Best Places to Visit in Nizwa
Nizwa is a wonderful place to discover the world of Omani tradition, heritage and history whilst exploring centuries-old forts, tasting freshly made Omani sweets, browsing silver incense dispensers, daggers and letter holders, smelling burning frankincense, chatting with local shopkeepers, wandering through lush green oases, and roaming round the cool plateau and terraced farms on nearby mountains.
Let’s start exploring the best places to visit in and around Nizwa.
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Nizwa Fort was built in the mid-17th century on top of an earlier structure dating back to the 12th century. It is the largest in Oman and consists of a fort and a castle in one spot. The enormous cylindrical tower has thick walls, is 36 metres across, 30 metres high and its foundations 30 metres deep.
The fort was built to defend the city against invaders through its domineering structure and the two dozen cannons pointing in all directions and loopholes. There were also numerous clever traps inside the fort if enemies succeeded in infiltrating it.
Nizwa Fort is a labyrinth of corridors, staircases, rooms, stores, prisons and living quarters. The decor of some rooms reflects how they may have looked in the past, while others contain exhibits from different periods.
Don’t miss going up to the top of the tower for a view over all of Nizwa. The stairway isn’t as dangerous as it used to be!
Be sure to visit the farm at the back and wander around or sit and relax in the green haven of tranquillity. Observe the falaj system (irrigation channels) throughout the farm. The fort itself was built over an underground stream.
This incredible old fort is definitely one of the top places to visit in Nizwa.
Nizwa Fort Entry Fee
Adults – 5 riyals for tourists, 2 riyals for Omanis, 3 riyals for children over 6.
Nizwa Fort Opening Hours
Saturdays to Thursdays, 8am to 6pm, Fridays 8am to 11:30am and 1:30pm to 6pm
Nizwa Souq is next to the Nizwa Fort and you can enter from that side or, if you’re driving, it may be easier to go to the front entrance.
It has a marvellous mix of shops selling weaponry, pottery, old coins, jewellery and letter holders, spices, incense, honey, Arabic coffee, frankincense oil and so much more.
Don’t miss the indoor Omani sweet section, where you can try different types with free Arabic coffee on the side. Don’t worry about the sweet going off. Keep it in a cool place and ensure it doesn’t become contaminated by dirty or wet spoons and it will last for a long time.
If you’re self-catering or planning a barbecue, head to the fresh meat and fish section and the fruit and vegetable market.
Near Nizwa Fort entrance is a row of shops on the opposite side selling silver jewellery, souvenirs, etc. Further down on the other side is Souq al Gharbi (Western Souq), which sells other traditional items such as instruments and old silver goods. So even if you don’t intend to buy, take a walk through to feel yourself being swept back in time.
If you want ideas for gifts from Nizwa, I recommend some silver or spices. If you have a friend or relative suffering from aches and pains, frankincense oil is excellent for this.
Heritage and Walking Tours of Nizwa
You can tour the old town in an old-fashioned car or take a walking tour to see more.
Best Things to do near Nizwa
Jebel Akhdar means Green Mountain and if you’re coming from the city or a neighbouring Gulf state, the greenery and cooler temperatures will undoubtedly bring joy to several senses!
First, to go up Jabal Akhdar, you have to pass a checkpoint at the bottom. To do that, you need to be in a four-wheel drive vehicle. (You might be able to convince them of an AWD as I did.) and you will need to show your car registration card, driving licence and maybe ID.
The road is paved until the main hotel area and only turns into an off-road track somewhere beyond that. It takes around 40 minutes to get to Jebel Akhdar Plateau. If you don’t have a 4WD, the other options are to take a 4WD taxi from the car park if available, go with a guide or try your luck and see if some nice person will give you a lift from the bottom.
You can also find more information and maps at the Visitor Centre near the car park.
Plot twist – Jabal Akhdar isn’t the name of the whole mountain, but the plateau higher up. Several villages are on the mountain and many terraced farms sit nestled into the mountainside. Fruits grown here include mangos, pomegranates, figs, almonds, etc. The views and mountain life make this one of the best things to do near Nizwa.
We had a tasty dinner at the Iranian restaurant, Layali al Jabal, next door to the Anantara, with a view over farm terraces further along the mountain. The restaurant has many different places to sit indoors, and private gazebos are also available in the gardens.
