How to tour Oman; A family road trip guide

The best way to discover the beauty of Oman is to get in a car and drive!

Planning an Oman road trip | View from Muscat harbour of Al Riyam Park and the incense burner statue

Oman is really one of the world’s hidden secrets.  With an understated beauty, it delivers a perfect combination of beaches and deserts, through to mountains and wadis, all without the mass development you see elsewhere in the Middle East.

It really is like taking a step back in time to absorb more of “the real Arabia”. You can feel yourself escape from the rest of the world when you visit Oman and have a truly unique and educational family experience. This guide will take you through how to plan your first visit to Oman.

In this post we cover:

This post is part of our Middle East family travel series.  Don’t forget to check out our detailed guide of Things to do In Muscat with Kids, our detailed itinerary for an Abu Dhabi to Muscat road trip  and advice on camping in the north of Oman

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Oman ~ How to Road Trip around Oman


How to plan an Oman road trip

Getting your itinerary right

Whether you are starting your adventure flying into Muscat or taking on this popular road trip from one of the UAE land crossing, the best way to see Oman’s major attractions is to get in a car and just drive!

Most of Oman’s major tourist attractions are concentrated on the east coast to either side of the Hajar Mountains – but very spread out!  You can really pick your number of days – squeezing in the absolute highlights only you might be able to manage a 3-4 days itinerary, but you need to allow at least a week to do Oman any justice.

For how long to include in each location, pop below to our What attractions to include in your Oman road trip” section below and work backwards from there, bearing in mind opening times that we discuss below.

Planning an Oman Road Trip | Bahla Fort
View from Bahla Fort

Distances between major cities and attractions in Oman

Muscat to Sohar: 210kms –  2 hours

Muscat to Nizwa: 160kms – 1.5 hours drive

Muscat to Sur: 200kms – 2.2 hours drive

Nizwa to Sur: 295kms – 3.5 hours drive

Jebel Shams to Nizwa: 90kms – 2 hours drive

Dubai to Sohar: 210kms – 2.5 hours drive (+border crossing)

Dubai to Jebel Shams: 405kms – 5.5 hours drive (+border crossing)


The two big outliers from the east coast that you will be unlikely to fit in a short trip are the Musandam Peninsular and Salalah.

Musandam Peninsular to the north is actually an enclave of Oman separated by the United Arab Emirates.  You can still drive to Musandam across the UAE, or by flying into Dubai or even Ras Al Khaimah airport and then driving.  There are also two daily flights with Oman Air that fly direct to Khasab, the regional capital. We are yet to visit Khasab but here’s a good guide we found to road tripping Dubai to Khasab.

Salalah is on the southwestern coast of Oman, a good 1000kms from Muscat (about 9 hours drive time), close to the Yemeni border.  Salalah’s claim to fame is the Khareef – a summer monsoon that brings lush greenness and cooler temperatures over July and August,  making it an attractive destination for Middle East residents looking to escape the heat.

The easiest way to reach Shalalah is by air, again Oman Air has regional flights from Muscat, or budget airlines FlyDubai and Air Arabia. Flights here, especially during the Khareef, are not cheap!

Oman driving information for first timers

  • You drive on the right
  • Most hire cars have an automatic transmission
  • You can hire cars at the airport. A standard 2WD car will get you most places, but a 4WD will be handy if you want to explore deeper into the wadi’s or desert
  • If you are planning to hire a car in Dubai/Abu Dhabi and drive it over the border to Oman you must make sure you have the vehicle owners permission and insurance.
  • Road signage is in English and Arabic
  • Download maps in advance there are several points you will not have signal

If you are used to UAE driving, you’ll find that although the traffic can be erratic, it’s nowhere near as fast.  There are fewer tailgaters and headlight flashers there to stress you out. On the whole, drivers are calmer, more forgiving and don’t drive at excessive speeds. Most highways have a 120km limit for cars, but as most roads are windy, you probably don’t want to go too much faster!

Still not confident to road trip it alone?

That’s completely understandable. Especially if you are unfamiliar driving on the right or in foreign places, let someone else do the hard work!  There are loads of tour operators who can take you on day trips or overnighters from Muscat.  We recommend using a reputable booking agent such as Get Your Guide.


Oman practical information to know before you go

When to visit Oman

Situated on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsular, the best time to visit Oman is in the cooler winter months, October through to April.

