With the Big Bus through Muscat

With the Big Bus through Muscat


Our cruise ship that Azamara Quest, is on the way from Dubai / UAE to Piraeus / Athens. Muscat, the capital of Oman, is on the route. The ship stays overnight in Sultan Qaboos Port, in the Mutrah district of Muscat. The following evening, the Azamara Quest leaves the port at six o'clock Salalah / Oman.

Muscat - Mutrah Cruise TerminalMuscat - Mutrah Cruise Terminal


Tour of Muscat on the Big Bus

In order to gain some lasting impressions of Muscat in a short time, we take a sightseeing tour with the "Big Bus". "Big Bus" stands for the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. At nine o'clock in the morning, the first "Big Bus" starts at the Mutrah Souk for a tour of Oman's largest city. The actual journey time is almost two hours. During this time, the bus covers a large distance through the metropolitan region, which stretches over dozens of kilometers.

The Mutrah Souk is where the free shuttle buses between the cruise ships and the Mutrah district stop.

Muscat - Mutrah centerMuscat - Mutrah center


More than 1,3 million people live in Muscat. Seen from a bird's eye view, Muscat is far from the pattern of a densely built-up European metropolis. Because of the coastal mountains that reach as far as the Arabian Sea, the topography of the site in Muscat prevents closed development. Districts built in bays such as Mutrah or Old Muscat cannot expand further due to a lack of space. That is why the city stretches in a northerly direction along two long valleys. Muscat's area is given as 3.797 square kilometers. This corresponds to roughly four times the urban area of ​​Berlin, which has 3,66 million inhabitants, which is several times the population of Muscat. We leave the bus at individual stations to get to know the top sights of the city. 

Stop at Qurum Beach

Our first stopover is Shati Al Qurum. Stop number 3 of the "Big Bus" represents a long stretch of beach, a shopping mall, coffee bars and the magnificent Royal Opera House.

Muscat - Qurum Beach
Muscat - Qurum Beach
Muscat - the Royal Opera House
Muscat - the Opera Gallery

It all looks great, but we're not in the mood for a beach break or a coffee break. And the opera house is still closed early in the morning. In Shati we meet Alex and Peter, two fellow travelers from the Azamara Quest. Together we take a taxi to the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, as the "Big Bus" does not stop at the mosque.

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

A visit to the "Great Sultan Qaboos Mosque", which was only completed in 2001, is recommended. The grandiose building, surrounded by a beautiful park, stands on an area of ​​more than 40 hectares.

Muscat - Entrance to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


Muscat - Entrance to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


Muscat - Great Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Gardens


Muscat - Great Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Gardens 


The dimensions of the Islamic house of worship are difficult to surpass. Similar to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the largest in the world. The sheer size alone "overwhelms" its visitors. At the corners of the mosque are four minarets, 45 meters high. A fifth minaret, the main minaret, is more than twice as high at 91,50 meters.

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - side building with minaret
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Archway
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Annex

The prayer hall is crowned by a 34 meter high dome. In the center hangs an eight-tonne Swarovski chandelier, from which 1.122 lamps emit light. The main prayer hall measures 71 by 61 meters. In this hall lies a prayer rug of more than 4.000 square meters. Hundreds of Persian carpet weavers have made the carpet locally over the course of several years. The exterior and interior of the church is richly decorated with calligraphic work and arabesques.

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Prayer Hall
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - detail of the dome
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Crystal Chandelier
Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Mosque - Prayer Hall

We are certain that a visit to the mosque is an absolute "must". It should be noted that non-Muslims are allowed into the mosque from Saturday to Thursday between 8:00am and 11:00am The reception is open until 10:30 am. As you might expect, there is a strict dress code inside the mosque. Men wear long pants. Women cover their heads, shoulders and forearms. "Covering" the forearms means: long sleeves!

The distance between Shati Al Qurum and the mosque is more than ten kilometers. The trip there and back costs our group of four 40 euros. A reasonable price for a great experience.

From Al Qurum Park to Ruwi

We continue our tour with the next "Big Bus". The road first follows Qurum Beach. At stop 4 we not only see the Crowne Plaza Hotel but also mangroves. In Arabic, "Qurum" means mangrove. The remains of an originally larger mangrove ecosystem are part of the Al Qurum Natural Park, Oman's largest landscape park. The main features of the complex are a picturesque rose garden, a boating pond and a waterfall artistically illuminated at night. Large lawns, play areas for children, shady paths and several fountains make the park attractive for the whole family.

Muscat - best residential areas on Qurum Beach


Muscat - best residential areas on Qurum Beach


Muscat - mangrove landscape


Muscat - mangrove landscape 


We remain seated in the bus and continue to Ruwi. The district of Ruwi - more than 300.000 inhabitants live there - is the location of international banks and companies. Contrary to what was originally expected, we do not consider it worth getting off at stop 6. Only Ruwi's "Clock Tower Square" catches the eye. But even he is not worth getting off in the heat of the day and waiting for the following bus.