If you’re more adventurous, you can camp further up but keep in mind that it will get cold at night. Even if you’re not camping, you might need a sweater or jacket in winter. We were there in October and the weather was a very pleasant 24°C. Still, mosquitoes came out after sunset, so you might want to add repellent to your backpack.
You can do several hikes in the area and see old villages, wadis, caves, pools, etc. Some may be easy but others are best to do with a guide.
At Wadi Bani Habib, at the end of the road, you can walk down the many steps to the old abandoned village. You can also continue further to find another village.
Take a walk from Al Aqor around the farm terraces to Al Shurayqa village, where the Damask roses used in making Oman’s famous rose water are grown. To see the roses, visit in early spring.
For something longer, take the Mirage Trail, which starts near the Alila Hotel. See information from those who have done the trail.
An alternative is the Discovery Trail, around the same length but an easy trail down from Hayl Al Hadab to the Alila Hotel – until you have to go back up again! IOf course, if you’re staying at the Alila, you could always take the easy option and get someone to drop you off or take you on a guided walk. See more information on hiking trails in the area on All Trails.
Jebel Shams is further from Nizwa than Jebel Akhdar and quite different. It is the highest mountain in Oman but you can’t go to the very top (around 3000m) as there is a military area. It’s not green like Jebel Akhdar but offers fantastic views over the Hajar Mountains and canyon below.
The most accessible viewpoint is Wadi Nakhr (or Wadi Ghul). To see the full beauty of the canyon, you can go hike the Balcony Walk, a marked trail with a clear path most of the way and a few parts with rough steps or small boulders.
The trail, also named W6, starts at the tiny village of Al Khitaym, goes along one side of the canyon and is around 8km depending how far you go at the end. The views are simply stunning and worth the long drive up. You’ll pass a few goats on the way and see vultures hovering around too.
The prize at the end of the trail is discovering the abandoned village of Sab Bani Khamis. Various houses, stores, a small mosque and farming terraces made up the tiny village and sitting under huge protruding rock, it was an ideal spot to be sheltered from the elements.
In one of the houses, you can see a stone wheel which was used to grind grain to make bread. The stick to turn it is still in place as if waiting for someone to come back and resume its use. To reach the houses near the terraces is slightly more challenging with some rocks to climb over but it’s worth making the effort. If you continue yet further, you can find the pools used by the village but they may be dry.
The path alternates between flat stretches and gentle descents. If you’re unfit, you may need frequent breaks on the way back up. If you’re afraid of heights, this one is probably not for you. The trail is on the edge of the mountainside for much of the way.
You can drive up the mountain to the plateau. It’s a paved road much of the way although there are a few kilometres of dirt track between two sections of paved road. It’s quite steep at some points and winding but mostly wide enough for vehicles to pass each other. Most cars we passed were 4WDs but there were also sedans.
There are a couple of hotels, options for camping and a few more basic and traditional places to stay. We stayed at the Mountain Rest House which is a stone chalet with two bedrooms, two living rooms, dining room, kitchen, three bathrooms and an outside seating area. It also has heating which we needed in the evening. You can find them here on Instagram.
If you’re camping or renting a chalet, keep in mind that there are no facilities or shops on Jebel Shams. However, a small shop at Al Khitaym sells home-cooked food on request (five riyals for rice and chicken, salad, fruit and water), breakfast and tea. You’ll also find several vendors selling handcrafted bracelets of sheep (or goat?) hair and small bags here and at Viewing Area 3.
You may happen to see the elderly man spinning hair. He grew up in the village at the end of the hiking trail and what may seem to us like a harsh life appears to have bestowed on him a long healthy life.
There are some other hiking opportunities and you can find routes on All Trails and Wikiloc or go with a local guide. The marked trail through the wadi at the bottom gives you a different view.
At the dirt track turn-off to Wadi Nakhr, you’ll see vendors selling woollen blankets and beyond that the abandoned village of Ghul up on the hillside. The entrance to the wadi is next to it.
Tips: before you go up Jebel Shams, fill your tank up, pack snacks, drinks and water, food for meals if camping, pack a sweater and socks but also what you need for a hike in full sun. There is mobile signal in most areas.
Birkat al Moz
One of the best things to do around Nizwa is to drive out to Birkat al Moz, which is lovely to walk around.