Summer temperatures can be stifling at over 40c.  That said, there are reasons to visit in the summer months too. As mentioned above, Salalah to the south-west offers a fabulous summer break to experience the Khareef and the months of May through September are best for turtle spotting at Ras al Jinz (more on that below!).

The Holy Month of Ramadan may not be the best time to visit as many attractions are either closed or have variable opening hours.  You can find when Ramadan falls each year here.

What to wear in Oman

What should women wear in Oman | Women should dress fairly conservatively in Oman. You can hire an abaya at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque to ensure you are being respectful
Women should dress fairly conservatively in Oman. You can hire an abaya at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque to ensure you are being respectful

Conservative is best.  For both men and ladies, out and about wear something that covers knees and shoulders at the very least.  It is not strictly enforced just the polite thing to do.

For ladies, if you are entering the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque you must be completely covered to ankles and wrists and over your head (there’s an option to hire an abaya there – see more here).

Keep things covered and flowing; tight, revealing clothing is not respectful. You will be ok to wear shorts but do keep them a reasonable length and expect looks in some places like busy markets.

Children are free to wear as they please but from puberty onwards should be treated like adults. Our daughter prefered wearing leggings for all the scrambling in castles and forts.

Don’t forget your hats and sunscreen when you’re out and about!

What to wear in Oman | Planning an Oman road trip with Kids

Be aware of Opening Hours in Oman

A very important part of planning your Oman itinerary is to be conscious of opening hours.

Like most Middle East countries, Friday is the holy day and many attractions are either closed or only open 8am to 11am Friday’s.    Many businesses also take a middle of the day break every day.

Plan your opening hours very carefully! We highlight below in our suggested itinerary where we know hours differ.

Currency in Oman

The currency in Oman is Omani Riyals

1OR = 2.6 USD or roughly 10AED. The currency is currently pegged to the USD.

The tricky part of the currency to then work out is Biasa (also abbreviated bz)! There are 1000 Biasa to the Rial so you will either see this as a decimal or with the ’00s eg 7.5 or 7500.  Clear right?

There are frequent cash exchanges available or ATM’s, credit cards were widely accepted.

Other useful bits for visiting Oman!

  • Plugs are the standard UK square pin socket.
  • Arabic is the language spoken but you will find most signage also in English. You will find, however, that English translations can vary significantly! If you are struggling to find somewhere on your GPS try it with a different spelling.
  • If you have fussy eaters, most major towns had shopping malls with the usual array of chain stores such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut etc.  Not part of the authentic experience I know, but children need to be fed at some point…..

View of Al Alam Palace Old Muscat | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman


Tourist Visas

All visitors will need a tourist visa. At the time of writing, UAE residents could pay only 5OR (about 50AED / $13USD) for the 30-day tourist visa.

All other tourists must pay 20OR (200AED / $52USD). There is no longer a 10-day visa option.

You can now apply for an e-visa in advance if you are from one of 68 countries permitted visa on arrival which should speed up your progress through border control.

Border Crossing UAE to Oman – How it’s Done

Please note this is based on our last experience crossing the UAE road border into Oman in October 2017. As with any government process here in the Middle East be very aware that systems and rules can change without notice – or even depending which staff member you deal with on which day!

There are two stages to crossing the border;

Firstly you must exit the UAE through three stops.

  • At window number one we had to state how many in the car and confirm we were owners of the vehicle – though their clever camera system already showed this information to the border official. The first window prints you off a statement in Arabic.
  • Next, we need to pay our departure tax by credit card only (if you were going by air this is already included in your airline ticket). This window also stamps your passports.
  • At the final stop the document we were given at the first window is handed over – no questions….
  • There was a further police check immediately after the UAE stop but we are waved through here.

Next up is the Oman border point.  Where we crossed out of the UAE at Kathm al Shakla, the Al Buraimi crossing is in fact about 30kms or so after the border.

  • Here your passports are checked, then non-GCC citizens need to park up and go inside the immigration office if you do not have an e-visa in advance.
  • An immigration form is needed for all passengers and they must all be present in the office for the immigration officials to see.  A tourist visa is then issued.
  • You present this stamped bit of paper at the police checkpoint, they were randomly inspecting some vehicles but not all.

Inside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman


What attractions to include on your Oman road trip itinerary

Muscat

A stop in the beautiful heritage city of Muscat is a must – jump over to our Top Places to see in Muscat post for an idea of what there is to see and do in the capital but make sure you get out of town too to discover the country’s true beauty.

