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Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan, 2012
Photograph: Courtesy Marlborough Gallery/Richard Estes Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan, 2012

The best cheap date ideas in NYC

Hit up free shows, great happy hours and romantic walks aplenty with the best cheap date ideas in NYC

By Time Out New York contributors and Jennifer Picht

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 dates 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 oyster happy hours, there are plenty of affordable options in NYC—if you know where to find them. You're in luck: we have your low-cost, high-reward playbook right here.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to date ideas in NYC

Best cheap date ideas in NYC

Desert Island
Photograph: Courtesy Desert Island

1. 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 a copy of Smoke Signal, the shop's free weekly anthology.

Sets you back: FREE

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

2. 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), 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 ($4–$6). 

Sets you back: $12–$15

Pete's Candy Store, live music venue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

3. 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 the New York Distilling Company that offers some pretty sweet happy hour specials.

Sets you back: $16–$24

Syndicated, dine-in movie theater
Photograph: Courtesy Michael Tulipan

4. Dinner and a movie

Movie theaters Independent East Williamsburg

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 $7 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: $7-$25


5. Hot-and-heavy at Alameda’s happy hour

Restaurants American 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

Photograph: Courtesy Caroline Voagen Nels

6. Get your groove on at midnight

Bars Pubs Park Slope

No matter how tight your budget, you can still get loose on the dance floor at Park Slope's Union Hall. Free dance parties go down most Saturday nights, featuring DJs spinning old-school hip-hop crowd pleasers and heavy-hitters at midnight. Check out the drink specials and definitely split a basket of fries ($6) or an order of deviled eggs ($5)—served until midnight —before you hit the dance floor.

Sets you back: $18

Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

7. Dessert and mind-blowing nerdery

It’s been scientifically proven 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

Van Cortlandt House Museum
Photograph: Francis Smith

8. 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 ($5), 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


9. 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

10. 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

Carl Schurz Park
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons user 'Sterilgutassistentin'

11. 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

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

12. Brews, sweets and city views

The inviting wood-paneling decor and dim lighting at Greenpoint drinking den TØRST make it a hot spot 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

Central Park Conservatory Garden
Photograph: courtesy Central Park Conservancy

13. 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, where you can get two tasty tacos for $8.

Sets you back: $15–$18

Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan, 2012
Photograph: Courtesy Marlborough Gallery/Richard Estes

14. 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

Marie Faustin, Sydnee Washington and Aminah Imani
Photograph: Courtesy Jenni Walkowiak

15. Free laughs

Music Dance and electronic 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

Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Brewery

16. Beer knowledge and tastings

Bars Breweries 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 look around 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 have a little something to remember the date by (besides the hangover.)

Sets you back: $18–$36


17. Bowl some balls

Sports and fitness Midtown West

Are you ready to bowl 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) and drink specials.

Sets you back: $23–$46

Fat Cat
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Rıza Selçuk S.

18. Jazz, table games and cheap drinks

Music Music venues 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

New York Aquarium

19. Fun by the beach

On Wednesdays 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 you back: $1–$5

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