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What once was three small villages of Muscat, Muttrah and Ruwi today constitutes the modern, ever-growing and very cosmopolitan Omani capital, with each of the three areas still preserving some of their individual flair. Old Muscat, the historic heart of the city, contains some of the finest Arabian architecture and cultural heritage sites. Old Portuguese forts and historic buildings breathe the charm of foregone ages. The opulent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a rather new addition to the local architectural landscape, has grown to become the country's major religious centre and is open to visitors of all convictions. The scenic, vibrant port area of Muttrah is the place to be right before sundown. A promenade along its seaside Corniche lined with stylish hotels and eateries makes for a perfect kick-start to the evening, to be continued exploring the Muttrah Souq and Muscat's somewhat hushed, but very present nightlife. Neighboring Ruwi is, perhaps, best explored during daylight hours, when this newly emerged business districts' eclectic make up becomes most apparent. Some distances might prove too long for walking, but commuting between Muscat's historically detached areas is made easy by omnipresent minibuses and taxis, easily hailed down from any point in the city.
Muscat's geographical positioning in close proximity to the sea, desert and mountains provides visitors with an endless list of possible activities. With natural beauty, beach resorts, an emerging cultural scene (facilitated much by the recently constructed Royal Opera House) and historical relics, the nation's capital is guaranteed to keep travelers busy both on land (mosques, forts and souqs) and at sea (dolphin-watching tours and snorkeling, to name a few).
Omani cuisine is halal meat-dominated, with Arabian and Indian influences easily traceable. Some of the typical local dishes include grilled meats, shwarma and biryani; Muscat's seaside location makes for a heavy emphasis on seafood in local cuisine as well. Restaurants in Muscat are often located on hotel premises, and cater primarily to expats and tourists (most locals favor cafés over fine dining). The variety of cuisine choices, however, is certainly impressive, and ranges from traditional Omani to Indian, Pakistani, European and Asian.
Western-style restaurants are a foreign import to Oman, while cafés enjoy a much higher popularity among locals and often make for dining experiences no less tantalizing. "Shwarma" is, perhaps, the most popular local eat, and is made with roasted beef or chicken wrapped in bread with salad and vegetables. Grilled meats (or "kebabs") are another local specialty, often served with flatbread and hummus. Another dish typical of the area is "biryani", which often simply means chicken leg with rice and spices. Cafés normally offer a variety of fresh juices to go with a meal, along with coffee ("gahwa") spiced with cardamom and cloves.
Muscat is an unexpectedly vibrant and photogenic city by night. Taking a stroll along the Corniche or wandering through the Muttrah area may offer a glance into local life hidden from sight during daytime. Those interested in smoking shisha will not find themselves at a loss - cafés that serve shisha are widely available throughout. When it comes to bars and clubs, most local nightlife is limited to hotel premises due to restrictions on sale and consumption of alcohol in the country. However, some hotels do pack a punch, and finding a suitable venue should not pose much difficulty.
Visitors to Muscat are free to choose between an authentic shopping experience in the souqs and modern, air-conditioned shopping malls established in the recent years (primarily in central Muscat and its upmarket suburb of Qurum). The souqs in Muscat and Muttrah are a vibrant, lively experience fit for those ready to haggle and actively pursue great bargains. Clothing, leather goods, local art and handicrafts, ceramics, gold and jewelry are some of the items on sale in the city's windy souqs. Western-style shopping malls, on the other hand, sell primarily international brand clothing and accessories, and often house grocery stores, food courts and entertainment venues.
High-end hotels and beach resorts of the Qurm and Al Khuwair areas are mostly well-known for their consistently good quality and still uninflated prices, while smaller inns and guest houses of the Muttrah district offer a variety of options to pick and choose from for travelers on a budget.
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