Explore the Jewel of Arabia with its pristine white beaches, rolling desert dunes and dramatic mountains. A country steeped in tradition but embracing of the 21st century; home to legends such as Sinbad the Sailor and the Queen of Sheba, ready to be explored and leave a spot in the heart of the next generation of travellers. Welcome to Oman.
Guest post by Joey Ho Meng Guet who spent 8 days travelling Oman with her 2 young children. She shares her best experiences on where to stay, where to eat and things to do in Oman when travelling with kids.
You can read more about Oman and get your bearings on our Oman with Kids homepage.
My little globetrotter was carefully leafing through and immersing in her new book. “Wildlife In Oman” was an unexpected gift. It was a little souvenir we received from our Oman travel guide during Christmas.
A very thoughtful gift, I must say; for it has come to be what my child browses through frequently to reminisce about the many adventures we have had in this beautiful country on the Persian Gulf.
Oman – a Safe And Family Friendly Destination On The Persian Gulf
Oman is extremely safe and family friendly. Geographically, the country borders the Arabian Sea, Gulf Of Oman and Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf) between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. The country typically stays away from neighbouring disputes in the region and has remained so successfully over the years.
From beautiful culture bred out of an enduring tradition and an abundance of awe-inspiring nature draped in varying picturesque landscapes. There is nothing not to like about Oman.
Best of all, tourists are not flocking over to Oman just YET….
This post will look at:
- The best place to stay in Muscat with kids
- What to do in Muscat with kids
- Beyond Muscat – Family Road Trips around Oman
Where to Stay In The Capital City Of Oman – Muscat
Accommodation is always at the front of mind when travelling. If you are looking for convenience, lots of kids’ entertainment and not having to fret about where to feed the kids, just 45 mins away from the Muscat Airport, The Shangri-la Barr Al-Jissah Resort comes highly recommended.
Perched along the sparkling bay of Al Jissah with a dramatic backdrop flanked by rocky mountains and palms, you have access to a private beach that stretches endlessly over the horizons.
Meander Through The “Lazy River”
The “Lazy River” is a hot entertainment spot not just for young children but teenagers and adults alike. It was inspired by the centuries-old Falaj system, where water is stored underground for irrigation and distribution of fresh waters to home.
My kids were thrilled beyond words at the “Lazy River” where they meandered the whole day through the waters on inflatable tubes. The man-made river is suitable for swimmers of all ages. Adult supervision is required for children under 4 years old and opens daily from 9am to 6pm.
Aquatic Play Amidst The Dramatic Rugged Mountains
My five-year-old son absolutely loves the resort’s aquatic playground as well. The play area comes with a dramatic backdrop amidst the rugged mountains. It has a combination of water features like touch sensitive sprays, projection jets and light mist to keep little globetrotters entertained. And not too far away from the aquatic play, is a mini football pitch for budding footballers. The area is opened from 9am till 6pm.
Pony And Camel Rides By The Beach
If you are not already staying in the Middle East, camel rides will be one of the top hit list for the family. Mounting and descending from camels can feel slightly overwhelming for some but camels offer fabulous views after aerial drones, giraffes or elephants. The rides are supervised and comes with a small charge. Rides are available by the beach from 3.30pm till 5.30pm during winter months and 4.30pm till 5.30pm during summer months.
Bask In The Gulf Of Oman Under The Arabian Sun
Oman’s winter months are great for basking in the soothing Arabian Sun Shangri-la Barr Al-Jissah Resort boasts a wide option of sea sports and activities. From dolphins watching trips to diving, snorkeling kayaking and paddle boarding, there are an indefinite lot to explore above and beneath the sea at Oman’s unspoiled reef against the dramatic Omani coastline.
Watch Turtles’ Nestings At The Resort’s Beachfront Sanctuary
The resort also operates its own Turtle Care Project to protect the world’s nearly extinct species. The turtle sanctuary is the nesting place for Hawksbill and Green Turtles in Oman. January through August is the nestling season where hundreds of nests are produced resulting in close to 4000 over hatchlings. “Turtle talks and viewings” can be arranged with the turtle ranger at the resort.
Exceptional Arabian Cuisines Even For The Most Picky Of Palates
The culinary journey is epic with an endless choice of cuisines in over 10 distinct restaurants and bars. Most of our evenings over the course of 3 nights were spent dining by the beach and immersing in traditional Omani ambience.
Al Tanoor serves up classic cuisines from the Arabian Gulf regions. Mediterranean, Turkish, Indian and Persian dishes are offered here as well. Ordering a combination of several hot and cold mezze plates to share works best if you are looking for varieties but not too sure what to order. The buffet is available for diners at the restaurant but the charges can be exorbitant.
If you would like to have a break from Middle Eastern cuisines, Capri Court is a good alternative within the resort. It offers a contemporary Italian dining experience. Stylish indoor settings and relaxing outdoor area with gorgeous beach and garden views. The restaurant prides itself on freshness and flavour.
Things to do in Muscat with Kids
(Don’t forget to check out our full guide to Muscat with Kids here)
Experience Local Life At The Grand Mosque
At the heart of Muscat city is a cultural experience to behold. Along the Sultan Qaboos Road, The Grand Mosque is a worthy visit to catch a glimpse of local life. It is the only mosque that is opened to foreigners and home to the largest Persian carpet and chandelier embellished with 600,000 Swarovski crystals.
It is a modern religious landmark renowned for its beauty and extravagance. The delightful colors of the geometric mosaic tiles all around are definitely something to marvel at. Like every mosque, dress code is conservative for men and women. Head scarfs are obligatory for women travellers. Entry is free [small charge for abaya hire] and is the only mosque opened to foreigners in Muscat for daily visits from 8am to 11am (except Fridays).
See Arabs’ Oldest Bazaar Since The Age Of Sail
Muttrah Souq is over 200 years old. Evidence of early settlements can be traced back as early as 3,000 BC. Navigating along a labyrinth of narrow alleys is a galore of merchandises from artefacts, antiques to shimmering silverware and jewellery. Quiet in the day and bustling at night, merchants displayed their haggling skills with dexterity under the chaotic ambience and nostalgic accent of Frankincense remains unchanged since the age of sail.
Towards the end of the souq heading towards the Sultan Qaboos Port is a worthy trip to the local fish and vegetable market. Local delicacies like snappers, tunas, swordfishes and sharks freshly caught off the Gulf of Oman can be found here. The fresh catches are then housed and prepared in modern and well-conditioned facilities. According to our local guide, Omanis are seafood lovers and nothing beats heading home with fresh catches of the day from Oman’s diverse marine coastlines.
Enjoy An Evening Of Spectacle With Family At The Royal Opera House Muscat
The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) is another glaring architecture masterpiece to behold. Tiled in luxurious marble and embellished with teak wood finishings, it is home to countless internationally renowned musicals and spectacles in Muscat. Opera on Ice was one of the many international performances staged here.
The ROHM box office runs September through June the following year and tickets are available online and through walk-ins. Dress code is strictly formal and punctuality is a requirement for all patrons attending any shows at the Royal Opera House. Details of shows available here.
Dine In Omani Ethnic Style At Kargeen
About 8 mins away from the Royal Opera House Muscat, sits a private enclave built in wrought iron adorned with traditional Arabic lanterns and bright colored Persian carpets. Set in authentic ethnic settings, Kargeen offers delectable homemade cuisines based on a vast combination of culinary styles inspired by Omani, Middle Eastern and Western menus.
If you are planning to take a respite from hotel food and buffets to try something more authentic in an elegant setting, Kargeen is a great dining option to consider.
The Great Outdoors at Daymaniyat Islands
In Muscat, we highly recommend families to make a trip out to Al Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve. An hour of sail on Muscat’s high seas will get you to the most picturesque paradise with the most alluring of pristine waters framed by an endless stretch of powdery white sand amidst the clear blue skies.
The Daymaniyat Islands are protected reserves in Oman. The islands’ richness in biodiversity are home to droves of indigenous marine wildlife, water fowls and migratory birds. Annually, thousands of sea turtles come on shore to lay and nest their eggs. Whale sharks and dolphins are common sightings at the Daymaniyat Islands.
It was here at Daymaniyat where we unexpectedly spotted and got to trail behind droves of wild sea turtles and stingrays. The experience was simply awe-inspiring and memories of Daymaniyat Islands will be deeply etched in our children’s minds for many years to come.
Some of the practical tips we offer for Daymaniyat islands are as follows;
- Hire a local operator to get to the islands as a license to enter the island with fees is required.
- Your appointed operator will help you to take care of all administrative work, boat rentals, life vests, snorkelling and or diver equipment.
- For families with young children like us, we recommend snorkelling at the islands. You can purchase the full snorkelling masks from decathlon for the best snorkelling experience.
- Kids should wear appropriate snorkelling wetsuits as waters can be chilly during the winter months.
- For a more exclusive experience, you can arrange for private lunch in a tented canvas shade on the white sand beach. The lunch menu is in buffet style but includes barbecued seafood caught off the coast prepared by the locals.
