New York City has inspired some of the most famous romantic comedies of all time, from When Harry Met Sally to Serendipity. So why is it that all too often, we fall back on the less-than-novel dinner and drinks date? Sure, we New Yorkers have some of the best culinary experiences at our fingertips, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't shake up our date-night plans every now and then. There are plenty of unique date ideas in New York City that are totally romantic and won't cost half your rent. In addition to being easy on the wallet, they just might make you fall in love with the city all over again, too.
From comedy shows and karaoke to scenic strolls and gallery hopping, these are the best date ideas in New York City.
Get Reacquainted With Central Park
More than 8.6 million people live in New York City, but it doesn't feel that way at this four-season—and free-to-enter—oasis in the middle of Manhattan. Measuring in at 840 acres, there's plenty of room to go around here, whether your idea of the perfect date is a picnic lunch on the Great Lawn, a paddle across Central Park Lake in a rowboat, or a visit to the Central Park Zoo.
Explore the Met or MoMA
For residents of New York state, admission at The Met is pay-as-you-wish, so you and your date can browse the storied museum's 5,000 years' worth of artwork and still have some cash left over to grab a quick bite at one of the museum's on-site eateries. MoMA, on the other hand, waives entry fees between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. every Friday, so plan your outing accordingly.
Take a Sunset Stroll Across the Brooklyn Bridge
Whether you start at the Brooklyn or Manhattan side of the stone-and-steel bridge, you'll encounter an intoxicating panorama that really outdoes itself come nightfall. Plan a stroll around sunset to watch as the skyline is enveloped in golds and ambers before transforming into a glittering display of lights as the sun slips behind Manhattan.
Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts a weekly movie series during the summer to cap off your bridge-crossing with a free flick.
Explore the Hudson by Kayak
With a mission of "promoting public access to the water for all," Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking between the months of May and October. Push off from the organization's locations on Pier 26 or Governor's Island for a 20-minute paddle through NYC waterways.
Lace Up Your Roller Skates
Relive a childhood pastime with a visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 2 Roller Rink. In the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge, the outdoor facility hosts regular public skate sessions that are either free or under $10, plus the cost of skate rentals. (Aim to show up on a Friday evening for DJ-led sessions.)
Hit the Ice
When temperatures drop, swap your wheels for a blade and hit the ice-skating rink at Central Park, The Rink at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, or, for a date experience that's quintessentially NYC, Rockefeller Center. You can glide under the festive canopy of twinkling city lights while holding hands to keep warm for a romantic night to remember. Finish the evening by snuggling up with a cozy cup of hot cocoa.
Book a Private Karaoke Room
Most New Yorkers love to karaoke, but when was the last time you actually went? Book a room at Sing Sing Karaoke in the East Village and let loose with your S.O.
Browse the Stalls at a Food Market, Festival, or Flea Market
If you're not opposed to a daytime date, meet your S.O. at the Brooklyn Flea, Grand Bazaar NYC, or Chelsea Flea Market. Not only are these spots open year-round, but their pay-as-you-go pay structure also allows you to spend as much (or as little) as you want. Similarly, food halls and markets (think Smorgasbord or Essex Market) and city-sponsored festivals follow a no-purchase-necessary format. Bookmark the NYC Parks events calendar to stay informed about upcoming low-cost and free events.
Beat Each Other's High Scores at an Arcade
Give your date a glimpse of your competitive side by challenging him or her to a round of Skee-Ball, ping pong, pool, pinball, or an old-school video game. Spots like Two-Bit's Retro Arcade, Barcade, Full Circle Bar, and Cellar Dog promise all of the above, plus brewskies and mixed drinks for the 21-and-up set.
Take a Spin on a Carousel
Channel your inner child with a ride on one of NYC's famous carousels, like the Central Park Carousel ($3/ride), The Battery's SeaGlass Carousel ($5.50/ride), or Hudson River Park’s Pier 62 Carousel ($3.50/ride). But if you have to choose just one, go with Jane's Carousel ($2/ride). Dating back to 1922, this historic, 48-horse carousel merges nostalgia with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
Catch a Budget Flick
New York has several independent movie theaters to choose from. Try catching a flick at Syndicated. This Brooklyn venue offers food, drinks, and movies—all under one roof. Grab a seat in the cozy theater-meets-restaurant to watch a second-run flick for just $9, then order from a menu of drinks and handheld eats to enjoy while you watch.
Syndicated also has a bar area that screens two movies via a duo of projectors, allowing you to match your movie-watching to the duration of your drink.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Who says the Staten Island Ferry is just for tourists and school field trips? Add it to your date-night itinerary and take advantage of a free (and dare we say romantic) cruise between Whitehall in lower Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island (or vice versa). Spend the 25-minute ride marveling at the city skyline and snapping selfies with the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Enjoy the thrill of skydiving without the weather restrictions or, let's be honest, sheer terror of jumping out of a moving aircraft. Located in Westchester, iFly is worth the short trek to experience the sensation of flying in the safe and controlled environment of state-of-the-art wind tunnels.
