Love in a desert climate: Where to romance in Abu Dhabi

Story highlights

  • Horseback-riding through mangroves, sunset boat cruises among romantic attractions
  • An ultra-swanky dinner in the desert could also help win hearts in Abu Dhabi

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(CNN)Not content with just being capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi makes a pretty good case for being the romantic capital too.

So what's it got to set hearts racing?
    From hot-air balloon rides over untouched desert to private sunset trips through winding mangroves, here are the most romantic things couples can do in Abu Dhabi.

    Dining in the desert

    There's dinner, and then there's an ultra-swanky luxury dinner in the middle of the Empty Quarter desert that's attended by a private butler.
    This romantic meal, set amid rolling sand dunes underneath a starry sky, offers decadent Arabic food just for two.
    It's hosted at one of the UAE's incredibly luxurious hotels, so be warned that the experience won't come cheap.

    Horseback riding

    Abu Dhabi's winding, greenery-lined mangroves make a popular spot for kayaking and boat tours.
    But a more romantic way to see this scenic bit of nature is from the back of a horse.
    The high-end Desert Island Resort and Spa by Anantara offers a tour through the mangroves for advanced riders (trotting and cantering are involved).
    Sir Bani Yas Stables provides a more entry-level but still charming riding experience through a protected wildlife reserve.

    Pearl diving

    It's finders-keepers on the Abu Dhabi pearl journey.
    Abu Dhabi's pearl-diving industry may have all but disappeared over the years, but it's still possible to sample this bit of Emirati heritage through a pearl-focused mangrove tour.
    Hosted on a traditional Arabic pearling dhow, the trip includes a guide, traditional dates and tea and an oyster-opening demonstration.
    Any pearls found are for keeps.

    Picnicking

    The lavish, luxurious Emirates Palace hotel is a favorite with the UAE's glitterati and those in the know.
    A private picnic package offers the chance to dine on 1.3 kilometers of white beach surrounded by rose petals, or in one of countless secluded gazebos dotted around the venue's one million square meters of manicured grounds.
    For something more affordable, the public Abu Dhabi Corniche has plenty of spots for a simple -- and free -- picnic.
    Romancing the Palace, Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi

    A night at the cinema

    Going to the movies has a UAE facelift with the city's high-end film-viewing options.
    Novo Cinema offers a "seven star" ticket that includes massive reclining chairs, blankets, pillows and an in-theater dining menu.
    To fully reinvent the idea of "dinner and a movie," Vox Cinemas' Theatre by Rhodes features food by Michelin-starred chef Gary Rhodes.
    Tickets also come with access to an exclusive lounge, in-cinema waiter service and reclining posh seats.
    7-star experience, Novo Cinemas; Theatre by Rhodes, Vox Cinemas

    Hot air balloon ride

    You can float over sand dunes at sunrise with Platinum Heritage.
    Romance goes rustic with this overnight desert safari.
    The trip begins with a journey into the desert in a vintage 1950s open-roof Land Rover.
    Then there's a chance to spot oryx and gazelles in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
    After that comes dinner and an evening spent in a Bedouin-inspired camp.
    Yet the real selling point here is an epic, stunning hour-long sunrise hot-air balloon ride over rolling sand dunes.
    Platinum Heritage, a high-end tour company known for getting things right, operates primarily out of Dubai but can provide transport to/from Abu Dhabi.
    Overnight desert safari and hot-air balloon flight, Platinum Heritage

    Flying high

    While it's possible to drive to Sir Bani Yas Island, a conservation reserve full of hyenas, cheetahs, flamingos and giraffes, a more romantic option is to fly.
    Seawings offer a 50-minute seaplane trip from Abu Dhabi to the protected island, providing views of the Arabian Gulf alongside the privacy of a small flight.
    Upon landing, there's a four-wheel drive wildlife tour and a three-course lunch.
    Seaplane Flight and Wildlife Safari, Seawings

    Sailing away

    Sunsets are romantic. Boats are romantic. Beautiful bodies of water? Also romantic.
    All three are combined with Captain Tony's 90-minute sunset sail down Abu Dhabi's Eastern Mangroves.
    Along the way, the boat passes the UAE Heritage Club, where a traditional Emirati village is on display.
    For a more decadent statement of love, it's possible to charter an entire boat for a moonlight dhow cruise along Al Raha Beach.
    Sunset or Moonlight Cruise, Captain Tony's

    Getting artsy

    With the Guggenheim and the Louvre on the way, Abu Dhabi's set to become a hub of art. For cultured couples who want to embrace the creative now, Warehouse421's Wednesdays at the Warehouse program provides a chance.
    This free event features workshops, film screenings and discussions.
    Up next is an exhibition of the 100 best Arab posters.
    Wednesdays at the Warehouse, Warehouse421

    A waterfront walk

    Celebrating love in the UAE can be expensive.
    For a free activity that ranks high on romance, a sunset stroll along the Abu Dhabi Corniche is perfect.
    This eight-kilometer stretch features manicured beaches, separated pedestrian and cycle paths and plenty of charming cafes.
    It's possible to hire a bike or rent a beach umbrella.

    Tea with a view

    Jumeirah at Etihad offers tea with a view.
    The grand tradition of afternoon tea is given a UAE twist with this sky-high offering.
    The Observation Deck at 300 provides a chance to enjoy 360-degree views of Abu Dhabi's glittering skyline from the capital's highest vantage point.
    While "premium single estate coffees" and teas are available a la carte, the more romantic option is to go full High Tea.
    This elaborate menu features decadent chocolate cakes and delicate sandwiches.
    Afternoon High Tea, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers