With the cost of dining out rising as quickly as our tuition, planning a romantic date on a limited budget may seem difficult as Valentine’s Day approaches. But don’t fret! From stargazing to taking a stroll through a park, we have compiled a list of inexpensive date ideas that will not break the bank while also giving a romantic touch to your day. 

Whether you are a student on a tight budget or simply prefer a more intimate and creative approach to celebrating love, these affordable options provide the ideal balance of charm and cost-effectiveness, allowing you and your significant other to enjoy romantic moments without going over your budget.

Indoor options: Museums, a tour, and one out-of-the-box date idea

You can indulge in a more sophisticated date, exploring art and history, by visiting one of Toronto’s museums or galleries for free. For instance, you can take your significant other to the Art Gallery of Ontario — permanent collections and special exhibitions are free for those aged between 14–25 years old with the free annual pass. Even without a pass, the permanent collection is free for everyone to browse from 6:00–9:00 pm on Wednesdays. 

The Royal Ontario Museum is another option that provides free admission for students on Tuesdays. Alternatively, the GTA has numerous smaller galleries open to the public daily, such as the Art Gallery of Mississauga and the Taglialatella Gallery in Yorkville, which exhibit modern and bold contemporary art.

Discover the mysteries of the cosmos with the free Astronomy Public Tours led by U of T graduate students in Room 102 at the McLennan Physical Laboratories. These events take place on the first Thursday of most months and include a 45-minute presentation on an astronomy topic, a telescope viewing in the observatory, and interactive tools like Virtual Reality headsets and 3D-printed models. With no registration required, this is a perfect stop for a spontaneous activity in the evening that starts at 8:00 pm.

If you have seen the movie 500 Days of Summer, you know that an ordinary shopping trip to IKEA can be transformed into an entertaining and unique date. There are IKEA locations in Etobicoke, North York, in downtown Toronto’s College Park, and at Scarborough Town Centre. With your partner, you can weave through the aisles of home goods, peruse showrooms, and find reasonably priced home furnishings while role-playing adults who make financially responsible decisions. Or, you can share a plate of eight-piece Swedish Meatballs for $8.99 — or plant-based meatballs for $7.99 — at their bistro. Discuss your shared tastes and aesthetics by discovering common ground or charming differences that add, perhaps, a colourful touch to the tapestry of your relationship.

Outdoor and scenic options: Skates, treats, pictures, and a zoo

You can skate hand-in-hand under a blanket of stars along the figure-eight-shaped loop at The Bentway’s skate trail, all without spending a dime if you have your own skates. As the car lights shine overhead on the Gardiner Expressway, The Bentway transforms into a winter wonderland, offering couples a picturesque setting as they glide gently across the ice. This shared adventure provides a unique background for your free-spirited skate from 5:00–9:00 pm on weekdays and 12:00–9:00 pm on weekends.

Alternatively, you can begin your date outdoors with a leisurely stroll through Trinity Bellwoods Park, where the canopy of trees and open spaces create the ideal setting for a romantic rendezvous. Spread out a blanket, have a picnic, or simply enjoy each other’s company as you take in the natural beauty of this urban oasis. Walk through the park and you venture into Ossington, where you will find a treasure trove of quaint cafés such as 135 Ossington, Forget Me Not Coffee, and Found Coffee Roasters. 

Sign at Trinity Bellwoods park.
Romance your date without breaking the bank this Valentine’s day. COURTESY OF LIONEL ALLORGE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

If you want to preserve a memory of your day, head to the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West, where they have a photo booth to help capture your happy and intimate moments. For only five dollars — as of last August, at least — you can get two strips of photos and a tangible memento of your cozy and romantic day out.

You can also visit the Scarborough Bluffs, a breathtaking natural hideaway with various activities easily accessible by public transportation. This series of towering cliffs offers breathtaking and panoramic views of Lake Ontario. The trail is approximately 6.4 kilometres long and has an elevation gain of 131 feet, with a hiking path meandering through greenery and wooded areas surrounding the bluffs. Bluffers Park is a must-see spot along the trail, where you can walk from the top of the main viewpoint back down to the parking lot and then to the beach on the right side.

For one last dreamy date idea, pack some food and a cozy blanket and head to High Park for an easy — and affordable — way to spend a sunny day. A scenic stroll through the park lets you enjoy the expansive green spaces and positive vibes of one of Toronto’s most iconic hangout spots. The High Park Zoo is a free and enjoyable way to break up the day. It features bison, deer, llamas, peacocks, and other animals. Finish your leisurely day with hot chocolates at the Grenadier Cafe, as its comfortable setting and breathtaking views make it an ideal place to relax and unwind before returning home.