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

Written by
Time Out New York contributors
&
Jennifer Picht
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Woo your new love interest or pay your rent? It’s a real dilemma in this expensive city of ours. If you’re saving up to splurge at one of the best restaurants in the city when the relationship gets to that level, you need to consider cheap date ideas in NYC in the meantime. Fortunately there are plenty of options, from free museum days and happy hours to romantic walks and budget-friendly gigs.

Simply walking the streets of NYC can be romantic and mind-blowing. But a real date has to have a destination. Looking for some outdoor time? Stroll one of the city’s beautiful parks. Is your boo a cocktail enthusiast? A nice happy hour will do. Taco fan? Tacos are almost always cheap AND delicious.

If your cheap date is successful, check out some more NYC date ideas. If things go really well, we even have a list of cheap romantic getaways, or not-so-cheap romantic getaways if you’re able. Of all the romantic things to do in NYC, these cheap date ideas will impress while taking it easy on your wallet.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to date ideas in NYC

Best cheap date ideas in NYC

Graphic Love Stories
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

Free gigs and high-end cocktails

2. 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

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  • 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

Dessert and nerdery
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

4. Dessert and 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 weekly trivia night. Tip: Bring someone geeky to this, lest you seem…like a total geek.

Sets you back: $11.50

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Nature and history in the Bronx
Photograph: Francis Smith

5. 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

A cinematic shrine and plenty of Guinness

6. A cinematic shrine and plenty of Guinness

NOTE: The Museum's free Fridays are temporarily suspended
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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Mansion Peeping
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons user 'Sterilgutassistentin'

7. Mansion Peeping

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.

Sets you back: Free

Brews, sweets and city views
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

8. 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

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • East Williamsburg
  • price 2 of 4

This overrated date night comes in handy, especially when the cost is dirt cheap. Unlike other movie theaters, Syndicated lets 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

Bucolic strolls and cheap-ass tacos
Photograph: courtesy Central Park Conservancy

10. 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

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Cans o’ beer and lush gardens
Photograph: Courtesy Marlborough Gallery/Richard Estes

11. 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

  • 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

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  • 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.

Sets you back: $23–$46

  • 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

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