Beyond Muscat – Family Road Trips
The best way to see Oman is to go beyond Muscat. And there is really no better way than to hit the roads. From Muscat to Sur, the surroundings of our road trips were dominated by mountains, flanked by oceans and deserts revealing Oman’s tapestry of ever-changing landscapes all in a relaxed 200 km in 2 hours.
- In Oman, you will be driving on the right side of the road.
- Cars hired from hotels and airports come with automatic transmission.
- Road signs are available in both English & Arabic.
- We downloaded our digital maps in advanced in addition to our international roaming packages as a precaution.
- In Muscat, petrol kiosks were aplenty but did not seem to be the case for us in Sur. We found a local petrol kiosk to fuel up but they only accept local currency. So do remember to put aside sufficient Omani Rial with you if you are up for a road trip in Oman.
Contrary to Muscat, Sur is an unassumingly sleepy seaside town. Located on the eastern tip of Oman, Sur is steeped in its marine heritage that used to play a pivotal role in Oman’s maritime past. The town is quiet with little signs of activities except for a few odd goats and donkeys crisscrossing along narrow back alleys and children donned in Omani costumes playing outside of houses with doors embellished with elaborated ornate carvings.
As strange as it sounds, one can only be intrigued by the doors of Oman. Doors are symbolic here. Lots of care and thoughts are put behind the designing of doors in Omani homes. In the name of putting up a good impression when a guest enters, Omani doors are always captivating and have no lack of variety. The color combinations, textures and design details are seemingly endless.
Swim in a Wadi framed within deep valleys and gorges
Oman is blessed with an abundance of nature. As we head towards Wadi Shab in the Al Sharqiyah region, our views transited from rocky mountain ranges to an emerald sea of green
Dipping in Wadis is one of the top things to do here. Wadi is an Arabic term to describe dry creeks and river beds with a steady stream of fresh flowing water during the rainy seasons or simply a dry ravine throughout the rest of the year. What we loved about Wadi Shab is the 45 mins leisure hike engulfed in deep valleys, gorges and surrounded by palm groves and shrubs. It was breezy throughout the hike and we settled somewhere within the vicinity for a pre-packed picnic lunch before heading for a series of swims and dips in different Wadi pools.
Practical Tips for visiting Wadi Shab withy kids
- Wadi Shab is a great place to explore if you are up for a combination of easy hiking and swim adventure in Oman’s nature.
- You will need to take a 5 mins boat ride at Wadi Shab entrance costing 1 Omani Rial per person for a 2-way trip into the valleys.
- The highlights of Wadi Shab is the submerged cave equipped with ropes for climbing up the waterfall for a jump off into the pool. The submerged cave is accessible after the 45 mins hike and a series of swims in different pools. We recommend exploring the submerged caves only for confident swimmers as one needs to swim or snorkel through a narrow dark slit in between the mountains before reaching the caves.
- Ladies can swim in their normal swimwear but do bring a towel along for cover up as no changing rooms or toilets are available within the vicinity.
- Non-slip waterproof shoes are recommended if you intend to swim through the pools. Though shallow limestone rocks are always slippery.
The Magnificent Wahiba Sands At 1000 Nights
One has never really been to Oman without setting foot into the sand dunes. One of Oman’s many magnificent deserts, the Wahiba Sands is easily accessible from Sur. We took an overnight respite at Sur Plaza Hotel after exploring the Wadi Shab and before heading to the dunes the following morning.
Rooms at Sur Plaza hotel are very comfortable. Staffs are generally warm and friendly and provides excellent service. For dinner, we chose to head over to The Kayra Restaurant which is less than 5 mins walk away from the hotel. It is a very local and authentic eatery serving Indian cuisine from Kerala. The prices are extremely reasonable and their barbequed fish is definitely mouth-watering. The downside is that services can be slow and patience is required. Otherwise, Kayra was really some of the memorable meals we have had in Oman.
The Arabian Desert is the homeland of the Bedouins, desert nomads that could be traced back thousands of years ago in various parts of the Middle East and North Africa. We drove into the deserts on our own under the guidance of a Bedouin guide. He had our vehicles checked and car tyres deflated at one of the local mechanic shop. The bumpy rides through the dunes will become frequent conversations over the dining tables as we reminisce in our Oman adventures.
At Wahiba Sands, we chose to reside at the 1000 Nights Safari. This was probably closest to living like a Bedouin in traditional nomadic rustic tents but with the necessary amenities suited for western comfort. Its isolated location made it the perfect place to enjoy the silence of the deserts. Behind the desert camp is where the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises are chased by locals and tourists alike. It is also here where the most tantalising of Middle East and International cuisines are served under the constellation of stars.