Muscat - Ruwi - location of banks and companies
Muscat - Ruwi
Muscat - Ruwi
Muscat - Ruwi - Clock Tower Square

Oman's Parliament Building

The way to the parliament building leads beforehand on a wide arterial road through the Alkbir Wadi, the "Big Valley". To the left and right of the street we see large commercial areas, residential areas, hotel complexes and, again and again, mosques. Somewhere to the right of the road is the "Friday Market". In a large market hall, traders sell vegetables and fruit on Fridays. On the open-air area in front of the market hall, furniture, electronic devices and incense are traded at a flea market.

Muscat - capital city with mountain landscape

Muscat - capital city with mountain landscape


The Friday market is followed by a roundabout whose center has been designed with large "coffee pots". We don't know what the coffee pots are all about, it's probably a fountain. The ensemble is amusing to watch.

Muscat - roundabout with coffee pots

Muscat - roundabout with coffee pots


The bus stops at the Parliament building (stop 7). It is undoubtedly one of the Sultanate's flagship buildings. Construction of the building, constructed in a traditional Arabic style, began in 2009. The parliament stands on ten hectares. A 64-metre clock tower towers over the complex, and extensive green spaces surround the complex. The building also attracts attention in the dark: a special lighting system illuminates the up to 38 meters high and more than two kilometers long outer fronts in the dark.

Muscat - Parliament building with clock tower


Muscat - Parliament building with clock tower


Muscat - Parliament building with dhow


Muscat - Parliament building with dhow 


Marina Bandar Ar Rawdah

The next bus stop (stop 8) is the "Marina Bandar Ar Rawdah", which is well below street level. We expected an idyllic sports and marina. What we see does not justify the break in travel; we stay on the bus.

Muscat - Marina Bandar Ar Rawdah

Muscat - Marina Bandar Ar Rawdah


Old Muscat – the Sultan's Palace

The road descends to sea level after the marina. At stop 9 we leave the bus again in Old Muscat in front of the Sultan's Palace. After the Sultan Qaboos Mosque as the first highlight of our bus tour, the Al-Alam Sultan's Palace proves to be the second "milestone" of the tour. The palace is used for representative purposes only. For residential purposes, Oman's ruler uses the nearby Bait Al-Barakah Palace. It should be mentioned that the regent and his entourage have other palaces at their disposal throughout the country if required. Oil makes it possible.

Muscat - the Sultan's Palace
Muscat - the sultan's palace at night
Muscat - National Museum of Oman
Muscat - the Sultan's palace seen from the sea

Al-Alam Palace was built after 1970 on the sheltered bay of Old Muscat. For this purpose, all the houses in the old town, including magnificent, historic buildings of wealthy merchants, had to give way to the new building. The result is a very beautiful palace complex that seems to have been cast in one piece. The palace and side buildings flanking a huge square, additional administrative buildings and a mosque occupy the entire width of the bay.

Muscat - View of the National Museum from the Sultan's Palace


Muscat - View of the National Museum from the Sultan's Palace


Muscat - Annex of the Sultan's Palace


Muscat - Annex of the Sultan's Palace 


Fortifications built on rocky slopes on both sides of the bay secure access to the port of Mutrah and to Old Muscat. The forts were built in the late 16th century during the Portuguese occupation. The palace complex is easy to see from both land and sea. He definitely justifies getting off the bus. Another nearby attraction is the Muscat Gate Museum. It is dedicated to the history of Muscat.

Muscat - Fortifications at the Sultan's Palace
Muscat - Al Jalali Fort
Muscat - Al Mirani Fort and Khor Mosque
Muscat - Muscat Gate Museum

Mutrah Souk - End of the bus tour

We take the next bus and drive along the 'Corniche' towards the Mutrah Souk, the terminus of the 'Big Bus'. On the way we pass the Riyam amusement park and Mutrah's most notable landmark: the oversized incense burner richly decorated with ornaments. It stands on a prominent rock and can already be seen clearly from the cruise ship entering the bay.

Muscat - the incense burner


Muscat - the incense burner


Muscat - incense burner


Muscat - incense burner 


Conclusion of the tour of Muscat

The "Big Bus" tour through Muscat leads - past grandiose rocky landscapes - to attractive destinations. For cruise ship passengers who haven't booked trips to the rocks and wadis of the hinterland, the oasis town of Nizwa, or boat trips to see dolphins and whales, we recommend the sightseeing bus.

The bus tours are extremely expensive compared to other destinations worldwide: day ticket (as of 2020): 77,90 US dollars or 70,10 US dollars if booked in advance. Due to the vastness of the metropolis, the buses cover a long distance. There is a lot to see during the journey. The journey takes almost two hours without interruptions. Useful information is given in eight languages, including German. The tours start and end at the Mutrah Souk next to the cruise ship shuttle bus stop.

Muscat - Mutrah center - shuttle bus stop

Muscat - Mutrah center - shuttle bus stop


An alternative to the bus ride is a private taxi ride. A taxi costs about US$50 per hour. If four people come together for a tour, the bottom line seems to us that the trip is cheaper than the bus trip. The destinations are the same and the drivers provide information in English for their guests.