The Sultanate of Oman, historically forgotten as a sleepy corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is fast becoming one of the world’s most up-and-coming tourist destinations (pre-pandemic, of course).
As the nation’s airline, Oman Air, continues to go from strength to strength and with the opening of the brand new Muscat International Airport in 2018, Oman is becoming a transit hub for international travellers. It is also garnering a reputation for thrill-seekers thanks to its geographical diversity and plentiful opportunities for outdoor sports and adventures. Moreover, Oman is an incredibly safe and family-friendly country, as its millions of expatriate residents well know.
A country the size of Italy, Oman’s culture and geography varies – sometimes drastically – within its borders. Muscat, for example – a cosmopolitan, air-conditioned capital city of 1.4 million with a mall in every neighbourhood – could not be more different to the some of the tiny, peaceful villages of the interior, where you’ll find more goats than people and the way of life is governed by tradition and the surrounding environment.
Although you’d have to travel every inch of the country to really understand the geographical extremes and cultural intricacies of Oman, it is possible to see a considerable amount in just one day, with Muscat as your base. The following list contains a series of day trips from Muscat which will show you a different side to the Sultanate of Oman and allow you to experience this unique country’s beauty and cultural heritage.
Whether you’re an Oman-based expatriate looking to see a quick snapshot of the country’s diversity or you’ve popped across the border from the UAE for a weekend break, we’re sure you’ll find something you and your family will love on this list. They are all suitable if you’re travelling with kids and we’ve included a breakdown of the total drive time for each.
Climate in Oman
A quick practical note before we begin – you’ll need to be mindful of the weather! During the summer months temperatures in Oman frequently hit and surpass 50 degrees Celsius, so none of the trips listed below except the boat trip are suitable between May and September.
If you are looking for a summer getaway to escape the Muscat heat, I recommend a longer stay (a night or more) in the Hajjar mountains. There are plenty of options from wild camping to 5-star hotels with swimming pools and child-friendly rooms, and the weather is usually a good 15 degrees cooler than in the city!
Nizwa & Misfat al-Abriyeen
- Total drive time (Muscat – Nizwa – Misfat al-Abriyeen – Muscat): 5 hours
- No 4WD necessary
Just an hour and a half from Muscat, Nizwa is a popular spot on Oman’s tourist trail because of its cultural and historical significance. The largest city in the Al-Dakhiliya region (known as the Interior), Nizwa was once the capital of Oman when the country was an Imamate separate from the Sultanate of Muscat. During this period, its mosque was also a centre for Islamic learning.
The Nizwa Souq is a hotspot for tourists, but it’s well worth a visit to see a snapshot of Omani life in the interior. While the Souq itself is open all week, the best day to go is Friday, when locals gather for the famous goat souq, parading their animals around a ring and bartering with potential buyers.
Friday is also the day when farmers from the surrounding area bring their fresh produce to town. Despite its unforgiving climate, Oman produces a surprising amount of local food in areas where the ground is higher and the temperature cooler – particularly up in the mountains. And it’s not just dates! In any local supermarket (during the winter months at least) you’ll find Omani tomatoes, onions, aubergines, mushrooms, watermelon and even strawberries.
Once you’ve sampled a refreshing slice of Omani watermelon, Nizwa Souq is also a great place to buy gifts and trinkets such as Omani silver (much of which comes from Nizwa itself) and other souvenirs. It’s less touristy and therefore cheaper than Muttrah Souq in Muscat, which – in pre-Covid days at least – is often full of tourists hopping off a cruise liner for a quick day trip to the capital.
After witnessing the goat souq and finishing your shopping, head to Nizwa Fort, where you’ll experience simple but impressive Omani architecture and soak up a bit of history. From the huge, circular cannon tower you can enjoy incredible views of the city and its surrounding serene palm groves and humble villages. If you’re there for the call to prayer, you’ll hear it beaming in all directions from every mosque for miles around.
Nizwa Fort is a popular and accessible site for tourists and there is plenty of information available about its historical and cultural significance, although you will have to pay the 5 rial non-local entrance fee (around £10 GBP or $13 USD). The price has shot up from just half a rial five years ago – a reflection of the growing numbers of tourists visiting Oman and the government’s intention to diversity the economy away from oil by generating increased revenue from other industries like tourism.
When you’ve had your fill of the fort, grab a bite to eat and hop back in the car for the next leg of your journey, which will take you along a winding road up into the foothills of the Hajjar Mountains to the village of Misfat al Abriyeen.
Although this might sound like a precarious drive, it is one of the few mountain experiences that is totally accessible without a 4×4. In fact, even tourist coaches make the journey – although I wouldn’t like to be sitting by the window overlooking the edge… There’s also plenty of parking, which will likely come as a relief after the chaotic parking in central Nizwa!
Misfat al Abriyeen is an oasis of peace and tranquillity with incredible views of the valley and the mountains below. It is a traditional Omani village – yes, people still live there! – where you can wander the tiny paths and really stop and appreciate the beautiful simplicity of life in Oman before oil and shopping malls. You will also witness the falaj, the traditional Omani irrigation system channelling water for use in agriculture and homes.
