NYC stoop wedding elopement with vintage dress and rainbow floral installation
couple along the central park lake at fall elopement

How to elope in NYC

From Central Park to city hall, read on for everything you need to know!

Katie and Josh at the Manhattan marriage bureau after their city hall elopement in NYC

As of June 2021, the Manhattan marriage bureau (city hall) is still closed to the public. I can't imagine they'll plan to re-open until many, many New Yorkers have been vaccinated and virus rates are down in the community; this could be later in 2021, but there are no guarantees. A lot of the things that made city hall weddings so much fun to shoot pre-pandemic—the crowds, the indoor people-watching, waiting shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other couples—are unfortunately not safe or feasible right now. As soon as there's news, I'll update it here—and will be shouting from the rooftops! Until then, let's get creative! New York City is full of parks, rooftops, hotels, restaurants, stoops, and more beautiful backdrops for your elopement or microwedding.

You'll need a marriage license, an officiant, and a location. And me! I've worked with so many couples on their elopements that no matter what stage of planning you're at, I'm here to help and share all my tips and tricks.

WHAT'S UP WITH CITY HALL?

NYC elopement couple at virtual wedding

Getting a New York

marriage license

To get married in New York, you need to have a marriage license issued at least 24 hours prior to your wedding. Pre-pandemic, you'd go to the city clerk's office to get your marriage license in Manhattan. Now, the marriage bureau has launched Project Cupid to issue marriage licenses virtually. They release new appointments every Thursday morning at 9am; try to plan ahead, those appointments will generally be for 3 to 4 weeks in the future. If you don't succeed in scoring an appointment by checking Thursday morning, keep an eye out throughout the week; they have cancellations and open up new spots as those occur.

Note that according to the City Clerk's website, "couples must be physically located in New York State during the videoconference in order to be issued a marriage license." So keep that in mind when you're planning!

If you're having trouble getting an appointment via Project Cupid, there may be courthouses outside of NYC that have in-person options available, like the town of Hempstead in Long Island that offers curbside marriage license appointment (click here for more info), or New Paltz's own Zoom appointments (click here).

Once you have your marriage license and the 24-hour waiting period has passed, it must be used within 60 days or it'll expire, so make sure your elopement date is within the 60-day window of your license appointment!

PROJECT CUPID

CITY CLERK: MARRIAGE LICENSE INFO

Two brides near Belvedere Castle in Central Park after their New York elopement

Location, location, location

Choosing your ceremony spot and officiant

Here's the fun part: the city is your oyster! Below are a few ideas/starting spots:

• Restaurants are often open to renting out private rooms or terraces for city weddings

• If you're from out of town (or not!), think about staying in a hotel with a balcony/terrace you can use

• Central Park - it's popular for a reason! There are gorgeous spots throughout the park in all seasons (Bethesda Terrace, Wagner Cove, Ladies Pavilion, the Conservatory Garden, and on and on), and if you want that iconic NYC look, I really recommend considering it. You don't need a permit ($25) for a wedding under 20 people, but sometimes it's helpful to get one even for a true elopement if you want to come as close to reserving a popular park spot as possible!

• Fort Tryon Park - incredible views of the Hudson River, and an especially spectacular spot in the fall when the leaves start changing

• Prospect Park - a classic, sprawling Brooklyn option! There are so, so many gorgeous spots for ceremonies and/or photos

• DUMBO/Brooklyn Heights - for views of the Manhattan skyline, cobblestone streets, and my favorite rainbow wall

• Local community gardens - hidden gems throughout the city!

And please ask me; I love brainstorming this part with you!

couple kissing with floral arch on soho rooftop microwedding

While you're thinking about where to have your ceremony, make sure you also plan out who will officiate. Officiants like Rev Annie, Once Upon a Vow and Honeybreak Officiants have experience with virtual weddings, distanced city elopements and microweddings, and can help make the process streamlined and simple. Of course you can also have a friend or family member become ordained to officiate, but keep state regulations in mind (for example, with a virtual ceremony, the couple, officiant and witness must all be physically located in New York State and must digitally sign the marriage license the same day as the ceremony). Check out the City Clerk's website for more details on officiant registration, in-person and virtual ceremonies.

central park elopement ceremony with distanced officiant and streaming on facetime

DO WE NEED A PLANNER?

