24 Hours in Muscat: Souks & Shuwa
To see Oman’s past and present, immerse yourself in the capital, Muscat. It’s set at the foot of the majestic Hajar Mountains facing the stunning beaches of the Arabian Sea. Minarets and domes from the city’s mosques dominate the skyline, and a historic souk offers a unique style of shopping. Get lost for a day, or longer if you can, in Muscat and one thing’s for sure—you’ll be captivated by this city, with its charm, elegance and idyllic setting.
You’ll quickly realise that coffee and sweets are what fuel the locals. From the early hours, the scents from bakeries fill the air as they turn out sweet morsels. An all-day breakfast menu, as well as organic coffee and beautiful French pastries, is offered at the Crafty Kitchen at Al Noor Plaza. D’Arcy’s Kitchen in Madinat Sultan Qaboos looks for all the world like a quaint English house transported to the middle of the Middle East, and it has brought the food with it. Great for lunch, it also offers an all-day breakfast, which you can enjoy in a courtyard area that resembles an English country garden. There’s another D’Arcy’s near the Omani Heritage Centre at Shatti Al Qurm, a beachside suburb of central Muscat. Mani’s Café on Jawhrat Al Shati, also in central Muscat, is another popular breakfast joint, offering classics such as French toast with maple syrup alongside more local options such as spicy eggs with mozzarella.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most impressive buildings on the Arabian Peninsula. Opened in 2001, it has elegantly carved arches that lead to the courtyard, from where you enter the huge prayer hall. The dome above the hall is 50 metres high and its chandelier, made from 600,000 Swarovski crystals and gilded with gold, is a breathtaking feature. On the floor is the world’s second largest hand-loomed carpet; it contains 1.7 billion knots and took 600 Iranian women four years to weave. Equally grand is the Royal Opera House Muscat. Opened in 2011, its exterior is designed in traditional Omani style, but the concert hall, which holds 1,100 guests, boasts cutting-edge acoustics. It hosts world-class opera, theatre and ballet performances, as well as jazz and world music concerts. Guided tours can be organised outside of performance times.
For a traditional yet modern take on an Omani meal, stop for lunch at Ubhar on Al Kharjiyah Street. Named for the ancient city that’s believed to be buried under Oman’s southern region, Ubhar’s cuisine and decor reflect the ancient city’s culture and heritage. Try the Muscat lamb fattah, which is cooked on a bed of flatbread, but be sure to leave room for dessert.
Wander to the edges of the Mutrah Souk, buy a lime and mint juice—Oman’s quintessential drink—and meander among the alleyways. One of the oldest markets in the Arab world, it’s a treasure trove of handmade jewellery, traditional clothes, spices, antiques, hand-woven Bedouin carpets and craft workshops. If you need some refreshment, seek out one of Muscat’s ice cream vendors, who churn out exotic temptations with flavours such as rosewater, date, kahwa (coffee and cardamom) and karak (sweet, milky spiced tea). One Omani treasure to seek out is Amouage—one of the world’s most valuable perfumes, created from frankincense, myrhh and rosewater—and no stay in Muscat is complete without a visit to its factory and visitor centre, where gold and glass canisters are lined up like glittering treasures from Aladdin’s Cave. As the sun begins to set, make your way to Al Alam Palace in Muscat’s Old Town, the ceremonial home of the ruling monarch, Sultan Qaboos, and one of the more flamboyant examples of contemporary Islamic design.
Like any big city, the choice of cuisine in Muscat is wide and varied, with influences from across the globe. If you want to eat traditional Omani food, which resembles East African and Indian styles, try Bait Al Luban, a ten-minute walk from the Mutrah corniche. Its name means “house of frankincense” and as well as serving local dishes such as shuwa (marinated, slowroasted meat), it offers the traditional drink of steeped frankincense water. The evening is when Muscat’s “shawarma rush” kicks off and locals head to their favourite cafe, kitchen or kiosk for one of these savoury wonders. For a few dollars, you can tuck into a wrap or roll filled with meat marinated in a secret mix of spices, yoghurt and garlic paste, topped with fresh salad. The Camillia Café in Ruwi, Hawasna in Madinat Qaboos, Yum Yum in Qurum, and Old Turkish and Istanboly Coffee Shop in Al Khuwair are all popular. For an after-dinner treat—and an experience of true Omani culture—make sure to finish the evening with some Omani coffee and dates.
Occupying a prime beachfront location between the Al Hajar Mountains and the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Oman, the Chedi Muscat was one of the region’s first chic resorts. The 158 Omaniinfluenced guestrooms and villas are set amid an elegantly landscaped 8.5-hectare garden that features the longest pool in the region.
At a Glance
2 DAYS / 1 NIGHT
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
TRAVEL STYLE Tailor-made
INCLUSIONS Overnight accommodation at the Chedi, a Muscat City tour and return airport transfers. FROM AU$980* / NZ$1,035*
*Prices are per person twin share based on low-season travel. Terms & conditions apply.