29 first dates: A Dubai guide to dating like you've never dated before
February is the month of love, and with this being a leap year, we get a longer window to celebrate it in. So, as an ode to romance XXL, we present to you 29 of Dubai’s best first dates…
First dates are great aren’t they? Sure, there’s the panic sweats, outfit choice anxiety, spiraling disaster scenario formulating and crippling sense of self-doubt that goes on before the event, but once you’re there, and the butterflies stumble out of the rave in your stomach, it can be a uniquely magical experience. The electric frisson of ‘getting to know you’ chess, the flint-flickers of connecting souls, and the possibility that all of it may one day be part of a ‘that’s how I met your mother’ monologue. Worst case scenario, it all goes horribly, toe-curling-cringely wrong in a room full of witnesses… It’s still a win for the future memoir. Which is why we’re advocates for the philosophy of treating every date like a first date, whether it’s a courtship inauguration or 35th wedding anniversary, preserve the magic and date like you’ve never dated before. Here are 29 ways to ensure you won’t get left on read…
You never get a second chance to make a good first impressionist painting. So you might want to brush up on your art skills before heading to this alternative arty date night experience at thejamjar, Alserkal Avenue. They offer weekly group adult workshop sessions (from around Dhs149) allowing you to show off your creative side. Or, for something a little more freestyle and private, you can book a DIY session from Dhs105, which includes a canvas, paint-and-brush-use and artwork limited only by your imagination. Also, for those on red flag watch, a blank canvas is basically just a reverse Rorschach test.
Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1, Sat to Thurs 10am to 7pm, Fri 10am to 8pm. Tel: (0)4 341 7303. thejamjardubai.com
A special place for dinner
Everybody wants to feel special. So why not take your potential paramore to iconic local eatery, Al Ustad Special Kabab for your dating debut? It’s reasonably priced, features enough wall and table art (including pics of celebrity patrons) to keep even the most fragile conversational flow going, and the final feather in the date night chapeau – the food is outstanding. Also, if he doesn’t want to share his fries, shish, you can do better.
Al Fahidi, Dubai, Sat to Thurs, 11am to 1am, Friday, 5.30pm to 1am, Tel: (0)4 397 1933. @ostadi_1978
Mad for Hatta
Bit of a trek for most on a first date, but if you want something active and forever memorable, Hatta hits hard as a daycay with bae. You can get familiar with one another during wadi-hikes, kayaking trips, horse riding, mountain biking, zip-lining, axe-throwing, archery, zorbing, climbing, bodyboarding and a rucksack more alfresco fun. It’s giving rom-com montage sequence.
Bar du Port sits on the waterfront of Dubai Harbour and is naturally endowed with big date energy. It’s part of the latest wave of high-profile Beirut bar imports, and that is a city that knows how to do romance right. At this Dubai location, you get a rhythmic lullaby of harbour yachts as your backdrop, a menu of mixed modern Mediterranean bites, and a suitably sophisticated drinks menu. The low lighting is forgiving of midweek, post-work meet-ups, and the shipwreck chic gives the whole venue a naughty little nautical vibe.
Dubai Harbour, Dubai Marina, Mon to Fri 5pm to 3pm, Sat & Sun 1pm to 3am. Tel: (0)50 969 9820. @barduportdubai
The X factor
‘Online’ dating but give it that Dubai rizz. If your co-datee has expressed a liking for extreme sports, a devil-may-care attitude for heights, or a casual distrust for terra firma – a surprise trip on “the longest urban zipline in the world”, XLine Dubai might be just the tonic for opening your courtship account. For Dhs699 per person, you can book in for tandem (up to 80kph) rides, soaring over Dubai Marina like the pair of love birds you’re so clearly destined to be.
Marina Mall, Dubai Marina, 9am to 5pm daily, Dhs699. xdubai.com
Stars in their eyes
Movie dates may not have the sparkle they once had in yesteryear – but Alserkal’s Cinema Akil is no ordinary picture house. This ode to the golden age of film is a big screen retro vibe hive with plush sofa seating and carefully curated programmes of art-house cinema, indie classics, and politically charged drama. There’s also a new temporary alfresco location at 25Hours Hotel in Once Central. Both truly represent the ultimate date for consummate cinephiles.
