Valentine's day makes all this even worse, as every restaurant or other venue charges an arm and a leg just so you can fulfill your romantic obligations (let's not even talk about the price of low quality roses on February 14). Yet there are always better and cheaper alternatives for a cheap date on any day of the year.
Parks during the day
Grab a picnic blanket, a basket of food and head to a park. It can't get more romantic (or cheap) than that. There are many parks around Brisbane to choose from, but the most romantic have water, flowers and quiet little areas to sit.
New Farm park is by the water and is famous for their rose garden. Personally I think the roses are overrated and the park is open and better for groups. However there are barbecue areas and you can travel there romantically on the ferry. Leaving after dinner in the park, while cruising up the Brisbane river with the sun setting and city lights coming on is very romantic.
Another great romantic option is the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Don't confuse this with the City Botanic Gardens which is in the city, this one is up at Mt Coot-tha. These gardens have several ponds, a range of exotic flowers and a cafe that over looks the gardens if you don't feel like preparing any food. This is a lovely place to wander around and it is fairly easy to find a nice secluded spot. The most romantic spots are by the water near the cafe, up the hill where you have the viewing platform with views of the city or the native flower Garden. You can also walk over the hill to the back garden which also has a small lake. The downside is that it only stays open during the day.
The viewing platform in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens has great views of Brisbane and picnic tables
My preferred option is the Roma Street Parklands. This park has numerous little alcoves and several flower gardens, the best being the Spectacle Garden. The main barbecue and picnic area is the Lakeside Barbecues that are behind the artificial waterfall and in front of the lake, underneath the Frangipani trees. However you can find several other small barbecue areas around the parklands and of course many places to enjoy a picnic.
Flowers and city views at the Roma Street Parklands
A date in a park might not seem too romantic as at night parks are both dark and scary, but there are numerous night time outdoor options, especially when the sun is setting. Here we talking about a place with good lighting and great night views.
For many people the obvious seems to be South Bank. This well lit space always has people around. You can actually find quiet location, either on the grass near Victoria Bridge or at the green down the other end. While the views are good and there are barbecues, the beach for swimming, places to buy takeaway, the main drawback is the sheer number of people here. This is more of a place to sit and be romantic after a date, and not a date in itself.
My preferred option is Kangaroo Point. The cliffs have the best view of Brisbane and there are barbecues and picnic areas. But if you go down beside the river you have similar views and quiet places to sit as well.
The view of Brisbane from the Kangaroo Point Cliffs at night
Let's not forget the Roma Street Parklands. At night the parklands remain lit and create a very romantic location. The waterfall lights up in various colours. While the park is quiet, in the early evening there are plenty of people around exercising, walking their dogs or barbecuing.
The waterfall at the Roma Street Parklands is lit at night
It doesn't take that much imagination to eat at the most expensive restaurant in town, but if you can't afford that, then you want to find some sort of special or unusual food. You know that the other person is really into you when they are prepared to try new things. When they feel negative or defensive towards you, then they prefer the familiar.
The bar for unusual foods is always moving. For example, Japanese food is very common now, but instead of eating sushi, you can order a lot of the little snacks. I particularly like the famous Osaka street foods, such as Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. You can find these at nearly any sushi restaurant (if it is a sushi train, simply order from the menu, rather than the train). Another fun Japanese option is Mos Burger for Japanese style hamburgers which you can eat while sitting at a Japanese style table upstairs.
Korean food is another fun food to eat together. Two of the best Korean foods to try and Bibimbap (mixed rice bowl) and barbecue. There are many Korean restaurants around town, but the best option is to head to Korea town in Elizabeth Street in the city. Madtongsan is the best for Bibimbap, but you you may need to go around the corner or over to Charlotte Street for good barbecue.
Another option that might not be for everyone is African Food. There are several African restaurants in Moorooka. Made in Africa and Yeshi Buna both do Ethiopian food, while Cush does Sudanese food. All these restaurants do share platters so you can enjoy a sampling of food. To be authentic you should eat only with your right hand using the injera bread to pick up the food. You may way to try Gursha, where you take some food and put it into your friends mouth as a sign of love and respect (if it is a first date, make a judgement call on whether that is appropriate).
Brisbane has quite a lot of free entertainment and events around and these often make for great free dates. Finding out when various events on is not always easy, but keep watching Weekend Notes for updates on events. It is also good to look at the Brisbane City Council website to see what events are being organised, hosted or supported by the Brisbane City Council.
Some of my favourite events are free concerts and music at South Bank, Latin Dance classes held in various locations around Brisbane and of course movies in the park. Pop up events can get fun as well, often combining food, markets and entertainment. Once again keep your eyes on Weekend Notes
Most markets open in the morning and if you are lucky they close by midday, if not early. But they are great for a breakfast or brunch date. One of my favourites for breakfast is the Northey Street City Farm Organic Markets on Sundays. There are lots of places for food at the market, but I prefer to go to the cafe. For Brunch I am thinking Eagle Farm Markets on Sundays that are located in the historic Eagle Farm Raceway. They close at 12:30 so you have time for a late brunch or early lunch. Because they charge a $2 entry fee, it is never overly crowded.
For lunch the markets that spring to mind are the Davies Park Markets in West End on Sundays 6 am to 2 pm. Not necessarily the most pleasant of markets because it lacks an open plan and is really just one long street of stalls, it still has great food and you can take the food and sit on the grass under a tree while listening to music.
Entertainment under a tree at the Davies Park Market in West End
There are two main markets for dinner. They are The Boundary Street Markets and The Eat Street Markets on Friday and Saturday nights. The Eat Street Markets has done a lot more work to promote themselves, but really they are the new player in town and most people feel a little disappointed with the over priced food selections. However they now have drive in and walk in movies. Boundary Street has an amazing selection of great food, entertainment in the markets followed by free entertainment in the Motor Room Bar (you can also hear the music from the markets).
Boundary Street Markets in West End has amazing food and great entertainment
Another way to have a great cheap date is to find something fun to do. There are plenty of free fun activities such as the monthly Giant Games in King George Square (they also turn up in other locations at different times).
There are also plenty of cheap date activities such as Bowling and Karaoke. These are usually more fun or cheaper in larger groups, so it can be a great way for several couples to go out together. However look for various deals. Strike Bowling has deals that include drinks, bowling, karaoke and laser tag as part of a single value for money deal. You will also find meal and bowling deals at pretty much every bowling alley around Brisbane during off peak times (weeknights or later at night).
Look for bowling deals that include food, drink and other activities for a cheap date
Another fun activity is drive in movies. There are currently 3 drive in movie theatres in the Brisbane area. The latest is the Eat Street Markets on Friday and Saturday nights. The Tivoli has twilight market followed by the Drive in on Saturday evenings, while Yatala now operates 7 nights a week.
I prefer the giant Chinese checkers and giant jenga (though it is not as big as I would hope). They also have a giant majong but they don't put it out anymore because no one would play it. But if you call them beforehand and assure them you are bringing friends who can play majong, they will put it out for you.