One look at Oman’s palm-fringed wadis, emerald sinkholes and stunning mosaics and minarets was more than enough to convince me to book a ticket to Muscat.
And let me tell you, Oman is a million times more beautiful in person – when you can feel those crystal waters, taste that cardamom coffee and smell that frankincense for yourself!
When planning your Oman itinerary, the first thing you should consider is the must-sees. The good news is that Oman is very easy to get around – if you have your own car, you can see most of what the north-east part of the country has to offer in as little as 10 days.
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The best places to visit in Oman
The topography of Oman is a revelation. The country’s natural beauty is only rivalled by its cultural riches. Oman is budget-friendly, family friendly, and overwhelmingly safe for tourists. No wonder this Middle Eastern nation captures the imagination of so many travellers.
Before you make a dash for this stunning country, consider the 12 best places to visit in Oman that you absolutely must include on your itinerary.
1. Wadi Bani Khalid
If I had to choose just one place that epitomises Oman’s raw natural beauty, it would be Wadi Bani Khalid.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a wadi is a long, narrow ravine that channels water from the mountains to the lowlands. It’s quite literally an oasis in the desert – a passage for life-giving water to permeate an otherwise barren landscape.
Of all of Oman’s wadis (there are a couple more to come on this list), Wadi Bani Khalid is perhaps the most picturesque. It’s composed of a series of emerald and turquoise pools, each one pressed deeper into the mountain crevice. Frothy waterfalls cascade down giant boulders, creating natural water slides, and dark caves open up within the rock formations, some only accessible by swimming under sealed passageways. The wadi forms a green corridor, with date palms rising up from the sandy earth to shade the waters.
Wadi Bani Khalid runs north-south, starting as a thin ribbon before widening into a river and finishing around Al Kamil Wal Wafi. The best access point is from the town of Bidiyah; from there, it’s a 40km drive on paved roads to the car park, followed by a short walk to the pools.
This is a very popular swimming and picnic spot among local families, especially on weekends and holidays. You can find some privacy in the furthest pools, which you can reach either by swimming or by hiking on sandy paths.
2. Sharqiya Sands (Wahiba Sands)
Spending a night in Oman’s Empty Quarter is a must-do for anyone who wants to feel the pulse of the region’s traditional Bedouin culture. Oman holds four deserts within its borders – the most famous being the Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter, the largest desert on earth.
The Sharqiya Sands (formerly known as the Wahiba Sands) dominates Oman’s inner-north. Spend a day dune bashing before watching the sun sink into the sand’s undulating, golden waves.
Overnighting at a desert camp is one of the best things to do in Oman. Whether you choose a luxury tent or a more rustic camp, falling asleep under the stars and waking up in the still of the desert is an experience you won’t soon forget.
An obvious choice for any visitor, Muscat, the capital of Oman, is the main entry point to this desert nation. With the mighty Al Hajar mountain range on one side and the shimmering Gulf of Oman on the other, the landscape could easily have dwarfed the city. But Muscat is charming in its own way and can certainly be counted among the most beautiful places in the country.
Much of Muscat’s beauty is in the details, from the stunning mosaics and wood inlays of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Oman’s largest and the only mosque that’s open to non-Muslims), to the spice and henna stores inside Muttrah Souq. There’s beauty in the everyday rituals of strolling along the corniche or playing football on the beach at dusk. Mere mention of the name Muscat is enough to send your imagination running wild.
The capital’s museums and galleries offer a perfect introduction to Omani history and culture, priming you for the rest of the country. I recommend spending at least 2 full days in Muscat.
Oman’s second-largest city, Nizwa, is also a must-visit. In the 6th and 7th centuries Nizwa served as the nation’s capital and blossomed as a centre for the arts and important nexus on Oman’s main trade route. Separated from Muscat and the coast by the mountains, Nizwa is an inland city surrounded by palm groves. It has a very different feel to the capital.
