Cool Oman mini road trip to Al Hamra and Nizwa

Cool Oman mini road trip to Al Hamra and Nizwa

One of my memorable trips on my Muscat diving trip was Oman mini road trip. I really headed to Oman to dive, as I am trying to build up my diving experience and expertise, but it would have been a shame to stay in Muscat alone. Especially since I had hired a car in order to get to the diving school every day.

So, where can one go on an Oman mini road trip? Somewhere rich in culture and nature and easily accessible from Muscat? A search on Maps and a few travel articles came up with some traditional villages in the Hajjar mountains, the Bahla Fortress which is a UNESCO World heritage site, and last not least the historic Omani capital, Nizwa.

It is an easy two-day trip, three days if you want to take time and make longer stops on your Oman mini road trip.

How to get to Nizwa and Al Hamra

I would suggest the best way to get around Oman is to hire a car. You can easily catch a bus from Azaiba (suburb of Muscat) Bus Terminal to Nizwa. To see everywhere else in this post, you would really need a car or hire a taxi for the day. Or you join an organised trip – but if you can drive and have a credit card, there is no reason why you shouldn’t hire a car and go on an Oman mini road trip.

My “small” car outside Tanuf Castle. Roads are great, petrol is cheap, driving civil

I hired a small “compact” car from Europcar in Muscat Airport through a couple brokers and received a huge automatic sedan. That was fine, as there are parking spaces aplenty and four-wheel drive is not needed for this trip. I paid around 220 Euro for car hire for eight days. Costs for petrol are negligible as petrol is very cheap.

Oman Mini road trip, first stop: Bahla

I left one early morning from my hotel conveniently located near the Nizwa highway. No jams to deal with while driving through Muscat certainly set me off for a nice early start with an empty highway.

There were tons of rest stops with coffee stalls and even grill restaurants pretty much anywhere on the 140km drive. The road is good, a four- to six-lane carriageway. Around Samail, the towns and settlements got more sparse, with rugged mountains towering over the motorway, and plenty of opportunities for detours… Samail Fort, the mountain village of Saiq with some fancy resorts and a rose water distillery… but not for me! I bypassed Nizwa and arrived in the pleasant small town of Bahla before 9am.

Tranquil Bahla

Bahla is a date growing and processing centre, and many shops in the new town, where you pass first until you reach the magnificent Bahla Gate, offer dates in bulk! Definitely worth stopping.

I parked up in the shadow of the hard-to-miss Bahla Fort and went into the tiny souk in search of breakfast.

Bahla’s (mini) souk

After popping into a local cafe to ask about the facilities, a nice man walked all the way through the souk to show me the public toilet, so I felt somewhat obliged to return to the cafe for a sweet Nescafe and “what everyone is having” – some aromatic meat stew, veggie curry and a huge oily flatbread. I gingerly dipped my bread into the stew, which was tasty, but did not go ahead with the meat… for something a bit less local, a coupe of modern coffee shops with a tiny sweets menu would have been available, too, at European prices.

Bahla Souq is lovely and renovated, but was extremely quiet

The souq was tiny and maybe a quarter of the shops were open. It’s freshly renovated and from what I was told, has the souq recently been restored and is slowly being filled with shops again after lying in ruin for decades. I browsed a bit in a souvenir shop that had some lovely old silver jewellery – but the traditional jewellery was too clunky even for me! Prices were much better than in Muscat. The seller explained he won’t go below a rial for a gram of old silver, as it is becoming increasingly harder to source, whereas new silver is cheaper.

Bahla also has a rich tradition in ceramics, but it takes a little effort to find ateliers. The workshop in the fort has a nice showcase of classic yet trendy vessels, and for a more thorough look, try to visit the Abdullah-bin-Hamadan-al Adwi pottery factory – you will see much of the local traditional unglazed or clear-glazed pottery and can try your hand at wheel throwing.

Bahla Fort

The main reason to include Bahla in my road trip was, of course, to see Bahla Fort! And it is not for the faint-hearted! With little shade and quite some steps to climb, it takes at least two hours to see everything properly.

Bahla Fort – very defiant and a real challenge for my weary legs

It was probably built in the 17th Century, but some sources including UNESCO say it dates back to the 13th Century. The area was ruled by the local Nabahina tribe who made Bahla a regional capital and are thought to be the builders of Bahla Fort and mosque and Bahla is a historic centre of Ibadite Islam. From heavily fortified Bahla, prosperity spread to the settlement, leading to the construction of the souk and a Friday mosque.

Fact is, as with many adobe style buildings, if not properly maintained, they crumble. So, from the 1970s, the fort has been rebuilt and restored and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. They did make a nice effort to fill many of the bare rooms of the fort – a silver shop here, a ceramics showcase there… and a much-needed cafe.

