Nizwa in Oman, a capital delight

Nizwa in Oman is the ancient capital of the sultanate of Oman and perhaps the most touristic city in the whole country. It is just a two hours drive from Muscat or four and a half from Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. The city lost its importance in the last century in favor of Muscat but preserves the essence of a main historic city. It is located in a very relevant area history wise with plenty of ancient towns and castles around. For the tourist it may be a delight thanks to its harmonic set of adobe buildings, many of them lately renovated and restored. 

Nizwa is its cultural essence and its transformation keeping the balance with it. In the middle of the last century, Wilfred Thesiger, the British explorer, explained in his book in Arabian Sands that the imam of Nizwa did not allow him access in town. It was a village so conservative. 

Today, Nizwa is the second tourist destination of the sultanate and its 70,000 inhabitants are very friendly with those who visit them. This change has a lot to do with Sultan Qabus. The modernization program of the last fifty years in the country has achieved unbelievable success in terms of improving the rights and well-being of the population while keeping the balance with tradition.

What to expect from Nizwa in Oman

Nizwa is probably the oldest city in Oman and it was once a very important center of trade. It used to be an important meeting point at the base of the Western Hajar Mountains. Since it was economically important, its influence in terms of religion and education rose equally meaningful. Nizwa is strategically located at the crossroads of routes linking the interior with Muscat and Dhofar which means an important link for the rest of the country. 

The economy of the city was based on the production of mats from straw and dates besides the importance of the trade. Even nowadays, Nizwa is still a center of date production and a very important marketplace with some of the best souks in the Middle East. 

During the 6th and 7th centuries AD it was the capital of the sultanate. Although today it is in the background of Muscat, within its walls its old greatness is still visible. The visitor could see the remains of the old walls and stroll along ancient adobe buildings. There are some visitable highlights as a must-do for tourists such as Nizwa Fort or some of the very old mosques in town. 

Nizwa has plenty of renowned mosques, such as Sultan Qaboos Jama (Friday mosque), So’al Mosque built in the 2nd century AH (9th century AD), Ash-Shawathinah Mosque in Uqr and Ash-Sharja Mosque. There is not any issue about non-muslim or gender consideration about visiting some of the mosques. Nizwa is a tolerant and welcoming city even being still very traditional in manners and clothing. It is very common to see locals in traditional white outfit (dishdasha), with the hanging traditional dagger (khanjar) and wearing the kumma, a traditional cap.

There is a lot to see in Nizwa and surroundings full of fortresses, wadis and hiking trails. Don’t miss the opportunity of visiting our favorite city in Oman.

Things to do in Nizwa

We propose some spots to have a stroll in the historic town of Nizwa. You can reach as well the Sultan Qaboos Mosque and Faraj Daris in a short drive from the old town.

Nizwa Fort

In the 11th century, Imam Al Sult Bin Malik Al Kharusi ordered the construction of Nizwa Fort.  The goal was to protect Nizwa from invaders, riots and any other kind of attacks. At that time, the city became a strategic enclave of the spice trade routes, so many were eager to seize its riches and invaders were on the prowl.

They took 12 years to build Nizwa Fort. But then, Nizwa successed to have a dominant position in the city to control the oasis and the surrounding commercial arteries. Later, in the 17th century, Sultan Bin Sauf Al Yarubi, who kicked out the Portuguese from Oman, began a renovation of the castle. He included a set of cannons along the tower and its walls and improved Nizwa Fort with better and reinforced walls to defend the town from its enemies.

Inside the fort, the visitor can spend hours going through the maze of corridors, rooms and false doors. Nevertheless, the most eye-catching spot in the fort is its gigantic circular tower, the largest in Oman, with its 45 meters in diameter and stands 34 meters high. 

Nizwa Fort has seven wells and several jails. You will see the rooms used by the Imam, those of his family, guests, servants and guards. Religious scholars also stayed here. The fort had an excellent library and of course there was no shortage of prayer rooms. There is a museum on the ground floor. 

