If you want to get your hands on the finest silver jewellery and handicrafts from Oman, you should plan a trip to Nizwa!
Located in northern Oman, just an hour and a half from Muscat on the country’s eastern coast, Nizwa is the largest city in the Ad Dakhiliya region. It was once the capital city of Oman and is one of the country’s oldest cities, holding religious, historic, and agricultural significance.
Even though it is a small city in relative terms (with a population of 72,0001), there are many things to do in Nizwa, especially if you love shopping for trinkets and digging into history.
So, if you ever visit Oman, plan at least a day or two in the historic city of Nizwa and the surrounding areas to experience the true Omani culture.
The Best Time to Visit Nizwa
The best time to visit Nizwa is between September and March. During these months, the city experiences winter, and the temperatures lie between 24 to 26 degrees C; therefore, the weather is pleasant enough for tourists to enjoy outdoor activities.
From March till May, Nizwa sees the most crowds, as it is the spring season. Although the weather during this time is also quite pleasant, it is the busiest time of the year with a surge in flight and hotel rates; therefore, you’ll have to book your trip in advance.
Summer’s in Nizwa, although moderately cooler than other parts of the Gulf are still stifling hot and not particularly pleasant for tourists. You might nab a deal on accommodation from June to September, but it may be too hot for touring the historic sites.
How to Get to Nizwa from Muscat
The best and most convenient way to reach Nizwa is via Muscat, as the distance between the two cities is only 82 miles (about 90 minutes drive time).
Therefore, you will have to get a flight to Muscat, and from there, you can take a bus, taxi, or car to Nizwa.
The cheapest option to get to Nizwa from Muscat is via bus. This Intercity Bus (Route 54 – to Yanqul) costs 4.40 OMR one way or 7.5 OMR per person return. As it makes multiple stops en route, it will take almost 4 hours. See the Mwasalat timetable here.
However, going by taxi or rental/private car takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes. It will be pricier but will take you less than half the time compared to the bus, giving you the flexibility to see outlying attractions beyond Nizwa city centre.
You can learn more about hiring a car in Oman and doing a self-drive road trip of the country here.
You could also try transfer services such as Get Transfer. Via this handy booking app, you can effectively ask drivers to “bid” on your journey, be it one way or taking you for a full day.
The other alternative is to join an organised day tour which will take you from Muscat and over the Hajar Mountains. There are group and private options which can be booked online ahead of your visit:
Now that you know the best time to visit Nizwa and how to get there, let’s look at some interesting things to do in Nizwa.
Interesting Places to Visit in Nizwa
Nizwa is actually quite spread out; hence having your own car is best. These attractions are close to the city centre.
1. Visit the Nizwa Fort
Nizwa Fort is one of the most famous tourist spots in Nizwa. It dates back to the 9th century, later renovated and rebuilt in the 17th century. It has unique round towers and high walls that make it quite a prominent structure in the city.
Recently fully restored, the fort is famous for its unique architecture and inscriptions on the walls that give important details about its glorious past. The highlight of visiting the fort is climbing atop the highest tower and having spectacular views of the entire city and the nearby mountains.
- Entry to Nizwa Fort is 5 OMR, 3 OMR for children over 6
- Open daily 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM – closes over prayer time Friday
3. Explore Nizwa Souq
If you’re a shopaholic, you will definitely enjoy shopping at the local Nizwa Souq. The souq gives you a glimpse of old Oman, as several ancient structures and architecture remain intact.
As for the items, you can get plenty of unique souvenirs at the souk to take back home, like the finest silver jewellery, taqiyah skullcaps, mosaic lamps, frankincense resin, pottery, mats, and baskets. The market is divided by different types of merchants, from handicrafts to pottery and homewares.
The best part? These are Omani trademark souvenirs you won’t easily find anywhere else!
- The Souq opens daily 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM
- It is free to simply wonder the souq but do take some riyals with you to pick up some unique items to remind you of your time in Oman!
3. Falaj Daris
This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not look like much but do make a stop at the largest Falaj (irrigation channel) in Oman.
There are only around 200 metres of the falaj channels visible in the park before they disappear underground, but the total length is reported as 7990 metres. Locals enjoy picnicking here at the weekends, though on a midweek visit, you’ll almost certainly have the park to yourself.
The park itself is in need of a little updating, but nonetheless, this is a hugely culturally significant part of the city dating back 2,000 years. Kids can take a splash in the water and marvel at the engineering feat of these irrigation channels.
- The Falaj Daris Park is open to visit 24 hours with no entry fee
4. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Whilst most visitors to Oman are familiar with the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, not many are aware there are several Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosques elsewhere in the country. The second largest can be found in Nizwa, a new gateway to the city, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Nizwa opened to worshippers in 2015.
Capable of housing up to 10,500 worshippers at one time, it’s certainly one of the most architecturally stunning and eye-catching buildings in the city.
