Nizwa is the second largest city in Oman and a major tourist hub. It is basically on everyone’s route when visiting Oman, and it will most likely be your base for various ventures:
- Discovering the mountain ranges of Jebel Shams & Jebel Al Akhdar
- Marveling at the various Forts around Nizwa
- Wandering through some of the numerous “Abandoned Cities”
- Before moving further south to the desert and beyond
If you intend to attend the Friday Goat Market (and you clearly should!), book your accommodation as far in advance as possible for the Thursday night. In February 2022, tourism was still very low due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so we had as much choice as we wanted. But back in 2014, finding a room in Nizwa on Thursday nights was a major challenge, even months ahead.
So what is so special about Nizwa and its surroundings?
- Friday Cattle Market
No visit to Oman would be complete without attending the Friday Cattle Market, truly! This is a unique experience, and one of the most vibrant markets I have ever experienced in all my trips. A few years back, I ranked it indeed as second best market I have ever attended in Africa, Asia, the Middle East or South America…
Be there early, 06:30 am or latest 06:45 am, even though it will only start at around 07:30 am or even 08:00 am. First, you will have time to wander around and observe as everything slowly takes place, quietly, before the commotion when the goat selling actually starts. Also, this is no well-kept secrets, and expect all tourists in Oman being at that very place at that very moment. At 08:30 am, I remember busloads of tourists arriving, back in 2014. There were by 09:00 am far more tourists than locals…
This is what we wrote back in 2014, and except the face masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, nothing had really changed 8 years later: “Even before the selling began, the round podium in the center of the roofed-in arena was filled with men dressed in white Dishdasha, looking elegant and important. A sudden noise of shuffling feet announced the selling and the crowd of humans and animals in the circle started moving. Soon the noise increased, as the men were calling out the price and touting the qualities of the goats, which they were dragging or carrying around this base…”
- Jibreen Castle
This is the first castle you should visit while in Oman. Why? Because you will find there an outstanding audio-guide that will give you precious explanations that will enhance further visits in castle / forts where such explanations are not or only scarcely available. Jibreen Castle is also very well adorned, something far less true of many other forts, especially in the surroundings of Nizwa.
- Bahla Fort
This massive fort is a maze, where you will partly lose your orientation and not know if you have already visited this part or that part. True, the interior shows neither fitting out nor ornamentation, but the sheer size of this walled city is truly impressive nonetheless.
- Nizwa Fort
Do not expect to get a good 360 degrees view of the city from the top of the massive dungeon of Nizwa Fort! There is unfortunately no walkway, so you have to climb 4 times the stairs and get anyway only a partial view of the surroundings. This is a very impressive fort nonetheless, and the museum on Omani traditional life and history is really worth an extra hour or two.
- The “Abandoned Cities”
Al Hamra Abandoned Village, Tanuf Castle Ruins, Birkat Al Mouz Ruins, to name only the most popular ones… There are numerous “abandoned villages” throughout Oman, and you can spend a whole trip there only visiting those.
Far more interesting and still completely below the radars of most visitors, as it only opened shortly before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, is Harat Al Bilad Heritage Village, about 20 km south of Nizwa – A real highlight in our trip!
- Nizwa Souk
One of the largest Souks in Oman, Nizwa Souk was recently renovated but keeps a traditional look & feel, and you can and should wander through the maze of alleys and sample some handicraft or local culinary specialties like the best Omani Halwa (which has nothing to do with the Levantine Halwa, by the way).
- Nizwa Food Trucks
Fancy a different experience for your diner? Head for the Food Trucks that scatter the Nizwa Souk parking lot right outside the Old City in the evening. You will join mostly Omani men sampling some local specialties and enjoy a relaxing moment with the local crowds.
How long should you spend in Nizwa?
Well, this of course depends on how much time you have at hand, and your overall itinerary. But I would recommend at least 2 nights, ideally 3 if you want to make most of the surroundings, and even more if Nizwa is your base for discovering at least part of the surrounding mountain ranges.