Mad about Muscat

With Ramadan less than a month away, KH presents – in no particular order – 20 reasons why she is mad about Muscat: the Islamic capital of Oman

Oman’s architecture
Muscat has managed to modernise itself without turning the city into a strip of gargantuan shopping malls like other cities in the Gulf. All buildings have been designed to reflect the cultural heritage of their surroundings. Thus developments are all unmistakably Arabic (on the outside at least) owing to details like white washed walls or sand coloured buildings.

Haggling for gems in Muttrah Souk
This labyrinth like, gossipy market places could keep you contented for days. A real Aladdin’s cave.

The Chedi
Checking into this chic hotel – the perfect marriage of attentive Arabic service and modern Asian décor – is easy. The difficulty lies in leaving.

Omani patriotism
Flags in red, white and green flutter in the wind on National Day; a mark of genuine national pride.

Bait Muzna Gallery
This delightful art gallery opposite the Bayt Al Zubair Museum makes for a great retreat from the scorching, summer heat. Temptation abounds and it’s impossible to wander around without returning to your hotel room laden down with local prints and other pieces of Omani craft.

Khargeen Café Take a seat in the picturesque garden of this Muscat institution and drink a wonderfully refreshing mint juice, while puffing out clouds of sweet tobacco from long hookahs. Bliss.

Kick-starting the day at D’Arcy’s
Breakfast at this perennially popular place in Shatti Al Qurm is a must. But if you’re not an early riser, fret not. There’s no need to miss out as D’Arcy’s bumper breakfasts are served all day.

Sunrise, sunset
Watching the sunset from the Crowne Plaza’s cliff top balcony is arguably Muscat’s greatest free spectacle.

Football fever
Watching the locals bend it like Beckham on a Friday afternoon, in an impromptu game of football on the beach over at Shatti Al Qurm. The energy, enthusiasm and sheer passion of the Omanis is infectious; this is football at its finest.

Bait al Baranda
Never mind Muscat. This museum near the fish souk end of Muttrah Corniche wouldn’t be out of place in cities like London, owing to its imaginative, interactive displays. It’s a great place to get to grips with Muscat’s past and present.

Omani hospitality
Omani hospitality is legendary…Make friends with an Omani and you’ve made a friend for life.

Downing drinks at Leftbank
This lively Qurm based bar serves up a mean mojito. Head here for pre dinner drinks before nipping next door for a curry at the always excellent Indian restaurant, Mumtaz Mahal.

The Grand Mosque
As any Omani will tell you, this magnificent mosque boasts a ‘Swarovski chandelier and the biggest carpet in the world’ making it well worth a visit.

The Sultanate’s enviable environmental record
The Gulf countries aren’t exactly known for their enthusiasm for the environment however Oman is the exception to the rule. The Sultanate was singled out by the UN Environment programme as a country with exemplary conservation measures.

The Grand Hyatt’s foyer
Like marmite, you’ll either love it or hate (we fall into the former). Either way, the whimsical, Disney-esque interior has to be seen to be believed.

Muscat’s underwater world
Everyone raves about the Red Sea – so much so that it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of world class diving locations off Muscat’s coastline. What’s more, while the Red Sea can be as crowded as the London underground during rush hour, it’s easier to get that ‘off the beaten track feeling’ in Muscat – making it ideal for those who don’t want to share the sea with tons of tourists.

Dolphin watching
Muscat is one of the best places in the world to see Flipper and friends frolicking in the warm waters. The optimum time to try and catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures is early in the morning when the weather tends to be a tad cooler.

Offroading in Oman
Muscat is littered with routes fashioned by Mother Nature but perfect for modern machinery. For the low-down on Muscat’s best driving spots, pick up a copy of Explorer’s Off road Oman.

Catching a camel race
Omanis are obsessed with the time old Arabian sport of camel racing. Fortunately robot jockeys are now used instead of child jockeys (a practice which garnered international condemnation owing to the harsh conditions and treatments that the jockeys were forced to endure), meaning that visitors can now watch these ships of the desert racing at speeds of up to 60km/h with a clean conscience.

Omanisation
Unlike the rest of the region, visitors to the Sultanate will actually come into contact with locals thanks to Sultan Qaboos’ policy of ‘Omanisation’. In contrast to its Khaleeji brothers Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, Oman cannot afford costly expatriate labour, meaning that Omanis of both sexes are employed in all sectors of society.