Next, we had coffee at Sabah Rest House (aka Sabah Heritage Inn), where we had a chocolate cake to share. It was so good that we ordered another! They only served drinks and cakes, but they were delicious. Rooms are also available to rent. Book Sabah Rest House
Sabah sits in Hirat al Siybani, an abandoned village built in the 17th century. Some houses were lived in up to the early years of this century. It sits on a hill with houses and alleys going up the hillside, a falaj (water channel system) running through, and farmland at the bottom. It was a delight to explore!
Bahla Fort is somewhere between 500 and 800 years old but has been restored.
Al Hamra Oman
Al Hamra is about a 40-minute drive from Nizwa, making it ideal for a day trip or a brief stop-off on your road trip to Oman. Better still, spend a night or two soaking up the old-world atmosphere.
Bait al Safa Museum is a living museum where you can learn about traditional Omani life. It has several rooms including a kitchen, majlis and changing room. You can see how they make Arabic coffee and bread, grind wheat for flour and press moringa seeds for oil.
You can also sample some Omani food, chat with locals, try on Omani clothing and buy local produce. I bought moringa oil and soap.
What surprised me most was the height of the rooms, however, this was part of the cooling system allowing warm air entering the room to rise to the top.
It is believed that Bait al Safa is around 400 years old. This is one not to miss on your stop in Al Hamra, Oman. The entrance fee is 3 riyals and opening hours are from 9am to 5:30 pm. Card payment is accepted.
There is a park nearby where you can take a donkey or classic car ride through the farming area. If you don’t the time to walk through, I recommend doing the car tour. It takes around 25 minutes.
Many old houses are in the same area as Bait al Safa and you can wander down the alleys. Some of these are derelict and others have been restored recently and are guest houses complete with traditional decor. Staying in one of these is a wonderful and authentic experience.
The owners mostly grew up in the houses before they were abandoned and if they pop in to say hello, they can tell you more about life there. Whilst chatting to the owner of Al Hamra Old House, where we stayed, he said that the house had been passed down through his family for several generations. He and his family left in 1986 but some remained in the area longer.
Check these gorgeous top-rated traditional places to stay in and near al Hamra for an authentic experience!
- Al Hamra Old House – see and book
- Bait al Jabal Hospitality Inn, includes breakfast and dinner – see and book
- Misfah Old House, includes breakfast and dinner- see and book
- Al Qalah Inn – see and book
- Misfah Hospitality Inn – see and book
- Misfah Old House – see and book
- Harit al Misfat Inn, breakfast and dinner included – see and book
- See these and more properties to rent in Al Hamra
Book a room at The View high up on the hill for a glorious view over Al Hamra and the mountains. The road up is a steep, winding dirt track road of around 7km. I believe non-guests can also use the restaurant, but it’s probably best to call ahead.
Al Hoota Caves are around 2 million years old, about 5km long and contain stalagmites and stalactites. Unfortunately, the train into the caves seems closed for maintenance, but I’m adding it so you can check for updates.
Misfat Al Abriyeen
Misfat Al Abriyeen is a lush agricultural area near Al Hamra, so you can combine the two in a day trip. It’s a very traditional village and, as in many places, the people are conservative but friendly.
Whilst many old houses are abandoned, some are still inhabited and you can wander around following the marked trail if you wish. For a remarkable experience, you can stay at the Misfah Old House or one of the other restored buildings. Book Misfah Old House.
There are several coffee shops there now and we climbed the 80 or so steps to Halwa Coffee Shop but it was worth it for the view and coffee. I recommend the Halwa Latte made with Omani halwa. I ordered halwa cheesecake on the side.
Along the alleys, local vendors sell honey, frankincense, trinkets, and so on. Frankincense oil is good for joint pain, amongst other things, and is worth buying. It’s been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Burning frankincense is also good for keeping mosquitoes and flies at bay.
Misfat Al Abriyeen can get busy at the weekend and the road is relatively narrow with little room to turn at the end, so you can park before you see the cars lined up and walk.
Hotels in Nizwa
There are various places to stay in Nizwa, from budget to luxury, but let’s start with where we stayed – The Antique Inn, Nizwa.
When I spotted the listing for the Antique Inn, I knew straight away that it was the one for me. Places with a traditional and unique feel are right up my street!
The inn consists of 300-year-old buildings, the main inn and several houses down an alley. The ones belonging to the Antique Inn have been restored but some of the other places in the alleys are still in their original dilapidated state, adding even more character.
