The cruise port of Muscat – official name Port Sultan Qaboos - is a small and modern facility, situated right in front of the Muttrah neighbourhood, the old waterfront area of Muscat. The berths used by cruise ships are 4 and 5. It’s not possible to walk inside the port itself, a shuttle bus will drop you by the port exit, or by the nearby Muttrah souk – a local market, popular for souvenirs and other local goods. There is an administrative building with air-conditioning, seating and a tourist information shop, but its seldomly used. There is a public bus number 4 that you can pick up straight from the port gate and it will take you to the old town and back for a small ticket price. There are also taxis waiting, but make sure you practise your negotiation skills, as they are not metered, and you must agree on fare before you get in. The taxis in Oman can also be shared, as well as the cost for the trip, so if you would like to have the taxi for yourself, you should tell the driver you need him “engaged”. The airport is 32km away from the port, about 26 min by car.
The local currency is Omani Rial (OMR)and money exchange is easy and straight-forward. The best rates would be at exchange bureaus, located around the markets and shopping malls. You can also use ATMs to withdraw cash from, but make sure you have contacted your bank to let them know you would be abroad and are aware of any fees your bank may charge you for getting money in a different currency. Major credit cards are accepted in the hotels, malls and larger shops. More and more traders now accept credit cards, but normally you need cash for markets, transportation and street food.
The opening hours in Muscat vary, but in general most outlets open at 10 am, close at 1 pm and open again at 4.30 – 5 pm to work until 10pm. Some shops are only open in the afternoon. Friday morning normally everything would be shut. Post offices, banks and government offices would be open 7.30 am to 2.30 pm Sunday – Thursday.
Tipping in Muscat is in general not expected. Locals tend to tip their waiter at a nice restaurant about 5% of the bill. Bell hops and maids at hotels – no more than 1-2 OMR. No need to tip taxi drivers and only tip tour guides if you are very happy with their service – anything from 3 to 10 OMR for the group.
The local language is Arabic, and English is widely understood, especially by the people working in tourist services. English is often taught at schools as a second language and most signs are in both Arabic and English.
The local time is GMT + 4 and the international dialling code is 00 968.
Things To Do
Al Alam Palace is one of the most popular picture spots of Muscat. Originally built over 200 years ago by Sultan Qaboos’s 7th grandfather, Imam Sultan bin Ahmed, it was rebuilt as a royal residence in 1972. This is one of the 6 royal palaces and the one, where the Sultan prefers to hold ceremonies and accept highly distinguished guests, such as the Queen of England and the Queen of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, as this is a working residence, visitors are not allowed to enter the complex, but they can take pictures of the intriguing blue and gold decorated entrance. The palace is flanked by two Portuguese forts from the 16th century – Mirani and Jelali.
Bait al Zubair is not to be missed – a museum, as well as a heritage and a cultural centre. It opened in 1998 as a privately-owned museum, entirely funded by its founders – the Zubair family. The museum displays a collection of Omani artefacts, such as ancient weapons, household items, costumes, handcrafts, stamps and coins. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece as well, proud recipient of an Award for Architectural Excellence. The complex consists of 6 buildings, situated within a garden of indigenous plants and trees and a miniature traditional Omani village.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the proudest possessions of Omani people. It held several world records – the largest mosque, the largest chandelier and the hand-knotted carpet in the world – it took 600 women 4 years to complete. Although those records have now been broken, the mosque remains an incredible piece of modern Islamic architecture. It can take up to 20 000 worshippers and is lavishly decorated. The Mosque is open to non-Muslims visitors every day from 8 am to 11 am every day, except for Friday. The entrance is free, just make sure you are dressed modestly and have legs and shoulders covered (and hair if you are a woman).
There are more wonderful places and sites in Muscat to visit and get to know the unique Omani culture, history, people, food, nature and everyday life. Go shopping for traditional pottery, silver jewellery, dates, frankincense and traditional Omani clothing at Muttrah souk. Breath in the nature at Wadi Shaab (the Valley of Youth) – a spectacular formerly dry river bed, now with emerald green pools and refreshing waterfalls amongst white-washed cliffs and terraced plantations. Go for an evening walk at The Corniche – the city’s old commercial centre, now beautifully preserved and buzzing with life after sunset.
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