50 Charlotte date night ideas that clock in at $20 and under

50 Charlotte date night ideas that clock in at $20 and under
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Because who says pouring your heart out has to mean emptying your bank account?

No dumb stuffed animals, cheesy jewelry or pricey candlelit dinner happening this year.

Lose the pressure this Valentine’s Day and plan a romantic date that’s equal parts fun and inexpensive.

With a whopping list of 50 date ideas under $20, you’ll be set for the whole year.

Take a self-guided tour of Charlotte’s street murals

From NoDa to South End, there are a ton of cool street murals all over the city. In fact, there are over 60. Go out and explore them all.


Details: See our guide to 60+ murals here.
Cost: Free
Great for: Exploring a variety of neighborhoods, seeing art and taking cute pictures together

Binge all the movies filmed in Charlotte

Who doesn’t love a good movie marathon? Get out the popcorn, put on some comfortable clothes and uncork a bottle of wine. Bonus points for all the Charlotte places you can spot.

Titles include:

  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
  • The Hunger Games
  • Leatherheads
  • Shallow Hal

Cost: Free
Great for: When it’s too cold to leave the house.
Bonus stop: If you do feel like getting out of the house, explore some of the local places used as filming locations in the movies.

Hit up Orrman’s Cheese Shop for Raclette Night

What better way to cozy up on a winter date night than with a plate of bubbly, hot melted cheese. Orrman’s raclette is a wheel of semi-hard cheese that’s fired under a broiler and scraped onto a plate of roasted potatoes, bread and meat aka heaven. They only do it on Thursdays.

Details: 224 E. 7th Street, Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Here’s how it works.
Cost: $10 for a standard plate or $13 to add meat.
Great for: A unique, shareable food experience. Also melted cheese. Enough said.

Do a walking tour of Fourth Ward

Stroll through one of the city’s most charming historic neighborhoods and gawk at the beautiful Victorian homes. Take your pick of which one you’d want to live in. You can dream, right?

The tour: Friends of Fourth Ward have created a walking tour through the enchanting neighborhood. Details.
Cost: Free
Great for: Uptown views and Charlotte history.
Bonus stop: Grab a drink at Alexander Michael’s after your tour.

Tour wineries within driving distance of Charlotte

Get out of town for the day and try out some of our region’s best wines. If you really want points from your significant other, you’ll be the designated driver. That’s true love.

The details: There are six wineries within an hour of Uptown, and most tastings are under $10 and include a complimentary glass. See the full list here.
Cost: Starts at $8
Great for: Day trips and couples who love wine.

Share some laughs at Comedy Zone’s Open Mic Night

Comedy shows are always a fun date night activity. See some of Charlotte’s budding comedians at Comedy Zone’s Open Mic Night. The performances are usually pretty funny and way less expensive than see a big headlining comedian.

Details: Shows are typically on Tuesday nights. Check the schedule here.
Cost: Tickets are $10 in advance
Great for: Those long work days when you could both use a good laugh.

Eat as much sushi as you can handle

Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge and Ru San’s both offer all-you-can-eat lunch buffets that offer major bang for your buck. If you can’t eat yourselves into food comas together, is it really love?

The details: Pisces’ buffet is $11 and offered from Monday through Sunday. Ru San’s buffet is $11.75 and offered Monday-Saturday.
Cost: $11-$11.75 (this one is still under $20 if you go dutch)

Explore a new cycling route every week on the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride

The ride includes a stop at a different watering hole each week. If you don’t already have a bike, snag a Lime Bike for a couple bucks.

The details: Every Tuesday night at 8 p.m., a group of riders leaves Common Market Plaza Midwood for a casual 10- to 15-mile ride through the city. Details.
Cost: Free
Great for: Couples who love to explore.
Bonus stop: Hang out for a round of beers at Legion Brewing after the ride.

Go on a neighborhood art gallery crawl

Have a refined evening of art and culture without spending a dime. South End offers a gallery crawl every month for free. 

The details: The crawl happens on the first Friday of every month with stops including C3 Lab: Gallery Space and Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. Details.
Cost: Free
Great for: Artsy couples or couples who want to seem artsy.
Bonus stop: Start at Sycamore for cheap bites at Food Truck Friday.

See an IMAX movie at Discovery Place

Seeing a movie in IMAX format is already an experience in itself, but Discovery Place has The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome, which just ups the ante. The domed screen is three-stories tall.

What to watch: Wild Africa is one of the movies showing right now. Seeing all those antelopes on the big screen will make you feel like you’re IN The Lion King. Check available movies here.
Cost: $10
Great for: An immersive movie-going experience.