Alserakal Avenue, Al Quoz, Tue to Fri 4pm to 11pm, Sat and Sun, 2pm to 11pm, from Dhs50. cinemaakil.com
One for the cool kids. Soul Kitchen opened its doors in Business Bay in 2023 and comes from the creative minds of artist collective, The Factory People (AMH, Isolé). So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Soul Kitchen has music strumming in the double-bass pairs of its DNA. What’s cooking in the kitchen? Alongside razor’s edge trend-tripping live performances, you can expect funk-framed art pieces, exciting cocktails, and flavours inspired by the culinary wonders of the Levant and Latin America.
Marasi Drive, Business Bay, Dubai. Daily 5pm to 1am. Tel:(0)4 836 0900. soulkitchendxb.com
The best date nights in Dubai
It’s a scream
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It’s 2024 and trauma bonding *double checks the internet* is officially a thing. So, if screaming into a shadowy void sounds like fertile ground for a first date, we present to you the absolutely harrowing BlackOut Horror and Escape Games experience. Want play a game? The centre offers multiple puzzle quests, each with their own fiendishly conceived mysteries loosely themed around horror movies and a cast of live actors cranking the intensity of the scare lair up to 11.
KML Building, Al Meydan Rd, Al Quoz, 10am to 2am, Dhs220 per person. @blackoutbycave
It takes a Village
We can’t be sure that Aladdin was talking about Global Village when he told Princess Jasmine “I can show you the world”, but we can’t rule it out either. It’s affordably priced (from Dhs27); pins together an unfathomably disparate diaspora of classic date activities (mini golf, national pavilions, floating markets, carnival rides, foodie trails); and ends in a fireworks display twice a week. Shining, shimmering, splendid.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road E 311, Mon to Thu 4pm to midnight, Sat to Sun 4pm to 1am, from Dhs27. globalvillage.ae
Where to go on a first date in Dubai
We did a poll in the office about whether a hot air Dubai Balloon ride 300 metres above Palm Jumeirah (Dhs275) might be coming on a bit too strong for a first date. The results revealed a resounding win for the ‘yes, obviously it’s too strong’ camp. But it’s been overruled because there are enough sentimental romantics out there who appreciate these grand gestures, mesmeric island views from up there where the air is rare, doing something a bit different and experiencing the Jules Vernian magic of a moored Montgolfier.
Aquaventure, Atlantis, The Palm, Mon to Thur 9am to 11pm, Fri to Sun 9am to midnight. @thedubaiballoon
Waiting on a miracle
During the cooler months, Dubai Miracle Garden’s floral fiesta is a blooming marvellous place for an alfresco stroll or a bike ride (there’s a cycle track). Fun fact, more than 150 million individual flowers go into making up the various botanical statues and displays inside the gardens, including a massive replica of an Emirates A380. With late opening on the weekends (until 11pm), you can even make it an after-dark date.
Dubailand, Mon to Fri 9am to 9pm, Sat and Sun 9am to 11pm, Dhs95. Tel: (0)4 422 8902. dubaimiraclegarden.com
Best Dubai dates
Going over and above
Above Eleven packs heat when it comes to soirée USPs. These include the truly spectacular views of Dubai Marina, Ain Dubai and the wild horizon-chasing blues of the Gulf. Pair that with a vibrant Peruvian-Japanese menu; three distinct spheres of date-nighting (the restaurant, lounge, and sky bar); live entertainment; transportive design themes; an inescapable sensation of sophistication, and you find yourself with one of our top picks for places that show off this city (and your proficiency for ‘knowing a spot’) in the best possible light.
Marriott Resort Palm Jumeirah, Palm West. Sun to Thu, bar: 4pm to 1am, restaurant: 6pm to 11.30pm. Fri to Sat, bar: 4pm to 2am, restaurant: 6pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 666 1420, @aboveelevendubai
Coastal picnics, evening strolls on the shoreline, or a breezy Careem Bike ride along Dubai’s extensive beachside track – your date, you decide, but these are just a few of the potential ‘getting to know you’ scenarios offered by your local neighbourhood beach. And if you fancy a dual centre adventure, you could dabble in a little water sport action, a dinner at Kite Beach or splash out on a romantic boat ride.
