Nizwa – a cultural pearl in the middle of the mountains of Oman
As a regional trading center, Nizwa has a long and varied history. From here you can perfectly explore the north of Oman. Just under 200 km from the capital Muscat, you will find everything you need here. Today you will find Nizwa a city marked by the modernizations of the 1990s. Some of the oriental flair has unfortunately been lost, but the many new amenities make up for this fact, making Nizwa the perfect base for your stay.
Top sights in Nizwa
Normally, you don’t hear much about Oman or its regional centers. But for the Arabian Peninsula and the local culture, local centers, such as Nizwa, play a crucial role. Picturesquely nestled in the mountains of Hajar, Nizwa invites you with its extensive palm groves. Irrigation has always worked well in this corner of the world, so people have made their home here for a long time. You can still discover their traces today – let yourself be carried away into a distant and foreign world.
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Sultan Qaboos Mosque
Already from a distance you will recognize this mosque. It has a blue and gold painted dome and a high minaret, so you can’t miss it. In the long tradition of Nizwa as the religious center of the country, the impressive Qaboo Mosque is also the latest sign. The construction was started in 1995. It was preceded by the decision to build by Sultan Qaboo in 1992 and an architectural competition.
In 2001, the mosque was completed and was then solemnly inaugurated. You will be able to admire a total of five minarets, which are supposed to represent the five pillars of Islam. Thus, every visitor and believer should be reminded of the roots of the Muslim faith when entering the imposing building. The building complex covers an area of over 400 hectares of land.
In the mosque
Through a large arch you can enter the mosque from the south. More arches will show you the way to the main minaret. At 91.5m high, this is the highest point of the mosque. This also houses a public library where you can find religious scriptures of Islam as well as a large number of scientific titles. You will also find an information center with up to 300 seats. Lectures are regularly offered here, also in English, so that you can get first-hand information about the mosque and Islam.
If you want to take a look inside the mosque as a tourist, this is only possible at certain times. From Saturday to Thursday you can go inside the mosque between 8:00 am and 11:00 am.
History of Nizwa
Nizwa is a very old oasis city. For example, over 500-year-old canals carry water to its destination and ensure a fertile land. In 751, the first Imam of the Ibadites was chosen in Nizwa. Its central location ensured that Nizwa was the national capital of Oman as early as the 12th century. Bahla, however, outstripped Nizwa. Due to the Yaruba rule, Nizwa became the capital of Oman once again from the 17th century.
Religious center of Oman it had remained all the time. It was not until 1955 that Sultan Said ibn Taimur succeeded in gaining control over the interior of the country. This also required the help of the British. Thus, Nizwa became the Ibadi capital of Inner Oman. In addition to religion, Nizwa has always been a place of teaching and learning, as evidenced by the library in the modern Sultan Qaboo Mosque.
Besides trade, handicraft with silver processing was one of the traditional incomes of the town. Artful jewelry was and is made in painstaking detail by skilled silversmiths devotedly. Today, silver jewelry has also become a popular souvenir among tourists.
What you need to consider
Also, you should remember that in the mosque, even for tourists, there are some dress codes to consider. Thus, your clothes should include long sleeves and trouser legs. Women should also wear a headscarf. The large prayer room inside the mosque may not be entered with shoes. As a visitor, you are also not allowed to walk on the large carpet in said prayer room.
During times when visitors are allowed, a blue carpet will direct you to the area where you can move around. In general, you can take pictures inside the mosque, but consideration for others and especially for the believers is the highest commandment. Finally, you are advised to visit the mosque in the evening. You won’t be able to get inside everywhere, but the lighting will turn the impressive building into a place from the tales of 1000 and one nights. Even from a distance, the mosque shows itself in a breathtaking illumination, which makes it an absolute highlight of your Oman trip.
This defensive bulwark was built as early as the 1650s, and you can still find it in Nizwa today. Its history and foundation walls go back to the 12th century after all. To this day, you can see for yourself the importance of Nizwa as the capital of the country at that time by looking at this building.
Behind the walls stretches a veritable labyrinth of various chambers, alleys and gears. The cannon tower rises above the entire building in a particularly imposing manner. Originally, there was room for 24 cannons to protect the entire surrounding area. 44 meters measures the diameter of this tower and it is about 28 meters high. You can visit the fort between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. Converted, the entrance fee is about one euro.
You can film and photograph to your heart’s content at the castle. When you return from your exploration, the castle also offers the opportunity to have a bite to eat at a café in the fort’s courtyard. While the facility is an absolute treat to the eye, it becomes difficult for wheelchair users or people with a “walking impairment.” The fort is accessible only by stairs. For all others, a visit to the fort in Nizwa is highly recommended.
