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Romance in Dubai: What to do for an alternative Valentines Day

In this city of excess, it’s no surprise that there are hundreds of extravagant experiences laid on by hotels keen to take advantage of the eager-to impress. With everything from private limos and bespoke candlelit dinners in the desert or on the beach to hot air balloon rides and private yachts, all complete with roses, champagne, chocolates – they promise whatever your (or your princess’) heart desires.

Personally, I prefer something a little different, something more personal that requires a little more thought and a lot less cash! I’ve listed my top four recommendations below, based on experiences that my friends and I have had here in Dubai, in the hope that it might generate further ideas and inspiration.

1. A private camping trip

There are some beautiful spots in the UAE and neighbouring Oman, particularly in the desert or mountains, and they don’t need to be a million miles away either, just pick up a copy of the Offroad Explorer and choose a site that works for you. With most of these, you will have the entire area to yourself, and there is nothing more romantic than eating by an open fire, surrounded by candles and admiring the stars. With Valentines Day falling on a weekend this year, there really is no excuse not to get away and make a weekend of it. Given the time of year and current temperatures though, my recommendations would be to head to the beach on the east coast rather than braving the surprising cold of the desert and mountains at night (I have more UAE and Oman camping tips here).

2. Kayaking in the mangroves

There are some great spots for kayaking in both Abu Dhabi and Khor Kalba, Fujairah, and I have already listed my favourite outfits in a previous post. Whilst it may not be everyone’s idea of romance, a trip out of the city is always relaxing, and the kayaking makes for fun and memorable day out with lots of laughs. Some places can even do sunset or moonlight kayak tours, which give a bit more atmosphere for the die-hard romantics, or you could just hire your own and head out any time of day.

3. Hiring an abra

Anybody living in, or visiting Dubai, must have taken at least one abra ride across Dubai Creek as part of the sightseeing of the souks and older parts of the city. Now this overcrowded boat, making its way noisily across the busy channel, is not what I would suggest to make an impression. However, it is possible to arrange a private abra; lining both sides of the creek are men sitting around in their boats, just waiting for someone to make them an offer. You can pay them by the hour (it’s been a while since I’ve done this, so I wouldn’t know the going rate, but just go with whatever you think sounds reasonable to you), and an hour should get you from the textile souk up to Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club and back (you could even stop in here for a nice drink on the water at QD’s). There’s something special about being on the water at night, and having your own abra gives you plenty of chance to talk and admire the views together.

4. A picnic

Another very simple evening/afternoon to execute is a picnic, whether this is in the park, on the beach or in the desert. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, a few bits of nice finger food, a couple of drinks and a blanket. Safa Park is always a good bet, and with the Ripe market being held there until 2pm on Friday’s, you could always pick up some fresh organic food from there first, before having a walk around and finding a secluded spot. Although the benefit about heading out of Dubai to the desert or a beach is that you can celebrate with bubbles and fizz, beyond the usual soft drinks (although obviously not if you are driving back the same day)!

Now, please note that I am not knocking the idea of going out for dinner and drinks (or staying in for a nice home cooked meal and movie), I just wanted to suggest some alternative options that won’t break the bank. If you do decide to head out, my bar of choice would probably be Bliss at Sheraton JBR (although I may be influenced by the fact it’s only walking distance from me!) The hotel may be fairly old by Dubai standards but the chilled out beach bar definitely has a more contemporary flavour with white cabanas sprawling across the sand. It’s an unpretentious place where people kick off their shoes and relax with the help of an extensive and delicious cocktail and tapas menu. Staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, treating every guest personally and ably recommending cocktails to suit every palate, and they often bring tasters of food of food over that the chef is currently working on. The selection of nibbles is more limited, but the assorted plates of tapas make a great accompaniment as you work through the cocktail menu! Shisha is also available and a live DJ or saxophonist set a great atmosphere. Other places offering a similar vibe would be Shimmers at Madinat Jumeirah and Shades at the Address Dubai Marina.

I hope you all find what you’re looking for, in case you’re wondering, I am having a radically alternative Valentines Day – starting in the early hours to get up and run the Ras Al Khaimah half marathon, and hopefully finishing at RedFest Dubai, watching The Lumineers, John Newman and Rita Ora! Enjoy all, whatever you do!