Add a few lights for jollity, Bahla Fort
Not a great photo – just to give you an idea of the size of Bahla Fort

It’s worth knowing that the historic Friday mosque is just outside the fort but a little tricky to find – head towards the entrance of the fort from the car park but then keep right – it is not really sign posted, and not officially open to visitors. Besides, I was too sunbaked from walking around the fort for two hours and wanted my aircondition and a cold drink.

Al Hamra

From Bahla it is just a 30-minute drive on a small but perfectly maintained road to Al Hamra, a peculiar friendly village on the foot of the Al Hajjar Mountains and one of the gateways to Jebel Akhtar (the “green mountain”) and Jebel Shams ( at 3000 metres, it’s Oman’s highest mountain).

Al Hamra, set in a beautiful oasis

Al Hamra is one of those villages that reveals its charm at second glance. While its main roads lined with basic restaurants and shops is pleasant, it is nothing special. I felt a pang of disappointment, until I turned onto a smaller road towards my accommodation, crossed a palm grove and found myself in a dirt road fringed with partially abandoned three-storey clay buildings. Ah, getting ewarm, this was so much more my scene.

Parked up in Al Hamra – my hotel ist the one win the background

Alas, my guest house was in such a building which had been revived from its beauty sleep and transformed into a simple, extremely atmospheric little guest house.

The next morning, I went on a walk through the old village. There are definitely some people living there, and there is some tourism. There are a school a mosque – and two fancy coffee shops. For breakfast, either one needs to stay in one of the upmarket guest houses or venture into the new town for a falafel plate.

Where is inhabited, and where not?
Al Hamra Old Village, at present: semi abandoned and peaceful

Despite no traditional tourist sights and a dearth of cafes and restaurants, my time in Al Hamra was one I remember fondly. It is peaceful quiet, and there is one small traditional home styled as a museum called Beit al Safah and interestingly a numismatic museum. Both of which I didn’t go to… too much time spent in the lovely palm grove, relaxing with a few cups of coffee.

Modern part of Al Hamra
A once abandoned building turned guesthouse

And I have yet failed to understand who, aside from tourists, lives in these old houses, but due to language barrier, I was unable to find out. I completed my walk in the beautiful palm grove at Saaf Cafe.

Palmeraie of Al Hamra – beautiful for a walk in the shade and a coffee break
Last Al Hamra picture… the village is definitely photogenic

Al Hamra is a great destination with accommodation at all price points, but good at offering quality  accommodation on a more modest budget. It is very quiet and restful, and sees relatively few visitors so it will suit those seeking peace and quiet, but makes a good base for mountain trips to Jebel SHams or Jebel Akhdar.


After a little afternoon snooze in my cool adobe mansion, I thought I would explore Al Hamra the next morning and go a few kilometres up the mountain to visit Misfat al Abriyeen – a well-known traditional village with its fair share of traditional inns and hipster cafes, indicating a good influx of home and Arab tourists as fancy coffee shops are very popular at present.

Misfat al Abriyeen – one of the best known Omani mountain villages

When entering the village, I noticed right away this isn’t sleepy and relaxed like Al Hamra. Cars upon cars on the narrow road to the village. Signs everywhere asking visitors to dress modestly. Omanis are super tolerant, so anything covering knees, shoulders and cleavage should not been too much of a sacrifice.

Misfat is much less abandoned than Al Hamra

I didn’t have super high expectations of Misfat, having seen Bahla Fort just hours before. So, for me, this was a nice afternoon visit. There are no sights as such but a large number of visitors – mostly from Arabia, given their outfits.

However – there was an atmosphere if joviality, people greeting each other, a fellow tourist helped me park my car in a tight spot, much small talk, and I had a lovely time altogether.

Old writing on an ancient wooden door
“2nd generation” Omani traditional metal door

A stroll in the village definitely involves a lot of climbing – there is a tarmac path to the entry of the village, then it’s up and down slippery stone steps with no hand rails. Shoes with a grippy sole and ankle support definitely help!

Very traditional village – down to narrow staircases and tiny windows

After enough climbing up and down the stone paths, I felt I had seen enough and headed to the palm grove below the village. Here you can admire a falaj, a traditional Arab watering system, where water from mountain springs is directed into villages and onto fields. Very nice to see one on action in Misfat.

There are section where men are not allowed as they are considered “ladies” areas. This pool was sadly empty but was in a generally accessible area.

As a bonus, a working falaj (watering system) can be seen in the village

You can turn a falaj walk into a nice little hike further down into the palm groves, and there were very few people about.

Sunset from a rooftop cafe… perfect

But most people seemed happy with a mini walk inside the village and then made their way onto a roof terrace cafe, of which there are quite a few by now.

