The Complete Urban Elopement Planning Guide
Planning to elope in a city can be absolutely thrilling - there are endless possibilities for where to say your vows, locations to take photos in, dining, bars, music venues, activities. But it can also be extremely daunting to plan an urban elopement because of the sheer amount of options. That is why I created this complete urban elopement planning guide to take the stress and guesswork out of planning your dream elopement in the city. In it, you will find the elopement planning basics, advice for choosing locations, and wedding attire suggestions - to name a few.
Elopement Planning Basics
Who should I invite to my elopement?
Some people will tell you that it is not an elopement if you include more than just the two of you on your day. I beg to differ... I think that an elopement is defined more by how you craft the day to be completely about the two of you and less about the exact number of people you invite (or choose not to invite) to join you. However, if you are still not sure about who to choose, consider these few questions: Who in your life is completely supportive of your love for one another? Who will make you feel joy and honor your elopement day wishes? When all else fails, just invite whoever feels right! Some couples choose to invite just their parents, others include immediate family and grandparents or even very close friends. It is entirely up to you!! My one recommendation would be to keep it under 20, though. Otherwise, it starts becoming more like a traditional wedding with more considerations for all of your guests.
Do I need witnesses in order to elope?
It depends on your state! Some states, such as Colorado, allow you to self-solemnize your marriage meaning you dont even need an officiant in order to elope - just the two of you. Others only require your officiant to sign the marriage certificate, and some require two witnesses other than your officiant to sign your marriage license. These witnesses can typically be anyone, however - your photographers, random strangers, parents.
Be sure to check the government websites in the state/ city you plan to elope in for specific local requirements, but here is a great website to use as a starting point!
Which permits or licenses do I need in order to elope?
As a general rule, you will need to obtain a marriage license from city hall somewhere in the state (and sometimes city) that you are getting married in. Each state has their own laws about how far in advance you can obtain this license and how long you have to submit it after you apply for it. Some even have crazy rules about the color of ink you can use on the license (I may or may not know this one from experience)! Again, make sure to check your state and local laws to be sure that you are following the rules and understand what you need to bring and when you need to bring it in order to legally be wed!
Depending on where you want to say your vows or take photographs, you may also need to obtain some permits. The two most common permits that you will ned are event permits and photography permits. A good photographer will take care of obtaining the photography permit, which allows for them to take professional photographs in a certain location. An event or wedding permit allows you to actually legally get married in specific location. For example, most National or even State Parks require a permit in order to have your elopement on their land. Sometimes, these are very easy to get, and others in more popular elopement destinations such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Yosemite can book up quickly and/ or have a huge back log of permit requests. This is where a bit of patience, organization, and flexibility come in handy. *Pro tip: Find a professional elopement photographer who will help guide with all of these details from their own experience and knowledge!*
What vendors do I need to book for my elopement?
The one vendor you absolutely NEED is an elopement photographer - one who values your individual needs and desires for your elopement day and will help you navigate the elopement planning process. They will be your biggest resource and sense of calm during your elopement, and they also take the most incredible photos that document you and your elopement day! Some other vendors that are high on the list for you to consider:
- Videographer - if you want to be able to show any extended part of your day to your friends and family after the elopement, a video is a fantastic investment! Your photographer can put together a beautiful slideshow for you and your family and friends, but if you want to hear the words said during your vows, you will definitely want that video too!
- Hair and Makeup - you can certainly DIY this, but if you have the means, do it! It will take just a little bit of extra stress away from the day for you.
- Florist - again, not required, but I totally recommend splurging on some beautiful blooms for your elopement whether that means a bouquet, a floral wreath, a flower crown, arch, and/ or boutonniere. It will add a little bit of a colorful pop to your photos and is just plain fun!
- Officiant - In some states, you need to have an ordained officiant, but in others, you can either self-solemnize or get a friend a one-day solemnizer certification. Be sure to check with local regulations to confirm whether or not you need one. Sometimes your photographer can double as your officiant or witness as well!
- Venue - Okay, so you dont need a traditional venue here, but you do still need a location to have your ceremony at or at the very least a place to stop and say your vows to one another! Also, if you are planning an all-day elopement (10/10 recommend, and here is why) then you need to decide on a place where you want to eat. When it comes to eloping, all bets are off so you could do brunch, pizza, tacos, a fancy Michelin star meal, a picnic, or even just go bar hopping and grab some takeout along the way. Even if you are a generally spontaneous couple, I would still recommend having a discussion about where to eat in case reservations are required or at least so you have an idea of whether or not you need additional transportation and to plan out your timeline accordingly to make a stop there along the way.
