12 Cheap Date Night Ideas in New York City
Hire a sitter and nab these unique and cost-effective ideas for an unforgettable date in NYC.
Think budget-friendly dates in NYC aren’t possible? Plan a unique date in the city that never sleeps with these insider’s tips from Briana Green, cultural enthusiast and NYC travel guide, and Tracy Kaler, founder of the blog, Tracy's New York Life.
So hire a date night babysitter next weekend and head out on one of their creative, unique and cost-effective dates.
- Take a Cooking Class
There are tons of cooking classes throughout the city, but none create community the way Chaos Cooking can, according to Green. The events are free, with everyone bringing ingredients to make a recipe shared by all of the guests, as well as something to drink. The free-wheeling, cooking-and-conversation atmosphere lends itself to the happy chaos generated by family get-togethers on holiday mornings.
- Explore Central Park
Enjoy a picnic in Central Park near the Bethesda Fountain, one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, suggests Kaler. While there, you can also discover the Central Park Zoo, carousel or Alice in Wonderland statue. Take in a game of chess or go catch-and-release fishing in the Harlem Meer. “If cold weather or snow is in the forecast, skip the picnic and walk through the park instead,” she says. One of Kaler’s top picks for cheap eats near the Park is Shake Shack, home of the best burgers in town, where two people can enjoy a meal for $20 or less.
- Relax for Less
“Take the 7 train or drive to Queens for a night of pool and sauna hopping at Spa Castle, a 4-level, futuristic Korean spa,” recommends Green. “Admission is $35 on weekdays and $45 on weekends, but comes with no time limit. You can stay as long as you like and it’s open 24 hours. If you get tired, they even have nap rooms,” she adds.
- Tour Chinatown
Chinese food fan Kaler suggests wandering the tiny streets of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan and eating in one of the many authentic restaurants you’ll find there. “Prosperity Dumpling is one of my favorites and a budget-friendly option, with menu items at $3.00 or less,” she says.
- Get Cultured
Museums abound in New York, but many require a steep entrance fee, as well as an additional outlay for special exhibits. You can get cultured and save big by looking for free or pay-what-you like evenings. “Visit the Guggenheim Museum on Saturdays after 5:45 p.m. and pay what you wish,” suggests Kaler. “You can also grab a few glasses of wine in Café 3 -- located off Ramp 3 in the museum -- for just $7 each,” she adds.
Other museums offering free events include Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturdays, featuring live performances, lectures and dancing and the Rubin Museum of Art’s Free Admission Friday Nights, when live jazz, Asian tapas and cabaret cinema can be enjoyed for a small fee.
- Party at Home
“Why try to find a party when the party can come to you?” asks Green. “Whiskey Tango Living Room Tour is a comedy troupe, touring across NYC, from living room to living room. Email them and they'll come to your apartment, bearing a built-in night of entertainment, a killer comedy lineup and a professional photographer, as well as a Bushmills Irish Whiskey-serving bartender to boot, all for free! All you have to do is invite your friends,” she says.
- Take a Cruise, New York Style
Statue of Liberty Cruises leave from lower Manhattan and New Jersey. Tickets can be purchased in advance and include entry into Lady Liberty. Explore the site’s history and enjoy panoramic views of New York Harbor and the New York City skyline. If you’re feeling spontaneous, you can still take to the open seas and view Lady Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry.
“Grab a dirty water dog [a pushcart hotdog] and board the boat in Lower Manhattan, taking in the scenery and local atmosphere,” says Kaler. “While on Staten Island, walk around the charming neighborhood of St. George and visit Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden,” she suggests.
- Take the High Road
“Walking the High Line through Chelsea is totally free and very romantic,” says Kaler. Built along an elevated, historic freight rail line suspended above Manhattan’s West Side, the High Line is a unique public park featuring star gazing, tours and exhibits.
- Visit Coney Island
If Major League Baseball tickets are too expensive, hoof it over to Coney Island for a Cyclones game during minor league season, complete with fireworks on Friday nights. Can’t wait for the games to begin? Coney Island has attractions, rides and arcades, plus the heart-pounding, high speed, 80-ft. tall, wooden roller coaster. Don’t forget to visit the walruses, sea otters and penguins at Brooklyn’s New York Aquarium, stroll the legendary boardwalk or grab a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.
- Make Pretty
If the memory of the infamous potter’s wheel scene in “Ghost” still makes your pulse race, plan a date at a ceramics studio like La Mano Pottery in Chelsea. Intro workshops are taught by expert instructors and last up to five hours for $75, all materials included.
Kensington Stables in Brooklyn offers one-hour guided trail rides along Prospect Park’s storied nature trails for $37 per person. Advanced reservations are required. If you haven’t soaked in enough of the natural landscape, stay in the park and take a paddle boat ride, or have a picnic on the Long Meadow.
Some restaurants throughout the city keep costs down by letting patrons bring their own adult beverages. Kaler’s favorites include Nook, La Sirene and Tartine. She also suggests checking the Open Table byob list for restaurants that waive their cork fees Sunday through Thursday.
New York on a shoe-string may be playful, adventurous, romantic and fascinating, but never boring. Hire a sitter, grab your honey and explore what the city that never sleeps has to offer.
Corey Whelan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work can be found here.