I went to Rogan’s Cafe, which would not be out of place in a Scandinavian city. Really lovely setting, cakes were okay, coffee was good – although I did not like that everything came in single- use containers.

The theme carried on when, after getting back to Al Hamra, I went to a Yemeni restaurant (Reem al Yamen) which had about 100 men out front watching the soccer and a handful of families and tourists enjoying the brightly -lit canteen atmosphere inside.

A local TV dinner – with the traditional mint lemonade, of course!

The food was fine, even with a vegetarian menu section. A perfect excuse to eat cheesy chips. Then I drove back to my guesthouse and had a lovely sleep, undisturbed by anything. It was so restful. And Al Hamra definitely isn’t a place where you need to fear for your safety – in fact, I felt super safe everywhere I travelled in Oman, no matter what time of the day.


THe next morning, I set off to Nizwa on a small road via Al Hoota Cave and Tanuf. Al Hoota is the only publicly accessible stalactite cave on the Arabian peninsula, so it is quite popular. I have seen plenty caves, so I passed, also Tanuf Castle, that I made a curious lap around in the midday heat and decided I am not going to get into it…

So, on to Nizwa. After the complete Quiet of Al Hamra, Nizwa was buzzing with activity. It was Friday, the souk was in full swing. I know one can visit the goat market on a Friday morning, but i made no such effort… being very much into animal welfare, here was another spectacle I would feel more comfortable missing.

Nizwa – Adobe buildings and pottery

My hotel was in the pedestrian only Old Town, so I parked opposite the souk in a dried river bed – it is still marked as a river on Google Maps, but was dry as a crisp and quite obviously used as a car park with plenty of space – just look for “Nizwa Souq Parking”

I browsed around the souk a couple of hours, which I really liked. The souk is partially restored, partially modern, and encompassed about four of five buildings.

Nizwa is touristy, but in a really pleasant way

The most picturesque part is the area around Shawathin Coffee shop. The coffee shop isn’t bad, very nice mixture of locals and tourists, with plenty seating with a view and under a tree- perfect to watch people.

From there, “Souq Sharqi” (East Souq) is the most “authentic” – gardening implements, dry foods, spices, cooking utensils, sprinkled with souvenir stalls.

Dhofari style incense burner – a great inexpensive souvenir

Of all the places I visited on y short trip, the souq of Nizwa was altogether the best place to shop – apart from some specialty (fabric) shops I visited on Muscat. Reasonable prices, no hard selling, a nice mix of tourist souvenirs and “Of all the places I visited on y short trip, the souq of Nizwa was altogether the best place to shop – apart from some specialty (fabric) shops I visited on Muscat. Reasonable prices, no hard selling, a nice mix of tourist souvenirs and “normal” everyday items.

Colourful East Souq, Nizwa – perhaps the nicest part of the souq

Souq al Gharbi (West Souq) is a row of shops rather than a market hall, dedicated to souvenirs and silver jewellery.

Walking through the East Souq, you will emerge at the much-photographed little square full of ceramics. Most are traditionally unglazed – if you love the style, stock up!

No shortage of ceramics anywhere in Nizwa

I had been looking for some nice silver and finally found it in Nizwa Souq. The jeweller is called Abu Imad Al-Kiwani and has a shop in the colonded section of that little square. Most of the silver is new and made in their own workshop in Nizwa. They will tell you straight up if something is made in Oman, or in India or Pakistan. I got a Dhofari censer and two tiny silver boxes… no jewellery this time!

After yet another ice tea, I went to the large modern market hall where you can find honey, tea, incense and spices. Though lacking in atmosphere, it was one of the more useful places, shopping wise.

I got a bit of medical grade incense, and it’s also nice for spices and honey.

Market Hall not very scenic, but has good produce

A renowned halwa-maker with attached coffee shop is also there, great for a break. The famous “date souk” was a slight disappointment, just two shops behind the market hall. Yes, the dates were quite tasty, and different varieties from what I get in Germany, but when you are hooked on Medjool dates from the Turkish supermarket, these were… okay. I bought a few, nevertheless.

So, one would think Nizwa is just about shopping? Well, yes and no. Sure, if it is some nice shopping in a traditional souq you are after, Nizwa is a great place.

Old Nizwa is peaceful and very manageable

Nizwa also has a small fort, but it pales in comparison to Bahla. So for me, visiting Nizwa was much about walking the old, partially ruined town. It seems to be a recurrent thing here in Oman, with older building abandoned and newer ones being built on the fringes of a town, but here in Nzwa, restoration of the old buildings and the souq has progressed quite a bit, and the old walls have been renovated and make a really nice little walk around the old town, especially at night.