Places to visit in Muscat with Kids | Boat Tour of Muscat Harbour at Sunset Al Alam Palace
Beautiful coastal views of Old Muscat from a sunset dhow cruise

Where to stay in Muscat

I think this depends a lot if you are coming for a luxury retreat or plan to spend most of your time exploring.

At the luxury end of the scale, there are several acclaimed resort hotels including Shangri La Barr al Jissah, it’s slightly further around the coast from the old city but has extensive family-friendly facilities.   Another beautiful option on the coast is Al Bustan Palace (Currently closed for renovations) or a couple’s favourite we are eyeing up The Chedi Muscat (see babymoon review here by Wandermust Family).

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.  The Crowne Plaza also comes highly commended with some stunning views as does the Grand Hyatt.

With several kiddies, we find the easiest option to be serviced apartments. 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.

Places to stay in Muscat | Muscat Oasis Residence is a good serviced apartment option for families
Our 2-bed apartment at Muscat Oasis Residence made a comfortable landing spot between adventures and included a pool to keep the kids happy

Oman Tourist highlights; Nizwa & the Mountains

This is all about discovering Oman’s ancient past. Kids can really get their little explorer on here!  There are over 500 Forts apparently in Oman so you might want to pick your forts carefully or you’ll get a little fort fatigued, but they have done an excellent job at restoring some of these buildings.  Here’s our selction of just a few you might like to try;

Nizwa Fort & Souq

The bustling center of the old town is a must-have experience.  Much work has gone into restoring these buildings and to this day they continue to be an important meeting place for locals.

Nizwa Fort Opening Times:   Daily 9am to 4pm, Friday’s 8am-11am (after this time it gets hard to find anything open other than the modern new shopping malls).

Entry fee: 500bz for adults. Kids 6-11 100bz

View from Nizwa Fort | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman

Bahla Fort

One of the oldest and biggest in the country, this historical fort at the foot of the Djebel Akhdar highlands is really quite extensive! Guides are on site looking for a few extra bz to give you a guided tour. Kids will be fascinated by the bats that call the fort home and there are sorts of stair cases and nooks to explore.

Bahla Fort Opening Times: Daily 9am to 4pm; Friday’s 8am to 11am

Entry Free is 500bz for adults; Kids 6-11 years old 200bz

Bats at Bahla Fort Oman | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman
The Bats that call Bahla Fort home

Jabreen Castle (also called Jibreen Castle, Jabrin Fort)

Situated about 20kms from Bahla, this is one of the most beautifully restored and ornate.  Originally built in the 17th century for the Imman and his family,  its a favourite for many (definitely mine!) with its charm, historical information and plenty of staircases and rooms for the kids to explore.  Audio guides provided.

Jabreen Castle Opening Times: Daily 9am to 4pm; Friday’s 8am to 11am

Entry Fee: 500bz adults; Children 6-11 100bz

Al Hoota Caves

Definitely a highlight and worth the drive high into the foothills of Jebel Shams to check out this fascinating natural wonder deep in the hillside.  A small train (not operating the day we went!) should take you the 500m into the entrance of the cave, then a 45minute walking tour takes you around the  2 million-year-old cave!

Involves a fair bit of stairs and walking for little ones.  There is a small cafe here and play equipment. Not no photos allowed in the cave itself.

Al Hoota Caves Opening Times:  Daily 9.30am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm.  Friday’s 9.30am to 11am then 2pm-5pm.

Entry: This is a limited ticket attraction you NEED TO PRE-BOOK on their website.

Cave entrance at Al Hoota | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman
Last chance to take a photo at Al Hoota, no cameras allowed inside!

Al Ayns Beehive Tombs

One we ran out of time for but would love to find these 5000-year-old UNESCO listed tombs just beyond the small township of Al Ayn – take the Amlah-Kubarah exit from the E21. There’s no formal entry here. We are reliably told to park your car at the nearby mosque and walk 10 minutes towards the mountains, you can’t miss them!