The 1000 Night Safari Camp offers a variety of family-friendly activities from camels rising, dunes trekking to a guided trip visiting the homes of a Bedouin. It is also the only desert camp with its own swimming pool. It is definitely a worthy evening of experience for families in Arabian nights settings during Oman’s winter months.
Hiking at Mountain Of The Sun – Jebel Shams
For the adventurous families who are seeking out hiking opportunities that come with splendid views that are also suitable for children, just 250km away and 2 hrs drive from Muscat, accessible from the Al Harma village, you will arrive at Jebel Shams. It is known as the Mountain Of The Sun where the first sunrise in Oman occurs.
Here, you will see a spectacular rip in the Earth’s surface caused by continental plates meeting head-on and thrusting the ocean bed up at an acute angle that took place millions of years ago.
Looking ahead, there are vertiginous points of uncertainties. The paths once crossed looked utterly impossible but for the most parts of the journey, the walking paths are away from drops and the trails are entirely flat. The trekking route at Al Nakhur Rim Hike (W6 route) is highly recommended for casual hikes through the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Right at the bottom of the balcony walk at the Grand Canyon is an abandoned village tracing the remnants of life 40 years ago. The roads leading to the drive up to Jebel Shams are well paved and easy but 4WD cars are highly recommended. Jebel Shams is also a great place for camping, star-gazing and night photography. The hike up is suitable for all but a moderate amount of fitness is still required. Our children both 8 and 5 attempted the hike with us and it was a joyous experience for them.
Nizwa- The historical heartbeat of Oman
Entering the last leg of our trip, we took refuge at Hotel Golden Tulip Nizwa. It is a luxurious property constructed in charming Omani architectural style surrounded by the rugged Hajar mountain range. The Hotel Golden Tulip is also a stone throw away from historical monuments like the Nizwa fort, souq and goats’ market.
Do check out Marsa Alsaiyaad & Seafood located just next to the Nizwa goats market. They have a wide selection of fresh fishes to choose from and are prepared immediately and served to your tables. Service here was prompt and the restaurant is generally a “thumbs up” among the locals. Freshly grilled fish caught off the coast, prawns, squids and seafood soup are some of the favourite dishes here. Not the fanciest of eatery but food is incredibly delicious at highly affordable prices.
Nizwa is the historical heartbeat of Oman. Surrounded by a canary yellow of 11th-century ancient fort, the Nizwa Fort is a living museum that traces back Nizwa distant past when it was led with hostility under religious rulers until the mid 20th century. With the defeat of the Nizwa revolt, Nizwa modernised quickly under the new rule while retaining its traditional character.
A walk through the series of narrow zig-zagging staircases in the stone wall tower reveals the once vicious ambushes set out to trap fort invaders. Further up the fort will lead you to the castle with individual rooms that used to house the Iman, his family and guests, all fully equipped with traditional kitchens, dates storage rooms and libraries for religious scholars. At the village behind the fort, remnants of the past from abandoned mud houses, buildings and roads are still evident in the country’s second most visited city.
The Nizwa Souq is also a great place to shop for dry food products, traditional handcrafted silverware, antiques and some of Nizwa most prized dates at affordable prices.
A trip to the Nizwa goats markets comes highly recommended. Every Friday morning as early as 5.30am, the world’s most ancient and fascinating form of trade re-enacts as prized livestock from goats to cows exchanged hands. It is a chaotic scene involving hundreds of local traders and buyers congregating at the enclosure near to the Nizwa Souq entrance. Domestic animals were being paraded and exchanged for cash either for meat breeding or for the most part, investments.
Bedouin women in full veils and traditional masks are often seen here assisting their husbands in the bid and pay process. At around 10am, the crowd disperses only to repeat the whole process again the following Friday.
Overall, our family vacation in Oman was really been awesome. If you are making plans to make an inaugural visit to the Middle East, Oman should be at the top of the list. It is safe, neat and with everything in order. Not yet on tourists’ radar so there is no need to fret about fighting the crowds while traveling with children.
From cultural sights, pristine waters, and an abundance of nature and wildlife, Oman is one of the many rare places on the Persian Gulf with so much to offer as a safe and exciting family destination.
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Author’s Bio: This travel article is written by Joey Ho Meng Guet from Flee Me A Trip, an online portal dedicated to authentic travel for families in Asia. Joey is a Singaporean who enjoys travelling and chronicles her family travel stories. She has worked with various travel media and partners in Asia to research and curate travel content to a wider audience on the digital platform. She hopes to create cultural and social awareness of the places she travelled to through her writings.