No shortage of ceramics in Nizwa

Other than that, I walked around a bit, took a few photographs, sat in cafes. Omani tourists and other Arab tourists are definitely into the coffee culture, sweet treats, churros, Western-style cake,s and there are plenty of pretty cafes, often with rooftop terraces, so serve them.

Nizwa is very touristic but still quite small scale and it wasn’t really crowded

As it got dark, I finished my day on yet another rooftop at Rawaq Cafe. It looks a bit style over substance, but serves plenty of vegetarian and vegan food, and the salad and falafel plate were really good – and the views are hard to beat.

But as far as food is concerned, I am honest with you… the Omani food is good, there is plenty of choice for vegetarians, but the real deal in Oman was the vegetarian Indian food in Muscat for me. It was just so good – in each of the random three restaurants I visited.

The next morning, I rose early, walked around the empty streets a bit, went back to the buzzy Shawathin Coffee shop, picked up some more spices and slowly made my way back to Muscat because I had a date at the Opera House. Which was yet another trip highlight, but that’s a story for another day!

Where to stay on an Oman mini road trip

I started my Oman mini road trip at the Al Sahwa Hotel in Al Mawaleh, very handy for the Nizwa motorway. It was super quiet, the Amouage Factory and a couple of malls were just around the corner. Huge well-appointed room, mostly Arab tourists, a great place for relaxation and to sneak a peek on how the Omani middle class lives. I paid about 38 Euro per night.

When I stayed in Al Hamra, I found accommodation galore, from super cheap to pricey. Whatever you do, I recommend you stay in old Al Hamra village near the palm grove. I stayed at Al Hamra Old House, one of these majestic adobe houses. Super simple, and very much still a work in progress, but nice cool rooms with comfy beds, traditional wooden beams and a wild mishmash of interior – but comfortable. Aside from doing a bit of mountaineering when going to the bathroom, I really loved it – and it cost only 33 Euros.

Al Hamra Old House – very comfy with a bit of interior clashing

I also checked out the Bait Salam Inn, which is a traditional building right inside the palm grove.

For a more coherent style, try the Bait Al Aali Guesthouse.

Is it better to stay in Misfat Al Abriyeen? Well, it is a much smaller village with many more tourists. UNdeniably, it has the better views, but really lovely accommodations like the Al Misfah Hospitality Inn easily cost double what you might pay in Al Hamra.

In Nizwa, I wanted to stay in the Old Town but you definitely pay a premium for that.

I picked the Alaqur View Inn, an old traditional building, the least pricey option at about 48 Euro. Although my room was comfy, the hotel was a bit underwhelming – it photographs really wonderful, but it just was a bit subpar – super flooded bathroom, not much tea in the room, plastic flowers… maybe I was just a bit unlucky with my room.

My little room at Alaqur View Inn in the centre of old Nizwa

If I were to visit again, I would probably opt for the Durrat Nizwa Hotel – similar location, similar price. Or, with access to a car, stay in the super modern Intercity Hotel, which has a decent size outdoor pool, in a commercial centre outside Nizwa – if you are a fan of supermarkets like, me, you will love both a LuLu AND a Carrefour at your doorstep.

The Small Print

I travelled to Muscat, Oman for diving in January 2024, which is considered high season due to the balmy pleasant temperatures. I spent another three days on this Oman mini road trip and stayed in two of the hotels I recommend here, which I booked through and paid full rates.

This post contains affiliate links to This means if you use one of these links to book accommodation, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for reading and if you have any specific questions , feel free to drop me an email or comment!


10 thoughts on “Cool Oman mini road trip to Al Hamra and Nizwa”

  • I am not sure how authentic, but Omani really respect their history and traditions and don’t feel like they need to put on a show for tourists. Also, many of the tourists were Omani.

  • I would definitely visit the souq bazaar to see the fabrics and buy some souvenirs. So colorful!

    • Hi Terri, thank you for your comment! Shopping is a delight in Oman -no one hassles to buy, prices are fair and usually fixed. I loved it.

  • What an amazing road trip! So much inspiration and useful information, will be saving this to read later, thank you for sharing

  • Oman looks more and more interesting as a travel destination as I read your posts. I will have to put this on one of my travel lists.

    • Hi Sonia, it is thankfully quite under the radar, but if you want an Arabic destination that is authentic, full of history and safe, Oman would be one of my top choices.

  • This part of the world hasn’t been of great interest to me but I love your photos and you make the place come alive with your observations – I loved you noticed a watering feature. Maybe one day I will get over my fears of visiting this region and discover it for myself.

    • Hi Sharyn, I understand your concerns because the region is notorious for unstable politics, conflict and low human rights. I think Oman is on a good way and is certainly a completely different system than its neighbours Yemen and Saudi Arabia – very nationalist yet quite open and welcoming to visitors. As far as safety goes, I found OMan one of the safest destinations I have visited.

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