12 No-Spend Date Ideas That Are Just As Romantic as They Are Fun

written by TWYLA ADKINS
free date ideas"
free date ideas
Source: @pavel-danilyuk | Pexels
Source: @pavel-danilyuk | Pexels

Some of the best dates with my husband have been at little to no cost: when we walked around a flea market, sat on a tennis court to watch fireworks, or laid on a dock overlooking the lake at night. We had fun, enjoyed each other’s company, and had real conversations about our future together. And we did it all without spending a dime. Especially these days (you know, because costs are increasing everywhere you go at an ungodly rate), finding things we can do together without ending the night with a large bar tab is more important than ever.

When we started to prioritize free date ideas, my husband and I quickly realized how many fun things we could do that didn’t come at a cost. (What’s more romantic than saving money while falling in love, right?). Almost 10 years later, the free date ideas we’ve tried are some of our favorites to this day. So, if you’re looking for free date ideas that make for a fun and romantic night, I’ve got some great ideas for you.

1. Go on a scavenger hunt

When my husband first told me that one of his free date ideas was doing a scavenger hunt, I was skeptical. Shockingly, it ended up being one of the most fun dates we’ve ever had. Find a pre-made scavenger list online or create a list of clues for each other that describe the next item you are searching for. These ultimately lead to the “treasure.” It’s completely customizable: You can do it in your apartment or relive your favorite memories around the city. Make it short and simple or turn it into an all-day date. The total cost for you to embrace your inner creative child and bond on a date with your boo: $0. If you’re with a date, working through clues together will bring you two closer. If you’re with a long-term significant other, doing something totally new will help your relationship feel fresh.

2. Learn to make a new meal together

Skip the restaurant and pricey cooking classes and prepare a new meal together at home that neither of you has cooked before. For example, if your favorite restaurant is Italian or sushi, learn how to recreate similar meals from the comfort of your own home. Try a free class on Skillshare, YouTube, or search Pinterest for a recipe with step-by-step directions to follow. Don’t forget to grab some candles to set the table! Trust me, neither of you will miss your go-to restaurant. If you’re both not confident in your cooking skills, DIY a favorite meal from when you were a kid (did someone say mac n’ cheese?). Not only will making a variety of your favorite meals be fun (even if they’re frozen!), but it also could spark some conversations about your childhoods.

3. Hit the library

OK, so this may sound more like a middle school field trip than a date night idea, but hear me out. My first date with my husband was at our local library. We spent the evening roaming aisles to compare reading lists and make suggestions for each other based on our favorite authors. The best part was that we found out we had a lot of the same taste in books, which gave us so much to talk about beyond the typical first-date conversations. Take your date to the local library and pick out books for each other or check ahead to see if there are any scheduled speakers or author readings. Bonus: The hushed tones help take pressure off a first date and can be used to whisper sweet nothings (IDK about you but “this date was totally free” really does it for me).

4. Have a movie roulette night

Between all the streaming platforms, having unlimited options for movie nights is great. But with all the options, searching for a movie to stream can be overwhelming; you might even spend half of your date deciding what to watch instead of enjoying a movie. The solution: Instead of scrolling for 30 minutes to find something to watch, make it into a fun game of chance. Use Reelgood, which includes all your different streaming services (for free!), and filter options by genres and ratings so you can “shuffle” your movie options without too much risk for an optimal movie suggestion. For a non-tech version, write down your favorite movies on pieces of paper and pick the winner from a bowl. Because movie night is nothing without snacks, pop some popcorn or make a charcuterie board for a fancier night in.

5. Stargaze

There’s nothing more rom-com cliché than laying under the stars, but it’s romantic AF. Indulge in the free romance that nature has to offer by going to an open park or field (or your own backyard) and having a date night under the stars. Try a free stargazing app to add a layer of fun and turn it into a game to find certain stars, planets, or constellations. You don’t need to spend anything to go stargazing (a bottle of wine is optional), and you’ll both feel like you’re in your own little world. If it’s a cloudy or cold night, try the local planetarium instead on one of its free admission days.