Eat at one of the city’s legendary food joints

The options are endless: Mr. K’s, Price’s Chicken Coop, Zack’s Hamburgers, Brook’s Sandwich House are just a few. These spots will give you quality, delicious food at a steal.

The food: For fried chicken, hit up Price’s. For burgers, either Zack’s or Brook’s. And finish off at Mr. K’s for dessert.
Cost: Starting at $2.25
Great for: When you’re both craving comfort food.

Mr. K’s

Nerd out over retro video games

Nothing says love like PAC-MAN and Mortal Kombat. Palmer Street Game Bar and Abari both offer retro arcade games, perfect for a throwback night out.

The details: Both bars have some free games or you can cash out a few bucks to play pinball. Spend the rest of your cash on beer and food.
Cost: Free or a few dollars worth of quarters.
Great for: When you want to feel like kids again.

palmer street game bar

Sweat together at a free workout

There’s no shortage of free or super inexpensive workouts at breweries around town that come in the form of run clubs, bike clubs and yoga classes. 

Workouts: Free Range Brewing offers free yoga every Thursday at 6:30pm, Triple C hosts run club every Thursday at 6:30pm and Sugar Creek Brewing offers CrossFit every Wednesday at 6pm.
Cost: Free to $10
Great for: Couples who like to stay fit.

[Related story: Get fit, get a drink and get social: A guide to 25 brewery fitness classes, sorted by activity and day]

Go on a day hike

There are 22 trails within 90 minutes of Charlotte, which means you have no reason to keep those sneakers in the closet. 

Trails: From Crowder’s Mountain to the trails at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, check out all the closest hiking spots here.
Cost: Free
Great for: Couples who love to explore.

Catch an improv show at Charlotte Comedy Theater

Charlotte Comedy Theater puts on regular improv shows that are as affordable as they are entertaining. The best part about it? You’ll never know what to expect.

Details: 900 North Carolina Music Factory Blvd. See upcoming shows here.
Cost: Tickets are typically $10
Great for: An adventurous night out.

Go on a scavenger hunt of Uptown’s public art

Uptown is filled will cool public art, like this iconic Firebird statue. A fun, cheap way to see the city. Plus, you can channel your inner Nicolas Cage a la National Treasure. 

The details: Seventeen clues at seventeen stops. Good luck. Get the game here.
Cost: Free
Great for: Anyone who likes the thrill of the hunt.


Go to a $3 movie (seriously)

Head up to Matthews’ Cinemark Movies 10, where weeknight movies are a steal. They usually show movies that has already been in theaters for awhile so it’s a great place to catch something you missed.

Currently showing: A Star is Born, The Grinch, Holmes & Watson, and Mary Queen of Scots.
Cost: $3
Great for: Movie lovers who don’t want to pay full price for a flick.

Eat your way through Charlotte’s 50 Best Cheap Eats

Everything in our guide to 50 must-try Charlotte cheap eats is under $10, including cheesesteak at Clover Joe’s, grilled cheese at Papi Queso, lunch specials at Miguel’s, Supreme nachos at Sabor and more.

Cost: $10 and under
Great for: When you are tired of cooking at home.

Walk Charlotte’s greenways

Charlotte offers over 42 miles of paved greenway trails, perfecting for walking, running or biking. Little Sugar Creek Greenway is a nice stretch to walk since it runs through Freedom Park. 

Details: See a map and find the closest greenways here.
Cost: Free
Great for: When the weather is too nice to stay inside.

Celebrate Taco Tuesday with $1 tacos at Sabor

Hit up Taco Tuesday at Sabor. Each one will run you just a dollar, which leaves you with plenty of room for a healthy serving of chips and salsa (free salsa bar, anyone?).

Cost: $1 per taco
Great for: Budget tacos. Duh.


Hunt for antique treasures at Sleepy Poet

You can spend hours wandering the winding aisles of this sprawling 60,000-square-foot antique mall. Plus, they’ve got free popcorn to snack on while you hunt.

Cost: Free
Great for: Couples who want to pretend like they’re in a cute scene from some kind of quirky indie film — or couples who just need some furniture

Flex your golf skills at a nearby driving range

Topgolf is cool and all but the city’s old school driving ranges are much more affordable and offer the same effect – hitting a ball off a tee.  

Ranges: Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course Driving Range ($4-$9), Golf Depot ($6-$15) and the Leatherman Golf Learning Center ($6-$15).
Cost: Starting at $4
Great for: Channeling your inner Rory McIlroy.

[Related: 5 driving ranges to satisfy that Topgolf craving without blowing your savings]

Split a $6 charcuterie or cheese board

That’s right, Craft Tasting Room and Growler shop offers $6 cheese and meat boards every every Wednesday. You’ll still have enough cash for drinks. Plus, they always have those clutch free boiled peanuts.