- We are awaiting confirmation if non-Muslim visitors are permitted inside the mosque.
5. Nizwa Friday Market (a.k.a. Goat Market)
If you want to experience the true sights, sounds (and smells!) of the ancient capital, then make the early rise to experience the Friday Market, a tradition as old as the city itself.
Local traders and buyers congregate from as early as 5:30 AM on the weekend to haggle over goats, cows and other livestock in this lively affair in the enclosure near the Nizwa Souq entrance. Vendors will parade their creatures then the lively bidding begins. Most of the action is over by 9:00 AM before the day heats up.
It is free to watch the action but do come in fully aware it’s a live trading market, not there just for the tourists. There’s no signage or explanation; everything is conducted in Arabic, and its quite loud, so come along and enjoy the show!
(With extra little ones keep a close eye, they may not appreciate the many sensory experiences associated with a live animal market).
You will find a few additional stalls on a Friday morning selling fresh produce, and even domestic pets, in addition to the usual market stalls in the Nizwa Souq. Once the main action has finished at the Friday market by around 9-10:00 AM, you can still peruse the Souq and visit the fort until 1:00 PM
NB if you’re visiting Nizwa on a Friday afternoon, do expect everything to be shut by midday – including restaurants. If you’re looking to feed the kids, you may need to seek out one of the larger hotels or shopping malls, such as the Grand Mall – certainly a much more modern take on the city! Or, do as the locals do and pack yourself a picnic lunch and enjoy the quiet serenity of the weekend in Nizwa.
Best Short Trips from Nizwa
As we mentioned earlier, Nizwa is a relatively small city; therefore, you can easily explore all of Nizwa’s tourist attractions within a couple of days.
Basing yourself around Nizwa, though, there are many exciting places to explore only a short trip away. We’d also add these sites and experiences to your Nizwa itinerary.
1. Climb Atop Jebel Akhdar
Oman is mostly a desert country; therefore, it’s a delight to find a place with trees and plantations. One such place is Jebel Akhdar, also known as the green mountain. Unlike other places in Nizwa, this mountain has shrubs and trees. It is best known for its high-quality Omani date plantation with almost 25000 date trees, fruit orchards, and walnut cultivation.
Apart from refreshing your senses with the greenery on Jebel Akhdar, you can also hike on the mountain and take in the beautiful hilltop view of the surrounding landscape.
2. Al-Hoota Cave
The Al-Hoota Cave is located in the Al-Hamra region at the foot of Jebel Shams and is one of the best things to see in Nizwa with kids. The drive from Nizwa is only 37 kilometres, and it takes 30 minutes to reach the cave.
It is a 5 km long cave with a proper ecosystem, including bats, snails, molluscs, and anthropoids. The speciality of the Al-Hoota Cave is that it was discovered hundreds of years ago by the locals, but few have heard of it, leaving the area largely untouched.
The cave has four lakes home to Garra Barreimiae, a rare kind of blind fish that exists only in Oman. Guests are invited to tour one chamber of the cave on an hourly guided tour.
The tour of Al-Hoota cave is 45 minutes long and provides information about the creation of the cave and the animals that inhabit it. The fun part for children is the short train ride from the visitor’s centre to the entrance of the cave. Inside, do expect a fair few steps so no strollers and no good for anyone with ambulatory issues.
The cave gets very busy on weekends, especially, so you should pre-book your time slot online in advance.
- Entry fees differ for locals and foreigners. Non-Omani visitors pay 7.350 OMR per adult, and children 6 and over pay 3.675 OMR.
- At the time of last updating this guide (early 2023), the caves are temporarily closed for maintenance. We’ll update more when we learn of their re-opening – or you can check the current status here.
3. Bahla Fort
If you’re a fan of history and would like to explore ancient structures, a trip to Bahla Fort will surely interest you.
Bahla Fort is situated on Jebel Akhdar highlands and was built during the 12th century by Banu Nebhan using mud and straw. This was a tribe of influential people who took care of the frankincense trade during their time.
The fort was almost in ruins, except for a few houses and a structure that was once the main fort. The Bahla fort has three sections, the oldest one being Al-Qasabah; the new part, Bait-Al-Hadit, built in the 16th and 17th centuries for the Yariba Dynasty; and the latest section, Bait-Al-Jabal, built in the 18th century.
This Omani fort has a lot to explore as only a little information about its past, its making, and its inhabitants is available, but remains in the area are believed to date back 5,000 years. The fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and extensive restoration work was completed in 2012.
Watch out for the sleeping bats in the ceilings, not for the squeamish!