6. Go see a local show

One of my favorite memories is laying on a blanket in the park with my husband and watching local actors put on Romeo and Juliet. TBH, I had never been to a Shakespeare play (let alone one at the local park!), but my husband sold me on it with three things: the romantic setting of the park, a cheese plate, and the two of us getting cozy on the blanket. To recreate for yourself, look for free local events at parks on your city’s website. Maybe you’ll discover a band or show you’re both unfamiliar with or enjoy something that you already love. You could also pack a picnic basket to make it a dinner and a show under the stars as the sun sets. This is one of those free date ideas that is way more fun and more unique than any restaurant date you could go on. 

7. Take a hike or romantic walk

Feeling adventurous? Lace-up your sneakers and fill up your water bottle for a hike to get outside and sightsee together. Prefer a shorter time commitment (and less rigorous exercise)? Walk around a new neighborhood or nearby park to explore somewhere new. You can also visit your local city’s tourism website or try GPS MyCity to go on a guided walking tour (being a tourist in your own city is always fun!). Besides getting the opportunity to hold hands with your boo, walks can be romantic year-round because of the views. In the spring and summer, head to the community gardens to enjoy blooming flowers. In the fall, take in the changing leaves, and in the winter, grab a cup of hot cocoa to-go and check out the holiday lights. 

8. Go camping (on your own terms)

Camping trips are not created equal. For example, my husband is all about roughing it in the wilderness and putting his Boy Scout patches to good use. I, on the other hand, am not about that life. I much prefer glamping. The good news is that you can choose your own adventure. Are you both excited about spending an evening in nature? Pack enough supplies (don’t forget the s’mores!) to spend a night under the stars. If you’re more like me, camp in your own backyard with your warmest pajamas, throw blankets, and maybe a bottle of wine (and go back indoors when you’re over it!). If all else fails, build a blanket fort in your living room (trust me, you are never too old for a blanket fort), and use lighting and pillows to make it more romantic. Microwaved s’mores are just as gooey and delicious. 

Tap into your artistic side for an afternoon of culture and check out your local museum or art gallery for free admission days as one of your free date ideas. Bonus: You’ll never run out of things to talk about. Roam the galleries hand-in-hand and point out your favorite pieces to each other or share interesting facts you learned. You can learn a lot about someone from the way that they experience a museum. Pay attention to what piques their interest or how they act about what’s interesting to you. If you head to an art gallery, their art preferences can say a lot about them too. (Do they love the Renaissance style and are fascinated by history, or do they prefer cubism and have an edgier side?) You’ll connect over learning new things, have fun experiencing something new, and will feel less pressure than sitting at a fancy dinner. 

10. Have a spa day at home

Dare I say this is one of my favorite free date ideas? There’s no need to spend $$$ on a couple’s massage! You can break out the plush robes and pamper yourselves at home. A soothing self-care date is a perfect way to wind down after a long day or week. We usually start at-home spa dates with a face mask that we’ll leave on while we read, watch an episode of our favorite show, or just talk. Next up: Take turns giving each other a massage. For an extra romantic step, take a bath together and warm your towels in the dryer for that special spa feeling. Diffuse lavender oil or light a scented candle to set the atmosphere and turn your phones on silent. As a result, you’ll both feel relaxed, and your skin will thank you with that post-spa day glow. 

11. Enjoy breakfast in bed

Instead of making dinner plans for later in the evening, why not start your day off with a romantic date at home? Breakfast in bed sets the mood for the day in the best possible way. Head to the kitchen and whip up something delicious to take back to bed with you. My husband and I like to make it special by finding a tray around the house and some flowers from our yard. We stay in the moment by turning off our phones, talking, reading the newspaper together, or watching TV. This is the perfect time to reconnect with each other after a busy week. Stay under the covers as long as possible and veg out on a cooking show like the Great British Bake Off. Clothing may be optional, but savoring time together is mandatory.

12. Have a game night

Tap into your playful (or competitive) side and host your own game night. Depending on your style, playing games together might mean strengthening your bond and laughing way too hard, or it might mean some friendly (and hot!) competition to spark some banter between you two. If you have a deck of cards laying around the house, even a basic card game can make a date night more fun (double points if it’s strip poker), or pull out all of your two-player board games for a marathon that will determine who is the ultimate winner. Even if you don’t have any cards or games, you can play Charades or a DIY version of Pictionary and take turns guessing. Game night not your thing? Try Two Truths and a Lie, Never Have I Ever, or Truth or Dare to get to know each other better and explore your daring side.