Where to stay near Nizwa

Top Luxury Pick: Stay in the mountains at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akdhar Resort for a true luxury experience, includes extensive kids programs and infinity pool with a view to die for! (Reviewed by Rachel at Life on the Wedge)

Mid-range: The Golden Tulip – about as “western” as you’ll get in Nizwa, only place that serves alcohol (reviewed by our guest writer Lynette here)

Serviced apartments: Two relatively new and spacious 2 bedroom options (cheaper than 2 rooms at a hotel) are  Al Karam Hotel Apartments and Nizwa Hotel Apartments

Where to stay in Nizwa | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman
A little haunted house looking from outside but good basic family accommodation

SEE ALL NIZWA ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS


Oman tourist highlights; Jebel Shams and the north

Also called the Grand Canyon of the Middle East the drive alone to Jebel Shams is worth it for the spectacular views.  Its a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts with several hiking trails.

Visit Jebel Shams and the Hajar Mountains How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman

If you’re travelling from Nizwa direction, don’t miss on your way the little mountain village of Misfat Al Abreyeen, approx. 6kms from Al Hamra.  You will get some great views from here back to Al Hamra village and see the agricultural spoils of the falaj irrigation system that is still working to this day to bring fresh produce to the region.

Sohar

The other major regional town situated on the northern coast of Oman is Sohar.  Previously the capital it is now a bustling.   Although far less well known than the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, its counterpart in Sohar is equally as stunning from the outside. We did not realise at the time that non-Muslims were also permitted to enter from 8-11am as the pictures of the interior look just as stunning as it’s Muscat counterpart. Lit up at night it was truly majestic (as we did circle work of the freeway system looking for a place to get the kids dinner!)

Inside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman
Many people miss that there is a second Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Sohar, equally as beautiful as the one in Muscat (pictured here)

There is also a fort in Sohar (of course!) but its currently closed for renovations. Popular nearby Wadi’s that can be explored from Sohar include Wadi Al Jizi and Wadi Salahi.

Where to stay near Jebel Shams

We’ve heard mixed reviews about “resort” accommodation in Jebel Shams so not feeling brave enough to actually recommend somewhere to stay here, but there are also camping options which are popular with weekend trippers coming from Dubai to Oman.

Where to stay in Sohar

You will find a few nice resorts that can break up a road trip particularly on the Muscat to Dubai/Abu Dhabi route. We recommend you try Radisson Blu for a luxury retreat. Or if looking for a cheap but clean and acceptable overnight stop we stayed at Sama Suhar Hotel Apartments for less than $100 for a 2-bed apartment.

Check out more on camping in the north of Oman here


Oman tourist highlights, the desert and to the south

We are generalising a lot here calling it the south as it covers a big expanse of area!  We’ll break it down by the coastal parts and inland to the desert.

Bimmah Sinkhole – also called “Hawaiyat Najm” (the Falling Star)

This beautiful natural waterhole is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes drive to the south of Muscat (between the coastal villages of Dabab and Bimmah).  Do-able as a day trip but you may want to keep driving and stay in one of the south coastal areas like Sur.  The sinkhole is 40m wide and 20m deep with an accessible pathway so you can get down into the waterhole to swim.  Also built next to the sinkhole is a park area for kids to run around

Raz al Jinz

The Ras al Jinz turtle reserve is home to the the endangered green turtle (Cheloniamydas).  These beautiful giant creatures come in and nest on the shores here from the Indian Ocean from May to September. As well as visiting their museum and laboratory, guests can also stay on site.They limit daily numbers so you will need to book this part of your trip in advance.

Wahiba Sands

For a true taste of the beautiful desert and in stark contrast to the mountainous regions you must head into the vast Wahiba Sands.  Best tackled with a 4WD, you can join an organised tour or tackle it alone!  See this beautiful insight on Wahiba Sands by Mummy Travels.

Omani Desert Sands | How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman

 

The Wadi’s!

There are no shortage of Wadi’s in Oman! (For those unfamiliar, these are mountainous ravines that fill after heavy rains, though many in Oman have water year round).

Some of the most popular include Wadi Shab with its underwater caves (only accessible after a hike, may not be suitable for young children), Wadi Bani Khalid well set up with a BBQ area and public toilets – though can get crowded especially on weekends and Wadi AL Hawqayn with its waterfall.

(More to come on Wadi’s in a future instalment.  In the meantime check out this guide to Wadi’s my Oman tourism, there were a lot more than we first thought! )  

How to tour Oman by road | A first-timers guide to visiting top tourist destinations in Oman

Where to stay in the South

Near Sur: This pretty coastal town has a lot of accommodation options, though not many you’d class as luxury!  It does make a good stop over point for exploring the southern regions.  With a pool and great view you can get a good deal for families at Sur Plaza Hotel or Zaki Hotel Apartments for your larger groups.

