Oman is known for its high mountains, silky sand dunes, preserved fortresses, and breathtaking fjords. In T+L’s comprehensive guide, we’ll show you the easiest way to see the country’s labyrinth of landscapes.
Bordered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the west, Yemen to the southwest, and the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, the Sultanate of Oman—a historic seafaring nation of traders and fishermen—has only opened itself up to tourism since the 1980s. A visit to the country promises a glimpse at the beautifully preserved Omani culture as well as access to pristine natural wonders. Here’s what you need to know to expertly navigate your way through Oman.
When to Go
If you prefer cooler, pleasant weather, head to Oman’s north coast from October through April, with the best window being November until the end of February. During this time, you can expect a Mediterranean climate with daytime temperatures averaging 30°C (80°F). Although it may seem counterintuitive, when it comes to the south coast, the best time to visit apart from the October through April window is during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September and coats the mountains in a dense moisture that leads to a lush bloom of picturesque tropical vegetation.
Fly into Muscat International Airport either through the national carrier of Oman Air or the handful of Middle Eastern operators such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad, which all offer flights with one plane change.
Once in Oman, there are domestic airports located in Salalah, Duqm, Sohar, and Khasab. Currently, there is no rail system. Public buses will get you to the main cities, but they offer limited routes to truly explore the country. To really experience Oman, you should either be accompanied by a local Omani guide (more on this below) or, if you’re set on exploring solo, international car-hire chains such as Avis, Budget, and Thrifty are available. Opt for a four-wheel-drive vehicle, which will be important for off-road exploration.
Foreign nationals must obtain a visa to enter Oman, which can be secured on arrival at Muscat International Airport or online through the Royal Oman Police (ROP) website. Currently, there are two types of entries available: Single-entry 10-day visa on arrival ($13) or single-entry 30-day visa on arrival ($51). We suggest checking the ROP website before planning your trip, as Oman’s visa regulations change frequently.
- When traveling to Oman appropriate dressing is key, especially in the more rural areas of the country. Women should have their arms and shoulders covered and wear knee-length skirts or pants, and carry a shawl to cover their hair when visiting religious sites.
- It’s wise to always exercise sensitivity when taking photos.
- It’s in your best interest to have a few Arabic words in your back pocket. Start by learning salaam aleikum, a common introductory greeting.
- Alcohol is served and sold at the airport, in hotels, and in licensed liquor shops except during the holy month of Ramadan, when alcohol is not available in the country at all.
- Don’t leave Oman without bringing home some traditional silverware, frankincense, and a woven Omani wool scarf.
Where to Go
It’s all about exploring the diverse terrain of the country, which includes majestic mountains, dramatic deserts, and serene coastlines. If you’re a first-time visitor, a week in the north of Oman will allow you to take in the country’s key landscapes. Begin with a night or two in Muscat, then spend the rest of your trip exploring Sur, Nizwa, the Al Hajar Mountains, and Mussanah before returning to the capital to catch your flight home. We’ve also included information on Musandaum and Salalah should you wish to extend your trip.
Tip: When planning your itinerary, try and stay in Nizwa on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, when the local markets are open.
The grande dame of tourism for Oman, Muscat, which means “safe anchorage” in Arabic, is where tradition and modernity merge. Explore its beautiful beaches, low-rise architecture, and fascinating cultural sites including the Royal Opera House Muscat and Grand Mosque. In the newer part of the city you’ll find upscale hotels and modern shopping malls, while a visit to the south or the old part of Muscat is considered the more scenic section of the capital—small-town, coastal Arabia at its finest.
Where to Stay in Muscat
Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel
In a city flush with five-star properties, Al Bustan Palace earns its reputation as the “jewel of the Sultanate” thanks to its prime positioning between the Sea of Oman and the dramatic rock cliffs of the Al Hajar Mountains. The landmark property also has a private beach that’s the longest in the country and a luxurious Six Senses Spa, which has been constructed to resemble an ancient Arabian fort.
Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa
Accessed through a man-made tunnel in the Al Hajar Mountains, the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa combines three hotels: Al Waha (the Oasis), Al Bandar (the Town), and Al Husn (the Castle). The traditional Dhofari architecture and date palms will remind you that you’re in Arabia, while the eight restaurants on property will keep you full on international fare.
Tip: Al Bustan Palace and Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa are about a 40-minute drive from Muscat International Airport and 20-minute drive from Downtown Muscat.