Stroll Across the High Line
A stunning example of adaptive reuse, this defunct elevated rail line-turned-linear greenway hosts manicured gardens, soothing water features, scenic overlooks, and conversation-starting art installations along its 1.45-mile stretch—and it's free for all to enjoy. We recommend popping by Chelsea Market first for a grab-and-go bite to enjoy on the High Line's many benches and seating areas.
Take a Walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
A fantastic (and quiet) alternative to the classic weeknight drink, a walk through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden will give you a chance to chat with your date—without having to compete with the noise of a bar. Admission is reasonably priced at $18, but you can score free entry if you show up before noon on an in-season Friday (or any weekday during the winter).
Spin Vinyl at Tokyo Record Bar
Grab a drink and a bite to eat at Tokyo Record Bar, an izakaya and vinyl bar where you help make the playlist for the night—so you'll get to know (read: judge) your date's musical taste.
Explore a New Neighborhood
Trying something new is one of the best ways to form a deeper connection with someone, so pick a neighborhood you've never been to, and go for an adventure. May we suggest Red Hook?
Try Your Hand at Axe Throwing
Need to let off some steam and plan a memorable date night? Axe throwing is probably an experience neither of you has had a good go at. LiveAxe and Kick Axe Brooklyn both offer indoor throwing possibilities that you won't forget. Who knows? You might even find your calling.
Get Your Game on at Royal Palms
Skip the local sports bar's pool table and try playing shuffleboard instead. Royal Palms in Brooklyn is a guaranteed good time—and it's way more fun than the bowling alleys at Chelsea Piers.
Strike Out at the Brooklyn Bowl
If some old-school bowling is your thing, we get it. There's nothing quite as satisfying as the sound of pins falling down and the sweet taste of victory that goes with it. Get in the competitive spirit and take your date to Brooklyn Bowl for some live tunes, local brews, and delectable eats.
See a Comedy Show
Sure, comedy shows are a bit of an NYC cliché, but they're also really fun. And while it can be awkward on a first date to get grilled by the comedian on stage at the Comedy Cellar, your visit is sure to be a memory in the making
Try a New Fitness Class
A date can be a great excuse to experiment with a new and novel exercise. Try Flatiron's Brrrn, where 50-minute fitness classes are held within a studio that's been chilled to a cool 50°F. You can even try the infrared sauna together afterward. Take advantage of first-time student discounts to save some money.
Go Glamping on Governors Island
Collective Retreats has established itself in NYC with escapism experiences that make you feel like you're anywhere else. Take a ferry to Governors Island, and spend an evening glamping under the stars overlooking the Manhattan skyline for the dreamiest of date nights.
Or, up the ante on that Ghost-style date night by amplifying the sensory experience. Unarthodox's Sculpture Without Sight offers a unique art experience that reconnects you with your senses—specifically touch—by closing your eyes. The blindfold frees you from the visual plane and allows your hands to do all the talking.
Treat Yourselves at Ancient Aire Baths
If you're feeling a little exhausted from a long day at work or have young children at home, treat yourselves to a day at Ancient Aires Baths, where you get to just relax in a romantic candlelit environment.
Walk Through Halls of Gems
Want to commemorate finding your very own diamond in the rough? The Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History boasts over 5,000 sparkly specimens for quite the magical moment. (We're talking a legendary 563-carat sapphire, folks!)
Visit the Museum of Sex
Speaking of setting the mood, an educational tour of the Museum of Sex should do it for the sapiosexuals among us. From a historic catalog of visual erotica to more hands-on exhibits, this museum admission ($36) will certainly give you the most bang for your buck.
Scale a Building
When you live in a city that boasts some of the highest buildings in the world, what else is there to do but scale them? City Climb offers an exhilarating bird's-eye-view over 1,200 feet above the ground from the Edge's apex.
Enjoy a Scenic Cruise
Or, take in the sights without the heart-pumping adrenaline rush by hosting your date night on the water. Reserve a table aboard one of the city's many floating restaurants for a skyline view that's hard to top.
Peruse the Books at The Morgan Library & Museum
From ultra-rare first editions to manuscripts, drawings, and sheet music from some of history's most famous and talented artists, The Morgan Library & Museum has it all. Once the personal collection of J. Pierpont Morgan, the dramatic edifice houses plenty of architectural and literary delights to get lost in.
Start a Book Club for Two
If all those books whet your literary appetite, why not start your very own book club for just the two of you? Make a day out of visiting some of the city's most charming book stores to stock up on future reads. Some of our favorites include The Strand Bookstore in the East Village and Sisters Uptown Bookstore in Harlem.
Channel Your Inner Spy
If you spent your formative years living a double life as an imaginary spy, boy do we have a date night for you. SPYSCAPE may be a high-tech counterintelligence museum, but it also serves as a training (play)ground to really put those carefully cultivated skills to the test. We're talking laser beam hallways and lie detector tests aplenty!