to a World Heritage site Al Baleed Archaeological Park and is dedicated to educating tourists and locals about the trading history of the city. Visitors can learn about how frankincense (an aromatic resin that's been traded on the Arabian Peninsula for thousands of years) was once traded, how it is made, and how it's used throughout the region. Visitors can buy all types of frankincense items from soaps to hand creams.
Roam the Sharqiya Sands
Commonly called Wahiba Sands by locals, Sharqiya Sands is a massive land area named after the Bani Wahiba tribe. It is situated in the eastern region of the country, covering a massive 7,767 square miles (12,500 square kilometers), and is home to Bedouin explorers. As such, visitors can get a first-hand look at the traditional way of life of the nomadic clan. Visitors can opt to stay at a traditional Bedouin camp in the evening while exploring the orange sand dunes by truck during the day.