Oman has long held a claim to fame as one of the Middle East’s best-kept secrets! The secret might be slightly out of the bag, but the experience has still not been spoilt by any mass-tourism – yet.
It is truly a unique part of the Middle East region in the way it has kept its traditional charm and offers so much of interest to active, outdoor-loving families.
We talked extensively about things to do in Muscat with kids here, so this post will focus on the how to actually get there; taking you through possible routes from Dubai and itinerary suggestions, as well as the practicalities of driving from the UAE to Oman.
We have broken it up into a few sections:
- Practicalities you need to know to cross the border and drive in Oman
- A suggested long weekend itinerary Dubai to Muscat (with distances and times)
- Where to stay and what to do in Muscat, Nizwa and Sohar.
You can learn more about Oman, including customs, visa rules and safety issues on our Oman with kids home page.
Practicalities you need to know to cross the border and drive in Oman
What you need with you to leave the UAE and enter Oman by car
You are crossing an international border! You will need for every passenger:
- A valid passport (with 6 months validity)
- Payment in AED for the exit tax from the UAE (this is included in a flight ticket so you don’t normally realise you’re paying a departure tax)
- Visa and fee to enter Oman (AED or Omani Royal – OR – accepted)
In addition, for your vehicle you will need:
- Proof of ownership of the vehicle (or proof that you have permission to drive the vehicle if the owner is not present in the car)
- Insurance that covers your vehicle in both the UAE & Oman (if your UAE insurance does no explicitly cover Oman as well, you will need to buy insurance from a broker at the border).
Learn more here about driving in desert conditions and what should always be in your car
Where can you cross the border to Oman
Ignoring Musandam and other enclaves, the main border crossings open to all tourists and non-GCC citizens from Dubai are:
- Wadi Hatta – Al Wajajah – closest to Dubai & Sharjah. Note the E44 Hatta route is not an option for tourists, program Hatta Fort Hotel in your GPS/Google Maps/Waze for the most accurate route.
- Kathm al Shukhla, Al Ain – note the Oman crossing is in Buraimi, some further 30km away! As this is a popular truck route option, it can actually be the quieter, easy route for cars.
- Meyzad – Hafeet, Al Ain – closer crossing for Abu Dhabi residents and if returning from Nizwa / Jabal Shams direction.
How the UAE-Oman Border Crossing Process actually works
Exit from the UAE
- At window one state how many people are in your car and confirm ownership of the vehicle (they will probably already have your plates scanned in a computerised system). You’ll be printed a statement in Arabic
- Next, pay your departure tax (currently 35AED per person) We have variously done this from the car and needing to park and go into an office.
- At the final stop hand over the piece of paper you were given at the first stop.
Next you need to cross the Oman Border
- Passports are first checked for an e-visa. If you already have an e-visa you should be advanced to the next window.
- You can apply for your Oman visa in advance here.
- If not you will need to park and go into the immigration office.
- An immigration form is needed for each passenger, they must all be present in the office, not sleeping kids in the car I’m afraid.
- A tourist visa is issued on your passport and payment made (can be a two-step process or one officer does it all)
- The fee at present is 5OR (50AED) for 1 10 day tourist visa, or 20OR for a 30-day tourist visa
- Present the stamped piece of paper at the police checkpoint
- Some vehicles are searched at this inspection point – some are not. It’s not clear what they are looking for but best not to go in with any obvious alcohol.
Crossing BACK from Oman to the UAE
It is an easier, albeit still time-consuming process to return to the UAE.
Oman charges no departure tax, and the UAE does not charge an entry Visa fee for most passport holders. It is simply a matter of being stamped back out of Oman and back into the UAE, each requiring separate queues and the offices not necessarily walking distance apart.
Some visa technicalities to be aware of
- If you have anyone in your group travelling on a 30-day UAE Tourist Visa note that their UAE visa will NOT reset if they are travelling within that 30 days – multiple entries in to and out of the UAE are allowed.
- If you are travelling between day 30 and day 39 of your UAE Tourist Visa (there is a 10 day “grace period”) then your passport re-news on re-entering the UAE.
- Crossing over into Oman on a Tourist Visa for the sake or renewal is common practice – referred to as “border runs”. The price of the Omani Tourist Visa was significantly increased in 2017 to deter this practice, but it seems it was affecting tourist numbers and the 10-day, 5OR (50AED) tourist visa was reintroduced in 2018.