Putting two together
Located inside Bluewaters, Tr88house is a sprawling 65,000 square foot indoor jungle, with a branching selection of fun leisure activities. Within the complex, prospective love birds can see if they’re able to ‘tee things off’ over a round of mini golf (from Dhs45), set thematically and dramatically in a glow-in-the-dark tropical rainforest, ensuring an Amazonian tonne of neon-bogey fun. Pro tip: head to the rooftop for an above-par 19th hole bar.
Bluewaters, Mon to Thu midday-midnight, Fri midday to 12.30am, Sat 11am to 12.30am, Sun 11am to midnight. tr88house.com
Make it make scents
Stressing over which perfume to lather on for the big day? Why not go straight to the source with Oo La Lab’s private fragrance design sessions? Here you and boo-in-waiting can partake in olfactory alchemey, conceiving your own signature scents in an expert guided mixology workshop. Test and combine a series of fragrances to develop a smell that best represents you, name it, bottle it and take it home for date number two.
Oo La Lab, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, daily 12pm to 8pm, Dhs320 20ml, Dhs470 50ml. oola-lab.com
If you have a bit of budget to play with and prefer your romantic gestures grand and full of whimsy – do we have the suggestion for you. A private dinner in the desert via Arabian Adventures. For Dhs2,695 – they’ll pick you up from (and drop you home to) anywhere in Dubai, and whizz you out to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for an enchanting desert safari. There’s a sunset stop, dune drive and dinner with unlimited beverages and shisha. Just make sure you choose your partner wisely, it’s a six-hour trip.
Show your Wild side
Immersive Al Quoz creative studio, Wild Paint House offers six arty activities divided into the categories of: splat, spin, swing, pour, neon and graffiti. All the options within this glorious mess fest allow you and your partner to collaborate on, lets hope, an auspiciously stunning masterpiece. Prices start from Dhs160 and not only is it a dizzying frenzy of fun, but it also comes with the added bonus of a date night souvenir. Let the custody battle commence.
Al Quoz Industrial Area 1, 2pm to 8pm Weds to Fri, 10am to 10pm Sat and Sun, prices from Dhs160. Tel: (0)56 145 9689, wildpainthouse.com
Lucky number 7
777, located at the Radisson Blu Canal View in Business Bay Dubai, is Dubai’s latest retro gaming hub. The venue combines the nostalgia of a vintage arcade with trendy bar vibes – think graffiti-covered walls, neon signage, pinball machines, virtual reality experiences and four lanes of bowling. Just don’t let your competitive streak sabotage it all for you.
Radisson Blu Canal View, Business Bay, daily 4pm to 2am. Tel: (0)56 630 0777, @triple7dubai
Holding on for a Hero
If it’s a pirate life ye seek, Dubai Hero Odysea has something you might well treasure. Their captain-your-own-vessel experience allows you to tour the waterways of Dubai on a 90-minute self-drive, daytime or twilight boat tour reaching speeds up to 50km/h. Lead by a professional guide and you can see a timber-shivering array of iconic Dubai landmarks, such as the Burj Al Arab, Ain Dubai and Atlants, The Palm, from the water.
Dubai Harbour, Marina Zone 3, from Dhs700 for two people. Tel: (04) 440 9827. hero-dubai.com
When it comes to breaking the ice on a date, Ski Dubai is almost in polar position. And you don’t necessarily have to hit the slopes, there are packages that let you share a chilled walk around the Snow Park, cheers a hot chocolate topped with fluffy marshmallows, hit the slides and even take a chairlift ride over the whole frosty affair. Snow-capped peak date energy.
Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, Mon to Thu 10am to 11pm, Fri 10am to midnight, Sat and Sun 9am to midnight, from Dhs220. Tel: (800) 386. skidxb.com
Prison Island is a new adventure experience based in Sharjah’s City Center Al Zahia Mall and a great place for a round of ‘ick bingo’. Set over a labyrinthal expanse, this is no escape room — it’s a network of 25 individual ‘cells’ featuring tasks each more fiendishly conundrous (shhh, that’s a word) than the last. There’s also the opportunity to get involved in a friendly date shootout, with the Laser Island attraction in the same facility.
