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.
From a mosque to a market, you’ll see some of Muscat’s best bits on this full-day tour. Your first stop will be one of the world’s largest mosques, called the Grand Mosque. Inside, it’s really elaborate – one single handmade Persian carpet covers the entire floor space of the huge prayer room, while massive crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. From the tranquillity of the mosque, you’ll be taken to the Barkha Fish Market, where locals haggle for the catch of the day. Next, you’ll stop off at the Al Thowarah hot springs and the Nakhl Fort, an enormous castle that sits on a rocky outcrop surrounded by palm trees. Then a buffet lunch is served at the Al Nakhal resort before heading back to the ship.
Dolphins are regular visitors to Oman’s shores so you’re in with a great chance of spotting them during this boat trip. As you cruise along the rocky coastline, your guide will help you to look for pods of spinner, bottlenose and common dolphins as they ride the waves. If you’re lucky, you might even see a humpback or a false killer whale as they come up for air.