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Photograph: Creative Commons/Flickr/Ed Yourdon

The best free first-date ideas in NYC

Money can’t buy you love, so win your crush’s heart without spending a dime with free attractions, events and things to do

Written by
Tolly Wright

Dating and being single in NYC is no easy feat, and it can be hard on your heart, ego and wallet. With thousands of eligible singles on Tinder, OkCupid and dozens of other dating apps, it’s important to make an impression, but what’s a person on a budget to do? Luckily, New Yorkers love free things and with options like these you’re sure to get a second date.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to date ideas in NYC

Free first-date ideas in NYC

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Prospect Park
  • price 1 of 4
If you and your potential sweetheart happen to be free on Tuesdays—or are willing to play hooky—appreciate your weekday freedom with a stop at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. You can compare your companion’s beauty to a summer rose or imagine your blossoming future together with the change of seasons.
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Governors Island
Although there's usually a steep $2 fee to ride the ferry to the beautiful car-free haven, the first three ferries on weekends (10am, 11am, 11:30am) are gratis through September 27. Frolic the day away with public art exhibits, mini golf and tasty treats from food trucks. If all goes according to plan, you two will be cuddling on one of the red hammocks in no time.  
Kayaking on the Hudson
  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops

Does his dating profile say he fancies himself a great outdoorsman? Did she mention to you that she loves rom-coms? This date is perfect for both the outdoors and athletic types, as well as those hopeless romantics who always wanted to go boating in the park. You’ll get to know one another as you work together paddling the afternoon away. Feel free to stop the vessel long enough to take in the view of the city—and a couple of glances at each other. Through Columbus Day Weekend.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Midtown West
  • price 1 of 4
A trip to the movies is about as basic as it gets, but not at the MoMA. During Uniqlo Free Friday Nights (4pm-8pm) not only can you explore the cathedral of modern and contemporary art, but you can gain admission to the film screenings, which range from experimental indies to masterpieces like Casablanca and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Either way, it should make for much more riveting after-discussion than the latest action blockbuster.  
Roosevelt Island
  • Attractions
  • Public spaces
  • Roosevelt Island
New York offers nearly every mode of transportation possible, but none is as capable of filling the heart with joy and wonder as the bright red tram to Roosevelt Island. A swipe of the MetroCard will land you hundreds of feet in the air waving goodbye to the East Side skyscrapers and hello to kite flying in the scenic Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.
  • Clubs
Maybe your bae-to-be just wants to bash to the beat of live music. If so, put on your dancing shoes for a full night of bumping at Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge’s always popular Wednesday-night party at Cielo. Take advantage of the early-bird special (free to enter before 11pm, $20 after) and do the worm. Your partner will appreciate your fine taste in house music.  
  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Astoria
  • price 2 of 4

A first meeting over drinks might be a bit cliché, but not at the charming microbrewery and tasting room SingleCut Beersmiths. This Queens brewmaker has free weekend tours (3pm and 4pm) that include a complimentary sample-size pour of the beer on tap. If you like what you tasted—and whom you tapped glasses with—commit to buying a full stein or get a growler to go.

Stargazing at Lincoln Center
  • Theater
  • Upper West Side
  • price 2 of 4
If you’re feeling over the moon and all starry-eyed about your new acquaintance, send that message subtly with a romantic evening staring at the night’s sky. Look through high-powered telescopes and learn a thing or two about the constellations. This will be your chance to skip the small talk and delve right into big questions like “What does it all mean?” and “Are you sure that’s not the Little Dipper?”
  • Things to do
  • Talks and lectures
One of New York’s most venerated art institutions waives the admission fee from 5pm to 11pm and becomes an arty party zone as it stays open way past normal hours on the first Saturday of the month (except September). Not only will phenomenal art be available for your viewing pleasure, but special performances and programming will be sure to interest your culture-hound date.
  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
A late-night rendezvous doesn’t necessarily have to mean a booty call. Turn your attention to tickling your date's funny bone at Leo Allen’s incredibly popular weekly Monday show (11pm). You’ll catch some of the best up-and-coming local stand-ups and you might just get lucky and see a huge name like Louis CK or Chris Rock hop onstage.   
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