- Entrance to Bahla Fort is 01.000 OMR per adult
- You can, for an additional fee, hire a local guide to talk you through the highlights of the fort, which is worthwhile as there is otherwise relatively little information about the fort and its history
- You can taxi from Nizwa to the fort for around 2 OMR if you don’t have your own vehicle or find it on the Route 54 intercity bus
4. Jabreen Castle
Another interesting place near Nizwa is Jabreen Castle. It is located in the interior region of Oman and is known to be almost 600 years old. The castle is 41 km away from Nizwa; however, it takes hardly half an hour to reach there (by private car, or again on the Route 54 bus).
Jabreen Castle is well-preserved, and its two main towers, spacious halls, and rooms with painted ceilings are all intact and give us an insight into the extravagant lifestyle of the people who lived there. The castle has 3-stories and consists of several meeting rooms, a courtroom, a library, and classrooms, indicating that it was used as a centre of learning astrology, medicine, and Islamic law.
The best thing about the castle is that it was not built during the war; therefore, it is intricately decorated with embellished windows, wooden balconies, arches adorned with Arabic calligraphy, and spectacular artwork on the ceilings.
- Entrance to Jabreen Castle is 0.500 OMR, children over 6 are 0.200 OMR
- Open Saturday to Thursday, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Friday 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM
- Again, you can choose to hire a local guide for a nominal fee for a more in-depth tour of the building, or many tours departing from Muscat on day trips will include a stop here with a guide
Best Places to Stay in Nizwa
Whilst it is possible to see many of the highlights of Nizwa and the surrounding areas within a (very long) day trip from Muscat, we recommend you spend at least two days exploring the area fully.
These are our top recommendations on where to stay in and around Nizwa.
1. Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel close to Nizwa, we suggest staying at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar. It is a 5-star hotel located high in the Green Mountains, away from the hustle and bustle of the city (do note that the mountainous roads take time, allow an hour’s drive into Nizwa itself).
The hotel offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding canyon and provides top-notch service for the guests. Families are extremely well-catered with 115 luxury rooms and villas, two hot tubs, a family pool and a luxury cliff-side infinity pool, along with the choice of six dining venues.
A fully staffed kids and teens club offer a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities to keep kids entertained and engaged during your stay, maybe even long enough for you to pop into the Anantara Spa – we’d argue one of the best in the Middle East!
A stay at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar is like a vacation within a vacation, with many flying in from the UAE and other parts of the region for long weekends to enjoy the glorious surroundings and amenities on offer at this luxury gem in the mountains.
2. Golden Tulip
Although Nizwa itself doesn’t really do high-end luxury as you may find in other parts of the country, the best-recommended stay for families close to town is Golden Tulip. We’ll be honest, it’s not a scratch on Anantara, but the price will hopefully reflect this too!
It’s still a great 4-star choice, with traditional architectural style and a heated outdoor pool making it great for year-round travel in the region. There are large rooms available that can accommodate up to four and dining at Birkat Al Mauz.
3. Al-Atlal Apartment
If you’re looking for a mid-range place to stay in Nizwa that can fit a family of 4 in one suite, book the Al-Atlal Apartment. It is a one-bedroom apartment with a living room, kitchen, and two bathrooms.
It is centrally located near all the main Nizwa tourist attractions, including Nizwa Fort and Al Jinah. It’s a convenient and clean place to stay for a small family or a couple within walking distance from the main city sites.
4. Falaj Daris Hotel
The Falaj Daris Hotel is a highly-rated mid-range hotel, perfect for people visiting Nizwa on a budget. It is a 3-star hotel offering comfortable air-conditioned rooms, an on-site restaurant, a swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, and parking for the guests.
It is a little out of town (though, as the name might suggest, close to Falaj Daris). However, the hotel has serene surroundings and is a reasonable accommodation option in Nizwa. Families with two+ children will need connecting rooms.
See further accommodation choices available in and around Nizwa
While Nizwa is a small city, it is ancient history, and historical structures make it worth visiting. Apart from its historical significance, it is a shopaholic’s paradise, as you can get unique souvenir items, intricately designed silver jewellery, and many other items you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
So, pack your bags, head to Oman, and spend a few days living in its historical era in Nizwa!
More on Visiting Oman
We won’t deny that Oman is one of our favourite family destinations in the Middle East. Away from the shiny skyscrapers and modern cities the Middle East has fast become famous for, Oman still holds its cultures and traditions at it’s heart. There’s no better place to experience this than a visit to Nizwa.
To help you further plan your trip to Oman, you may also want to check out our family guides to:
- Top 5 Attractions in Muscat with Kids
- Family-friendly places to stay in and around Muscat
- What to wear when visiting Oman; Dresscode advice for Women, Men & Children
- Sensational reasons to visit Salalah this Summer
- How to cross the border from Oman to the UAE by road
- Muscat to Musandam by air, sea & road
- Where to find the best wadi’s in Oman
- Easy day trips from Muscat
If you have more questions about visiting Nizwa with kids or planning your journey through Oman, join the conversation on our Family Travel in the Middle East Facebook group.
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