This city is expensive—so we’ve concocted cheap date ideas that won’t make you look like a stingy loser when you ask your bae to Netflix and chill. Good for Valentine’s Day ideas or any day of the year, these cheap date ideas will keep you looking fly without burning a hole in your wallet. Romantic bars with lust-worthy drink specials, budget-friendly movie theaters and cheap eats—no matter what your main squeeze is into, we have your low-cost, high-reward playbook right here.
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The best cheap date ideas in NYC
If you and your love enjoy a nice creep-fest, we recommend a visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum for a lesson on how we treat, and sometimes worship, death. Admission is just $8 and with numerous taxidermy workshops and more recently, a lecture on the trendiest burial processes, Morbid is sure to bring couples with a weird streak even closer together. Once you've both had your fill of strange, meet your yum quota with some Ample Hills Creamery ice-cream, just a short walk from the museum. With sugary goodness from $2.50–$7.75, you'll totally satisfy your "sweetie."
Sets you back: $21
Graphic Love Stories
Nerd is the new cool and nothing says nerdtastic like a good comic book. Geeky sweethearts, make your way to Williamsburg's quaint comic book store, Desert Island. Discover each other's favorites or grab one of the shop's free weekly anthologies. Once you've had your fill, head on over to Videology, a TV-lovers' bar full of free and cheap nightly media-lovin' events and a chance to cop classic comics via Bushwick’s Vinyl Fantasy. Enjoy a special cartoon happy hour from 4–7pm.
Sets you back: FREE
Laughs and views
Start out an evening in LIC by sauntering through Gantry Plaza State Park, a waterfront respite that boasts a beautiful midtown-Manhattan backdrop. Next, head to double-tiered comedy venue The Creek and the Cave, which welcomes stand-ups (including occasional surprise bigwigs like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.), improv troupes and variety shows every night of the week, often for nada. Prove that you’re not that much of a Costanza by springing for some fish and pork tacos ($3–$4.50) and Tecates ($3).
Sets you back: $12–$15
Free gigs and high-end cocktails
Wait until you’ve been out a few times and you’re ready to squeeze in nice and close before hitting the teeny back room of Pete’s Candy Store, which hosts no-cover shows by indie artists and acoustic troubadours every night of the week. Afterward, head around the corner to The Shanty, a naked brick-and-concrete bar attached to and owned by the New York Distilling Company. (Psst… On Mondays, cocktails featuring the robust house-made gin are half off all night, going for a mere four to six bucks—so two rounds are well within your budget.)
Sets you back: $16–$24
The most over-used date-night routine in book comes in handy—especially when it’s dirt cheap. Unlike other movie theaters, Syndicated let’s you wine and dine while you watch a classic flick. Get this: Movie tickets are $3 apiece. And since the movie is so affordable, you can schmooze your date by splurging on some gourmet popcorn from the concession stand.
Sets you back: $20–$30
Saucy tales and classic burgers
It’s not particularly wise to spill your deepest, darkest secrets on a first date. But listening to others do so without any romantic repercussions? Awesome. That’s the setup of Kevin Allison’s popular podcast, RISK!—taped live each month at the Peoples Improv Theater—in which comedians like Wyatt Cenac reveal their most shameful (and hilarious) moments. As you wait for preshow ShackBurgers ($4.75) at the original Shake Shack, reassure your companion that you’ve never made a mistake.
Sets you back: $29.50
This Greenpoint bar knows how to set the mood with rustic wooden tables and romantic lighting without making you go, y’know, broke. Hell, you and your date can get a buzz and some grub for 11 or 12 bucks! You can’t go wrong with a classic beer and burger deal or something a little fancier like boquerones and Prosecco.
Sets you back: $11–$12
In the words of R. Kelly, we don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump n’ grind. And the best place to do that—without paying a cover—is at Union Hall. A confident crew of DJs spin old-school hip-hop crowd pleasers and heavy-hitters at midnight. Check out the drink specials and definitely split a basket of fries ($6)—served until midnight —before you hit the dance floor.
Sets you back: $18
Dessert and mind-blowing nerdery
It’s been scientifically proved that nothing in the known universe is more romantic than pie. At Gowanus go-to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, two slices of shop faves like salted apple caramel or grapefruit custard will run you $11.50. (Arrive early in the evening, as they tend to sell out.) Then, fill your head with, you know, actual scientifically proven knowledge at the Bell House’s monthly Secret Science Club event, where experts lecture on crazy-cool theories for free. Tip: Bring someone geeky to this, lest you seem…like a total geek.
