Oman’s capital city happens to be the country’s largest, but while on an India cruise you’ll quickly discover that Muscat is a bit of an undiscovered gem. The city carries centuries of geographic significance as a trade harbor on the Gulf of Oman. Cruising and tourism, however, are poised to shape Muscat into a haven for travelers. Seaside activities are one of the main draws, along with the city’s respectful, genial spirit.
Don’t miss a chance to reverently stroll the grounds of the Grand Mosque, which is the third-largest mosque in the world, or see the Al Alam Palace, where the Sultan of Oman resides. On your Muscat cruise, snorkelers can dive into the clear waters of Bandar Khayran or explore the Sharqiya Sands in the Omani desert. The golden-orange sands are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Muscat is proof that the desert can also be paradise.
One of the most popular activities on a Muscat cruise is to walk through the Grand Mosque, the third-largest mosque in the world that can fit nearly 20,000 people. Dress modestly in order to enter this holy site. Women must cover their hair, so be sure to bring a head scarf or purchase one at Muttrah Souq.
History buffs and those who are curious about Omani history and the growth of Muscat should head to the National Museum for exhibits on culture, preserved artifacts from thousands of years ago, and more. When you’re done visiting the museum, head to the stunning Al Alam Palace across the street.
Home to the Sultan Qaboos of Oman, passengers on a cruise to Muscat can stand at the gates of this magnificent palace and capture a truly unique photo op. The blue and gold facade of the buildings looks like blue water against sand. It won’t take long to see the Al Alam Palace, and afterward you can continue on to the National Museum or go shopping at Muttrah Souq nearby.
You’ll be taken in by the sounds of shoppers haggling and vendors selling their wares at the massive Muttrah Souq, which is one of the largest marketplaces in Muscat. Bargaining is welcome here, and though credit cards are accepted, you can hammer home a deal a little easier when you pay with Omani rials.
You’ll want to take your time at Wadi Ghul, a canyon in the Hajar Mountains that’s reminiscent in scale and natural beauty to the Grand Canyon in the United States. For those on a cruise to Muscat eager to explore by foot, take the Balcony Walk, a four-mile hike to the canyon, which offers the best lookout point into the depths of the canyon.
This part of Oman’s desert was formed by coastal sand blowing into the mainland thousands of years ago. Today, it’s one of the most photographed stretches of desert in the world for its golden, never-ending dunes. Learn to sandboard in the desert or go off-road for an adventurous excursion during your Muscat cruise.
Why see just one sight on foot when you could see them all on a tour? Take the stress out of getting from one spot to another when you venture via bus to the city’s major sites, from Al Alam Palace to the Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House Muscat.
There’s no better display of Oman’s commitment to art and culture than the extravagant Royal Opera House Muscat, which hosts ballet, jazz, opera, plays, and educational events. See the white stone of the opera house glitter against lights at night for a truly romantic evening in Muscat.
Omani cuisine is heavily influenced by Indian dishes, and you’ll find many classic Middle Eastern food items in Muscat as well. Grilled meats, which are usually marinated in yogurt and accompanied by flatbreads and dips, are musts for lunch or dinner. Cardamom is a key ingredient in many Omani dishes. Try Omani coffee, or kahwa, which is infused with notes of cardamom, and polish off dinner with a traditional dessert called halwa, which is made with dates, honey, and other spices. Kargreen Cafe is famous for its unique avocado milkshake, while Dukanah Cafe is a perfect spot to try a traditional Omani breakfast. For dinner after a show at the Royal Opera House, head to the upscale Ubhar. Adventurous foodies can try camel, which is considered a delicacy.
Arabic is the official language spoken in Muscat. Oman is a conservative country nestled between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, so be sure to research how to dress. A tour to the Grand Mosque requires travelers to dress very modestly, covering most of the body including wrists, ankles, and part of the face. Being aware and following these codes of dress will show respect for Omani culture and tradition. Oman is beginning to blossom as a tourism destination, so you’re likely to meet other travelers coming from Arabic countries and the Middle East during your cruise to Muscat. The oil industry and agriculture largely power the economy of Oman, and the city of Muscat is continually adding and improving upon infrastructure to attract more tourists to the region.
Because Muscat is a bit undiscovered when it comes to tourism, the Muscat port is minimally equipped. If you’re headed on a Celebrity shore excursion, you’ll be directed to the appropriate shuttle to get you there. For those venturing out on their own, there’s a local shuttle service that runs every 20 minutes. You can also take a 10-minute walk to the city center from the terminal if the weather allows..
Unfortunately, there aren’t buses or trains near the cruise port, but taxis are available at the port gate most times of the day that cater to cruise passengers. You can explore the center of Muscat on foot, but be aware that the hot, dehydrating climate can be draining, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. There’s a hop-on/hop-off bus that gives passengers a nearly two-hour long tour along eight different stops in Muscat.
The Muttrah Souq is your best bet for all types of shopping, whether you’re searching for souvenirs or food stalls. Clothing, spices, and Bedouin jewelry are readily available here. Head to the chain Lulu Hypermarket further outside Muscat for a variety of clothing and food goods.
While in Oman, you’ll use the Omani Rial as the official currency. Be sure to check the current exchange rate before you depart on your travels. There will be currency exchange available at the Muttrah Souq near the cruise port. Always ask vendors, restaurants, and taxi drivers before you use a credit card. Though credit cards are generally accepted, there are some exceptions. Tipping isn’t traditionally a part of the culture here, but rounding up to the nearest rial is polite, and you can tip restaurant staff 10% for exceptional service.