This quick guide covers everything you need to know before visiting Nizwa Souq and the adjoining Nizwa Fort—plus my top Oman souvenirs and where to find them in Nizwa!
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By the time we arrived in Nizwa, a small city in Oman’s Ad Dakhiliyah Region, we had already been on the road for a little over a week. At the time, we were living in Phnom Penh and had decided to take advantage of the short-lived Air Asia route between Bangkok and Muscat, Oman’s capital city.
Eighteen months living out of a small suitcase in a tiny Cambodian apartment had turned me into something of a minimalist. I was only travelling with carry on, and as a result, I rarely bought any souvenirs, unless it was a gift for a family member. The one exception to my rule (my treat item) was and will always be textiles—wall-hangings or floor rugs hand-woven from natural fibres—which I try and hunt down wherever I go.
I was having a lot of trouble finding an authentic Omani textile to add to my growing collection. I had scoured the Muttrah Souq in Muscat, but to no avail. My frustration quickly turned to joy when we arrived in Nizwa, the second-last stop on our 10-day road trip around Oman. It turned out to be one of my favourite places in Oman and my top choice for shopping for Oman souvenirs.
This post offers a quick essential guide to visiting Nizwa Souq and the nearby Nizwa Fort. I’ve also outlined my favourite souvenirs and where to buy them in Nizwa—including a few not-so-obvious places hidden inside and around the souq. If you’re looking for authentic Oman textiles and other souvenirs, this is the article for you!
More Oman inspiration: My top Oman photography.
Visiting Nizwa Souq & Fort: Essential info
Nizwa Souq is located in the heart of Nizwa, about 160km from Muscat. While it’s possible to visit Nizwa Souq and the adjoining Nizwa Fort as a day trip from the capital, I think it’s well worth spending at least one night in Nizwa. The town itself is quiet and pleasant, and if you stay overnight you can get an early start to see the souq at its finest.
Nizwa Souq is made up of a main entryway (pictured below) and a series of separate buildings out the back that house a date market, a fresh produce market, and other stalls. Most of the market, however, is dedicated to pottery, antiques, textiles and other paraphernalia. The nicest range of antiques and artworks can be found in a ‘hidden’ area in the top of one of the produce markets. I provide more detail on this in the next section. For now, here are some general tips for visiting Nizwa Souq and Fort.
Opening hours & best time to visit
Nizwa Souq is open daily for two trading sessions—except on Fridays, when the souq is only open in the morning. From Thursday to Saturday, things kick off at 6am. The day trade winds up at 1pm when people break for lunch and prayer. It gets going again at 4pm, and the souq stays open until 10pm.
Read next: 11 tips that will save you money in Oman.
On Friday, the souq opens early at 5am but closes at 11am. (The reason being that Fridays in Oman are holy days and traditionally spent with family.) Despite the restricted hours, Friday is actually a great day to visit Nizwa Souq—it’s the day of the weekly goat market. Livestock trade takes over one section at the back of the souq, and men and women dressed in Bedouin costume and traditional Omani garb come to buy and sell animals. If you’re squeamish (or vegetarian), it might be best to avoid Friday mornings at Nizwa Souq. Otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to see Omani culture up close.
Nizwa Fort is open from 8am until 6pm Saturday to Thursday, and from 8am–11.30am, and 1.30pm–6pm on a Friday.
Entrance to Nizwa Souq is free, but you’ll need to buy a ticket for the adjoining Nizwa Fort. At the time of our visit, entrance cost a measly 0.500 Rial ($1.30 USD). In December 2017, the price jumped quite significantly to 5.000 Rial ($13 USD). The stated reason is a change in management; but it also sounds some new investments have been made in restoring and adding to the fort, which could explain the price hike.
Getting to Nizwa Souq
Nizwa Souq is located on the western bank of the river, just outside the main part of Nizwa town. If you’re visiting as a day trip from Muscat, the 160km drive takes just under two hours.
There is a massive carpark out the front of Nizwa Souq where you can leave your vehicle. From memory, there’s no time limit on parking, and there’s certainly no fee.
