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 again. 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 during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, 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 your 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, so you can 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 (Or Ice) 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.) When temperatures drop, swap your wheels for a blade and hit the ice skating rink at Central Park, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, or, for a date experience that's quintessentially NYC, Rockefeller Center.
Browse the Stalls at a Food Market, Festival, or Flea
If you're not opposed to a daytime date, meet your S.O. at the Brooklyn Flea, Auqaduck Flea, Grand Bazaar NYC, or Chelsea Flea Market. Not only are these spots open year-round, their pay-as-you-go pay structure allows you to spend as much (or as little) and 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 Fat Cat 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 ($3.25/ride), The Battery's SeaGlass Carousel ($5/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 $7, then order from a menu of drinks and handheld eats to enjoy while you watch.
Don't want to commit to a whole movie? 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.
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 $15, 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.
See a Concert at Carnegie Hall
Dinner and drinks are nice when you're on your second or third date, but a concert at Carnegie Hall is unexpected and something you frankly probably never do as a New Yorker. It's a surefire way to impress your date.
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?
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.
See a Comedy Show
Sure, comedy shows are a bit of a NYC cliché, but they're also really fun. And while it can be awkward on a first date to get grilled by the comedian onstage 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 is finally in NYC. Take a ferry to Governors Island, and spend a night glamping under the stars overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
Take a Pottery Class in Brooklyn
If you've fallen into a routine of going to the same restaurants or watching the same TV series each Monday night, switch it up with a pottery-making class at Choplet in Brooklyn. You'll channel your inner Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.
Tour the Galleries in Chelsea
Chelsea is filled with incredible art galleries, but be honest: When was the last time you actually visited them? Walk around the various gallery spaces with your S.O. and pick imaginary art for your future home together.
Treat Yourself at Ancient Aire Baths
If you're feeling a little exhausted from a long day at work or have young children at home, treat yourself to a day at Ancient Aires Baths, where you get to just relax in a romantic candlelit environment.
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.