The best cheap date ideas in NYC

Pinching those pennies? Fret not, there are a ton of great cheap date ideas for less than $30, from dancing to movies.
Syndicated, dine-in movie theater
Photograph: Courtesy Michael Tulipan
By Time Out New York contributors and Jennifer Picht |
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This city is expensive, so we’ve come up with excellent cheap date ideas that won’t make you look like a stingy loser when you ask babe to Netflix and chill. Good for Valentine’s Day ideas or any day of the year, these foolproof romantic things to do will allow you and your significant other to have a blast without burning a hole in your wallets. From romantic bars with lust-worthy drink specials to budget-friendly movie theaters and cheap eats, we have your low-cost, high-reward playbook right here.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to date ideas in NYC

The best cheap date ideas in NYC

1
Photograph: Alex Strada

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 IslandDiscover 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 including weekly Movie Trivia at 8:30pm with host Maggie Ross. 

Sets you back: FREE

2
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

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–$5.50). 

Sets you back: $12–$15

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3
The Shanty
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

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 six to seven bucks—so two rounds are well within your budget.)

Sets you back: $16–$24

4
Syndicated
Liz Clayman
Movie theaters, Independent

Dinner and a movie

icon-location-pin Bushwick

This overrated date night comes in handy, especially when the cost is dirt cheap. Unlike other movie theaters, Syndicated let’s you wine and dine while you watch a classic flick. Get this: Movie tickets are $4 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: $4-$20

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5

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 ($10). As you wait for preshow ShackBurgers ($5.29) at the original Shake Shack, reassure your companion that you’ve never made a mistake.

Sets you back: $30.58

6
<p>Phil Collins at Alameda</p>
Restaurants, American

Hot-and-heavy at Alameda’s happy hour

icon-location-pin Greenpoint

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

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7
Union Hall
Bars, Pubs

Bump n’ grind at midnight

icon-location-pin Park Slope

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

8
Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

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

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9
Van Cortlandt House Museum
Photograph: Francis Smith

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

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 to $6), poured just as they should be: in two steps, so that a perfect head peeks over the rim.

Sets you back: $22

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11

Experimental theater and suds

Take that cute starving artist to The Chocolate Factory, which hosts cheap ($15 to $20) 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 growler of the 7.2 percent ABV Beerly Legal Saison, brewed specially for the owners by Captain Lawrence.

Sets you back: $30–$50

12
Carl Schurz Park
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons user 'Sterilgutassistentin'

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. 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

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13
Photograph: Hannah McSwain

Brews, tunes and sweets

The inviting wood-paneling decor and dim lighting at Greenpoint drinking den TØRST make it a breeding ground for old-timey romance. After sipping $6 drafts from local faves, head next door to Van Leeuwen Ice Cream for two small ginger, Earl Grey tea or other unconventionally flavored cones ($5.50 each). 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: $23

14
Central Park Conservatory Garden
Photograph: courtesy Central Park Conservancy

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

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15
Staten Island
Photograph: Ludovic Bertron / Wikimedia Commons

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 $5 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: $30

16
Hannibal Buress hosts a stand-up showcase at the Knitting Factory.
Music, Dance and electronic

Free laughs

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

Want to know how to make your date fall madly in love with you? Make ‘em laugh! You might not have enough moolah to treat your honey to one of Bridget Everett's shows, but The Knitting Factory hosts a free comedy night every Sunday. The wildly popular show, originally created by the delightfully understated Hannibal Buress (Broad City's Lincoln), features the funniest pros and up-and-comers. Past guests include Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Method Man.

Sets you back: Free

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17
Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Brewery
Bars, Breweries

Beer knowledge and tastings

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

If you and your sweetheart are major beer enthusiasts, Brooklyn Brewery hosts an intimate tour (no more than 30 souls), where you can geek out and get an exclusive tour of the joint. The informative guide not only gives you an in-depth history lesson about the brewery, but a four-beer tasting along the way. And you won’t walk away empty-handed either—all participants leave with a complimentary souvenir stemware glass, so you’ll always have a little something to remember the date by (including the inevitable “one-too-many beers” hangover.)

Sets your back: $30

18
Bowlmor Lanes
Sports and fitness

Bowl some balls

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Are you ready to bowl some balls with bae? (It’s not cheesy, it’s classic!) Bowlmor’s Midtown West location boasts 48 lanes divided among seven NYC-themed rooms: enter the Times Square of the 1960s through a naughty storefront, or warm up with your date by the cozy and romantic fireplaces in the Bethesda Fountain–inspired bowling suite. Every week there’s a pretty decent deal called “Monday Mayhem,” which includes unlimited bowling (plus shoe rental) including drink specials.

Sets you back: $25

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19
Fat Cat
Photograph: Filip Wolak
Music, Music venues

Jazz, table games and cheap drinks

icon-location-pin West Village

They don’t make ‘em like this any more. West Village hangout the Fat Cat is a basement bar and pool hall where the sofas are scruffy, but the drinks are cheap and the ambience is jovial. There’s live jazz every night, and it's only a $3 past 6pm. Challenge your boo to a playfully competitive game of shuffle board, ping-pong or scrabble. Bonus: Drinks cost $3 to $9.

Sets you back: $30

20
Coney Island NYE
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Allison Meier

Fun by the beach

On Fridays after 3pm, the New York Aquarium at Coney Island is pay what you wish. Ogle more than 300 marine species and cop a feel (of the fish, silly) at the outdoor touch pools filled with sea stars, turtles and more. 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 your back: $1–$5

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