Muscat in Oman is becoming more of a destination for backpackers hoping to get a taste of the Middle East, or as a stopover for Asia and this is how you can afford it on a backpacker budget. The main tourist attractions are predominantly free, and these 9 great sights will get you a great overview of Muscat as a city without costing you anything (except transport).
There isn’t too much budget accommodation but we stayed in a budget place for £40 per night, which at £20 each wasn’t too bad. It was basic but reasonable, it can be difficult to get somewhere cheap in a good location as Muscat is quite a spread out city.
Public transport is confusing and not great for foreigners, but you can get taxis around for a couple of dollars for each journey, depending on your bargaining skills as they don’t use meters like they do in the UAE. Potentially you could hire a car but that depends on whether you can afford it.
I recommend starting your day of free sightseeing in the old town of Muttrah which is nice and photogenic as you can see below and has several nice sights that you can enjoy for nothing.
1. The Port of Muttrah
Muttrah was my favourite part of Muscat, as it felt very much like what I imagined Oman would be like. The waterfront is pretty, there are souqs, boats, tropical fish in the sea, minarets sticking up and small cafes to grab a coffee. If you go on a sweaty walk along the coastal road then you can take some nice pictures of this cute corniche and the forts on the hills around it.
2. Spot tropical fish in the Arabian Sea
I absolutely love tropical fish and there are so many incredible ones in Muttrah’s harbour that you can see without even getting in the water. I took this photo of the lagoon triggerfish and I saw several other gorgeous species including some of the ones I saw in the Maldives.
3. Muttrah Souq
Muttrah souq is a traditional-style bazaar that starts on the waterfront and goes backwards into a labyrinth of corridors selling various goods including clothes, spices, antiques, household items and tourist trinkets. As anyone will tell you, looking is free. There is also a fish market nearby in the harbour where the day’s catch can be bought.
4. Gold Souq
The gold souq is further back from the general bazaar, away from the port and much more low-key than the main souq but intriguing all the same. This is the place to buy bridal gold and there are many glittering window displays to admire.
5. Old Muscat
Old Muscat is about a 15-minute drive from Muttrah and in the old town you can see the Al Alam Palace, the Al Jalali Fort and Al Mirani Fort but you can’t go into them. If you want to spend money, there are a few museums, including the Omani French Museum, the National Museum of Oman and Bait Al Zubair Museum in this area that explain its history. The palace is the ceremonial home of the Sultan and the area around it is quite manicured and modern despite the area being known as ‘old Muscat’.
6. Birdwatching at Qurm nature reserve
Qurm is the part of Muscat where recreation happens, and it is where you can find Al Qurum park, the beach, coffee shops and the mangroves nature reserve. While the reserve may seem small, any green areas or gardens in Middle Eastern cities attract so much birdlife because they are surrounded by desert. You can’t go in the reserve itself, but you can watch the birds from the cafes or from underneath the bridge next to the river. I saw plenty of wading birds as well as hermit crabs scurrying about.
7. Al Qurum Beach
Next door to the nature reserve is Al Qurum beach. We were in Oman in the summertime so it was extremely hot, but still worth seeing Al Qurum beach which was pretty and not polluted. It’s a public beach so you have to dress conservatively.
8. Royal Opera House
You can walk from Qurm to the Royal Opera House in Shati Al-Qurm, which is easily one of Muscat’s most beautiful buildings, but again it’s very new and was only built in 2011. It’s a place for the well-heeled and you can walk around the grounds of this venue that hosts operas, ballets and musical performances for fans of high-brow. There is an upmarket shopping mall which is a great place for some air-con but it’s so posh that you might feel out of place in your backpacker gear!
9. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is Oman’s most famous place of worship that was commissioned by the Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. It is quite a modern mosque, much like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as it was only built in 2001. Inside it is typically grand and opulent with the second largest handmade Iranian carpet in the world, made by 600 skilled female weavers. It is required to dress modestly and you can rent an abaya to wear if you’re a woman.
I think the most challenging part of being a backpacker in Oman was the lack of public transport but seeing the main sights for free makes up for it. You can spend 1 or 2 days going to these different areas which will give you a great overview of Muscat and all it has to offer.
Have you been to Oman as a backpacker? What did you think of Muscat and do you have any tips for doing it on a budget? Any thoughts or questions then let me know in the comments below!
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