City Center Al Zahia Mall, Sharjah, Mon to Wed 10am to 10pm, Thu to Sun 10am to midnight, from Dhs129. @prisonisland.ae
Not a fan of small talk, but still want to make sure your date stays on track? Habibi, come to eKart. Located on the roof of Dubai Mall’s Zabeel extension, this race-based electric go-Kart F1esta invites guests to duel it out against a Burj Khaifa backdrop. Just don’t take it too seriously, you wouldn’t want to be oVerstappen the mark.
EKart Zabeel, The Dubai Mall Zabeel, Al Khail, Downtown Dubai, open daily 10am to 10pm, priced from Dhs95. Tel: (800) 38224 6255. ekartzabeel.ae
TODAl eclipse of the heart
The Theatre of Digital Art (TODA) is best characterised as somewhere in between a gallery and a cinema, displaying specially curated digital moving art collages onto the walls and ceiling of the event space. It offers a clever mix of themed shows, is often accompanied by music or live performances and puts you right in the centre of a panoramic extravaganza.
Souk Madinat, Jumeirah, Dubai, timings based on production, Dhs120. Tel: (0)4 277 4044. toda.ae
Honey to the bee
The bar area of on-trend sweet spot, Honeycomb Hi-Fi is hidden behind the secret door of a record store in the Pullman Hotel Downtown. Inside, you’ll find izakaya-style dining, an itinerary of exactly the sort of fringe-skating DJ talent you’d expect from a vinyl shop-blocked speakeasy, and a top-tier list of craft mixed tipples.
Pullman Hotel Downtown, 7.30pm to 2am Tues to Thu and Sun, 7.30pm to 2am Fri and Sat. Tel: (0)4 412 6666, @honeycombhifi
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Tandem kayaking provides a great analogy for relationships. It works best when you’re both putting in the same effort, if you’re not synchronised there’s a danger of capsizing, and take your eyes off what’s happeining for too long and you might find yourself up the Creek without a paddle. Crystal Clear Watersports makes metaphor manifest with twilight trips in perspex, neon-lit, two-seater kayaks from the Dubai Fishing Harbour. Canoe-dling optional.
Dubai Fishing Harbour 1, from Dhs249 for two. Tel: (056) 473 8459 @cc.watersports
So fondue you
Can’t believe he dropped a cheesy joke as an ice-breaker. Like, how dairy? Of all the love languages, cheese (more specifically Stephen Gerrard’s favourite sort “melted cheese”) is up there with the best (and most pungent) of them. And on Thursday nights at Publique you can tour amour alongside unlimited fromage and chocolate fondue. with two hours of free flowing wine.
Publique, Unit 27, Souk Madinat, every Thurs Dhs270 per person. Tel: (0)4 430 8550, @publiquedubai
Nacho type of salsa
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It famously takes two to tango, it also takes a minimum of two to salsa properly and what better way than dance to see if you can find your groove with a prospective partner? Latin Crazy Tribe, holds events across the city throughout the week, offering musical backing to salsa, bachata and kizomba dance styles. Hit up their socials to find out where you can next Step Up.
For something with a decent quota of outdoorsy ‘arrrgh’ vibes, try Jais Adventure Parks. There you’ll find the Jais Sledder – a white-knuckle, 1,840m mountainside toboggan ride, that squeaks through the peaks of the Hajar range at up to 40kph. After, we recommend recalibrating at 1484 By Puro. At one and a half kilometres above sea level, it’s the UAE’s highest restaurant, they do a banging Thai beef salad, and the views aren’t half bad either.
Take a blunt instrument to those pre-date nerves with a rage therapy session at The Smash Room. Choose your weapon and set about collectively dismantling a army of paraphernalia – plates, old TVs, DVD players, printers (but definitely printers). Sorry is there a jam in the paper tray? Ctrl P this you flakey, work-shy, cartridge binger. This way you can observe your companion at their worst. Are they in control (arguably a red flag)? Are they weirdly obsessed with printers? It’s always best to find out early.
The Smash Room, Mon to Thur 12.30pm to 10pm, Fri to Sun 12.30pm to 11pm, packages from Dhs69. Tel: (0)4 339 7810, thesmashroom.com
Images: What’s On Archive/Getty