Once you’ve had a look around, stop for a cup of qahwa (Arabic coffee) at Misfah Old House, a small guest house with a patio set high in the palm groves overlooking the village and its agricultural terraces. This will be the perfect way to round off a hectic day before you hop in the car and head back to Muscat.
Parent perks: Kids will LOVE the chaos of the goat souq (and of course, the baby goats).
Top tips: The Interior is more culturally conservative than Muscat – particularly small villages like Misfat al-Abriyeen – so make sure you’re appropriately dressed, covering your shoulders and knees.
Nakhal Fort & Wakan Village
- Total drive time (Muscat – Nakhal – Wakan – Muscat): 3.5 hours
- 4WD (and a confident driver) necessary for the drive up the mountain road to Wakan
If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track version of the Nizwa/Misfat al Abriyeen day trip, this one is perfect. It’s also great if you’re looking for something involving slightly less car time with your little ones (just 3.5 hours total round trip compared with 5 hours for the Nizwa trip) – although bear in mind you will need a 4×4 to get up the mountain to Wakan. If you have one though, it’s well worth venturing up for the peaceful oasis that awaits you at the top!
Just a 50 minute drive from Muscat (mostly along the highway to Barka), Nakhal Fort is in many ways similar to Nizwa – charming, impressive, and a reflection of the fascinating history of Oman – though much less touristy, easier to get to and with WAY less stressful parking.
It’s also a great alternative to Nizwa if you’re not around for the Friday goat souq and are going on a different day.
With its quiet, relaxed atmosphere, you can take your time to explore the old inner rooms of the fort with their ornately decorated ceilings, offering a view into life in Oman during simpler times, before the wave of modernisation that has taken place in Oman since the 1970s.
From the large circular tower, you’ll find spectacular views of the surrounding areas with date palm groves and tiny minarets poking out of the top stretching as far as the eye can see.
When you’re done exploring the fort, hop back in the car and make your way to Wakan. The drive alone from the fort to the base of the mountain is worth the trip, with palm groves on all sides and picturesque villas and mosques tucked away in their midst. You could even stop for a picnic on the way at the Ain al-Thawarah spring.
This is a popular choice for locals, and if you’re there on a Friday you’ll likely come across hordes of local families sitting by the water in the shade of the palm trees while children swim and play in the water to cool off. Although if you’re looking for something quieter, you could make a short detour to Wadi al-Abyad for a hike and a paddle.
Onward to Wakan! Once you get up onto the mountain road, it can get a bit hairy and steep (the village sits 2,000m above sea level in the western Hajjar Mountains), so I don’t recommended you try it unless you’re a confident driver and you definitely need a 4-wheel -drive.
When you reach the top (and the precarious little car park) you’ll find a spectacular viewpoint looking out over Wadi Mistal, with towering, rugged mountains in the background.
You could spend hours wandering this beautiful, green village, climbing higher and higher into the mountain to enjoy views for days over the wadi, agricultural terraces and lush green all around you – a stark contrast from the greys and browns of the rocky route from Muscat.
Personally, this is one of my favourite day trips from Muscat – it’s easy, stress-free (as long as you don’t get stuck behind someone on the mountain trying to make their way up without a 4×4!) and the tranquillity of Wakan is a breath of fresh air.
Parent perks: The shorter journeys and relative quiet of the fort and the village make this trip relatively free of the dramas that can come with travelling with kids.
Top tips: Pack a picnic! While being off the beaten track is a good thing for avoiding tourists and having a more authentic experience, it does mean there are fewer options when it comes to food, so make sure you pack a cool box (even if just as a back-up plan).
Wadi Bani Khalid & sunset in the Wahiba desert
- Total drive time (Muscat – Wadi Bani Khalid – Wahiba Sands – Muscat): 6 hours
- 4WD and an experienced desert driver necessary for the desert section – although you can always cut this bit and just go for the Wadi!
This trip involves a lot of driving, so it may not be ideal for smaller kids unless they are used to being in the car – or unless you only do the Wadi part and save the desert for another, perhaps longer trip. If you can manage the long drives, it will be well worth it for two iconic Omani experiences in just one day!
Wadi Bani Khalid is a stunning, dramatic oasis with crystal clear blue waters surrounded by great canyons and palm trees. It’s one of many places that totally shatter any stereotypical expectations you may have had of Oman as a dry, desert country.
It’s perfect for adventurous families of hikers and swimmers but is also more accessible than many other wadis in Oman for the less active and those with smaller children. You don’t have to venture in very far to experience its beauty, go for a dip and have a picnic on the rocks.
There is a car park and visitors’ centre at the entrance to the wadi with a café and, crucially, toilets! This could be a lifesaver if you’re making the long journey with little ones.
After climbing, jumping off cliffs and basking in the blue waters, grab a bite to eat and hop back in the car to drive into the Wahiba desert for an afternoon nap and sundowners on the dunes. If you’re used to driving on the sand, the route to many of the popular desert camps will be fairly straightforward. For example, Arabian Oryx camp is just a short way into the desert along a straight path through the dunes.