Sitting within the old Nizwa city wall, the inn had a wonderful sense of ‘old world’ about it! If you arrive by car, leave it there and head off on foot to explore the old town. Nizwa Fort and the old Nizwa Souq are just minutes away.
The decor in the rooms was simple but traditional. They’re not very big but there are several seating areas around the hotel with free Arabic coffee and dates; one is on the rooftop.
Breakfast was mainly Omani food with options of cereal and toast served on the roof terrace with a superb panoramic view over the old city, farms and mountains and a soundscape of chattering birds.
The Antique Inn is by no means a luxury experience, but it is authentic. For that reason, the management has chosen not to install certain features. (Don’t worry, the bathroom isn’t an old-style one!) I know I’ll be returning and several people who took my recommendation loved it, too.
(It’s important to note that this hotel isn’t really suitable for someone who has difficulty going up and down steps. If you still want to stay there, ask for a ground floor room when booking and order breakfast to your room or seating area.)
Here are other options for hotels in Nizwa and the surrounding area – tap the name to see rates or book.
Nizwa Oman Hotels
- Book Intercity Hotel Nizwa
- Nizwa Heritage Inn
- Golden Tulip Nizwa
- Falaj Daris Hotel
- Nizwa Hotel Apartments
- Antique Inn
Where to eat
We had dinner at Nizwa Al Khair, which some locals recommended and served Omani food. It’s a few minutes walk from the fort.
As mentioned above, we had delicious coffee and cake at Sabah Rest House and dinner at the Iranian restaurant on Jebel Akhdar. You might also want to treat yourself to lunch or dinner at the Anantara.
Shopping in Nizwa
The best place for shopping in Nizwa is Nizwa Souq but if you need any clothes, groceries or household items, you can head to the Nizwa Grand Mall. Centrepoint sells clothes, shoes, accessories, and makeup. There is also Max for clothes, Home Centre, The Body Shop, Carrefour Hypermarket, perfume shops, electronics stores, coffee shops, a cinema and a play area.
There is also Nizwa Mall (confusing, I know!) It has a Lulu hypermarket, perfume shops, jewellery shops, a host of other shops, a play area and a food court.
You can pay contactless almost everywhere, including Nizwa Souq. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to carry cash, especially for tips, tea and times when a card reader doesn’t work. You can pay in dirhams everywhere and you’ll get change in riyals with one riyal considered 10 dirhams.
If you need to change money, you can find exchange offices in the malls and other places. You’ll also find ATMs in the malls.
How to get to Nizwa
If you are travelling by plane, you can fly to Muscat Airport, then rent a car, join a tour or take a bus. On the other hand, if you’re taking an Oman road trip from Dubai or other emirates, you can check how to get to Nizwa below. There are three routes available to expats.
You can choose the best route depending on your starting point and if you want to combine other locations. The easiest for most is via Al Ain. However, there are several borders there, so unless you’re a GCC National, you need to make sure you’re heading to the correct one, which is the Mezyad checkpoint.
The other options are the Hatta border and Kalba. Again there is more than one at Hatta and you need the Al Wajajah checkpoint. The border at Kalba is called Khatmat Milaha. Google may try to take you through other borders but some of these are only open to GCC Nationals.
You can see the two different routes we took through Mezyad and Hatta further down.
You may also choose to rent a car. If you rent from the UAE, check whether it’s allowed to take it to Oman.
Entry requirements to Oman
A visa is necessary to enter Oman for all nationalities except GCC. Whether you can get a visa on arrival depends on your nationality and country of residence. You can check if you are eligible at the the official website , however, applying online is the best way to ensure you don’t face any difficulties. Check eligibility or apply for an online visa here.
Oman dropped all COVID-19 restrictions in Spring 2022, so you no longer need to be vaccinated or show a negative PCR result.
To bring your car into Oman from other Gulf states, you must show your valid car registration card (known locally as mulkiya). In addition, you need what is known as your orange card for car insurance coverage in Oman. (Although it seems that it’s no longer orange.) Check if you already have coverage with your current motor insurance. If so, carry the required documentation with you.
You can buy insurance at the border if you’re not already covered. Of course, you need your driving licence for both scenarios.
Road trip to Oman from Dubai – Our routes via Al Ain and Hatta
We started our road trip to Oman from Dubai through the Mezyad border at Al Ain.
The first part of the road was rather dull but the mountains on the left got more interesting as we went along. We then stopped off at Sulaif Castle on the other side of Ibri.