How far in advance to do I need to book vendors for my elopement?
The easy answer? As soon as you can. The longer answer? Well, it depends on who you want and when you want them. Elopement vendors can potentially be more flexible, especially if you are only requiring one bouquet, one set of hair and makeup, or are eloping on a weekday. However, many of the best vendors still book up early, and even if you choose to elope on a weekday, they could be using those days for prep work for larger events. So if you have your heart set on a specific vendor, the sooner the better for reaching out, but there will always be options now matter how close or far away your elopement is!
How much time should I book a photographer for my elopement?
All day! Do not ever sell your elopement short. You deserve to have an epic all-day-long elopement experience. Typically, I would recommend between 8-12 hours for an all-day elopement to give plenty of time to document the whole experience, but some couples choose to go even bigger and opt for a multi-day elopement adventure experience!
What should I do on my elopement day?
Anything and everything!! The world is your oyster! and other cliches... But seriously, part of the allure of eloping is getting to do whatever you want whenever you want to because you dont have to worry about hundreds of other guests and what will make them satisfied. The obvious things to do on your elopement day include: saying your vows and taking photos. But some fun suggestions of other things to consider are:
- bar hopping
- visiting a museum
- attending a local concert or show
- going out to eat
- wine or beer tasting
- going to an amusement park
- taking a road trip
- taking a walking tour
- playing board games
- going to a movie and eating in the fancy chairs
- having a fire pit at a cozy Airbnb
- taking your dog for a walk
- having a beach picnic
Do whatever makes the two of you feel most excited and fulfilled by your elopement day whether that is something adventurous or more laid back. Something out of your comfort zone or something that makes you feel at home.
When is the best time of day to say our vows at our elopement?
If you want the most romantic photos, first thing in the morning or in the hour or two before sunset are the best times to say your vows. Otherwise, do what falls best in line with your timeline in terms of accessing a specific location that might be closed or dangerous to trek after sun sets. Timelines are fairly loose anyways when it comes to eloping, so do you!!
Do I need to have a reception as part of my elopement?
I am giving you permission not to have a reception. A lot of people think that when they elope that they still have to plan a big reception for their friends and family after the fact. You can absolutely do that if thats your jam, but it is not required by any means. However, I do recommend having some sort of celebration the day of your elopement whether it includes just the two of you or a few close family and friends because who doesnt love a cozy little party?
What does an elopement timeline look like?
Elopement timelines have a lot more flexibility to them when compared to the traditional wedding timeline. This means you can get up at the ass crack of dawn or sleep in until noon and still have a very full and fun elopement day! You can see one example of an elopement timeline here.
What should I wear for my elopement?
Hopefully by now, you will know that the answer to this question is not so concrete. In fact, wear whatever the hell you want! From traditional wedding attire to velvet suits, go go boots and leather jackets, you can really go wild and find a special outfit to reflect your personality! My personal recommendation is to still keep some element in your outfit that makes you feel like you are getting married. This could be opting to wear white even if you go for a jumpsuit and denim jacket or choose to simply keep it formal. Hell, you can (and should) even consider wearing a veil. They are just so dramatic and fun to play with in photos! And come on, when else can you get away with wearing a veil?
Urban Elopement Planning Specifics
What are the best cities to elope in?
The top cities that come to mind when planning an urban elopement are likely New York City and Los Angeles, but there are some other truly fantastic urban locations to elope in besides those two. Here are some of my personal favorites:
San Francisco, CA - You have a little bit of everything here in San Fran: those stunning Golden Gate views, a short drive to Muir Woods for some giant redwoods, cable cars, piers, and a sick art scene!
Providence, RI - This one is near and dear to my heart because I live only 20 minutes outside of the city. Providence is a quiet foodie city filled with little hidden gems for street art, skyline views, good eats, and historic charm. Perfect for the couple who wants something a little more tame in terms of the size of the city still with great photo ops.
Nashville, TN - The live music scene here is incredible - just picture yourselves showing up to Acme in your elopement attire and jamming out to a band while enjoying some beers and hot chicken. If you are into music, fun lights, and genuine southern hospitality, this is a great elopement spot for you!
