The ancient walled city of Muscat is wedged into a mountain-cocooned bay, just 20 minutes’ drive from Port Sultan Qaboos. It’s only 250 miles from king of the Emirates, Dubai, but looks-wise, the two cities are chalk and cheese. Muscat is making its own path, going heavy on history with ruins, forts and mosques aplenty. Strict building policies have helped give the city its attractive edge. And it’s prime diving, hiking and nature-spotting territory, thanks to its mountainous by-the-sea setting.
• The Grand Mosque is a great example of modern Islamic architecture. And inside, they went all out – there’s a Swarovski chandelier and a 21-tonne Persian carpet covering the huge prayer hall.
• Muscat’s waters teem with underwater life. Take a tour out into the open sea, and chances are you’ll be greeted by playful dolphins. Opt to dive, and you’ll get to share waters with whale sharks, barracudas and turtles.
• There are a couple of museums in town, where you can learn about the city’s past. You can follow in the footsteps of Prince Charles at Bait Al-Zubair. It’s a traditional house filled with weapons, costumes and household items from Bedouin to colonial times.
SHORE EXCURSIONS► View all EXCURSIONS
You’ll tour some of Oman’s highlights on this trip, including an enormous mosque, a bustling souk, and Muscat old town. The first stop is the Grand Mosque. Outside, it’s completely white, but on the inside, it’s filled with intricate murals and big crystal chandeliers. A single Persian carpet covers the 4,000-square-metre floor, making it one of the largest ever made. Next, you’ll have an hour’s haggling time at the Muttrah Souk. This indoor marketplace is the oldest in Muscat and its stalls are packed with colourful jewellery, pottery and spices. After you’ve picked up some souvenirs, you’ll head off to the Bait Al Zubair Museum for an insight into Omani heritage, before a tour of Muscat old town. Two enormous forts and the Al Alam Palace dominate the skyline here. The latter is the official residence of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos.
Magic of Muscat - full day►
This full day trip ticks off a sea cruise, a busy market, a beautiful mosque, a museum and a palace. The tour starts at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a huge sandstone building topped with a 50-foot dome. In fact, it’s one of the largest mosques ever constructed. Next, it’s onto the rainbow-coloured Muttrah Souk, which is packed with stalls selling textiles, ornaments and jewellery. There’ll be time to do a little shopping before you head to the Bait Zubair Museum for an insight into Omani heritage. Last up for the morning is a chance to snap a couple of photos of the gold and blue Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial home of Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Then it’s time to head back to the ship and grab some lunch onboard. Fully refreshed, you’ll go on to spend the afternoon on a dhow boat cruise. Climb aboard at the Marina Bandar, before being whisked off along the pretty coastline.
Journey to Nakhal►
From mosques to markets, you’ll see some of Muscat’s best bits on this full-day tour – so don’t forget the camera. Your first photo stop will be the Grand Mosque, which is one of the largest in the world. From the mosque, you’ll be taken to the Barkha Fish Market, where you can watch locals haggle for the catch of the day. Next, you’ll stop off at the Al Thowarah hot springs, right before arriving at the Nakhal Fort. This enormous castle sits on a rocky outcrop and is surrounded by palm trees. Time it right, and you might even get to see the noisy goat market that takes place here each week. You’ll be served a buffet lunch at the Al Nakhal resort before heading back to the ship.