The Chedi Muscat’s dramatic, palm-lined infinity pool is the crown jewel of the 21-acre resort. With 158 rooms decorated in the Chedi’s signature Omani minimalist aesthetic, six dining venues, and a world-class spa, this stylish property continues to be a favorite for its Zen-inducing vibe.
Tip: Chedi Muscat is about 15 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from downtown Muscat.
Grand Hyatt Muscat
Located in Muscat’s ministries district, the Grand Hyatt Muscat is a kitsch-but-central accommodation option within walking distance of key landmarks such as the Royal Opera House.
With six tennis courts, two swimming pools (including one that’s Olympic-size), and access to the public beach, the InterContinental Muscat is especially recommended for families due to its surplus of amenities.
Where to Eat in Muscat
A walk along Shatti Al Qurum beach is a great way to ease into the Omani dining scene. Here you’ll find plenty of coffee shops dotted alongside the seafront, fresh juices, and endless opportunities to people-watch. Enjoy a fresh mango juice or cup of khawa (coffee) while watching old men smoking, laughing, and playing dominoes in their dishdasha (long white robes), colorful cashmere turbans (ammama), and embroidered caps (kumma).
If you’re looking for reasonably priced, just-caught seafood in an informal, charming atmosphere, head to Turkish House. The restaurant specializes in white fish, including freshly caught sea bream, grouper, and hamour, which you choose yourself from the daily selection of seafood. Try the oven-fresh bread with a mix of meze such as hummus and mutabbal, as well as their kunefe—a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sugary syrup—for dessert.
For a more upscale dining experience, head to Al Angham, on the grounds of the Royal Opera House Muscat. There you’ll find a fine-dining atmosphere with reinterpretations of traditional cuisine such as Omani fish soup and samosas, as well as Al Angham’s signature frankincense ice cream.
Tip: Make sure you book in advance: Al Angham does not allow walk-ins.
Things to Do in Muscat
The Royal Opera House Muscat
Take a trip to the celebrated Royal Opera House Muscat, the Gulf’s first concert theater. Check the website to book a ticket to one of the Opera House’s impressive performances, which include a diverse mix of opera, ballet, jazz, and Arab musical numbers. Even if you don’t manage to catch a show, the concert theater is worth visiting for its stunning Islamic architecture and dramatic soaring wooden ceilings.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
This Islamic architectural masterpiece, which was built from 300,000 ton of Indian sandstone, serves first and foremost as a functioning mosque. Therefore, the best time to visit is from Saturday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. as this is the longest gap between prayer times. Visitors to the mosque should dress modestly, which means women will need to cover their arms and legs and avoid tight or sheer clothing. Females over seven years old will also be required to cover their hair with either a scarf or an abaya, which can be rented from the mosque gift shop. Once inside, don’t miss the breathtaking carpet, which took 600 women four years to weave.
Tip: Bring a valid form of ID, which will be required for the abaya deposit.
The Amouage Factory
Get an inside look at what goes into making international, luxury fragrance (also known as Oman’s pride export), by stopping at the world’s most expensive perfume factory. Tours are available Sunday through Thursday.
Muttrah Fish Market
Muttrah is Muscat’s old commercial center and a great place to admire the sights and sounds of traditional marine-oriented Oman. To get the best of your experience, begin at Muttrah Fish Market from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. to see fishermen and traders sell their fresh catches, which depending on the day might include tuna, hamour, or octopus. You can continue your walk along the the Muttrah Corniche, which stretches along the harbor and offers beautiful views of the sea and bobbing dhows docked in the port.
Follow the corniche to the old Muttrah Souk, where you’ll find local textiles, dates, and fresh produce to browse. Omani souvenirs to pick up include khanjar (curved daggers), silver jewelry, and frankincense. The souk is open daily from Saturday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. as well as 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays.
Tip: Bargaining is the norm, so don’t be shy.
Take a morning boat trip to watch the dolphins playing off the coast of Muscat. If you go, we recommend using Sidab Sea Tours, which offers spectacular coastline excursions.
About a two-hour drive from Muscat is one of the oldest ports in Oman, the charming fishing village of Sur. This quaint town is a great base for day trips to visit the popular tourist destinations of Ras-al-Hadd, Wadi Shab, and Wahiba Sands.
Where to Stay in Sur
Accommodation options are admittedly limited in Sur, with the best hotels being Sur Plaza Hotel or Sur Beach Holiday. Both properties are simply furnished and offer standard accommodation, but redeem themselves with gorgeous sunrise and sunset views.
Things to Do in Sur
The Dhow Shipyard Factory
If you’re interested in boat making, plan for no more than 30 minutes to an hour to watch as traditional Omani dhow boats are created before your eyes at this fully functioning dhow yard—the last of its kind in the country.
