A Guide to the Best Things to do in Nizwa Oman
Nizwa Oman is a city that’s steeped in history, culture and legend. It’s an ancient place, found in the mountains inland of the Omani capital of Muscat, a place that has long acted as a crossroads between the rugged interior and the coastal lowlands of the region.
Throughout its history, Nizwa Oman has been at times the nation’s capital, but these days, it plays second string of course to Muscat. It’s still one of the most intriguing places in Oman to visit, with plenty of great things to do in Nizwa and experiences to be had in the city and the surrounding area.
To inspire you to visit this Omani city, here’s my detailed guide on the best things to do in Nizwa Oman.
A Brief History of Nizwa Oman
Nizwa’s long history stretches back through the ages, as the city’s location where the mountains begin has long made it a key strategic position in the Hajar mountains of Oman. For centuries, Nizwa Oman was the capital of the country, and it flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries AD when Islam came to dominate the region.
Nizwa became a centre of art, culture, religion and science, much of which has shaped the way the city looks and feels today as a tourist destination, and although it lost its prominence to Muscat as the most important city in Oman, it is still very much a part of the modern nation and its enduring history.
Things to do in Nizwa Oman
Today, this is very much a thriving Omani city, and there are plenty of great things to do in Nizwa from visiting the bustling markets and souqs to exploring the historic forts and mosques. Here are my favourite sights to see in the city.
1. Shop at the Nizwa Souq
Nizwa is at the crossroads of Omani culture. The city grew out of the fact that here, in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, traders could bring their wares down from the mountains to meet with other traders arriving with goods from the coast, who in turn could acquire or sell goods across the world. That importance isn’t lost today, and Nizwa still acts as the regional market hub. The old souq is where much of this trade happens, and although there are of course a great many shops and stalls catering purely to tourists, there are also a great many selling traditional wares, food and goods to other locals.
The Nizwa Souq is one of the busiest places in the city, but head here early and if you can on the weekend, to truly experience it at its liveliest. It’s divided into different sections to make things easy to navigate, and you will find all the meat in one place, the fish in the net, frankincense in another and so on.
Throughout the week, most of the shops in the Nizwa Souq will open from 6 am until 1 pm, before closing for the afternoon and reopening from 4 pm until 10 pm. On Fridays, the shops will only open from 5 am until 11 am.
2. Sample the Dates
One of Nizwa’s most popular goods is the eponymous Omani Date. These dates have long been an essential export, and around the city, you can find many Date farms growing some high-quality produce.
A lot of this then goes on sale by the souq, in the specialised Date stores which also stock regional fruits from around the country too. You can browse the Dates, sample a few different types and even sit down for a chat and a coffee with the owners.
3. Visit the Nizwa Livestock Market
Every Friday morning, the Nizwa Souq plays host to farmers, herders and animals from across the region. Locals descend on the city for the weekly Nizwa Livestock Market, which is a lively, busy and chaotic place to visit. Animals are auctioned off, and this is a wonderful opportunity to have a glimpse into the lasting traditions and culture of Oman.
The Nizwa Livestock Market takes place every Friday, from around 6.30 am. It’s very much an early morning event, as even by 9 am, the locals will already be leaving.
4. Explore Nizwa Fort
Nizwa Fort is the centrepiece of the old town, and from the entrance gates to the city, you can see the huge, round towers and high walls dominating the skyline. Nizwa Fort dates back to the 16th century, at least in its current architectural form, and it has long held the primary position of power in the region.
It’s an excellent example of Omani fortifications and the well-preserved walls are awash with information and history. Make sure you climb to the top of the largest tower, for supreme views over the city and the nearby mountains.
Nizwa Fort is open from 6 am to 4 pm through the week, except on Fridays, when it is only open from 8 am until 11 am.
5. Falaj Daris
For centuries, the locals of Nizwa have channelled the meagre water supply from the mountains and reservoirs into the city and to the surrounding agricultural land using an elaborate but efficient irrigation network, known as the Falaj System.
