Admire the grandeur of the Grand Mosque
Encrusted in gold, crystals and Italian white marble, Muscat’s Grand Mosque is dominated by a 10-tonne crystal chandelier, which is lit by no fewer than 1,122 bulbs, and a 21-tonne carpet woven in one piece by 600 Iranian women. It took six years to build the mosque, whose huge gold dome and tall minarets dominate the skyline.
Climb the battlements of a desert fort
Oman’s long military history comes alive in its desert forts, built to fend off rival sultanates and colonial empires. Muscat’s Al Jalali Fort was founded by the Portuguese, while the Nakhal Fort predates even the arrival of Islam in Oman. Nizwa Fort is perhaps the most famous fortification, built in classic Arabian style in the 1650s.
Cool off in a wadi
The wadis (seasonal stream beds) of Oman are islands of green in the desert landscape, and the most popular escape from the dust and heat of the cities. Wadi Shab near Sur rises to scenic waterfalls and there are dozens of other wadis, dotted with palms and pools. Then there are the jabals, Oman’s rugged mountains, famous for their dates and pomegranates.
Dive into the Arabian Sea
Oman is a stunning destination for watersports, with teeming coral reefs and rich waters for deep-sea fishing further offshore. Elsewhere, you can windsurf, sail, or ride jet skis and speedboats to remote hidden coves. Tour operators in Muscat and Salalah run bespoke trips, or you can organise your own fun in the sun off the desert island of Masirah.
Drift on a traditional dhow
At Khasab, the capital town of the Musandam Peninsula, traditional dhows have been used by fishing families for centuries. These iconic Omani boats still ply the waters near Khasab, and some are used for dolphin-spotting tours in the azure waters of the bay. The Musandam Peninsula is often described as the Norway of Arabia because of its beautiful khors (fjords).
Drop into Barka fish market
About 80km (50 miles) from Muscat, the coastal town of Barka is famous for its lively fish market. It’s fascinating to watch locals bidding for fish of all colours, shapes and sizes on the bidding floor, while fishermen land the night’s catches on the huge beach outside, running up the sand with filled crates and fish threaded on lines.
Explore mosques, museums and markets in Muscat
The capital of Oman is squeezed between the mountains and the sea, with tall minarets rising above its rooftops. Dotted in between the imposing mosques are fascinating museums, royal palaces and markets, or you can always just wander along the Corniche, enjoying the sea breezes, and take in the views from the Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts.
Find the vision of Arabian Nights in Nizwa
This atmospheric town is renowned for its early-morning livestock market, winding alleyways and silver handicrafts. Nizwa was the country's capital during the 6th and 7th centuries, but the iconic fort that rises above the rooftops dates from the 17th century, a time of warring tribes and insecurity. The towers and battlements have been impressively restored.
Gaze at the colours of the Bimmah Sinkhole
This enormous sinkhole is mesmerising, with its wonderful sandstone arch rising over a pool of luminous turquoise water (a result of salt and fresh water mixing together). It’s worth the long climb down (and back up again) to dip your toes in the water and to get a closer view of the 40m-wide (130ft) basin.
Haggle at Muttrah Souk
This small but labyrinthine souk in Muscat is the place to haggle for gold, silver and other trinkets you thought you could never afford. It’s an atmospheric spot and a good place to pick up frankincense and spices at bargain prices. The good news is that the vendors are not too persistent here.
Have a beach picnic
Locals and expats from across the Gulf love to spend the weekends with a picnic and the company of friends on the sultanates’s beautiful beaches. Resorts such as Ras al Hadd offer acres of white sand, where rare sea turtles come to nest each summer, and there are more fine strips of sand at Al Mughsayl, Khalouf, and Tiwi.
Look out from the walls of Al Rustaq Fort
A vision of desert beauty, the mighty walls of Al Rustaq Fort rise out of a sea of date palms. The complex has been beautifully restored; as you wander the maze of corridors, stairways, and state rooms, remember that this was the former home of Nasir bin Murshid, the Omani king who drove the Portuguese from their castles.
Meet a genie at Bahla Fort
This is the most impressive fort in a country studded with medieval fortifications. One of Oman’s many World Heritage Sites, the fortress was founded in the 13th century, and many areas have been beautifully restored, while other parts lie in picturesque ruins. Before you leave, buy a souvenir pot from local Bahla potters but don't rub it – Bahla is famous for genies!
Ride a camel across the dunes
It’s hard to imagine a more Arabian experience than riding a camel across Sharqiya Sands in the Empty Quarter. On a camel safari, you’ll spend the days rolling across the sands, then make camp as dusk falls, for a barbecue of mutton kebabs and a night under the most amazing starry sky.
Roll into the Empty Quarter
The largest desert in the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub’ al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, rolls north from Salalah across the peninsula towards Saudi Arabia. Few people have ever crossed the desert from side to side, but you can enter the fringes on exhilarating off-road trips, exploring dramatic dunes that are the living image of Arabia.
Seek eagles in Al-Ansab
The Al-Ansab wetland near Muscat is a winter roost for migrating eagles, as well as 280 other species of birds. The Omanis have used trained birds of prey for hunting for centuries. To see flamingos, spoonbills and flocks of wading birds head to Barr Al-Hickman, one of Oman’s 16 national nature reserves.
Take in the views from Jabal Shams
The ascent of 3,028m (9,934ft) Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun), either on foot or by 4-wheel drive jeep, offers stunning views over the shadows of Wadi Ghul, the Grand Canyon of Arabia. Dotted around the mountains are traditional villages where you can pause to haggle for goat-hair carpets from wandering weavers.
The beautiful ravine of Wadi Sahtan in the Rustaq region is a favourite destination for 4-wheel drive guided jeep tours. En route, you’ll pass ancient villages, beautiful green pools, 14 million date palms, and craggy cliffs, stopping off for a picnic lunch beneath the towering peaks. Plus, you’ll get to drive through surging streams along the way.
Watch a blowhole blow its top
The Al Mughsayl blowholes near Salalah put on an amazing natural water display during the monsoon, when sea levels rise and currents become more active. Water surges though submerged channels, forcing a gushing geyser of water high into the air. It’s quite a spectacle, and nearby Al Mughsayl Bay Beach is rather spectacular too.
Watch nesting sea turtles
Turtles have been nesting on the beaches of Oman since prehistoric times, and the nesting season from July to October is the prime time to see them. At beaches such as Ras Al Jinz and Ras Al Hadd, you can see the awesome spectacle of females hauling themselves up the beach at night to lay their eggs, before slipping back to the sea.
Watch water surge down Wadi Darbat
Beautiful Wadi Darbat in the heart of Oman's southern, subtropical region of Dhofar, is famed for its natural mud baths, but it’s just as interesting to stroll along the wadi, particularly in autumn, when water from the mountains forms magnificent waterfalls which cascade from a height of 100m (330ft).