Its relaxed atmosphere (compared to some of the higher-end desert camps) and huge majlis area make it the perfect place for a siesta or an afternoon qahwa.
Later, climb up the dunes to watch the magical desert sunset – possibly the most epic and iconic Omani experience of them all – followed by an early dinner at the camp’s restaurant before hopping back in the car and heading out of the dunes and back on the road to Muscat.
Bear in mind, you’ll be driving back on your own in the dark through the desert, so this is really only feasible if you have an experienced desert driver. If you want to experience the desert but are not confident driving on the sand and/or don’t have a 4×4, I recommend an overnight stay at one of the camps instead. Most of them offer transfers (for a fee) from the nearest village.
Parent perks: Arabian Oryx’s huge majlis is an ideal place to while away a couple of hours. You can relax and read your book while the kids run around and play (or sleep off their Wadi adventures before the sunset).
Top tip: Timing is everything with this trip. You don’t want to be swimming in the Wadi OR arriving in the desert during the heat of the day, so aim to get to Wadi Bani Khalid early and have lunch there, and time the drive between the two for the early afternoon (if you can). Given the high content of outdoor activities, this trip is best enjoyed during the winter months!
Remember: If you’re planning a short stop or dinner at one of the camps without staying overnight, be sure to contact them in advance to make sure it’s OK with them.
Boat trip to the Daymaniyat islands
- Total drive time – depends on where you’re based but boats go from various places in Muscat including Al Mouj and the Bandar al-Rowdha marina
If you’re looking for a day trip without the drive, the Daymaniyat Islands are the perfect getaway. With boats departing daily from Muscat, you can either book to join a group or hire out a boat to yourself (this is pretty pricey unless you’re in a big group, when it’s worth it!).
A day trip to these idyllic islands, with their stunning white sands and clear turquoise waters, is one of the best ways to experience the incredible and diverse marine life that Oman is famous for. Also, the best view of Muscat by far is from the sea, with its low, white buildings and minarets framed by the sea in front and the rugged mountains behind.
The journey itself is just as thrilling as the destination as you’ll likely find friends along the way. Dolphins and whale sharks particularly love basking in the wake – ask the captain to stop the boat so you can hop in and swim with them!
The boat ride is particularly refreshing during the summer, when the breeze and relative cool of the water provides a break from the burning heat of being on land. Don’t be fooled by the cooler temperatures at sea though – make sure you and your little ones are positively dripping in SPF to avoid burning in the Gulf sun!
Once you reach the islands you can snorkel and paddle board as you investigate the local marine life, which includes an array of brightly coloured tropical fish. Keep an eye out for the huge sea turtles which frequent the islands’ waters!
Depending on the time of year, you may be able to swim up to the islands themselves, although this is not always possible. Your guide will likely tell you on the day, but you can also check with them in advance. Still, it’s well worth the trip to snorkel in the shallow waters and picnic on the boat (either book a catered package in advance or take your own cool boxes).
After a day of sunbathing, turtle spotting and basking in the glorious open waters, you’ll sail back to Muscat sleepy and ready for a hearty dinner.
I recommend finishing off the day with a delicious fish supper and a lemon and mint juice at Turkish House restaurant in Al-Khuweir, a popular spot for fish and seafood with some of the most delicious bread in town!
Parent perks: This trip will be a sure fire success with kids of any age (dolphins, turtles, sea swimming – what’s not to love?!), and they will be suitably worn out by the end of the day, guaranteeing you a great night’s sleep.
Top tip: This is a fantastic trip to take during the hotter summer months, when temperatures frequently surpass 50 degrees, rendering many other activities simply impossible and leaving you stuck for things to do in Muscat (malls and indoor play areas get old very quickly!).
There you have it – four epic day trips from Muscat that will show you how truly beautiful and diverse Oman really is and give you an insight into life outside of the capital.
Visit the Pink Jinn blog for more insights into travel, culture and life in Oman. And if you’re looking for things to do without actually leaving the city, check out our one-day itinerary for a quick stopover in Muscat.
About our guest blogger
Laura Cretney is the CEO of Pink Jinn, a socially conscious lifestyle brand inspired by the Middle East and North Africa. Through the Pink Jinn Souq, they sell cultural and craft products from the region sourced from small businesses, entrepreneurs and social enterprises, with 1/3 of the profits going to charities working with refugees and vulnerable women. Through Pink Jinn Arabic, they support a community of Arabic learners studying at home.
Laura is currently working on her PhD at Durham University, focusing on the conflict in Yemen and the role of diaspora actors. She is also the Director of Al Ishara Consulting, which provides bespoke advice and consultancy services to businesses and organisations working in the MENA region. To learn more about her work, follow her on Twitter and follow Pink Jinn on Instagram.
Interest in writing for Family Travel in the Middle East as a guest contributor? Pop over here for all the information.
Before you go, you may also want to check out
- When is the best time to visit Oman?
- What to wear when visiting Oman: Dresscode advice for all the family
- Highlighlights of Muscat with kids
- Best family accommodation in Muscat
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