- You can also obtain a longer 30-day tourist visa for 20OR (200AED) – note this visa DOES reset if you cross back into the UAE. (This caught us out visiting Muscat and Musandam on consecutive weekends, thinking we had 30 days to use – we ended up having to pay the Oman entry visa twice!)
Driving tips in Oman
- You drive on the right side of the road (same as the UAE)
- Road signs are displayed in both English and Arabic.
- Download Google maps in advance as coverage is patchy beyond the cities. Waze also works in Oman.
- A 2WD will suffice for almost all driving on a long weekend itinerary. If you want to head deeper into the desert or Wadi’s you will need a 4WD.
- You must have insurance to drive your vehicle in Oman (if not included in your UAE insurance policy, this can be purchased at the border crossing).
- Speed limits are up to 120kms but most vehicles do not travel that fast, kept right as much as you can to allow others to pass.
- The traffic in Oman can still be erratic (eg sudden lane changes without indicators) but moves nowhere near as fast as the UAE. On the whole, its a more forgiving, less stressful driver.
- You can find general safety tips here for driving in desert conditions.
Is there a best time of year to do your road trip to Oman?
Just like the UAE, the summer months in Oman can be excruciatingly hot. The best time to visit Muscat & Oman is over the cooler winter months October through to April.
One big advantage of visiting during the hotter summer months is the opportunity to see the turtles at Ras Jinz on the south coast. But at this time it’s probably too hot to do most outdoor sightseeing and camping in the desert could be a bit too hot and uncomfortable.
Long weekends are incredibly popular times to cross, but do be aware this can mean extensive queues at the border crossing points.
Opening hours in Oman
This is a really important practicality to consider if planning a Muscat road trip, especially over a weekend.
Friday is the holy day and many attractions are either only open 8am to 11am, shut for a long period middle of the day only re-opening in the evening, or shut altogether on Fridays. This could put a real dampener on cramming in your plans to one weekend!
Alternative methods getting from Dubai to Muscat
Dubai to Muscat by Bus
It is possible to catch a bus from Dubai to Muscat with Mswalat (formerly ONTC) – click here for timetable details.
- Tickets are 5.5OR (55AED) one way or 9OR (90AED) return
- They cannot be purchased online you will need to buy from the Mswalat ticket counter
- Buses leave Dubai from Deira and take the Hatta-Sohar route, departing 7.30am, 3.30pm & 11pm
- Buses arrive into Muscat Al Athaibi, near to the Grand Mosque – note this is some distance from the touristy areas, a cab to your final destination may add another 5OR.
- Buses leave Muscat from Al Athaibi station at 6am, 3pm and 11am
- Expect the journey by bus to take a minimum of 6 hours
Looking to connect between Muscat and Musandam? You need this guide.
Dubai to Muscat Flight
Flying from Dubai to Oman is also popular, especially for short breaks as this will give you more time on the ground. You can check regular flight schedules and pricing here:
Related reading: More Dubai short break ideas
Suggested long weekend itinerary Dubai to Muscat by Road
You can see the highlights of Muscat and surrounds within 3 days if you were to fly and only base yourself in Muscat.
The absolute minimum to make a road trip from Dubai to Muscat worthwhile is 4 days. This is simply because driving distances will take up a lot of the time.
Depending on who you are travelling with how far you can drive without regular stops (we know toddlers!), here’s a guide to some of the distances to consider (Dubai distances taken from Downtown Dubai):
Dubai to Hatta Wadi Border Crossing: 131kms – 1 hour 30 mins
Hatta Wadi Border to Sohar: 104kms – 1 hour 18 mins
Dubai to Al Ain Khatam Al Shukhla Border Crossing: 152kms – 1 hour 50 mins
Al Ain Khatam Al Shukhla Border to Sohar: 113km – 1 hour 30 mins
Sohar to Muscat: 210kms – 2 hours 10 mins
Muscat to Nizwa: 158kms – 1 hour 40 mins
Muscat to Jebel Shams: 243kms – 3 hours 20 mins
Nizwa to Jebel Shams: 91km -1 hour 50 mins
Nizwa to Al Ain Mezyad-Hafeet: 258kms – 2 hours 30 mins
Al Ain Mezyad-Hafeet to Dubai: 167km – 1 hour 50 mins
Some roads are better than others with two land freeways. As you hit the more mountainous roads, these will add time.