Details: Go with the cheese board and you’ll get two selections of local cheeses, fruit, nuts and bread. Go with the meat board and you’ll get two selections of cured meat, olives, nuts and bread.
Cost: $6
Great for: When you want a classy, but affordable cheese board.

Hop on a scooter and ride around town

Lime and Bird electric scooters are a casual, playful way to explore the city.

Details: Here’s a step-by-step guide for how the e-scooters work
Cost: $1 base far + $0.15/mile
Great for: When you’re trying to save on gas.

[Related story: I rode a Bird scooter 14 miles in one day. Here’s what I learned]

Learn something new at Science on the Rocks

Themes change monthly, but every third Friday of the month, you’re guaranteed to feel like a kid again while you explore the museum – only this time, you’ll have a beer in your hand.

Details: The event is 5pm-9pm with bars throughout the museum. See the lineup here.
Cost: Tickets are $10
Great for: Nerding out over science.

Embrace your outdoorsy side at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

The 700-acre outdoor recreation center adjacent to the Catawba River is a Charlotte landmark home to whitewater rafting, kayaking, zip-lining, rock climbing and more. Activities cost money but the facility is free to enter. They’ve got miles of walking trails and often feature live music in the warm weather months.

Details: Check out The Agenda Guide to the Whitewater Center
Cost: Parking is $5, admission is free
Great for: Adventurous couples

Learn about Charlotte history with the Liberty Walk

The self-guided tour teaches you about everything from the origins and development of Charlotte to the stories behind the statues all over Uptown.

Details: Get the tour map here.
Cost: Free
Great for: History buffs who like to explore

Enjoy a glass of wine and listen to live jazz

Every Friday and Saturday The Imperial hosts live jazz musicians. There’s no cover so you can spend your $20 on drinks. 

Details: The music starts at 9pm.
Cost: Free
Great for: When you want to get all dressed up.

Grab a slice of pizza at Elizabeth Billiards

Members get free pizza every Friday night at this Plaza Midwood staple. And you can play each other in a competitive game of pool or darts.

Details: 1400 Central Avenue, every Friday night.
Cost: Free
Great for: A low key night out.

Have a picnic in the park

Pack up some sandwiches or a makeshift cheese board and head to one of Charlotte’s many parks for a romantic picnic. Freedom Park, Romare Bearden and First Ward Park are great picnicking parks. 

Where to go: Scout out a nearby park here.
Cost: Free
Great for: Recreating a scene right out of a Nicolas Sparks novel.

Freedom Park Charlotte

Test your knowledge at trivia night

Pick any night and most likely there’s trivia going on at some bar or brewery in the city. Opt for one of the many themed trivia nights or just stick to general knowledge questions.

Trivia spots: Choose out of over 40 trivia nights here.
Cost: Free
Great for: Bonding over your weird knowledge and drinking cheap beer.

Pretend to be sommeliers at a wine tasting

Every third Thursday of the month, South End’s Vin Master offers a mega wine tasting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. You can taste multiple wines for a flat fee. 

Details: Check here for upcoming tastings.
Cost: Prices vary but the mega tastings are usually $15.
Great for: After you’ve watched the Somm documentary on Netflix and want to test your knowledge.

Go listen to live music

From breweries to bars, there’s tons of free live music offered throughout the city. Do a little research ahead of time to find a music genre you both like. 

Cost: Free
Great for: When you don’t want to drop $50+ bucks on concert tickets.

Sip sangria at NoDa Company Store

The casual neighborhood hangout is known for its classic and specialty sangrias, which you can enjoy from the comfort of a porch swing. Bonus: They also celebrate Sunday Funday with FREE lunch while supplies last.

Cost: $7 for sangria
Great for: A casual night out when the weather is great

Get a behind-the-scenes look at your favorite brewery

There are tons of Charlotte breweries that offer free tours. Grab a pint and get a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all made. 

Available tours:

Birdsong Brewing: Tours available upon request. Fill out this form.
D9 Brewing: 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday. Go.
Legion Brewing: 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Go
NoDa Brewing:: 6 p.m. every Friday, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every Saturday, and 3 p.m. every Sunday. Go.
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery: 
2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4 and 4:30 p.m. every Saturday and 2, 3, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Go.
Unknown Brewing: 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday. Go.

Cost: Free
Great for: Seeing how your favorite craft beer is made.

Sing a karaoke duet

There’s no shortage of places to sing karaoke, regardless of what night of the week it is. It’s the perfect excuse to showcase that duet you’ve been practicing in the car. 

Karaoke bars: Check out 8.2.0, Jeff’s Bucket Shop and Seoul Food Meat Co. (Seoul has private rooms if you’re a little shy.)
Cost: Free to $1
Great for: When you’re ready to let loose and sing your favorite songs.