New Orleans, LA - At this point you might be noticing a theme here that I always recommend the good foodie cities. It is honestly one of the best benefits to an urban elopement, and Nola has it all. You cannot go wrong with stunning European architecture, jazz music, and even some gorgeous old cemetery vibes. Ever since I was down in New Orleans and saw a bride walking across the street in a ballgown and a leather jacket, I have always wanted to shoot an elopement there - and you can carry your open container around. BONUS!
Chicago, IL - This is a great alternative to New York City if you still want skyscrapers and true modern city vibes with just a little less of that hustle and bustle feeling. You can soak in the beautiful views of Lake Michigan, enjoy one of their many craft breweries, attend Lollapalooza, or go to one of my favorite art museums and strike a pose like Sloan, Ferris, and Cameron did.
Portland, OR - Keep Portland weird! It sure is a place for the weirdos, which makes it my kind of place. Just watch Portlandia, and you will know what I mean. Enjoy the most hipster of cities with quaint hotels, insane donuts, and food trucks galore. The other perk of eloping in Portland is that the mountains, the Willamette Valley wineries, tons of beautiful waterfalls, and Cannon Beach are all within a relatively close drive of the city.
Boston, MA - If you are one for history, Boston is a great city to elope in. You can take in the sights on a tour aboard one of their duck boats or do your own little self-guided tour of the freedom trail. There is also fantastic seafood in the seaport district and Italian food in the North End as well as tons of beautiful brownstones and old New England architecture. It is also a great place to roam around one of the oldest (and best) baseball parks in the country - Fenway!
Austin, TX - Another hipster gem in the US, Austin is also home to some pretty rad dive bar and restaurants, hip flea markets, and the 1.5 million bats that come out at dusk every night from May to October from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Also, how could you not be tempted to take an elopement photo in front of the famous *i love you so much* mural?
Las Vegas, NV - Okay, hear me out. I know that eloping in Vegas has been a cliche for decades, but there is something so alluring about the bright blinking lights, the stunning shows, the crazy nightclubs, and the fact that it is more lively at night than it is during the day. How much more of a fun city vibe could you want? You can go all in and get married by Elvis or really say your vows anywhere and in anyway that you could imagine. If nothing else, Vegas certainly caters to eloping couples very well!
What are the benefits of eloping in a city?
Cities give you tons of access to a variety of locations. They provide so much opportunity to truly customize your day around your desires. Also, something a lot of couples tend not to think about when choosing to go off-grid for their elopements is the simple things in life like going to the bathroom. When you are on top of a mountain in elopement garb, it is a little more difficult to go #2 than it is in a city with endless places to sit on the porcelain throne - just sayin! My personal favorite though, is the fact that there is so much movement. I love there to be a sense of motion even in still photos, and cities definitely give off that vibe. You can also play with some really unique lighting in cities from marquees to reflections off of buildings and street lamps. Bonus - you have lots of options indoors if faced with inclement weather.
What are some challenges to having an urban elopement?
People! It is just a fact that there are going to be people around you. That does not mean that you cannot find a quiet, intimate place to say your vows, but honestly, half the fun of being in a city is getting to run around in your elopement clothes and have people honk and holler and congratulate you!
Where can we say our vows if we elope in a city?
Well there is the obvious choice to elope at city hall, which in fact, can sometimes be downright gorgeous so dont necessarily knock it before you check it out. There are also infinite venues that may allow you to rent a small, private space for a couple of hours such as art galleries. You can also look into certain parks if you want a little touch of nature, but beware that these often require those pesky permits that I mentioned earlier.
How can I make my urban elopement feel intimate?
An elopement by definition is an intimate wedding experience between you and your partner. Try your best just to focus on your new spouse rather than everyone else around you. But if you find yourself needing to step away from the crowds for a few and soak in the moment with your partner try sneaking away down a quiet road or into a cute little coffee shop to take a breather and remember that you are eloping with the love of your life. Remain present in the moment!
Now that you have all the tools to start planning your best urban elopement day, what should you do next? Start by booking your elopement photographer. Not only will they photograph your day, but a good elopement photographer will be your guide through the whole process of planning. They can help you decide on the best location to fit your elopement wish list, recommend area vendors, help secure permit info, and so much more! Seriously, go inquire right now!
Meaghan is the owner and lead photographer of Rhode Tripper Photography, a wedding and elopement photography company. She lives in Rhode Island, USA with her husband, Evan, and her rescue pup, Arya. You can frequently find her hitting up all the best foodie spots, barcades, and music venues around Providence, RI likely with her Fuji camera in tow.
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