Must-See in Oman: the Old Capital Nizwa

Oman is everywhere these days. On Lonely Planets Best in Travel 22 and on everyone’ s Instagram. Two other Danish travellers where in Oman at the same time I was! The Arabian country deserves the attention, if you ask me. I loooved it. Oman has a lot to offer: castles, beaches, mountains, turtles, deserts, dates and UNESCO sites. Most of the sights are in the Northern part of Oman, so in a week you can catch most attractions. One place you should definitely include in your itinerary is Nizwa. Here you can find the top sights and where to eat and drink.


Oman was once a huge empire stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan and south to Tanzania. In 1856, the empire was divided into  an African section (Sultanate of Zanzibar) and an Asian section (Sultanate of Muscat and Oman). Today, it’s the Sultanate of Oman.
omani flags in nizwa
Omani flags all over Nizwa
The capital today, Muscat, is a bit humdrum. Instead travel 1,5 hours south for a much more charming city. History definitely seems a lot present here than in Muscat, and it’s also a lot easier to get around than in the outspread capital.  Nizwa was named the Best Destination in the Arab World in 2022, so I’m not alone in this. It was the old capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th century and is still considered a religious city. According to LP, it’s the 2. most visited place in Oman. Why is it not #1? So let’s go!


The city gate of Nizwa with the Omani flag and an image of the previous sultan

It was once a center of trade, religion, education and art. Even though Nizwa is quite small, the city has a few unmissable sights and is also the perfect place for exploring the nearby area.

The absolute highlight and the reason to visit Nizwa is the old town. In the old town, you’ll find the very photogenic fort, the souq as well as the old part of the city Harat al-Aqr.

 I always start visiting the most important sights, so if anything goes wrong I can back to it.

Nizwa Fort & Castle

Built in the 1600s, the old town in Nizwa has both a fort and a castle. The round tower of the fort is the largest on the Arabic Peninsula measuring a whopping 39 meters in diameter.
nizwa fort

Nizwa fort is the most famous (and most photogenic) one in Oman. No wonder, when you see the iconic fortress like towers against the blue sky and the palm trees. The fort was the administrative seat of authority for the presiding Imams and Walis in times of peace and conflict.

It took 12 years to finish the fort. The fort was built as a defence. Besides the tall walls, one method for keeping unwanted visitors away was pouring hot date syrup on intruders.

Nizwa Castle is pretty hard to distinct from the fort. It was built in the 8th century and about a 100 years later expanded. When the fort was built in the 1600s, the castle was renewed.

You can visit the many rooms including the important Date Stores. It’s all about dates here. There’s also a small museum here.

From the fort is a great view of Nizwa and the surrounding date plantations.
The entrance is 11,81 Euro. I like the fort so much I visited twice! If you want great lighting and space, go in the late afternoon. Do you want traditional dancing and Omani bread, come here on Fridays before lunch. The fort and castle is surrounded by a wall connecting it to the archaeological ancient town. The oldest part of the wall is 1200 years old. We’ll get to that later.

Nizwa Mosque

Almost a part of the fortress is the Al Qala’a Mosque.

The iconic dome and minaret is a symbol of Oman (like the one in old Muscat). And with good reason, since it’s one of the oldest in the world dating from the 7th century. As a non-Muslim, you can unfortunately not visit. don’t think you can visit. If you’re looking for something more impressive in size, check out the Sultan Qaboos mosque in Nizwa (not to be confused with all the other mosques named after sultan). You can easily spot it from the road.

Nizwa Souq

The souq (market) is very different from the one in Muscat. Here it’s Omani men instead of migrant workers selling you spices and ceramics, which gives the market a more Arabic atmosphere.

The souq is Oman’s oldest and divided into dates (120 different kinds), crafts, silver, food and pottery. Nizwa is also famous for its silver. I bought a frankincense holder, but in copper; a metal that is also one of Oman’s many resources.

I’m a tea drinker, so I bought cardamom tea – the karak tea you get everywhere. I love it I haven’t opened it as I write this, but think I will tomorrow.

