7 NYC Date Ideas That Are Free (or Almost)

By Laura McMullen Personal Finance NerdWallet.com

As expensive as New York is — but Mom, I split that rent with five roommates! — it’s also full of cheap, fun date activities. Here are seven of our favorites.

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Get some fresh air

1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. This ferry trip is about as cheap and easy to plan as a date can get.

Board at Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan, where free ferries depart for Staten Island about every 30 minutes, depending on the day and time. Then enjoy the 25-minute ride, which treats you and your date to a close-up of the Statue of Liberty. “It’s very romantic,” says Rebecca Fishbein, born-and-raised New Yorker and editor at Gothamist.

You’ll find more date opportunities at St. George Terminal in Staten Island, including the National Lighthouse Museum ($5 admission), a brewery and restaurants.

Hop back on the ferry to take in gorgeous views of Manhattan. If the date has petered out by then, at least you’ve come away with some impressive Instagram posts.

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2. Cross a bridge. Make a date of strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge or the Williamsburg Bridge, Fishbein says. The walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is just more than a mile long and offers views of Lower Manhattan on one side and the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn on the other. The bridge itself is iconic, as well as a National Historic Landmark, designated by the National Park Service.

As popular as the Brooklyn Bridge is, Fishbein prefers the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects its namesake Brooklyn neighborhood to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Its views aren’t quite on par with those of the Brooklyn Bridge, she says, but you’ll encounter fewer tourists. The beauty of both bridges? They’re free to walk.

3. Walk the High Line. This elevated park on the West Side of Manhattan also has interesting city views, says John McDonagh, a New York City taxi driver of 35 years and creator of the one-man play “Yo, Taxi!” The High Line was built atop a converted railroad line and is free for you and a date to enjoy.

Take in some culture

4. Go gallery hopping. On Thursday nights, many art galleries in Chelsea offer free admission and, in some cases, free wine, Fishbein says. Without spending a dime, “you can seem very cool and cultural,” she adds.

5. Explore a museum. Several New York museums waive admission on certain nights, too. The Museum of Modern Art is free every Friday evening, and the Frick Collection is free on the first Friday of most months. Across the river, the Brooklyn Museum has free admission on the first Saturday evenings of most months. See this guide for more information on free or donation-based museum experiences.

Fill up

6. Split a sandwich at Katz’s Deli. McDonagh dubs this spot “the last Jewish deli from the old days.” The family joint on the Lower East Side has been in business since 1888, and while it has attracted plenty of fans in that time, it remains “old school,” McDonagh says. “It might be touristy, but they don’t cater to the tourists,” he adds.

McDonagh suggests splitting a pastrami-on-rye sandwich, which will set you back about $21 but is enough to “feed a family of four.” And what’s more romantic than sharing some smoked meat? Call ahead to request the table where Meg Ryan faked a really, really good time in “When Harry Met Sally.” (This scene could be a bold conversation starter with your date.)

7. Grab a hot dog. Rudy’s Bar & Grill is a “cheap, fun date,” Fishbein says. The Hell’s Kitchen dive sells beers ranging from $3 to $6, as well as a $5 shot-and-a-beer “stimulus package.”

Rudy’s also offers a free hot dog with every drink purchase — perfect for pacing yourself.

Nerdy insight

Jumping on a free ferry rather than shelling out for dinner and drinks could easily save you $50, if not more. Feels good, right?

Keep it up. Try other ways of saving money, so you afford a pricier date now and then — or rent. Use coupons and loyalty programs to cut costs on groceries. Negotiate bills or change your plan to save on your cable, internet, cell phone, utilities and even student loans.

Perhaps the easiest way to save — aside from earning a free hot dog — is using an app that automates your savings, so you don’t even have to think about it. Here’s everything you should know about these saving strategies.

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