My Kind of Place: Seeb, Oman

We visit the fishing village that lies at the western edge of the Omani capital, Muscat.

The park at the corniche in Seeb, Oman. Seeb offers a souq, a beach, a fish market and plentiful food options. Philipus / Alamy Stock Photo

Why Seeb?

Oman’s capital, Muscat, sprawls along the coast, with two old maritime towns at either end. At the eastern side of Muscat, there’s Muttrah, the city’s mountain-backed harbour. At the west edge is Seeb, a fishing village that has been gradually engulfed by the capital. Most Muscat visitors head south to Muttrah’s landmark souq and historic district. But Seeb gives another flavour and the best beach life north of Salalah, it also offers an opportunity to find out what life was like in a Gulf fishing village once-upon-a-time.

A comfortable bed

The chic, minimalist Chedi (www.ghmhotels.com), 20 minutes from the airport, has sleek architecture, a private beach and palm-lined pools. Rooms cost from 240 Omani rials (Dh2,290) per night, including taxes.

Holiday Inn Al Seeb (www.holidayinn.com) is 15 minutes from the airport, with rooms from 80 rials (Dh763) per night, including taxes.

The affordable Gulf Crown Hotel (00968 24 536365) in Al Khoud is respectful and safe for solo female travellers.

Find your feet

On one side of the highway is Seeb souq, beach and fish market. On the other is Al Khoudh, a residential and commercial area near Sultan Qaboos University that boasts the city’s best shawarma and sweets. The souq extends for kilometres, but its heart is the waterfront near the old town, a neighbourhood of one-storey “shaabi” houses and the occasional mansion. Start at the Freshi herb centre, a multistorey grocer and medicinal centre that sells the familiar (Colgate toothpaste and American Garden soy sauce) and the occult (donkey hoofs to stave off djinn and patches of animal pelts for incantations). Walk past Freshi, keeping the sea on your right, and you will enter the spice and fish souq. Behind this is the usual Gulf commercial potpourri of Balochi tailors, optometry shops, banks, frankincense carts and pharmacies.

Meet the locals

Omanis are masters of sitting and swalif, the art of banter and good conversation. The prime spot is Seeb Beach. A working beach, it’s better for socialising than swimming. In the morning, men ride horses from local stables along the shore. In the afternoon, women in colourful cotton thobes and shawls meet under palms. Flocks of gulls follow fishermen pulling in nets with Toyota Land Cruisers, and football games last until the Moon rises over the sea. Grab a coconut from a beachside petrol station in the late afternoon, when the beach is at its busiest.

At night, head to Liyali Shiraz cafe on the banks of a wadi estuary. This creekside shisha cafe is home to a family of flamingos, the perfect place to birdwatch while sipping ginger tea (800 baisa [Dh8]). Karak tea is served in pint glasses.

Book a table

Seeb is renowned for mashakik – chargrilled meat, fish and squid dipped in spicy tamarind sauce, (200 baisa [Dh2] per stick). There are mashakik stalls at the souq waterfront, but enterprising young men set up grills along the beach from sunset onwards.

Zanzibari treats are an integral part of Omani cuisine. The cafeteria-style Coconut House is the most popular for lunch. Staples include the chilli, lime and onion salad, kachori potato dumplings, beans in thick coconut sauce, local fish and sweet coconut dumplings, served with tamarind juice or clove-spiced tea. The average meal, with a healthy serving of spiced rice, costs about 2 rials (Dh19).

For dinner, join Sultan Qaboos University students and order a shawarma from Al-Hilal Al-Turkey in Al Khoudh, taking in the atmosphere at an outdoor table.

Those craving dessert can wander up Al Khoudh Al Tijary Street to Al Sham Fruit Juices for a towering falooda cocktail (1.50 rials [Dh14]) or carry on up the road to Moon Light Lebanese Sweets for fresh pistachio-and-almond maamoul shortbread.

Shopper’s paradise

For souvenirs, there’s Muttrah. For everything else, there’s Seeb: fish, vegetables, jewellery, wedding pedestals, fresh tobacco, kuma hats and the greatest Omani halwa that money can buy. Popular flavours of this traditional gooey dessert are made with local Jebel Al Akhdar rosewater (pungent and smoky) and frankincense (tastes like church).

Oman’s laid-back reputation extends to business at the souq. Most stores close by midnight.

What to avoid

Modest dress is a must for women, particularly in the souq. Women don’t generally swim on Seeb Beach, but if they do, they should consider doing so while fully covered.

Should the easy pace of Seeb evoke nostalgia for the old days of the Gulf, a short taxi ride provides an immediate cure. Remember the days when bartering for cab fares was an essential skill in the UAE? You soon will. Fortunately, the city has recently launched public transport (www.mwasalat.om).

Don’t miss

Turtles, leopard sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, coral reefs and clear water: Al Dimaniyyat Islands Nature Reserve, in a Unesco marine park about 16km off the Seeb Coast, is a popular destination for diving and snorkelling. Trips are offered by the SeaOman Dive Centre (www.seaoman.com/activities/dive) from The Wave marina in Seeb. A one-day trip (9am to 2.30pm) with two dives costs 45 rials (Dh429), including tanks and Dimaniyyat park permits. Additional equipment hire is 15 rials (Dh143). Water and snacks are provided.

Getting there

There are several daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Muscat with Oman Air (www.omanair.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com), which cost from Dh400 return, including taxes. Alternatively, driving takes about six hours.