- As the former capital of Oman, Nizwa is currently home to about 20000 inhabitants.
- For German citizens, the German Embassy in Muscat is responsible. The embassy can be found at the following address: Diplomatic Area, Al-Khuwair, Jami’at Al-Duwal Al-Arabiah Street, Muscat. In case of emergency, German citizens can find help there in all matters that might arise during their stay in Oman.
- For medical emergencies you can go to the local hospital, they will help you and your health insurance usually covers it. The hospital can be reached at +968 25 425350.
- Next to the hospital is also the police station. You will find it about two kilometers from the center of the village in the direction of Bahla. The emergency number for the police and fire department is: 9999. With this number you will always be helped in emergency situations.
- Should you need a pharmacy, you will find it in the business center north of the fort. Here you will also find some banks and exchange offices that exchange currency at quite decent rates.
- Cabs and shared cabs can be found at the wadi below the center. In general, all places in the vicinity and Muscat will be visited.
Livestock and animal market
This market is something very special and you will quickly realize that. Every Friday there is an animal market in Nizwa. But you have to get up early for that, because it starts at 7:00 am. Shortly after eight it becomes very crowded.
As a local center, Nizwa attracts buyers and sellers from near and far. The market is always bustling, but it takes place only once a week. So every Friday is the cattle market. The animals are carefully presented and demonstrated. Then the prospective buyers have the chance to examine the animals. Then begin negotiations and bids.
Haggling, like in the movies
As usual on an oriental market, haggling is part of the good tone here. For you, there are not only animals to see at this market, because many of the locals have dressed up with their status symbols. It is not uncommon to find men with cartridge belts and rifles, so here you show what you have. These side scenes are popular subjects for tourist photos. So if you get the chance, you should take it.
Already around 11:00 am the hustle and bustle dissolves, because the heat otherwise quickly becomes unbearable for humans and animals. If you are in Nizwa on a Friday morning, then you should definitely pay a visit to this market.
Here you can eat well in Nizwa:
If you don’t want it to be too expensive, but you still want the menu to have a certain regional touch, then Bahjat Al-Sham Restaurant is the place for you. Here you get Lebanese-Egyptian cuisine at moderate prices. Often a buffet is offered, so you can taste your way through the selection. The restaurant is located directly in the Al-Diyar Hotel. It is open between 12:00 and 15:00. Then in the evening it is open from 19:00 to 23:00, so both lunch and dinner would be possible here.
You can enjoy traditional Omani cuisine right next to the wadi. At Bin Ateeq you can get traditional Arabic specialties. Here we eat on the floor. To do this, you can arrange with a few friends in a cozy separee. Especially popular in this restaurant are the “Cuttle Fish Coconut Curry” or “Chicken Nashib”. The restaurant is open from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm, which gives you total flexibility when it comes to the timing of your meal.
Do you feel more like international cuisine? Then you’ll feel right at home at Birkat al-Mawz. International cuisine is served here and alcoholic beverages are also available. The restaurant is located directly at the Nizwa Hotel Apartments. It is open for lunch between 12:00 and 15:00 and for dinner from 19:00 to 23:00.
Souks are markets, of which there are also some in Nizwa. The souks in Nizwa have everything your heart desires. From handicrafts, weapons to junk, everything is traded here. Over time, the market has become more and more touristy, but it still retains a certain authenticity. What all souks have in common is that you should get up early to witness everything. As the day progresses, temperatures rise quickly, so the souks usually open at 6:00 a.m. and are over by noon. When you go to the souk, be sure to have enough money in case you want to buy something.
Shopping in Nizwa – this is the right way:
Since silver craft has such a tradition in Nizwa, it is a popular souvenir. The best place to find silver is at the Souk for handicrafts or at the West Souk near the castle. The best place to get spices and incense is the old souk – as always, bargaining in the markets is part of the deal. With a little skill you can also get a good price for your truths.
Those who were rather looking for a shopping mall will find a suitable place to go in the new business center around the square in the northeast of the castle. In addition to everyday necessities, you can also find all kinds of small things, such as photos or pharmacy. On the main road in the direction of Muscat, several small stores have settled, so that traditionally the smaller stores are found here.
You can get excellent groceries at Lulu Hypermarket or Carrefour Supermarket in Nizwa Grand Mall. Here you’ll quickly feel like all of Nizwa is shopping with you, as this mall is also very popular with locals. Of course, you can also get fruits and vegetables in the supermarket, but they are fresher in the market hall.