The market is also where you buy your khandar – the beautifully crafted and ornamental silver ceremonial dagger. It’s even part of their flag as you can see at the earlier image.

Many tourists buy halwa – the national dessert of Oman. I don’t like it. But it’s a local delicacy found and sometimes offered in stores, in the desert and everywhere. Halwa looks and tastes nothing like the halva, I’ve had in Turkey (which I absolutely prefer, but to each their own).

HALWA is a sweet. Everyone has their own recipe, but it’s often made with butter, starch, sugar, nuts, saffron, tapioka, cardamom and dates? Put them together to a sticky, dark jelly-like paste eaten with a spoon. Halwa is often enjoyed with the wonderful Omani coffee (which I did like, and I don’t drink coffee).

Notice, that weekend here is Friday and Saturday, and the shops and the souq close mid day. As I discovered the hard way.

Date sirup sold by the buckets

Goat Market

Get up early! 7.30 the latest if you want to get in on all the fun of a real goat market. In Denmark, we have a saying: “it’s like a goat market” meaning it’s a bit chaotic – or rather very chaotic! But it actually is pretty organized.
It works this way: the buyers sit down on a circular plateau. The sellers grab their goat and carry or pull it around passing the buyers. The interested buyers can then ask to have acloser look on a specific good goat. Meanwhile, the already  – and not yet sold – goats are tied to poles in the market area. I didn’t buy one. (I live on the 4th floor)
I’ve been to a goat market in a small desert town in Morocco, where I was the only tourist AND the only woman. Oman was a very different experience. Nizwa goat market is a very touristy, but I also felt more welcome and was invited to photograph Omani people with their favourite son and goat – making it a more enjoyable experience.

Harat al-Aqr

The oldest part of town just behind the fort dates back 1400 years. It’s an ancient, fortified city built in mud brick. Sadly, in some parts, the walls and houses are not very well preserved.  Later, a local guide told me the Sultan wasn’t that interested in pre-Islamic architecture and that’s why they are crumbled in the occasional rain showers. I don’t know if this is true, but there definitely was some crumbling old ruins in Oman contrasting the beautifully restored mosques and fortresses.
I was practically alone in the old, narrow streets. And it’s not only IRL this part of the city is undercover. I can’t find much on it online except for some nerdy publications.
But no doubt this will grow into a huge part of the tourist attraction with small cafés and hotels renovating the old houses. They are already popping up as you can read further down.


Nizwa sees some tourists – especially groups-, so you can find a few places. And they have wifi, if your own cell service doesn’t cover Oman and the hotel’s wifi is rubbish. Which it will be.
Athar café has probably the best view in town. The terrace overlooks the fort. I was the only in the café, just underlining the few individual travellers here. Yet! Besides the tea, I had a delicious date-cake. As I mentioned before, it’s all about dates here.

For a quick bite have a Turkish shawarma and a the popular lime-mint jucie at Shawathin. At the small, centrally located shop you can get bread, chicken, vegetables and pickled onions cheaply in this expensive country.

Another great spot – guessing on the queue – is Mashawi al Wadi next to the entrance to the souq. Unfortunately, I went right when everything closed Friday.

Niz café  is hidden among the small alleys of the old capital. With pink pillows on a roof top terrace and flowers, it tries a little too hard to be instagrammable. But they do have halloumi sandwich and bad wifi – and that’s something.
Al Diyar Hotel


Tourist hotel few km from the old city. Right next to the road.


Built in Arabic style. Large and spacious rooms. A/C. Very comfortable.


I would stay in the old town for charm and convenience.

Nizwa is the gateway up n the mountains and further on. If you have more time, the surrounding area has some fantastical sights. Nearest is the Falaj Daris Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of one of the largest irrigation channels in Oman. Also Jibreen or Jabreen castle, the old city of Birkat al Mouz and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhala Fort.

I will write more on these in another post.

Having some karak-tea at the fort

Oman is on my list of favourite destination in 2022. Did it make it to the top of my list? For more Middle East, have a cultural adventure with kids in Petra, Jordan.

What’s you favourite Arabic country?