They're not just for big weddings anymore! Does your elopement have a virtual component? Planners like Modern Rebel Co and Little Sister Creative are pros at working out the tech part beforehand so everything goes smoothly on the day of. Thinking of something like a small picnic wedding in Central Park? Julie Lindenman Events has you covered with socially distant packages that include an officiant and much more.

A few ideas...

Hotel BALCONY OR Rooftop

Central Park

Stoop Wedding

City Hall...kinda

NYC elopement bride and groom hugging on the steps of the met
Portrait of a bride in a Cynthia Rowley gown with East Olivia flowers at the Maritime Hotel in New York, NY
bride and groom eating cake at stoop wedding with 90s jessica mcclintock dress and floral installation
A bride and groom kiss with confetti outside city hall in NYC

Pick your favorite intimate corner of Central Park for your ceremony, then wander all its iconic spots for portraits...and don't forget The Met!

Many hotels have rooms/suites with spacious balconies just big enough for an elopement or microwedding (like the Maritime Hotel, pictured here).

Find a stoop, use a stoop! (With permission, of course.) Celebrate close to home or borrow a friend's front porch and watch the neighbors' oohs and ahhs roll in.

The marriage bureau may be closed for actual wedding ceremonies, but we can still stop outside for photos!

Planning for Portraits

First step: decide whether you want to take your portraits before or after the ceremony. If you don't have a preference, I usually suggest letting the light decide and shooting the majority of our session either early morning or late afternoon (exact times will change based on the time of year; I'll help guide you on this)!

If you're working with other vendors (please ask me for recommendations; I have a lot!), make sure to plan for everything to be wrapped up at least an hour before we'll start taking photos, whether that means ceremony or portraits. That goes for a florist delivering bouquets or boutonnieres, hair and makeup artists, etc. Even with fewer moving parts than a larger wedding, you want to make sure to give yourself more time for each part of your elopement than you think you'll need, just in case!

Bride and groom with pink and peach bouquet in South Street Seaport in NYC

When you're planning what to wear for your elopement, comfort is key! If you have a long dress, the bottom of it will get dirty as we walk through the city; think about shorter dresses, pant suits, colorful party outfits; as long as you can move and you feel great wearing it, it'll be the perfect wedding look!

Be sure to pick shoes you can walk in for a couple of hours; there's always some travel with elopement shoots, even if we're just walking between landmarks in Central Park. Depending on where we're heading, we might take the subway, cabs and/or ferries too. These are some of my favorite opportunities for less obvious wedding photos; I love documenting all the in-between moments of the day.

I'm always asked, what if it rains? I always say no sun, no problem! I've got a collection of clear umbrellas ready to bring, and the city somehow looks even more romantic in the rain. I also have lots of ideas for covered ceremony/photo spots in each park.

Elopement couple in Central Park with BloomBloom bouquet and Happy Isles vintage dress
A Manhattan city hall couple on the subway after their elopement in NYC

It's Still a Party!

So you've found the perfect ceremony spot, an officiant, and a plan for portraits. That's it, right?

Not necessarily! There are lots of ways to keep the tiny party going, with a meal, a champagne toast, a shared treat...from ordering pizza to a first dance on a hotel balcony to a full-on catered meal and wedding cake while you decompress, there are unlimited ways to celebrate your elopement. That's the beauty of eloping; it can be quick and no-fuss or a luxurious all-day affair.

Tell me what speaks to you!

Microwedding or elopement inspiration with retro cake floral installation and custom linens

I thought you'd never ask.

You want it, I'll bring it!

It's biodegradable, I love it, you will too.

bride and groom kissing with confetti outside the met museum in NYC

WHAT ABOUT CONFETTI?