With Oman Air expanding their network rapidly (flights to Casablanca, Istanbul and Moscow start later this year), they are becoming more and more competitive alongside the other big players in the Middle East airline industry. From the UK there are daily flights from Manchester and twice daily flights from London to Muscat. From Muscat there are flights to destinations all over India and South East Asia, making this the ideal city to not only transit (through the newly opened, state of the art airport which is predicted to be in the top 20 in the world by 2020) but also to break your journey and discover part of the Middle East like no other.
Flights from both Manchester and London arrive at Muscat International Airport just after 7am, so allow an hour to clear immigration and collect your luggage before hopping in a taxi for the 10 minute ride to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Ask your taxi driver to wait and leave your luggage in the car, they are generally happy to oblige, and it saves the hassle of trying to get a taxi afterwards. Make sure you are suitably dressed, long trousers/sleeves for men and the same plus hair covered for women. For OMR 2.500 (about £5) you can hire an audio guide which gives a fascinating insight not only into the buildings themselves and their construction, but also into Islam and the purposes of each area. For the best experience, visit early and be on your way by 9am when the tour groups start to arrive, the Mosque is open to non Muslims 8am-11am, Saturday to Thursday and has no entry fee.
From here, head to your hotel and drop your bags off before heading out on the next part of the adventure. When choosing a hotel in Muscat, it’s important to remember that this is a long, thin city, hugging the coast, so no hotel is close to all of the attractions, but some are better than the others. For a short stop, the best options are the Grand Hyatt, the Intercontinental or the Crowne Plaza (which is closing over the summer for refurbishment), which are all on the airport side of the city. The Shangri La hotels are on the other side of the city and are perfect for a longer break, but you won’t get the most out of their amazing facilities and be able to see the city’s highlights in 24 hours.
Then head to Muttrah and cover the first part of this self guided walking tour from Lonely Planet as far as the Sultan’s Palace (or further if you make good time!). This will take you along the picturesque Corniche and provide the opportunity to visit Muttrah’s historic Souq as well as some of the museums which provide visitors with an insight into Oman’s history. The Juice Centre by the entrance to the Souq can be crowded with visitors from the cruise liners docked in the port, but the drinks are cheap and the food is plentiful.
By now it should be time for you to check in to your hotel, and depending on how you slept on the flight, you may be getting a little tired, so spend some time relaxing by the pool and enjoy a cocktail or two. (Alcohol is generally not available outside the international hotel chains here) before taking a walk along Shati Al Qurum beach at sunset (between 5.30pm and 7pm depending on the time of year.) The beach is at its liveliest on a Friday when local and expat families meet for BBQs and picnics in the afternoon and into the evening.
After dark, Ubhär on Al Kharjiyah Street is my go to dinner spot, their camel curry and Omani steak are dishes not to be missed out on. (One course and soft drinks came to around £35 here for two). Before you know it, it’s time to head back to the hotel for some sleep before your onward flight tomorrow.
But I can guarantee one thing, you’ll spend the whole flight wondering when you can come back and explore more of this beautiful city, with it’s closely guarded traditions which sit alongside the rapid but controlled developments which have turned this country from an insular society where poverty was rife in the earlier half of the 20th century to a developed, tolerant and prosperous nation less than 100 years later.