How long to spend at Nizwa Souq
I recommend dedicating a full two hours to Nizwa Souq—more if you can see yourself doing some serious shopping, as you’ll need extra time to bargain, converse and drink coffee with the stall holders! As well as the souvenir and pottery parts of the souq, there’s also a fresh produce section and a dedicated date market, which you could happily spend another hour poking around and photographing. There are shops and cafes adjoining the souq, where you can kill even more time.
While you’re there, you should also visit Nizwa Fort, which is located right next door to Nizwa Souq. I recommend budgeting another two hours for the fort—a good chunk of that time should be spent in the underground museum, where you’ll find some much-needed reprieve from the sun.
All up, I recommend a minimum of four to five hours to visit Nizwa Souq and Fort.
Where to eat near Nizwa Souq
If you’re making a day of it, you’ll need to refuel mid-way through your Nizwa Souq adventure. There are a few restaurants immediately across the road after you exit the main entrance to the souq. We ate at a Zanzibari restaurant, which was quite delicious. At night, food stands pop up in the carpark where you can grab a cheap kebab. Our Airbnb hosts recommended we try the camel kebab… But in the end we chickened out and went with, well, chicken.
Where to stay in Nizwa
If you’re staying overnight in Nizwa, you’ll need a place to stay. We opted for an Airbnb on the outskirts of the city (if you’re interested, you can find the listing here). There are lots of hotels of varying quality to choose from in Nizwa. Click here to browse available listings on Agoda.
Best Oman souvenirs: What to buy at Nizwa Souq
Some of the souq’s loveliest products are things you can’t really take home—like spices, henna powder, coffee, and other aromatics and edibles. Like in Muscat’s Muttrah Souq, there is a surplus of antiques and old-looking jewellery, furniture, chests, swords and knickknacks – but I’ve become cynical about the providence of such items and I tend to steer clear. If you’ve had the foresight to save your souvenir shopping for Nizwa, here are a few things I recommend picking up at the souq.
It’s pretty obvious that pottery is a Nizwa specialty—vessels of all shapes and sizes decorate the outside of the souq, and just about every vendor inside has pottery to sell. There are all manner of different contemporary designs available, from large water urns to tiny oil burners. I particularly like the traditional pots embellished with three rings of rope-braid around the exterior—a technique used to reinforce urns made for storing heavy dates and date juice.
Speaking of dates, Nizwa Souq has a whole section dedicated to them. Depending on where home is for you, you might not be able to take fresh dates back. But they still make for a nice purchase—and buying them from the dedicated date market at the back of Nizwa Souq is half the fun anyway!
Along with dates, frankincense is synonymous with Oman. Its scent wafts through every restaurant and hotel lobby across the country. Many stallholders at Nizwa Souq sell clay pots filled with Frankincense resin. They make great gifts for family back home, as long as you can get them back through customs! Frankincense oil or perfume is also a great choice.
Woven mats & baskets
Traditionally, Omanis eat their meals off large, round floor mats made from woven rattan. A couple of stalls at the souq’s entrance sell beautifully coloured floor mats that are pliable enough to roll up tightly and carry back as cabin baggage (trust me, we did it). Inside the souq, you’ll find bags, baskets and other smaller products made from the same combination of natural and dyed rattan.
Goat’s wool textiles
For fair trade textiles, head straight to the Omani Heritage Gallery inside nearby Nizwa Souq (more on that in a moment!). If you’d rather try your luck inside the souq, a few of the stalls have thick goat’s wool wall-hangings, blankets and table runners stashed away, but you’ll need to poke around as few are out on display.
We happened upon the souq’s best selection of textiles in a place where few people probably think to look. Go inside the fresh produce section (a separate building) and up the staircase at the rear left of the hall. The upper level splits off into two handicraft boutiques—the left side is dedicated to items from Morocco, and the right side Oman. Both shops carry gorgeous carpets, plus sheep’s and goat’s wool blankets and wall-hangings in earthy tones.
The inside part of the souq is a great place to buy Arabic and Moroccan-style light fittings. Some shops are packed to the rafters (literally) with hanging pendant lamps and led lights—all glowing vibrantly. Granted getting one of these home would take extreme tact, but if you’re up for a challenge, they make for a gorgeous souvenir.
