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By the time we arrived in Nizwa, a small city in Oman’s Ad Dakhiliyah Region, we had already been on the road for a little over a week. At the time, we were living in Phnom Penh and had decided to take advantage of the short-lived Air Asia route between Bangkok and Muscat, Oman’s capital city.
Eighteen months living out of a small suitcase in a tiny Cambodian apartment had turned me into something of a minimalist. I was only travelling with carry on, and as a result, I rarely bought any souvenirs, unless it was a gift for a family member. The one exception to my rule (my treat item) was and will always be textiles—wall-hangings or floor rugs hand-woven from natural fibres—which I try and hunt down wherever I go.
I was having a lot of trouble finding an authentic Omani textile to add to my growing collection. I had scoured the Muttrah Souq in Muscat, but to no avail. My frustration quickly turned to joy when we arrived in Nizwa, the second-last stop on our 10-day road trip around Oman. It turned out to be one of my favourite places in Oman and my top choice for shopping for Oman souvenirs.
This post offers a quick essential guide to visiting Nizwa Souq and the nearby Nizwa Fort. I’ve also outlined my favourite souvenirs and where to buy them in Nizwa—including a few not-so-obvious places hidden inside and around the souq. If you’re looking for authentic Oman textiles and other souvenirs, this is the article for you!
Visiting Nizwa Souq & Fort: Essential info
Nizwa Souq is located in the heart of Nizwa, about 160km from Muscat. While it’s possible to visit Nizwa Souq and the adjoining Nizwa Fort as a day trip from the capital, I think it’s well worth spending at least one night in Nizwa. The town itself is quiet and pleasant, and if you stay overnight you can get an early start to see the souq at its finest.
Nizwa Souq is made up of a main entryway (pictured below) and a series of separate buildings out the back that house a date market, a fresh produce market, and other stalls. Most of the market, however, is dedicated to pottery, antiques, textiles and other paraphernalia. The nicest range of antiques and artworks can be found in a ‘hidden’ area in the top of one of the produce markets. I provide more detail on this in the next section. For now, here are some general tips for visiting Nizwa Souq and Fort.
Opening hours & best time to visit
Nizwa Souq is open daily for two trading sessions—except on Fridays, when the souq is only open in the morning. From Thursday to Saturday, things kick off at 6am. The day trade winds up at 1pm when people break for lunch and prayer. It gets going again at 4pm, and the souq stays open until 10pm.
On Friday, the souq opens early at 5am but closes at 11am. (The reason being that Fridays in Oman are holy days and traditionally spent with family.) Despite the restricted hours, Friday is actually a great day to visit Nizwa Souq—it’s the day of the weekly goat market. Livestock trade takes over one section at the back of the souq, and men and women dressed in Bedouin costume and traditional Omani garb come to buy and sell animals. If you’re squeamish (or vegetarian), it might be best to avoid Friday mornings at Nizwa Souq. Otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to see Omani culture up close.
Nizwa Fort is open from 8am until 6pm Saturday to Thursday, and from 8am–11.30am, and 1.30pm–6pm on a Friday.
Entrance to Nizwa Souq is free, but you’ll need to buy a ticket for the adjoining Nizwa Fort. At the time of our visit, entrance cost a measly 0.500 Rial ($1.30 USD). In December 2017, the price jumped quite significantly to 5.000 Rial ($13 USD). The stated reason is a change in management; but it also sounds some new investments have been made in restoring and adding to the fort, which could explain the price hike.
Getting to Nizwa Souq
Nizwa Souq is located on the western bank of the river, just outside the main part of Nizwa town. If you’re visiting as a day trip from Muscat, the 160km drive takes just under two hours.
There is a massive carpark out the front of Nizwa Souq where you can leave your vehicle. From memory, there’s no time limit on parking, and there’s certainly no fee.
How long to spend at Nizwa Souq
I recommend dedicating a full two hours to Nizwa Souq—more if you can see yourself doing some serious shopping, as you’ll need extra time to bargain, converse and drink coffee with the stall holders! As well as the souvenir and pottery parts of the souq, there’s also a fresh produce section and a dedicated date market, which you could happily spend another hour poking around and photographing. There are shops and cafes adjoining the souq, where you can kill even more time.
While you’re there, you should also visit Nizwa Fort, which is located right next door to Nizwa Souq. I recommend budgeting another two hours for the fort—a good chunk of that time should be spent in the underground museum, where you’ll find some much-needed reprieve from the sun.
All up, I recommend a minimum of four to five hours to visit Nizwa Souq and Fort.
Where to eat near Nizwa Souq
If you’re making a day of it, you’ll need to refuel mid-way through your Nizwa Souq adventure. There are a few restaurants immediately across the road after you exit the main entrance to the souq. We ate at a Zanzibari restaurant, which was quite delicious. At night, food stands pop up in the carpark where you can grab a cheap kebab. Our Airbnb hosts recommended we try the camel kebab… But in the end we chickened out and went with, well, chicken.
Where to stay in Nizwa
If you’re staying overnight in Nizwa, you’ll need a place to stay. We opted for an Airbnb on the outskirts of the city . There are lots of hotels of varying quality to choose from in Nizwa.