SEE TRIP ADVISOR REVIEWS ALL HOTELS IN SUR

Coastal Hotels: As mentioned above you can actually stay on the turtle reserve Ras al Jinz Turtle Beach Reserve in a room or one of their special eco-tents

Camping/Glamping options:  1000 Nights Camp gets great reviews (see what our friends with kids thought of it here), as does Dunes by Al Nadha with larger family tent options 


And the Rest of Oman

As we mentioned in the introduction, Musandam Peninsular and Salalah are quite separated from Muscat and the rest of the tourist highlightsof Oman.

We have them in our sights so will cover them on the blog in due course. Stay tuned by signing up for our monthly newsletter and we’ll inform you when we will undertake these adventures!! (Musandam coming end of November 2017!)

For a full 2 week itinerary around Oman we found this useful guide from Phenomenal Globe detailing how they fit it all in and also has a really handy guide as to when you might need a 4WD vs a standard car.


Have you ever done an Oman road trip?  Are there any must-see places we should add or advice to other travellers with kids you would give?

Bookmark this page or Pin for LaterHow to plan a road trip around Oman | Oman travel advice | Family Travel in the Middle East with Our Globetrotters

Enjoy this post?  Why not check out the rest of our Middle East series, including our Jordan Road Trip Itinerary, or join the conversation on Facebook with a group dedicated to Family Travel in the Middle East

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Disclosures: All views in this article are our own, we were not paid to mention any of these attractions. This article contains affiliate links, if you purchase anything via these links we may make a small income at no extra cost to you.  Please see our full disclosure policy here.

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15 Comments

  • There really is so much to explore and experience in Oman. Definitely a country one could re visit over and over again and still find something new. Love the pic of you in the Abaya…😉

    • That is so very true Shea. We only touched the surface, so many little signposts we went past and kept saying there next time, there next time! Lucky it is so close I think we will have to set ourselves a task to see a new part every winter! I would definitely lovely to experience the Khareef in Salalah too!

  • Thanks for sharing your great experience to guide Oman; it would be very helpful for those who are planning a trip. You are absolutely right because I also like the beautiful natural water hole (Hawiyat Najm). It takes approx one and half hour to drive to south of Muscat.

  • What a fabulous indepth guide. Oman is definitely a country on my bucket list,and now we have a good friend who lives there too, so there’s really no excuse! Thanks for the inspiration! #mondayescapes

    • Absolutely no excuse! We tend to plan our holidays around these things to. Maybe you can organise a convoy road trip together?

    • If only Oman Air flew direct, right? Its a very easy skip down by car or plane though so if anyone is en route to Europe via the UAE and fancies something different to the big lights of Dubai it definitely makes a great alternative

  • What a comprehensive guide to Oman. We lived in muscat many moons ago. A couple of years ago we took the boys spending some time in muscat and then doing a road trip to our favourite places. it had changed a fair bit with many more black top roads and lots more development. we loved staying at the shangri-la al waha which is perfect for families #Mondayescapes

    • There’s certainly a lot of development ongoing, especially in the mountains outside of Muscat, giant new industrial areas that sprawl on and on – and some amazing engineering! But still all in the traditional style, which in many ways we really liked. I loved LOVE to go to the Shangri-La! It didn’t fit in budget for this road trip but we’d definitely back for that one as a one-off special treat, it’s a holiday in itself!!!

  • Nice post. Thanks for sharing your travel experience. Oman is an amazing place for the vacation trip. I am very much excited to go for my Oman trip with my family.

  • Great tips – really helpful for anyone planning a trip. Having just got back from Oman, I have to say I’m glad that (travelling solo with a 5yo) I had a driver – the traffic wasn’t that bad outside muscat, but as we went up into the mountains and into the desert, I was quite glad I wasn’t the one tackling limited signposts/navigating and twisty roads! I did also get a little caught out by the timings – the distances aren’t always that far, but when it’s a twisty road, it obviously takes longer. But I’d totally agree that it’s worth getting out and exploring, and that you’d miss so much of this wonderful country without driving into the interior from muscat.

    • I would agree too if you’re not familiar with the Middle East driving style or a little off-roading then having a driver is the way to go. Do you want to mention here who you used so anyone looking for a bit of help planning their journey knows a good family-friendly contact.

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