The entrance is expensive, especially compared with Bahla Fort, which is even more impressive. The visit to Nizwa costs about €10 (5 RO) in 2022. We honestly think that it is worth visiting. But in order to improve the general education and particularly the knowledge of this amazing historic heritage, we think governments should not overprice the access to humankind heritage.  

Nizwa Fort Hours: Saturday to Thursday open from 8:00am to 8:00pm. On Fridays it opens from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Nizwa souks

Nizwa is famous for its handicrafts and agricultural products. In Nizwa, there is a set of souks or a big souk with very well defined areas for meat, fish, fruits and vegetables to spices, dates, gold and silverware. When we arrived in Nizwa, we had a very friendly ritual welcoming at our accommodation where we could ask many questions to locals. We asked for the souk and the answer was… “Which one? We have handicrafts, gold, dates… all of them are souks.” 

Nizwa is renowned for its silver jewelry which is considered to be the best in the country. Its people are masters in Khanjar making (curved dagger), recognised for its distinctive style and patterns.This traditional knife is a symbol and you will be able to see some around all over the country. 

Don’t miss the dates and take the occasion of tasting halwa! By the way, we would like to explain that we tried to buy halwa and we couldn’t pay because a father with his son insisted to pay for us as a welcoming gift. The tourist will have the occasion of checking that Omani people are not only gentle and welcoming, they are also visibly honest and generous. 

Mosques in Nizwa

Nizwa was a very important center for Islam. The city was an important trade hub and a key vertex of trade and culture. It was also a religious main location. This past left a very interesting heritage to combine with the modern will of showing and share the values of the Omani amazing culture. Some expects has mentioned that Omani people are very tolerant due to the nature of Ibadism. That is the branch of Islam followed by the majority in the country. The majority of the mosques are visitable and they are always free. It is also true though that in some cases, women are not welcome to the male prayer room. 

Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Nizwa

This is a new regional size mosque that dates back to 2009. Nizwa is the spiritual and religious capital of Oman. So it needed a proper modern and big mosque. Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Nizwa is the second big in the country, only smaller than the Grand Mosque in Muscat. Simplicity, functionality and selective use of decoration are its characteristics. It has four minarets and the color of the building and materials reflect the tradition of the region. The mosque is next to the Nizwa wadi which gives an excellent view of the building. 

Al Qala’a Mosque

It is close to the souk and the castle. Its dome and minaret are a reference point in the historic old town of Nizwa. Al Qala’a Mosque is an old historic building but renovated in a way that seems modern. It is possible to visit and take pictures inside if you don’t disturb anybody’s worship.  

Al Shawadhna Mosque of Nizwa in Oman

This is one of the eldest mosques in the whole country. It dates back to VII Century and it is very well preserved. It is in the middle of the old quartier. Ideally, it is only visitable for Muslims but nobody will say a word if you walk up the stairs and take a look to nice building from outside. The views from the upper terrace to the adobe buildings’ street is very worth.

Faraj Daris

Falaj Daris is the largest falaj in Oman and it is on the list of World Heritage Site of UNESCO. This was a real life maintainer of Nizwa since It provides the surrounding countryside with water for the plantations. A faraj is a system of watering, basically a channel with some gates to organize when and where the water is coming. Historically, the farajs were a good on which relay for the survival of a community in the Middle East territories.

Where to eat and drink in Nizwa

  • Al Aqur Traditional Restaurant: Clearly the best restaurant in town. It is located just in front of the Nizwa Heritage Inn. It offers proper traditional food and amazing juices in a nice decorated saloon. The waiters are really gentle and the food is good. 
  • Atar Café: Cozy modern and fashion coffee place with some good branded coffee and spectacular decoration. The atmosphere inside is relaxing and elegant.
  • Anat Café: One of the most popular coffee shops in Nizwa. It has some different spaces to seat and an upper terrace just using the space of the ancient walls of the town. From the top the customer has views to a famous street decorative lighting.

