Keeping the Kids Entertained in the Omani capital Muscat
In this post we will cover:
- Our top 5 picks things to do with kids in Muscat
- How to get around Muscat
- Where to stay in Muscat with Kids
Don’t forget to read our practical guide to visiting Oman (coming out this week!) and our Abu Dhabi to Muscat road trip itinerary
A few things to note first about Muscat
Muscat is a very spread out city. Wedged between the Gulf of Oman and the mountains, the city spreads on for miles! The main areas tourists will likely get familiar with are Muttrah and Old Muscat to the southern end of the city, and Qurum, closer to the airport.
See below our tips on how to get around and where to stay.
If you’ve ever been to other parts of the Middle East, one thing that will immediately strike you about Muscat is that there are no modern high rise buildings! This is by order of the country’s ruler His Majesty Sultan Qaboos who apparently wants the city to retain its original heritage feel, which is well achieved!
At times you feel like you’re in a bit of a time warp, but it’s all part of the cities charm and what makes it a unique base for your Oman adventures.
You may want to take careful note of opening hours. Many attractions are only open in the mornings or may shut in the afternoons and open again later in the day. Friday’s are the holy day and many places are closed. We have listed all opening times and costs that we can find. We can find little information what happens during Ramadan and other religious holidays but suspect from comments in local forums many attractions are closed altogether – see Ramadan dates here.
Our Top 5 Things to do with kids in Muscat
I will say upfront, we did not find Muscat to be an overtly kid-friendly city. Absolutely not to say you shouldn’t bring the kids and there aren’t fun things for them to do, there was just nothing that really stood out. Avid self-guided travellers will, of course, find the fun and enjoy these highlights and many more adventures around Oman!
We would suggest using Muscat as your base for getting out and exploring the rest Oman has to offer as it’s real attraction lies in the mountains and beyond the capital.
1. Admire the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
This was our personal favourite part of visiting Muscat. This building is absolutely stunning both inside and out and the gardens provide a beautiful oasis, even the kids stood in awe several times and were keen to explore all the different areas inside.
The signage outside the main prayer halls quite distinctly forbids children under 10, but the staff on duty told us this is just during prayer time and of course we can take our children inside. (I’ve heard others turned away though).
It is truly one of the most stunning interiors we’ve ever seen (yes even compared to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi) and well worth making the journey alone. If you are turned away with the kids, the grounds are still quite extensive and kids are bound to love the colourful mosaics. Definitely, don’t miss this one off your itinerary but do be mindful of limited public opening times.
Cost: Free (2.5OR to hire an abaya or dishdasha if you’re not appropriately dressed)
Opening Times: Daily 8am to 11am, closed Fridays.
Handy Tip: The visitor car parking is actually in the east wing. If you make the mistake of parking in the main worshipper’s car park it’s well worth moving around to the visitor entrance as little legs are bound to be tired after this one.
2. Go shopping at Muttrah Souk
Kids will love the colour and excitement of the Muttrah Souk (market) – If you’ve ever wondered what frankincense and myrrh were, here’s your chance to find out!!! There are plenty of perfume traders but you will also find a great array of tourist nick-nacks, wooden chests, handicrafts, shawls, clothing. It’s not huge but big enough you can get yourself a little lost in the maze of laneways.
If I’m completely honest though, compared to many markets we have visited around the world, it lacked some character. There wasn’t the bustling crowds and noise you’d expect from a Middle East marketplace. This was good in some respects as it meant we could keep an eye on our wayward three – but also meant we were easy pickings to be accosted.
Do take the time to look up! Some of the ceilings are just beautiful.
Opening Times: 8am to 1pm, reopens 4pm to10pm
Handy tips: The Murrah Souk is stroller accessible in most parts, some alleys are a little narrow. The restaurants outside the Souk had passable meals and juices but not an extensive range of choice – this place is crying out for a traditional fish and chip shop by the harbour!!!
3. Walk the Corniche & Al Riyam Park
A popular activity for tourists and locals alike is to walk – or run! the Corniche. You can follow the breakwater from the fish market as far as Al Riyam Park – the giant incense burner statue on the hilltop gives away the spot, it’s pretty hard to miss!
Underneath you will find a beautiful green landscaped park which includes a kids playpark (free) as well as a small amusement park (nominal fees per ride).
Handy Tips: Take the walk at sunset to catch the harbour lighting up and beat the heat of the day.
4. Take a Boat Tour
What better way to see a city surrounded by water than to get out there on a boat!!! There are several tour providers who offer everything ranging from dolphin spotting to island snorkelling trips through to sunset cruises.
We opted for a traditional sunset dhow cruise with Sidab Sea Tours (though we actually booked over the phone with Nomad Tours), these leave from a port slightly further south of Old Muscat called Marina Bandar al Rowdha.
A pleasant couple of hours out on the water and the kids absolutely loved playing pirates and entertaining the rest of the boat with their fun!
Cost (sunset dhow): 15OR adults; Kids 6-11 7.5OR; Under 6 free
Handy Tip: Not all boats leave daily best to check schedule and book this early
5. Visit a Museum
Something that Oman does very well is Museums! There are a load to choose from and always a great entertainment choice with kids especially on hot or rainy days. Depending on your kids’ ages and interests and how much you want to learn about the country, here are some of the best that may engage the kids:
Bait Al Zubair –Best for getting a taste of Omani life, includes a replica houses. Located between Muttrah and Old Muscat.