Spend time volunteering with animals

Even if you don’t have pets of your own, you can spend some time with animals together through volunteering. You’ll make some new furry friends and you can feel good about giving back to the community.

Places to volunteer: Check out 12 places you can volunteer with animals here.
Cost: Free
Great for: When you’ve both got puppy fever but don’t have time for own of your own.

Check out the exhibits at The Light Factory

The Light Factory in Plaza Midwood always has cool exhibits to check out and it’s free to visit. Past exhibits have included Of Women By Women, Heightened Perspectives and Lilith.

Current exhibit: Voices from the Photo League is showing from now until March 15. The Photo League (1936–1951) was a cooperative in New York City run by amateur and professional photographers.
Cost: Free
Great for: Seeing awesome photography.

Head to the beach

You don’t need a boat to enjoy a day at the lake. Just head to one of the public parks with lake access.

Details: Lake Norman State Park and Ramsey Creek Park both offer public beach access for $5. See our ultimate guide to beaches, water activities and lakeside restaurants on Lake Wylie and Lake Norman.
Cost: $5
Great for: Easy summer fun

Celebrate Margarita Monday with $5 drinks at RuRu’s

Don’t save all your dates for the weekend, especially when you can get $5 Friend Zone and Magic Mike margaritas every Monday at RuRu’s. Grab a seat on the patio when it’s nice out.

Cost: $5
Great for: Kicking the week off on a high note


Take the dogs to the park (or bar)

Let your furry friends come along on your date. There are 6 off-leash dog parks in the area or you can go to one of the area’s dog friendly bars to let your pooches play while you sit back and enjoy the day.

Dog friendly spots: Lucky Dog Bark & Brew in Wesley Heights or Dog Bar in NoDa both allow dogs and drinking. Or you can choose from one of Charlotte’s off-leash dog parks here.
Cost: Free
Great for: A laid back doggy date.

Pan for gold at Reed Gold Mine

Reed Gold Mine was the first documented gold mine in America until 1848. You can tour it for free or pay $3 to try your hand at gold panning. 

Details: 9621 Reed Mine Rd., Midland, NC. Open from Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Free
Great for: Seeing a piece of NC history and maybe taking a piece of it home with you?

Tour the Mint Museum

The Mint Museum is a perfect date spot and every Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m., tours of both locations (Randolph and Uptown) are free. You can peruse their permanent collections and check out new exhibits. 

Current exhibitions: Michael Sherrill Retrospective and African-Print Fashion Now! A Story Of Taste, Globalization, And Style. More details here.
Cost: Free
Great for: An artsy night at the museum.

Mint Museum

Visit the Charlotte Museum of History

Did you know we had one? Find it, along with exhibitions like Charlotte’s Road to Revolution, Solving the Rock House Mysteries, and Charlotte Neighborhoods, on Shamrock Drive.

Details: The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $10
Great for: Stepping into Charlotte’s past.

Drink Transfusions at Selwyn Pub

The basic country club cocktail has been locked in at a budget-friendly five bucks since the bar opened in 1990. The classic is made with vodka, ginger ale and a splash of grape juice, but they’ve rolled out an extensive menu with new flavors as well as “skinny” and non-alcoholic versions.

Cost: $5
Great for: Casual day drinking

Volunteer in the community together

Ditch the dinner and drinks, and give back to the community. From trail building to riding bikes with underserved children, there are tons of opportunities to volunteer all around the city.

Volunteer opportunities: Pick from 10 unique volunteer ideas here. Or pick a cause you both really care about and find a local organization to work with.
Cost: Free
Great for: Connecting to the community.

Pick up popsicles

Relive your childhood with grown-up gourmet versions of your favorite frozen treats at Popbar and King of Pops. You can customize your Popbar gelato pop with chocolate drizzle and assorted toppings.

Cost: Under $5
Great for: A casual sweet treat

Watch planes take off at the airport overlook

Call me crazy but there’s something mesmerizing about watching planes take off and land. It’s kid-heavy during the day, but get there a little later to avoid the little ones. Grab some milkshakes ahead of time and make guesses where each plane is going to.

Details: 6499 Old Dowd Road, open until 10:30 p.m. seven days a week.
Cost: Free
Great for: When you want to do something out of the box.

Take a stroll down Charlotte’s Rail Trail

The Rail Trail is always bustling with activity so it’s great for people watching. You can check out cool public art along the way and on Friday nights you can grab a bite at Food Truck Friday. 

Cost: Free
Great for: When the weather is nice and you feel like seeing where the night takes you.
Bonus stop: Hit up Jeni’s for some ice cream after your walk.

[Related: 15 stops along the Charlotte Rail Trail and 3 sample itineraries to explore]

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