Where to stay in the place

  • Nizwa Heritage Inn: We arrived in Nizwa and we could park outside, just next to its door at their own parking. That was a luxury if you take under consideration that the old town is a narrow maze of adobe building streets with almost no parking places at all. They received us and invited us to sit down and have some coffee and dates, as a traditional ritual of hospitality. There, we could ask as many questions as we wanted about Nizwa and the country. They have rooms in different buildings, all of them traditional looking and very beautiful.  

What to do nearby Nizwa in Oman

  • Jebel Akhdar: This is a mountain range with an impressive scenic view and really beautiful trekking options. There are some resorts to relax on the top but you will need to go through a police checkpoint just to make sure that you go with a 4WD vehicle. The mountains are 76 km far away from Nizwa but the trip can take 2 hours. 
  • Bahla Fort: This is probably the most impressive fort in the whole country. You simply cannot miss it if you have the time and the chance to go. It is 40 kilometers away from Nizwa in a journey you can cover in a bit more than half an hour.
  • Birkat Al Mouz Ruins: Just 20 minutes driving East direction from Nizwa. You can visit this abandoned adobe village to learn more about the immediate past of Oman.
  • Tanuf Ruins: It is not a big complex of ruins but it has a nice castle. To get there is 25 minutes from Nizwa by car.
  • Jibreen Castle: It dates back to 1675 and was an important centre of learning for science, medicine and Islamic law. It is worth discovering inside the vast battlements and the interesting date store. The most interesting feature of this castle is the elaborately painted ceilings and its several rooms. Regardless of its value, the entrance could be cheaper.

How to get to Nizwa in Oman

By car

Definitely, the best way of getting to Nizwa is by car. This applies for all the rest of the towns in Oman. Taxis to move around will be available but they don’t use meters. Some travelers would be suspicious about the unknown rates in advance. You can hire a SUP excursion to reach mountains or spots of difficult access.

By bus

For long distances, ONTC bus from Muscat to Nizwa that runs twice daily (at 8.30 am and 2.30 pm daily). Baisa buses are cheap, punctual and convenient to move around. They drop off every passenger at a stop of their choice just telling the driver instead of fixed stops.

By train

Currently there are no train services in Oman.

Flying

The closest international airport to Nizwa is actually in Muscat. Nizwa also has a domestic airport that mainly services domestic and private flights.

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6 Replies to “Nizwa in Oman, a capital delight”

  1. It’s a very beautiful place. I would love to visit someday. Well written.

  2. un plan infinito – Soy una viajera observadora, comprometida y solidaria que cree en el viaje como método de aprendizaje, como una de las mejores formas de establecer relaciones humanas, incluso como terapia y como modo de vida.
    un plan infinito says:

    Hace tiempo estuve a punto de ir a Oman pero finalmente lo cambié por otro destino… me habían contado que las mujeres no teníamso problema y que las turistas éramos bien tratadas… Sigue la cosa así? Seguimos pudiendo caminar sin velo por la calle o el zoco… con excepción de la mezquita por supuesto… y de precios que tal? Porque todo lo encuentro últimamente muy caro…
    Muy bonito post gracias por compartir tu viaje 🙂

    1. Muchas gracias por tu comentario. En efecto, es así. Hay mucho respeto por las turistas y se entiende y se tolera que venimos de culturas diferentes. En general, los omanís son acogedores y amables. El velo no es obligatorio si la mujer para las mujeres turistas (sí en las mezquitas, incluso en algunas de ellas puedes tener problemas para entrar siendo mujer). Por el resto, no percibimos ningún otro problema. No es un país barato, salvo la gasolina que está a medio euro el litro. Los precios de los servicios que necesitas como turista son parecidos a España, algunos incluso más caros, como el café que está a más de 4 euros el café con leche.

      1. un plan infinito – Soy una viajera observadora, comprometida y solidaria que cree en el viaje como método de aprendizaje, como una de las mejores formas de establecer relaciones humanas, incluso como terapia y como modo de vida.
        un plan infinito says:

        Gracias por resolver mis dudas! 😉

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