Sets you back: $11.50
Nature and history in the Bronx
Seeing an outdoorsy guy or gal but don’t have the gas money to drive upstate? Fortunately, there’s ample natural beauty to explore in Van Cortlandt Park. The secluded banks of Van Cortlandt Lake (in the southwest region) are begging for a quiet but passionate make-out session. Post-smooching, stop by the Van Cortlandt House Museum, just west of the lake. Its 1740s stone edifice hosted George Washington twice in the midst of the Revolutionary War, and the current interior features re-creations of furnishings favored by the abode’s namesake, the rich merchant and mayor Jacobus Van Cortlandt.
Sets you back: $10
A cinematic shrine and plenty of Guinness
Secure film-buff status by bringing your date to the Museum of the Moving Image on a Friday evening (4–8pm), when the admission fee is waived. Make sure to fool around at the permanent collection’s sound-editing, dubbing and stop-motion-animation stations before leaving. Afterward, drink your fill at the charming Irish joint Quays Pub (45-02 30th Ave at 45th St, Astoria, Queens; 718-204-8435) with rounds of Guinness ($5.50), poured just as they should be: in two steps, so that a perfect head peeks over the rim.
Sets you back: $22
Experimental theater and suds
Take that cute starving artist to The Chocolate Factory, which hosts cheap ($15) and free avant-garde theater, dance and performance art. If you opt for a gratis show, treat yourself to libations at the roomy craft-brew haven Alewife Queens and have a deep conversation about the meaning of the work you witnessed. Get more bang for your buck by splitting a $20 growler of the 7.2 percent ABV Beerly Legal Saison, brewed specially for the owners by Captain Lawrence.
Sets you back: $20–$30
Mansion Peeping and pub trivia
Start off an evening in Yorkville with an amble through Carl Schurz Park. Make sure to swing by Bobby Wagner Walk, a grand promenade along the East River, and Gracie Mansion (at 88th Street), the latest home of Bill de Blasio and official residence of NYC mayors. (Refrain from shouting at the new guy, please.) Then, show off your intellectual prowess—or comical lack thereof—during Tuesday-night trivia at the Gael Pub. The fun battles are always jam-packed, feature six diverse categories and include prizes like a $50 bar tab. Not that you’ll need it to tip back a few: Pitchers of beer are only $14.
Sets you back: $14
Brews, tunes and sweets
The inviting dark-wood decor and gratis live piano sets at Greenpoint drinking den Manhattan Inn make it a breeding ground for old-timey romance. After sipping $6 drafts from local faves Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint in the candlelit space, head next door to Van Leeuwen Ice Cream for two small ginger, Earl Grey tea or other unconventionally flavored cones ($5.25 each)—or, if it’s still freezing outside, grab some hot cocoa made with French chocolate ($5.25). If the weather is nice, take your sugar rush to nearby McCarren Park, and sit on a bench facing the Empire State Building.
Sets you back: $22.50
Bucolic strolls and cheap-ass tacos
If you’re looking to impress your companion by spouting off bits of horticultural expertise—hey, it might work—or if you’re just looking for a pretty spot in which to walk around and stare amorously into each other’s eyes, walk around the magnificent six acres that make up the Central Park Conservatory Garden. Once you’re done sniffing the magnolia and lilac trees, scoot over to El Paso Taqueria for a bite to eat. Addictive soft tacos (steak, pork, chorizo, veggie, chicken) at the small Mexican joint will run you just $2.50 to $3 apiece.
Sets you back: $15–$18
Ukrainian eats and beachside hand-holding
Show your squeeze you’re a man or woman of the world by feasting on ravioli-like pelmeni and vareniki dishes ($6–$9) at Coney Island’s Café Glechik, an Anthony Bourdain–approved restaurant decked out with Eastern Euro knickknacks. You may also want to bring along some vodka to take advantage of the café’s BYOB policy. Afterward, walk a few blocks to the Coney Island boardwalk to watch the sun go down—or (if you’re a risk taker) venture onto the beach itself, climb into a lifeguard chair and hold each other tenderly as you gaze out on the ocean.
Sets you back: $12–$18
Cans o’ beer and lush gardens
Enjoy the city’s cheapest booze cruise and panoramic views of lower Manhattan aboard the Staten Island Ferry, where domestic cans are in the $4 range. Once ashore in Staten Island, take an eight-minute bus ride and tour the grand estates and lovely waterfront grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, originally established as a retirement estate for sailors in 1801.
Sets you back: $24