Nizwa’s main attraction is the 17th century Nizwa Fort, a massive sand-coloured complex of towers, stairwells, flat roofs, underground passageways and hidden chambers. In the belly of the fortress you’ll find a terrific museum, while the adjoining Nizwa Souq is a shopper’s paradise, famed for its silversmiths and Friday morning goat market.
A day is all you need to see the best of Nizwa.
Read more: My guide to Nizwa Souq and souvenir shopping in Oman.
5. Wadi Nakhr Gorge
Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Middle East’, Wadi Nakhr is carved from the mountains west of Nizwa in Oman’s rugged interior. The oval-shaped wadi is only 8km long, but the canyon reaches depths of up to a kilometre at certain points.
Wadi Nakhr is bounded by the Hajar mountains and the mighty Jebel Shams, the country’s highest peak. It’s a popular base for hiking as a result. The Balcony Walk Hike is the most well-known route, leading intrepid visitors along sheer cliffs to the abandoned village of As Sab.
The hike takes a couple of hours to complete and is accessible for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. Though the views are perilous, the path is wide and safe. You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle to access the trailhead. There are various other viewpoints plus campgrounds and hotels around the village of Al Hayl.
Check prices on a rental car for Oman using Discover Cars.
6. Bimmah Sinkhole
Another place to quench your thirst and cool off on a hot day, Bimmah Sinkhole is an icon of Omani tourism and one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Its location just off the highway 1.5 hours south of Muscat and thus is an ideal place to stop off as you drive down the coast.
Known locally as Hawiyyat Najm, the sinkhole is a natural depression with a lake at the bottom (300 feet at its deepest point). It was created when the limestone naturally eroded and collapsed in on itself – but an Omani legend says the sinkhole was formed by a meteorite.
The park surrounding the sinkhole is free to enter and opens daily at 8am. The water is safe for swimming; even if you arrive early enough to have the pool all to yourself, you’ll no doubt feel the presence of tiny fish who like to nibble your toes!
If you’re lucky, you’ll see local teenagers come to test their metal by jumping feet-first from the lip of the sinkhole.
7. Misfat al Abriyeen
Misfat al Abriyeen (Misfah al Abriyyin) is a place where Oman’s natural beauty and cultural elegance blend together seamlessly.
Located on the south-western side of the Al Hajr mountains, Misfat is a traditional Omani village with a very unique kind of architecture. All the houses here are constructed from mud and built atop massive stone boulders. This gives the tiny village a very interesting profile and creates lots of nooks and crannies to explore. No cars are allowed – there’s simply not enough room in the narrow laneways.
Driving everywhere in Oman does get tiring. This is a great place to pause for a few days, lock the car and explore on foot. The village is captivating, especially the irrigation system of elevated water channels and outdoor baths that feeds the thick groves of palms, heavy with golden dates. There are marked trails around the village, or else you can simply wander off and see where your nose takes you.
In the evening, you can enjoy a traditional home-cooked meal before settling in for the night at Misfah Old House, an incredibly atmospheric guesthouse located inside an ancestral mud house.
If small towns are your thing, you can press further to Bald Sayt, an even more remote village deep within the mountains. It’s accessible from Nizwa or Muscat, but you’ll need a 4×4.
Read more: My experience sleeping in a traditional mud house in Misfat Al Abriyeen.
8. Bahla Fort
One of the best-protected military forts in Central Oman, this UNESCO World Heritage site is an absolute delight. Visitors have access to the fully restored ramparts and passages which give you an insight into the history of the Banu Nebhan tribe who built this impressive defensive structure.
Bahla sits at the foot of the Jebel Akhdar highlands roughly halfway between Nizwa and Misfat Al Abriyeen. It’s well worth stopping off for a short walk around the fort and through the rows of mud houses on your way through.
9. Ras Al Jinz
Sitting at the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Ras Al Jinz is a small fishing village. The beaches here are world-famous as one of the most important nesting grounds for the endangered green turtle.
In 1996, the Sultan of Oman established the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Centre to safeguard the nesting grounds and promote ecotourism in the area. The only way to visit the beach is by joining a guided tour, which depart nightly from the Centre.
