12 Tips for Pulling off the Ultimate NYC City Hall Wedding

Get married in true New York fashion

Photo by Lucy Cuneo Photography

Whether it's because you desire an intimate ceremony or simply can't wait any longer to say I do, there is something incredibly romantic and timeless about having a New York City wedding at City Hall—although it's a common misconception that civil weddings in New York take place there. In fact, the ceremony takes place at the city clerk's office, which is in lower Manhattan, though not actually in City Hall. Not all couples dream of a huge wedding with hundreds of guests and a massive production. Some prefer something a little more intimate, with just a few friends and family members in attendance—or even an elopement for two. Ahead, discover 12 expert tips for pulling off the ultimate New York City civil wedding.

1. Get Your Marriage License at Least 24 Hours Before the Ceremony

New York City requires couples to wait 24 hours after they obtain their marriage license before getting married. No appointments are accepted so marriage ceremonies are performed on a first-come, first-served basis during regular business hours (Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in Manhattan). The fee to obtain the marriage license is $35 and the fee for the marriage ceremony is $25. Note: The license will expire after 60 days, so don't wait too long after getting it.

2. Start the Morning off by Getting Your Hair and Makeup Done

"You could have people come to your home, head to a local salon, or have a close friend or family member help you out," says Anne Book, founder of Anne Book Event Design. "Order breakfast or lunch, have a mimosa, and take the time to feel your most beautiful." Even better, Book loves the idea of reserving a hotel room the night before or inviting a girlfriend for a sleepover the night prior to the wedding for your last night as a single gal.

3. Wear a Wedding Outfit That Makes You Feel Like a Million Bucks

"It doesn't have to be a white dress, though you could choose to go the traditional route. Pick something amazing that looks stunning on you," Book says. One of her favorite ideas? A little white dress and a pillbox hat—a nod to traditional getaway looks that would look fabulous coming down the steps.

4. Exchange Love Notes With Your Sweetheart Before the Ceremony

"I love when my clients exchange love notes or gifts before their wedding ceremony, and you should do the same even if you're heading to City Hall," Book says. "Exchange gifts that morning, as sharing that message of how much you love one another will really set the tone for the day."

5. Bring a Witness

The civil marriage ceremony requires the presence of at least one witness who is over 18 years of age. "However, don't bring a huge crowd with you," says wedding planner Ashley Douglass. "There will already be other people there, and having too many people in your party can quickly feel overwhelming."

6. Be Strategic About What Day You Go to the City Clerk's Office to Get Married

Thursdays and Fridays tend to be busier days at the marriage bureau so avoid those peak times (and lines) and go as early in the day as possible. "Also avoid the days right before a holiday weekend. Many people will try to get married right before a holiday in order to have a mini-honeymoon over the long weekend," Douglass says.

7. Hire a Photographer You Love

Bring a professional photographer who already has experience shooting city weddings. "Hiring a professional to capture these special moments is essential," says planner Tracy Taylor Ward.

8. Have a Cake and Work With a Florist

While it might seem counterintuitive, marrying in a civil ceremony in New York City doesn't mean you have to skip the more traditional vendors. "Definitely have a cake and work with a florist," Book says. You may not be able to have a traditional tasting, but if there is a local bakery you love, take the time to pick up a few cupcakes to sample flavors, and then order a small cake once you've chosen a favorite.

"When it comes to a florist, ask them to create a bouquet for you, as well as a few small centerpieces that you can use during your brunch or lunch," Book says. "And don't feel tied to a purely bridal design. Peruse home decor magazines for a more sophisticated tabletop to use as your inspiration."

9. Take Portraits at Iconic NYC Locations

One of the best parts of a New York wedding is that you can use the city itself as the backdrop for your wedding photos. After your ceremony, make sure you schedule time for portraits at iconic locations. "From the steps of historical museums to the beautiful Conservatory Gardens at the north end of Central Park, there are so many wonderful options to choose from all over the city," Ward says.

10. Plan a Reception for Your Friends and Family

Whether you're thinking of hosting a post-ceremony brunch à la Carrie Bradshaw, or an intimate dinner party at a later time, invite your family and friends for a celebratory meal. One of the easiest ways to do this is to host your reception at a restaurant.

"Restaurants are, generally speaking, easier to book for events than traditional wedding venues," says Marie Lyons, director of events at Noho Hospitality Group. "For dinner parties, usually booking three to six months in advance is adequate. If you're booking a lunch—for example, if you get married at 11 a.m. on a weekday—then it's usually even easier to get a reservation."

Consider the ambiance and mood of the room that you're reserving. "I am a huge fan of the private dining rooms that are part of Andrew Carmellini's restaurants—Locanda Verde, the Dutch, and Lafayette. Across the board, their spaces are very well designed yet unpretentious, while providing great service, creative food, and all-around exceptional ambiance," Ward says. "I also gravitate towards sophisticated yet cozy wine cellars, such as Il Buco and Del Posto, or contemporary upscale private dining rooms, like Restaurant Daniel and Eleven Madison Park."

Be sure to send a proper invitation to those you are inviting to the reception. "Use the wording 'wedding reception' to indicate that the invitation is for the party, not the actual ceremony," Douglass says.

11. Incorporate Family Traditions Into Your New York City Civil Ceremony

Just because you're having a civil wedding doesn't mean you need to forego family traditions. "If there is something your family has always wanted to do to celebrate your wedding, find a way to incorporate it," Book says. That could be wearing jewelry borrowed from your grandmother, having your sister sing, or inviting an uncle or friend to do a reading.

12. If You're Not Headed on a Honeymoon, Plan a Mini-Moon

When the day is over, don't just head home. Book advises, "Check into a beautiful suite at a luxury hotel in town and take a nap so you wake up somewhere beautiful. Then order a pizza to celebrate!"

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