Being the UAEs direct neighbor, The Sultanate of Oman often gets overlooked as a tourist destination. Most people settle for Dubai (Emirates) or Abu Dhabi (Etihad Airways) as a stop-over and with good reason - these are amazing cities that can easily be explored within a short amount of time. But if you do have some extra days, try heading down to Muscat (1 hr flight south from Dubai). It may be a bit out of your way but It'll be worth it!
The great thing is that this place is not (yet) exactly overrun with snap-happy tourists and the locals are open & very welcoming to visitors - kind of the best of both worlds if you ask me.
What's there for you to discover?
You can check out the Sultan's Palace, haggle at traditional Souqs, visit ancient forts or admire the architectural masterpiece that is the Qaboos Mosque.
How do you get around? Public transport isn't that easy to access but there are other options. If you want to see as much as possible in a short time you can either rent a car or try the hop-on-hop-off bus which stops at all major sights. If that's not your thing - sitting on a red double-decker bus listening to pre-recorded anecdotes can be a bit touristy - then take cabs or ask your hotel to hire you a private driver for the day. Maybe not the cheapest option but this way you'll get to chat to friendly locals who may have way cooler stories to tell. And if you're lucky you'll get away with some new Arabic words or even catch the evening prayer broadcast live on your cab's radio! How's that for a seriously cultural experience?!
And what will you eat? If you like Middle Eastern food, then you're sorted. I think I had Falafel & hummus every single day. And dates. Omani dates are the sweetest & juiciest I've ever had! Seriously.
Should you simply crave pizza or sushi, there are malls with food courts (like Muscat Grand Mall) to help you out. Also try to get your hands on some local mint tea - it's divine! It may sound counter-productive to drink hot tea in 40C/100F but it's surprisingly refreshing!
Now the most important question: What to wear?
Oman is a Muslim country. People here, especially in rural regions, are not as used to tourists as folks in Cairo or Marrakesh. So be prepared to be stared at! This has nothing to do with being rude, they just find you interesting. Take it as a compliment. However, I would suggest to dress respectfully no matter where in Oman you visit. Cover up – especially as a woman. Long, wide trousers/skirts & long-sleeve shirts are a must – your shoulders & knees should be covered at all times. Bring a shawl to cover your hair if you’re planning to visit mosques.
After having traveled to a couple of Muslim countries I decided to get my own abaya. It may sound a tad drastic for a non-Muslim Westerner but I find it helps me get in touch with locals easier & I just feel more comfortable covered up. The question where did I learn to tie my headscarf (pssst: YouTube!) has been the start of some great conversations. That said, if you're fair-skinned like me then covering up also doubles as fantastic sun protection! :)
Visa requirements: most nationalities can buy a tourist visa on arrival at the international airport (check with the embassy beforehand). Travelling on a German passport, I paid 5 Omani Real (~ €11/USD13). All I had to do was to show my passport with a minimum of 6 months validity left and an immigration card (which you either fill in on the plane or upon arrival at the airport). The issued tourist visa was valid for 30 days.
So next time you're stopping over in the UAE, why not take an extra couple of days and explore Oman, too?