Home Travel Nizwa provides a glimpse into the vibrant history of Oman.

Nizwa provides a glimpse into the vibrant history of Oman.

Exploring this historic northern city is essential when visiting the Sultanate.

by Soofiya

A family road trip to Nizwa evokes cherished memories of my childhood visits to this historic Omani city. It’s been approximately a decade since I last set foot in the Ad Dakhiliyah region of northern Oman. The mere prospect of journeying into the country’s heartland never fails to ignite a sense of excitement.

Often acclaimed as the cultural capital of Oman, Nizwa presents a captivating blend of history, tradition, and natural splendor. Nestled amid the Hajar Mountains, it offers a unique combination of experiences that effortlessly transport you to bygone eras with a hint of modernism. Here, grand mosques, majestic forts, and towering ramparts allow travelers to embark on a journey through the ancient city’s rich cultural tapestry.

Situated about 360 kilometers from the Hatta border, the journey takes approximately four hours by car. An alternative route from the Khatm Al Shikla border via Al Ain covers about 300 km and takes about three hours and 15 minutes. The best time to visit Nizwa is from late October until March.

A Glimpse into History

Our journey begins at the heart of the city, where the imposing Nizwa Fort and Castle stand as testaments to Omani architectural ingenuity, power, and bravery. Strategically built to secure the city, these structures loom large over the landscape, offering panoramic views of the city and the rugged grandeur of the surrounding mountains.

Nizwa Fort, constructed during the reign of Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Yarubi (1649-1679), was an extensive 12-year construction project. The most prominent feature of the fort is its colossal drum-shaped tower. The fort’s robust foundation delves 30 meters deep into the earth, with a section of the tower filled with stones, soil, and debris. The fort also features some impressive cannons.

Adjacent to the historic mosque, you’ll find Nizwa Castle, constructed during the rule of Imam Salt bin Malik Al Kharusi in the late ninth century AD. This castle comprises various rooms, including spaces for scholarly pursuits, a military chamber, the imam’s library, areas for coffee preparation, and prayer rooms. Additionally, the castle houses a modest museum exhibiting historical artifacts, such as traditional attire, jewelry, irrigation systems, and date harvesting tools.

Mohammed Saleh Al Sabari, a guide at the Nizwa Fort and Castle, which is managed and operated by a private company, tells us they welcome more than 200,000 visitors annually from all over the world. “Extensive renovation work was carried out between 1985 and 1995, marking a transformative chapter in its history,” he says.

Tourist tickets cost 5 Omani riyals ($13), with children six and below free.

A Bustling Bazaar of Treasures

Next, we navigate the vibrant lanes of Nizwa Souq, a bustling marketplace where Omani culture and commerce harmonize. Here, you can immerse yourself in a sensory delight, exploring an array of products, from lamps, clay pots, and jewelry to intricate textiles, spices, and sweets.

The souq offers the opportunity to bargain with local vendors and savor the lively atmosphere. Spice stalls, herb vendors, fruit and vegetable stalls, and date merchants add to the rich ambiance of the marketplace.

The square of pottery showcases curvy terracotta pots and ceramic vases adorning streets and doorways. Delicate patterns on traditional daggers known as khanjars and ornate coffee pots provide further insight into Omani craftsmanship. Nizwa Souq transcends the typical market experience and serves as a living testament to history.

Serenity amid Scenic Beauty

If you’re seeking serenity, Falaj Daris Park provides the perfect retreat. The Falaj Daris is Oman’s largest falaj, a long deep canal of water used as a traditional water distribution system for irrigation across the Gulf and one of the five aflaj listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites in 2006.

It’s located about 7 km north of Nizwa, and a small section of this impressive falaj has been transformed into a charming park and picnic area. About 200 meters of the falaj are visible before it disappears underground at either end.

Nizwa also boasts several splendid mosques that offer a slice of serenity, including the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, named after the former ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. It was inaugurated in 2015 and is Oman’s second-largest mosque, spanning 80,000 square meters and accommodating up to 10,500 worshippers.

Where the new mosque signifies Nizwa’s progress, there are various beautiful old mosques worth visiting that echo tales from the past, including Al Qala’a Mosque, Al Shawadhna Mosque, and others.

Spending the Night

Nizwa city is a destination that can be covered in a few hours, but if you are planning to explore neighboring towns of Manah or Bahla, or visit surrounding tourist sites of Jabal Akhdar, Jabal Shams, or Al Hoota Cave, you can choose to spend a night here.

The city offers a plethora of accommodation options. Among these are international hotel chains, such as the IntercityHotel Nizwa and the Golden Tulip Nizwa Hotel.

For a more authentic and culturally immersive experience, you can stay at one of the heritage-style accommodations. These lodgings are often converted from old houses and include options such as Nizwa Heritage Inn, Antique Inn, and Bustan Inn, typically ranging in price from Dh300 ($81.6) to Dh500 per night, depending on the season.

Authentic Culinary Adventures

Culinary enthusiasts must indulge in some delicious offerings of Omani cuisine in Nizwa. Savour the sweet delight of the Omani halwa, a traditional dessert made from clarified butter, sugar, corn starch, often mixed with rosewater, saffron, and nuts. It is often had with kahwa (Omani coffee) to balance the sugar.

For those with a craving for savory flavors, don’t miss the mishkak, succulent grilled meat, chicken, or beef skewers seasoned with aromatic spices, usually accompanied with a spicy tamarind sauce.

The souq also offers luqaimat, small balls made from flour, yogurt, salt, and yeast and briefly fried in oil with a drizzle of honey or date syrup. Omani bread rakhal, which has a thin crepe-like texture and is usually filled with eggs, honey, or cheese, is also worth trying.

Nizwa also boasts a variety of restaurants that cater to diverse culinary preferences, ranging from delectable local cuisine to international flavors. In close proximity to Nizwa Fort and Souq is Athar Cafe, a more upscale spot known for its excellent coffee. Another notable option in the same vicinity is Tamrah Restaurant and Cafe, with beautiful pastries and a range of global cuisine.

With deep-rooted traditions, enchanting landscapes, and warm hospitality, Nizwa stands as a cultural gem, beckoning travelers in search of an authentic Arabian experience.

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