These can be found across the country, but the system at Nizwa is one of the most extensive and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing that recognises the unique importance of Omani engineering. You can visit the Falaj Daris in Nizwa to gain an idea of how the system works, and the best place to see its effects are in the green and verdant Falaj Daris Park which is north of the old town.
6. Tanuf Ruins
20 kilometres outside of Nizwa, can be found the crumbling Tanuf Ruins. Located in Wadi Tanuf – a wide, dry riverbed – these ruins are crumbling and weather-beaten, and little remains of what was once a thriving village. The houses and buildings were abandoned in the 1950’s, during the Jebel Akhdar War.
7. Bahla Fort
Just to the west of Nizwa is the small town of Bahla, where you can find the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bahla Fort which dates back almost a thousand years.
It was built here to defend the oasis in the desert, and although the original mud brick structure has long been replaced, it’s an incredible example of the evolution of Omani fortifications through the century as you can see clearly through the fort many different layers of rebuilding and additions.
8. Jebel Shams
No trip to Nizwa is complete without exploring the surrounding mountains of the Hajar Range, because these high peaks have played such an important role in the history of the city and of Oman.
Jebel Shams is the tallest mountain in Oman, and with a four by four you can drive close to the summit, for incredible views over the impressive canyon that drops almost a thousand metres to the ground below.
9. Jebel Akhdar
Jebel Akhdar is another high mountain peak in the Hajar Range and is found closer to Nizwa. Jebel Akhdar translates to English as the Green Mountain, because this is a verdant area of greenery and sweeping landscapes like no other in Oman.
Locations of the Best Things to do in Nizwa
Where is Nizwa Oman?
Nizwa Oman is located 160 kilometres to the south west of the capital, Muscat. Being a large city of 70,000 people, there are good transport connections and roads leading to Nizwa, however, it can be tricky to get around using public transport.
Nizwa is very long and very thin, sprawling out along the wadi for several miles towards the mountains. The main sights are focused within the walls of the Old Town. Here you can find the fort, the souqs and the markets as well as some great local restaurants too.
The hotels and the more modern area of the city, where you can find supermarkets and other non-touristy sights, are found south of the Old Town.
How to Travel to Nizwa Oman
By far the easiest way to explore Nizwa is to rent a car from Muscat, as this gives you the freedom to explore on your own terms. The drive from Muscat is around 2 hours each way, and there are plenty of opportunities to stop off en route or to explore the surrounding area too. If you are planning on driving up into the mountains it may be useful to hire a four by four to tackle the mountain roads.
If you do want to travel by public transport, then there are daily buses with Mwasalat, the national Omani bus company. They travel from the main Al Azaiba Mwasalat Bus Station in Muscat, to the Nizwa Bus Station. Both bus stations are outside of the main tourist areas in both cities, and it’s difficult finding public transport, meaning you will have to fork out for taxi rides too which are notoriously expensive in Oman.
Hotels in Nizwa
Hotels in Nizwa can be expensive, even in comparison to Muscat, and there is very limited choice, unfortunately. Most of the hotels in Nizwa are located a few kilometres outside of the Old Town, in the newer areas, making it a bit tricky to get around without your own transport. Here are a few great options when it comes to selecting hotels in Nizwa.
1. Majan Guest House
2. Falaj Daris Hotel
Named for the extensive Falaj System that was built through the city, this hotel offers great mid-range rooms, at mid-range prices (again, for Nizwa, this is mid-range). Located by the Falaj Daris itself, it’s a peaceful and enjoyable place to spend a few days in Nizwa.
3. Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar
This is for those with an endless budget, because the Anantara is one of the most luxurious and expensive resorts in Oman. Located away from the city, this fancy hotel is found in the cool climes of the Hajar Mountains, isolated and remote, and away from the world. There’s not much that you can really fault with this place, you just need the cash to stay here!
The Best Time of Year to Visit Nizwa Oman
Oman gets exceptionally hot int he summer months, and even the cooler mountains around Nizwa can be overbearingly warm from June to August. From October, things start to cool down but it’s still hot, while the last part of the year sees the most temperate and enjoyable weather. The mountains though, during winter, can see low temperatures, so wrap up warm at altitude.