Oman's capital enchants visitors in a way that no other city in the Gulf can even begin to match. Maybe it's because Muscat doesn't have that slightly artificial feel which typifies so much of the rest of the region. Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi are the capital's core districts. Muscat, the old port area, is the site of the sultan's main palace and a fascinating place to wander around, but it has few shops and, except for the old city walls, it isn't exactly bursting with sights. Mutrah, 3km (2mi) north-west of Muscat, is the main trading and residential port area. A few kilometres inland from Muscat and Mutrah lies Ruwi, the capital's modern commercial district. There are three forts in Muscat, all of which took on their more or less present form in the 1580s during the Portuguese occupation of Muscat. Mutrah Fort sits on a hill while Jalali and Mirani forts guard the entrance to Muscat. All of the forts are still used by the police and/or military and are closed to the public, but it's okay to photograph them. Muscat has by far the best aquarium in the Gulf. All of the specimens on display are native to Omani waters and most are accompanied by thorough descriptions in English. The Oman Museum, in the Medinat Qaboos, west of Muscat, covers the entire sweep of Oman's 5000-year history. There are also a displays on shipbuilding, Islam and fort architecture. In Ruwi, the National Museum has sparkling displays on Omani silverwork, and the Sultan's Armed Forces Museum, in the Bait al-Falaj fort, has an excellent outline of Omani history. You could easily spend a day in Mutrah. Start off early at the fish market, then head down to the souk for a cup of tea and a wander around the most interesting bazaar in Arabia. To the east, a restored watchtower looks out over Mutrah. The climb is steep and involves more than 100 steps, but the view from the top is worth it. Muscat's best value rooms are along the Mutrah Corniche. If you spend only a little above rock-bottom you'll get good views and great atmosphere. There are several small restaurants along the Corniche, too, and several good bets in Ruwi .