Hours: 9.30am-6pm (Sat-Thu) – Closed Fridays
Cost: Tourist Adults 2OR; Kids free (no age was given)
The National Museum of Oman – in Old Muscat, from here you can also take a short walk to take in the highlights of Muttrah, see the Alam Palace from the outside and view the Jalali and Mirani Forts. It is very new and extensive with a small colouring and activity area on the ground floor for kids. A great historic tour but otherwise not much hands-on stuff for the kids.
Hours: 10am to 5pm (Sat-Thu); 4pm-6pm Fridays
Cost: Tourist adults 5OR; kids free (no age was given)
Bait Al Baranda – to learn about the city of Muscat from its geological formation to present day. It’s also called the House of Naseeb
Hours: 9am to 1pm and 4pm-6pm
Cost: OMR1; Kids 500bz (no age given)
Children’s Museum – an interactive science museum located near Qurum Nature Park. Hands-on activities for kids though a little dated.
Hours: 8am to 1.30pm (Sun-Thu), Sat 9am-1pm
Cost: Adults 1OR: Kids 7+ 100bz
You can see the city is passionate about the preservation of history and making this accessible to the public. There are countless more museums we didn’t get to review including the Omani French Museum, Muscat Gate Museum, Maritime Museum, Armed Forces Museum – even a frankincense museum! You can read more about the various museums here.
Opening hours and timings correct as at October 2017
Other kid-friendly ideas in Muscat
If you are looking for an indoor retreat from the heat, the city has several relatively new malls complete with play areas and cinemas. Oman Avenues Mall is probably one of the biggest but the immediately adjacent Grand Mall has kiddy play options with Happy Land, as does Muscat City Center with a smaller but more manageable Magic Planet.
Another popular park though we didn’t get to try it is Qurum Natural Park in the centre of town and Shatti Qurum Beach the city’s most popular outdoor space. Attached is also another amusement park Maraland. Locals have also recommended Azaiba Beach Park as an outdoor escape.
The other thing kids will probably get a kick out of is spotting all the forts! There are apparently over 500 in the country, many of them in Muscat. Most you cannot go inside or they are in the process of restoring but they are certainly spectacular to look at, as well as the cities many gate towers.
How to get around Muscat
As mentioned above, its a very spread out city. If you are there for a few days it may be advisable to hire a car (and it means you can take yourself off on some amazing day trips outside of the city too!). If you are only there for a shortstop though, taxi’s are likely your best option.
Hiring a car does also mean finding somewhere to park it! Along the Corniche in Muttrah we found this hard and ended up parking in front of the fish market where there were no meters.
Taxis in Muscat
According to one of our lovely taxi drivers (and we have tried to formally verify this information as at October 2017 but its still not clear!) there are two different kinds of taxis’ – metered taxis (blue) and pre-arranged taxis (orange) that run on set rates.
These set rates seemed exceptionally high but when you need to get A to B there was little room to negotiate, unfortunately, and the rates seem better for short trips as the flag fall on the blue “Marhaba” taxi’s is 3.5OR. We found a short trip across town was offered at 5/6OR. They will tell you its a set rate but ALWAYS ASK up front!
Download the app for Marhaba Taxi Oman
Another great way to see the city if you only have a few days and want to spare expensive taxi costs getting between locations is with the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off service. You can purchase your tickets for this in advance making a speedy start to your day, operating between 9am-5pm – do check seasonal changes to their timetable though, especially if visiting in Ramadan.
Where to stay in Muscat
The tricky part about Muscat being so spread out is there is nowhere really central to base yourself! I’d normally suggest stay near the main tourist sites, but from what we could see there was only one hotel actually in Muttrah! (Check it out here but it wouldn’t be our top pick).
If you are coming primarily for a relaxing family getaway you could try the renowned Shangri La Barr al Jissah, it’s slightly further around the coast from the old city but acclaimed for its extensive family-friendly facilities. Another beautiful option on the coast is Al Bustan Palace, but this amazing hotel run by Ritz Carlton is currently closed for some much overdue renovations. And if I had my favourite kid-free luxury option (they are welcome but why spoil the mood!) The Chedi Muscat
Closer to town in the Qurum area we suggest you try the Intercontinental or Radisson Blu both have great views and several bars and restaurants attached as well as beach clubs. (If you like a drink with dinner note there are very few licenced places other than in hotels). The Crowne Plaza also comes highly commended with some stunning views as does the Grand Hyatt.
We found an excellent option staying as a family to be serviced apartments. We could get a two-bed apartment much cheaper than two hotel rooms but still with a swimming pool and easy access to shops. We chose Muscat Oasis Residence (adjacent to Panorama Mall). Other convenient options include the Millenium Executive Apartments (above the Grand Mall and adjacent to Oman Avenues Mall) or very newly opened Coral Muscat Hotel & Apartments. (You’ll also find Coral in the Entertainer 2-4-1 offers!)
Have you visited Muscat with kids, or perhaps you live in Muscat? What more could you recommend to keep kids entertained?
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