If you only have room to carry home something small, souq sellers also offer a range of (admittedly naff) souvenirs—like these Omani magnets. More tempting are the teeny tiny clay pottery pieces that are small enough to thread onto a chain and wear as a necklace.
Beautifully embroidered and subtly patterned Omani taqiyah skullcaps are another fantastic Oman souvenir. I personally preferred the selection at Muscat’s Muttrah Souq, but there is still a range available in Nizwa.
If you know you’re antiquing (which I don’t), then Nizwa Souq will appear something of a rummager’s paradise. Look out for Khanjar daggers, with their beautifully inscribed sheaths, bronze Samovar urns, and anything made of silver, which is another Nizwa specialty.
Where to go after Nizwa Souq: Nizwa Fort
Nizwa Fort, one of Oman’s oldest and most significant castles, adjoins Nizwa Souq. It makes sense to visit both on the same day. If you are planning on doing your Oman souvenirs shopping at Nizwa Souq, make sure you have a place to stash your finds while you explore the fort. Otherwise, it might make more sense to reverse your itinerary and visit the fort first.
The main fort is round in shape—which makes it unique among its peers—and surrounded by a complex of intertwined storage rooms, living quarters, passageways, prayer rooms and communal spaces. In its heyday, Nizwa Fort actually served as a small enclosed city, home to Nizwa’s Imam and designed to house and protect an entire army during enemy raids.
This fort isn’t UNESCO-listed like its cousin in nearby Bahla, but the restoration work both inside and outside is flawless. It’s a lot of fun to clamber around and explore. The fort’s centrepiece is its central courtyard with zigzag staircases that accommodate the curve of the rounded walls. Beyond this, there is a network of rooftops that offer spectacular views over Nizwa Souq and the city. After ascending a few different levels, I got a good look at the minaret and dome of the nearby Nizwa Mosque.
As I dashed across the courtyard from the shallow alcove where I was hiding into the shelter of a nearby archway, I felt the midday sun sear my skin. A moment of pain before the reprieve of another cool, shady spot. But something caught my eye: the contours of scalloped adobe falling in a silhouette across the smooth, packed clay of the courtyard. I had to brave the sunlight for a moment longer just to get a photo.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the sun twists in the sky, altering the hues and textures of the saruj plaster, the adobe-like covering made from local clay that gives Nizwa Fort and so many other Omani buildings their earthy tone. Shadows rise and fall, casting different architectural elements into relief and revealing wicked shapes and patterns that were invisible just a few minutes earlier.
Deep in its shadowy depths, Nizwa Fort houses a small museum that is very well done and well worth a look in. Entrance to the museum is included in the ticket price.
My top secret souvenir spot…
OK OK—so it’s not exactly a well-kept secret, but my favourite shop in Nizwa and the absolute best spot to find authentic Oman souvenirs isn’t inside the Nizwa Souq at all. For that reason, I think a lot of people tend to miss it. The Omani Heritage Gallery is located at the entrance to Nizwa Fort, just past the ticket booth. A social enterprise committed to supporting local artisans and preserving Omani craftsmanship, the Gallery stocks a wonderful range of handmade, high-quality souvenirs—including beautiful goat’s wool textiles that outshine anything we found in the souq.
Because of the nature of the shop, prices are definitely a bit higher. But it’s worth spending a bit more to get something of such high quality. I ended up buying a goat’s hair wall-hanging woven by artisans in the Jebel Shams mountains. It’s a simple block-stripe design, but I chose it because of the colouring—naturally dyed with ochre, it so strongly resembles the hues of the Omani landscape. Every time I look at it, my mind immediately goes back to our time spent driving around Oman. In my books, that’s the best kind of souvenir you could ever hope to find!
Omani Heritage Gallery also has two branches in Muscat, Oman’s capital city.
Update: According to the Oman tourism website, a new souvenir shop opened inside the fort in December 2017. If you’ve been, please let me know! I’d love to hear what it’s like.
Over to you! Have you visited Nizwa Souq or a similar bazaar in Oman or elsewhere in the Middle East? What was it like, and what did you decide to take home with you?