It was an interesting stop and one I recommend if you want to break up your journey.
The last part of our road trip to Oman from Dubai was the journey home. We took a different route through the Hatta border to enjoy different scenery.
We drove back towards Ibri but turned off before visiting Bahla Fort, which I posted above.
Next, onto Yanqul via route 8, with some fascinating hills and rocks on the way. At Yanqul, we visited Bait al Marah Castle and drove and walked around the narrow streets and between farms. There’s a paved walk in Yanqul up to a viewpoint.
After Yanqul, we headed towards Sohar, taking us through incredible mountain scenery, streams and fords across the roads. Allow yourself time to stop off and maybe plan for a picnic. It looked like a lovely spot for camping in Oman.
Unfortunately, we then turned onto the much less interesting highway. From there, you can either go towards the Hatta border (Hatta Fort Hotel in maps, Dubai on road signs) or the Kalba border (Khatmat Milaha.) On the Kalba route, you could stop off at Sohar or carry on with a UAE road trip up the east coast if you’re coming from further away. (To see more on the UAE Northern Emirates, visit Glimpses of the UAE.)
Other options to continue your Oman road trip include heading to Rustaq or Sur via Muscat. Alternatively, head down to the south coast for an extended Oman road trip. In the summer, Salalah and neighbouring areas make a great break from the heat if you live in the Gulf.
Oman is an incredible and very welcoming country. Still, we should always respect the local culture, the people, the area and the environment. So leave nothing but footsteps and take away warm lasting memories of a beautiful country and even more beautiful people.
(This post was first published on June 22, 2022 and updated on Jan 2, 2023.)
If you want to combine your trip to Oman with the UAE, please visit Glimpses of UAE for lots of ideas of fabulous places and things to do.
Nizwa Oman – FAQs
- How far is Nizwa from Muscat? 155km/95 miles
- How long does it take to drive to Nizwa? from Muscat? About an hour and a half
- How far is Nizwa from Dubai? 418km/260 miles if you go via Al Ain
- How long does it take to drive to Nizwa from Dubai? Around 4hrs 45 mins
- How far is Nizwa from Abu Dhabi? 440km/273 miles
- How long does it take to drive to Nizwa from Abu Dhabi? Around 4hrs 45 mins
- Which border should I use to go to Oman from the UAE? For non-GCC nationals, you can enter via the Hatta border, the Mezyad border at Al Ain or Khatmat Milaha at Kalba.
- How to get to Nizwa from Muscat? If you don’t have a car, you can rent one, go on an organised tour or take a public bus from Azaiba Bus station or Muscat Airport. The bus takes about 3hrs 45 mins. You may need to get a taxi or microbus when you reach Nizwa.
- Is there public transport in Nizwa? No, you can use taxis or shared taxis.
- Can I drive up to Jebel Akhdar? Yes, but you’ll need a 4WD if you want to drive yourself.
- Is camping allowed on Jebel Akhdar? Yes, but you’ll need a 4WD to get there.
- Is camping allowed on Jebel Shams? Yes
- Is wild camping allowed in Oman? Yes
- Do I need a visa to go to Oman? – Yes. Some nationalities and some GCC residents can get visa on arrival. Check eligibility or apply for online visa here.
- What is the required passport validity to enter Oman? – 6 months
- Are there hiking trails on Jebel Akhdar? Yes, there are several guided trails and more you can find on All Trails or Wikiloc.
- Are there hiking trails on Jebel Shams? Yes, there are guided trails and more you can find on All Trails or Wikiloc. Also, see the Balcony Walk or W6 mentioned in the post above.
- Can I pay by credit card? Yes, you can pay almost everywhere with Visa or Mastercard credit or debit cards. Keep cash for tips, small shops on the road, etc.
- Do I need to change money if I am coming from the UAE? It depends where you’re going. Dirhams are accepted pretty much everywhere around Nizwa, Muscat and Musandam at a rate of 10 dirhams to one riyal. You’ll get change back in riyal though. Further afield you may need riyal to pay cash, especially further south.
- Can I take my car to Oman? Yes, you need the registration card (mulkiya) and Insurance cover for Oman. If you have cover, you need the relevant document which is addressed to the Oman authorities (previously known as orange card.) You get this from your insurance company. If you don’t have it, you can buy insurance at the border. If your car is mortgaged or rented, check with the provider if you can take it.