From Central Park to city hall, read on for everything you need to know!
UPDATED MAY 2023! Find my complete guide to NYC city hall elopements here.
As of May 2023, eloping at city hall feels a lot like pre-COVID, only with no walk-ins and a maximum of 3 guests per couple: masks are optional, the scaffolding that was up for a year is gone, and it's much easier to book a ceremony appointment than when the booking system was first put into place. I still recommending booking as early as you can, but there are usually appointments left just a few days away (instead of everything booking up completely within 5 minutes).
Couples can book in-person marriage license and ceremony appointments at all boroughs' city clerk's offices ("marriage bureaus"). Virtual marriage license appointments are still available as well and are released 3 weeks ahead of time, each Thursday at 9am.
Ceremonies can be performed 24 hours after a couple gets their license (and are on weekdays only), and the license remains valid for 60 days. In-person appointments for licenses and ceremonies are released every Monday morning at 9am and can be booked for 3 weeks ahead of time, so keep checking if your desired date or timeframe isn't available yet via the links above. In order to book a ceremony appointment, you need to have either a marriage license number OR an upcoming appointment to get your license (they'll ask for the date of your appointment and the city that will be issuing it).
Pre-pandemic, everything was walk-in only, which added to the fun and chaotic energy of City Hall weddings, but also led to the kinds of lines and crowds that would sometimes lead to 3-hour wait times to get married. With the new reservation-only system, the booking process can be a little stressful but the actual ceremony process in person is quick and easy, taking only about 30 minutes.
If you're looking for something else and/or want to include more than 2 guests and a photographer, there are a million other ways we can plan! 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.
WHAT'S UP WITH CITY HALL?
Getting a New York
To get married in New York, you need to have a marriage license issued at least 24 hours prior to your wedding. As of July 19, 2021 in-person marriage license appointments at the city clerk's office are back...this time with reserved times! Make an appointment here; they release a week's worth of appointments at a time, 3 weeks in advance, each Monday morning at 9am. They go quickly, so don't be late!
There is also the virtual option: the marriage bureau launched Project Cupid to issue marriage licenses virtually during the pandemic and, at least for the moment, that option remains. They release new appointments every Thursday morning at 9am; try to plan ahead, those appointments will generally be for 3 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!
Keep in mind that if you or your partner has been married before, you may be asked to produce the final divorce decree. More info on the marriage license process 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!
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:
• City Hall is open again! You can reserve a weekday in-person ceremony at the city clerk's office 3 weeks in advance for an inexpensive, intimate NYC elopement against some iconic backdrops! Ceremony appointments can get fully booked up in under 5 minutes, so make sure to check right at 9am on Monday morning to book yours on the date and time you want, 3 weeks ahead.
• 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!
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, NYC Officiant (Yekaterina Tsvetkova) and Honeybreak Officiants have experience with distanced city elopements and microweddings, as well as streaming your ceremony so out-of-town friends and family can join virtually, and will 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, officiants must be registered in New York City, not just New York State). Check out the City Clerk's website for more details on officiant registration and marriage ceremonies.
DO WE NEED A PLANNER OR EVENT DESIGNER?
They're not just for huge weddings anymore! Throwing a small party after eloping or rolling it all into a tiny wedding? Planners like The Privilege is Mine, The Get Together Events, Modern Rebel Co and Julie Lindenman Events will make sure everything runs smoothly and you can actually relax and have fun. And Little Sister Creative handles floral and event design!
A few ideas...
Hotel SUITE, BALCONY OR Rooftop
NYC PUBLIC PARK
NYC has so many beautiful public parks (including Central Park, Prospect Park and Fort Tryon Park). Pick your favorite park and an intimate corner for your ceremony, then wander all its iconic spots for portraits.
There are private gardens all over NYC that you can book for an elopement or microwedding, like Jefferson Market Garden (seen here), various community gardens, etc.
Many hotels have rooms/suites with spacious balconies just big enough for an elopement or microwedding, or you could elope in your suite itself, especially if it looks like the Plaza 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.
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!
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.
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!
I thought you'd never ask.
You want it, I'll bring it!
It's biodegradable, I love it, you will too.