Ras Al Hadd
Located about 40 kilometers away from Sur are the beaches of Ras al Hadd and nearby Ras al-Jinz, which are best known as a world-famous breeding ground for green turtles. Each year up to 20,000 turtles migrate from the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, and Somalia to lay their eggs on Oman’s shores. July through October are peak hatching season.
Since the best time to see the turtles is during sunrise or after nightfall, many visitors choose to stay over in Ras Alhud. Hotel options include Turtle Beach Resort, which on top of turtle-watching excursions offer dhow cruises, fishing trips, and dolphin trips. However, if your priority is to really spend time with the shielded reptiles, your best bet is to head to the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve, a mock Bedouin-style camp offering frequent morning and evening turtle-watching tours and the closest accommodation to the main turtle-nesting beach.
This gorgeous ravine featuring cascading freshwater turquoise pools is a great spot to take a refreshing hike and dip. Located along the less-than-breathtaking Muscat–Sur Highway, you’ll need to park the car before embarking on about a 45-minute hike to reach the wadi. In order to feel most comfortable, women should wear shorts and a T-shirt instead of a bikini to Wadi Shab.
Wahiba Sands is arguably Oman’s most spectacular sandscape. Head to the desert for one to two nights to enjoy sunset walks along the red-flecked (up to 200-meter-high) sand dunes, stargazing, and camel rides, and to explore some of the nearby villages and markets.
Where to Stay in Wahiba Sands
Desert Night Camps
This flashy five-star property offers Bedouin-style tented suites. After a day in the desert, feast on Omani lamb barbecue (shuwa) around the hotel’s campfire-style restaurant.
Arabian Oryx Camp
With less attractive grounds than the Desert Night Camp but equal activity opportunities and excellent food, the Arabian Oryx Camp is the more modest of the Wahiba Sands accommodations. Note that the hotel is cash-only and must be paid for upon arrival.
Things to Do in Wahiba Sands
Don’t leave Wahiba Sands without taking either a sunset or sunrise walk on top of the sand dunes, an experience guaranteed to leave you humbled by the vast, peaceful, unpeopled desert. Opt for a camel ride for the photo opportunity.
Spend one morning visiting Ibra, located 40 minutes away from Wahiba Sands, where you’ll find a traditional Omani market brimming with spices, fresh fish, dates, and halwa (a popular Middle Eastern confection made with sticky sugar and almonds).
Tip: On Wednesday, Ibra Souq has a women-only shopping section filled with clothing, textiles, jewelry, and makeup, as well as silver for brides-to-be.
Nizwa is an ancient city in the Ad Dakhiliyah region of northern Oman at the base of the Al Hajar Mountains. About one and a half hours from Muscat by car, the city contains Oman’s most visited national monument, Nizwa Fort, as well as plenty of marvelous historical monuments to ogle over.
Where to Stay in Nizwa
Golden Tulip Nizwa
This recently refurbished four-star hotel is a strategic home base from which to explore the nearby historical sites and mountains. Rooms are spacious, and amenities include a 24-hour lobby café, poolside bar, sauna, and fitness center.
Things to Do in Nizwa
Sinaw Camel Market
It’s tough to find a decent camel these days. Fortunately the weekly Sinaw Camel Market draws buyers and sellers from around the region to trade their livestock, including Bedouin families from the nearby Sharqiya Sands region. To catch all of the action arrive early on a Thursday, around 7:30 a.m. The bustling scene is worth getting out of bed for.
This historic fort, built by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’rubi, is the Sultanate’s most popular edifice due to its aura of invincibility. The colossal structure took 12 years to construct, and is a prime symbol of Omani fort-building during the 17th century. Climb to the top of the main tower for memorable views of the craggy Al Hajar Mountains. Nizwa Fort is open from Saturday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m to 11 a.m.
Considered a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, this mud-walled structure built in the 13th and 14th century by the Bani Nebhan tribe is a maze of impressive twisting corridors. Bala Fort is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday.
Al Hamra and Misfat al Abryeen
At the foot of the Al Hajar Mountains you’ll find some of Oman’s most charming towns and villages, including Al Hamra and Misfat al Abryeen. Make time for a stroll through the 400-year-old town of Al Hamra, where you’ll be able to see some of the oldest preserved homes in the country. Nearby, don’t miss the picturesque mountainside village of Misfat al Abryeen, where you can pose near the village watchtower that silently guards the lush date-palm plantations in the surrounding foothills.