Staying overnight in Nizwa – here you are in good hands:
At the Al-Diyar Hotel(check availability*), you’ll have a lower-middle-class hotel. You’ll find a mixed crowd here, as it’s quite popular with locals as well. It can be said that this makes it a bit more typical of the country than, for example, the Golden Tulip , which we will come to in a moment. It is idyllically located about 4 km south of the center and on hot days you can even find some cooling in the in-house small pool in the courtyard. In addition, the house has a restaurant with a somewhat cool flair, but the food there is highly recommended.
The Golden Tulip Hotel (check availability*) , on the other hand, is in the upper mid-range. It is located about 20 km outside of Nizwa on the old route to Birkat al-Mauz in the direction of Muscat. There are two nightclubs with live music and you will meet mostly international crowd. After long explorations in the region, a great pool area invites you to relax. The transfer to the city by cab is possible at any time and is usually quick and uncomplicated.
Nightlife and going out in Nizwa:
The offer in Nizwa is quite manageable, but also in the area of nightlife Nizwa has a few options for you. Al Wasit has one nightclub each with Indian and Arabic music, but here only hotel guests of the Golden Tulip Hotel are allowed. Here you get live music between 12:00 and 15:00 and from 18:00 to 24:00.
The Al-Sahara Lounge in the Falaj Daris Hotel invites you for a drink or to linger during identical opening hours. A long walk under the picturesque starry sky will give you additional opportunities for activity at night.
The environs of Nizwa
As a central city in the region, the surrounding area of Nizwa also offers many surprises for you. Valleys and mountains offers many magical points with a great view. With a rental car you can explore the region flexibly and according to your own wishes.
Since it can get a bit rough on the roads and tracks, you should make sure that your rental car has all-wheel drive. This way you will usually cover all major routes and arrive safely back in Nizwa. Especially for the mountains, it can be quite helpful if you already have some driving experience off the normal roads, but even without that you will quickly learn how to handle the car in practice.
More fun with all-wheel drive SUV
Tip: In any case, only set out in an off-road vehicle. Nizwa represents the ideal base if you also want to get to know the area.
Possible destinations from Nizwa are:
- Manah: Picturesque small town near Nizwa. There is a mosque with a legendary 100 kg rock that a wanderer is said to have carried into this mosque.
- Faiqain: Here there is a fort that resembles a small tower castle from the Middle Ages in Europe.
- Jebel Akhdar: This is a mountain range that runs about 50 km from the coast and winds up to 3000 m altitude. From here you definitely have a great view and in summer there is always a pleasant breeze blowing.
- Jebel Shams: Is the highest mountain in Oman. From here you have a great view.
- Wadi Ghul: “Grand Canyon” of Oman. Admire what the power of water in many years has created.
- Birkat Al Mouz Ruins: Here you will find ruins from times long past, but not preserved. For this reason, you should also be careful when visiting. Many houses have already collapsed, but the irrigation ditches are still intact.
- Wadi al Muaydin: Here you can hike for about 3h in a dried up riverbed. Nature here is rich in species and variety. The path in the riverbed is unpaved, but definitely doable. At the end you will be rewarded with a large water reservoir.
- Imti: A small abandoned village where you can explore through the main street with its natural stone houses.
- Izki: Here you can visit an old place that is now abandoned. Once it consisted of two parts. Each part of the village was surrounded by a strong wall, because two tribes were enemies here. Bizarre ruins of houses are waiting to be discovered by you.
- Tanuf Ruins (Wadi Tanuf) and Al Hoita: In Al Hoita cave you will find magical stalactites and also the cave system is the second largest cave system in Oman.
- Al hamra (bait al sifa): Is a pretty 400 year old town. At the Bait al Sifa, three ladies ensure that everyday life in the historic house is accessible to all interested parties as a museum.
- Misfat al Abriyyin : Here is a small village, but the panorama will take your breath away.
- Bait Bimah and Wadi Bani Awf: A Nepalese-style inn is where you can relax in Oman when you come back from your tour of the gigantic wadi.
- Birkat al Mawz: In this picturesque oasis you will want for nothing. Translated, the name means “lake of bananas”. Palm fronds provide a pleasant shade and for centuries the water has come from the nearby mountains.
- Falaj Daris Park: Falaj Daris is one of the longest irrigation ditches with 7990m length. On its banks is a pretty park that invites you to stroll.
- Bahla and Jabrin offer you interesting historical forts, located west of Nizwa.
- Jebel Kawr: This is the second highest mountain in Oman with an altitude of 2720m.
- Al Ayn is a small mountain village where you can still see the arduous life out in the countryside.
- Bat Oman and Ibri: Here there are historical tombs that you can also visit.