This is one of the few places on earth where turtles are known to lay 365 days a year. Your chances of seeing both adult females laying eggs and hatchlings making a break for the surf are almost guaranteed. Witnessing one is tremendous – but let me tell you, seeing both within the space of an hour is nothing short of incredible.
To visit the Centre, you can either drive down from Sur or overnight at the ecotourism resort in Ras Al Jinz.
Sur is a small coastal city 200km from Muscat that many tourists skip through on their way to Ras Al Jinz. The coastal architecture and laid-back vibe makes it one of my favourite places in Oman.
Sur city is a sea of lily white houses. When paired with the iridescent waters of the city’s natural harbour and the brick-coloured rock formations around the coast, it’s an absolute visual delight. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Sur, but it’s lovely just walking along the harbour and admiring the wooden dhows. There’s even a dhow factory where you can see artisans crafting these magnificent boats according to traditional methods (no nails, no glue!).
For a great view of the city and the dhows, climb up Al Ayjah Watch Tower. There is a smattering of lighthouses, castles and of course mosques around the city that you can also visit. It’s equally pleasurable just wandering the lanes around Makha and Ar Rashah and admiring the painted gates.
Aptly nicknamed the ‘Norway of Arabia’, Musandam has a landscape that’s reminiscent of the Nordics, largely thanks to the presence of umpteen magnificent fjords.
The Musandam Peninsula is an enclave completely surrounded by the United Arab Emirates. To get there, you can drive from Muscat or Dubai, or fly into Khasab Airport.
The peninsula is quite remote and rugged, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Top activities here include dhow rides, scuba diving, snorkeling and dolphin watching. You can also pay a visit to Telegraph Island to see the ruins of the British-built wireless system.
Located at the complete opposite end of the country, some 1300km south of Musandam, Salalah has a totally distinct climate and topography to the north-eastern part of Oman. Tropical banana plantations and a monsoonal climate have led Salalah to be compared with Kerala in South India.
If Oman’s desert interior is stark, then Salalah is the land of plenty. It’s the epicentre of the country’s revered frankincense industry – something you can learn about at the Frankincense Land Museum in Salalah city.
If you don’t want to brave the 10-hour desert drive from Muscat, you can fly into Salalah’s international airport instead.
Plan your visit to Oman
Is Oman your next travel destination? If you were on the fence before, I hope this round-up of the most beautiful places in Oman has nudged you in the right direction!
If you are planning a trip, here are the resources I used to plan my own travels around Oman. These should come in handy for planning your route and preparing all the logistics.
– Find affordable flights to Oman on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– As of February 2019, Oman no longer issues visa on arrival. Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist evisa for Oman and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book a private transfer from Muscat Airport to your hotel.
– Find the best hotel deals in Oman on Agoda, or find a unique Airbnb.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Oman. Check out my round-up of the best Muscat day tours for more inspiration.
– Search and compare car rentals using Discover Cars to find the best value for money.
– No car? Book a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Muscat or charter a car and driver instead.
– Limited time? This 4-day tour of Oman covers all the highlights.
– Pick up a copy of the 2019 Lonely Planet guidebook for Oman.
5 things to pack for Oman
- An anti-theft backpack. As a general rule, Oman is a very safe place and petty crime against tourists isn’t really an issue. Still, a good anti-theft day pack is worth having to keep your valuables safe in the city. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are a few of my favourite minimalist backpack designs.
- A scarf for visiting mosques (women). A lightweight cotton scarf is my number one travel item. In Oman, it will come in extra handy for covering your hair when entering a mosque or for draping over your shoulders when visiting a market or a rural area. This neutral travel scarf goes with anything, and it even has a hidden pocket.
- Walking shoes. Comfy walking shoes are absolutely essential for Oman. I love these ones for women, while my partner lives in these waterproof shoes.
- A reusable water bottle. Avoid single-use plastics whenever you can. I love my S’Well water bottle for warm climates because it doesn’t sweat. Silicone bags, a reusable straw and a portable cutlery set might also come in handy in Oman.
- An Oman guidebook. I recommend the 2019 Lonely Planet guidebook for Oman.