Translating to “the sun mountain” in Arabic, Jebel Shams boasts the superlative of the highest peak in the Arabian peninsula. Often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Arabia at 9,850 feet above sea level, the views of the Wadi Ghul beneath it are nearly otherworldly.
Al Jabal Akhdar
Jabal Akhdar—which translates to “green mountain”—is richer in plant life than most of Oman. Depending on the season you’ll find roses, pomegranates, and peaches blooming widely and goats and donkeys grazing the canyons. It’s worth splurging on at least a night in Al Jabar Akhdar. Our favorite upscale eco-resorts are Alila Jabal Akhdar and Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort. If it’s more basic accommodations you’re after, there’s also Jabal Shams Resort, a great base for exploring the various trekking and hiking routes outlined on the Ministry of Tourism’s website. If you prefer to bike, Oman Bike Tours can get you set up on two wheels.
Tip: Visit Diana’s Point, named for the late Princess, who visited the scenic plateau in 1986.
North of the Al Hajar mountains you’ll find some of the best diving in Oman in Al-Mussanah. Head to the Millennium Hotel Mussanah, where SeaOman’s Dive Centre is located, to arrange for a customized diving excursion with a PADI certified dive professional that will take you into the plankton-rich, coral-filled waters of the Oman Sea. The center is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you’re on an extended tour of Oman, fly to Khasab, in the Musandam Peninsula, which borders the United Arab Emirates and is fondly referred to as the Norway of Arabia for its dramatic fjords. We recommend taking a flight (45 minutes) from Muscat to Khasab and a ferry (5 hours) on the way back to soak up the oasis-like scenery.
Where to Stay in Musandaum
Six Senses Zighy Bay
The most luxurious hotel in Musandaum is Six Senses Zighy Bay, a sprawling luxury property nestled in a scenic beach cove with a private marina.
Atana Musandam Resort
With its boutique-hotel feel, the property is a remote and peaceful option with a low-key, restorative atmosphere and reasonably priced rooms, which start at $140 a night.
Things to Do in Musandaum
Exploring the South of Oman
An hour-and-a-half flight from Muscat will transport you to Salalah, the capital city of southern Oman’s Dhofar province. The best time to visit is during the Khareef (monsoon in Arabic), from June through September, when the flowing waterfalls and lush fauna will make you feel like you’ve entered a green paradise.
Another reason to plan your trip during June through September is to align with the Khareef festival. There are concerts and cultural festivities, and the city really bursts with energy.
Where to Stay in Salalah
Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara
With the beach on one side and a freshwater lagoon on the other, the recently opened Al Baleed Resort Salalah is designed to resemble a traditional Omani-style hotel but has all of the five-star amenities, including an outdoor, temperature-controlled infinity pool and Salalah’s first hammam spa facility.
Things to Do in Salalah
The Museum of Frankincense Land
The Museum of Frankincense Land chronicles the maritime history of Oman from 2000 B.C. through the present day. Inside the museum you’ll find antiques representing the various regions of Oman, as well as photos that offer a fascinating visual of the country’s development.
To the east of Dhofar sits Mirbat, a small fishing town famous for its traditional wooden boats, colorful doors, and intricately carved shutters. Rich in natural springs and grottoes, Mirbat is also known for its diverse bird population, which draws birdwatchers from around the globe to get a glimpse of the kingfishers, red-necked phalaropes, and bridled terns that flock to Mirbat.
Mughsayl Beach is your go-to picnic destination. Pack lunch and find a shady spot under one of the frankincense trees before taking an afternoon drive to the highest point of the beach. The views are spectacular but the roads are steep and windy so this drive is not for the faint of heart.
The Empty Quarter
Spread out among Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, the Empty Quarter, or Rub Al Khali, is the biggest desert on earth. We recommend getting a guide and taking a day trip to the Empty Quarter. Ask to leave your hotel in Salalah at 10 a.m. and head to the Ramlat Hashman area of the desert. Stay in the desert until sunset before heading back to Salalah.
Best Tour Operators
Oman Photography Holiday
One of the leading tour guides and photographers in Oman, Abdullah Al Shuhi can help you tailor your trip thanks to his intimate knowledge of his homeland.
Al Fawaz Tours
Al Fawaz Tour has been operating for 27 years and offers excursions in both northern and southern Oman.
Scott Dunn’s Signature Oman
Luxury tour operator Scott Dunn’s tours will take you through Muscat, Wahiba Sands, Al Hamra, and Jabal Akhdar for 10 nights from $2,164 per person.