The border crossing itself could take you from 20 minutes to 2 hours+, it depends on so many factors like how many staff are on, time of day. At peak weekend times, expect it to be lengthy delays, and don’t always expect an organised queuing system.
Ideal 4 Day weekend itinerary Dubai to Muscat
Day 1: Dubai to Muscat, via Hatta & Sohar
Day 2: Muscat sightseeing
Day 3: Muscat to Nizwa
Day 4: Nizwa to Dubai, via Al Ain
Tips and suggestions
- If you have seen Sohar and Muscat before, you could bypass the coastal route and head immediately south to Wahiba Sands / Ras al Jinz and stay near Sur, as an alternative trip. It is very difficult to attempt to fit these more southerly destinations in on a Muscat road trip.
- If you’ve not visited Al Ain before, you could easily add 2 days to this itinerary, or visit as a separate weekend trip. You will never do it justice in a drive-through visit. (You can read more on what to see and do in Al Ain here).
- You can, of course, easily substitute the start point of this itinerary to Abu Dhabi. In which case the two Al Ain border crossings are your best option.
- See this guide to overnight accommodation in Al Ain.
Where to stay in Muscat
We have a detailed Muscat accommodation guide here or read on for some top family suggestions:
Favourite luxury family options
- Shangri-La Barr
alJissah Resort & Spa (you can read an extensive review of Barr Al Jissah by one of our readers here)
- Al Bustan Palace – A Ritz Carlton Hotel
- The Chedi Muscat
Great mid-range options in the Qurum area
Serviced apartments in Muscat
If you prefer more space for a group but still the luxuries of a resort, try these serviced apartment options:
Where to stay in Sohar
If you’d like to break up the journey with an overnight stop, Sohar makes a good midway resting point. You can try:
- Radisson Blu Hotel Sohar for a luxury retreat on the waterfront
- Mercure Sohar For a simple clean and comfortable highway stop
- Sama Suhar Hotel Apartments for a larger room option
Where to stay in Nizwa
- Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort for the ultimate luxury mountain indulgence
- Golden Tulip Nizwa Hotel for a solid mid-range more resort-style option
- Al Karam Hotel Apartments for a 2 bedroom apartment option
Where to stay in Hatta
- JA Hatta Fort Hotel get to the border for an early start but stay overnight in this attractive mountainous resort
Note: Don’t expect serviced apartments to necessarily come with everything you need. You can still BYO meals but perhaps bring your own sets of cutlery -quasi-camping with a roof!
What to do in Muscat
See also our detailed guide to Muscat with kids
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (8am-11am Sat-Thu)
- Walk the Corniche in Muttrah
- Muttrah Souk (8am- 11am, 4pm-10pm)
- Children’s Museum
- Qurum Natural Park
- Shatti Qurum Beach
- Dolphin Tour
- Boat to Daymaniyat Islands
- Royal Opera House Visit
- Wandering old town and see the Al Alam Presidential Palace
- National Museum of Oman
- Bait Al Zubair Museum
What to do in Sohar
- Sohar Fort (check is still closed for renovation)
- Sohar Traditional Handicrafts Souq (note limited opening hours)
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Sohar (8am to 11am Sat to Thu)
What to do in Nizwa and along Highway 15
You can find our complete guide to things to see and do in Nizwa here. Some of the highlights include:
- Niwza Fort
- Nizwa Souq (market)
- Falaj Daris (UNESCO World Heritage site)
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Nizwa
- Al Hoota Caves (need to pre-book)
- Al Hamra Village
- Al Ayn Tombs (UNESCO World Heritage site)
- Tanuf Ruins
- Birkat Al Mouz Ruins
- Al Bahla Fort (UNESCO World Heritage site)
- Jibreen Castle (also known as Jabrin, Jabreen)
- Jebel Akhdar
Got a review of any of these attractions you would like to share? Get in touch we’d love to share your photos and experiences.
Further Oman resources and inspiration:
Check out these guides for more great ideas visiting Oman
- A highlights tour of Oman with Kids – including Sur, Wahiba Sands & Wadi Shab
- When is the best time to visit Oman
- How to get from Muscat to Musandam
- Best resorts and hotels in Musandam
- Best Resorts & Hotels in Muscat
- Easy day trips to try from Muscat
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