If thoughts of a religious ceremony or a large wedding don’t float your boat, why not consider getting married in a registry office?
In the UK, you can use a registry office to declare a birth, death, marriage or civil partnership - and they're also used for wedding ceremonies! Registry office weddings can be a lovely and understated alternative to the traditional big white wedding. As fees are often lower than for other types of ceremony venues, registry office weddings are also a great way to save money on your wedding budget.
Registry office ceremony spaces vary in size. Within each building, there will usually be spaces for couples with larger guest lists as well as an intimate room that works for small weddings. A registry office ceremony can be followed by an intimate dinner with your closest friends and family, or by a larger reception - it all depends what you prefer.
You might also want to consider a registry office wedding if you're getting married abroad in a destination wedding. It can be complicated to get legally wed in some countries, so it might be easier to have a registry office wedding in the UK to ensure all the legalities are sorted before you jet off, and have a blessing ceremony at your chosen destination.
Whatever your reasons are, here’s everything you need to know to learn how to get married in a registry office.
- Who Can Get Married in a Registry Office?
- How to Book a Registry Office Wedding?
- How Much is a Registry Office Wedding?
- What To Consider When Planning a Registry Office Wedding
- What Does a Registry Office Wedding Look Like?
- What to Wear to a Registry Office Wedding?
- The Best Registry Offices
Who Can Get Married in a Registry Office?
Anyone can be married in a register office in the UK, providing you're of the legal age to marry, have no impediments - such as being already married - and are not related to each other.
To be legally married in the UK, you and your partner must be at least 18 years old and you must not be closely related (hopefully that one is obvious). A new law (The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022) came into effect in February 2023, meaning that children aged 16 and 17 can no longer marry or enter a civil partnership, even with parental consent.
Different rules apply to anyone from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland. If your partner isn’t from the UK, Switzerland or the EEA and isn’t settled in the UK, they will need to apply for a marriage or civil partnership visitor visa. The UK government website has the details for different scenarios.
Registry office weddings are a popular option for couples planning a non-religious budget-friendly wedding. Dawn Kavanagh, Senior Registration Officer at Modern Park House, agrees: "Couples choose to marry at register offices as they a secular alternative to getting married in a church or other religious premise.
"For some couples getting married in a register office can also be a budget friendly option, it means they don’t have to hire a large venue for an intimate ceremony with a handful of guests."
How to Book a Registry Office Wedding?
To book a registry office wedding, you’ll first need to choose which one. It could be the closest one to where you live, the registry office in the town you were born or simply somewhere that holds a special place in your hearts. You can use this registry office finder to help you – simply pop in your postcode!
Once you’ve decided on a date and location for your ceremony (dependent on the registrar’s availability), you’ll need to give notice at your local registry office. This is the same process you’d need to go through if you were getting married at another registered venue, like a barn wedding venue or country house wedding venue.
If you plan on getting married at a registry office that isn’t within your district, you should still go to your local one to give notice. They’ll be able to notify the office you plan to marry at on your behalf. You’ll then need to call the registry office you want to marry at to book a 15 minute appointment.
At this appointment, you’ll have an interview, fill in forms and have your identity checked. If you and your other half live in different registration districts, you should give notice separately at your own local registry offices. You do not have to do this on the same day as each other.
You have 12 months from the date you give notice to marry and you can give notice no less than 28 days before the date of your proposed marriage. We wouldn’t recommend leaving things this late though! The registrar needs time to check whether the two of you are free and able to marry each other, and the registry office needs to have availability on your chosen date.
How Much is a Registry Office Wedding?
If you're getting married in a registry office, you’ll have to pay for hiring a room in the registry office, for each person to give notice and for a marriage certificate. You may also have to pay for registrar, which will typically cost around £46 if supplied by the registry office, or you can supply one yourself.
Your registry office wedding cost will vary depending on the room hire fees of the office you've selected.
The fee for giving notice when you present your notice application is usually £35 per person. It goes up to £47 per person if either of you are from outside the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, and both of the following apply: you need a visa to live in the UK and you do not have a Marriage or Civil Partnership Visitor visa or a family visa.
Last but not least, you’ll need to pay for your marriage certificate. This costs £4 on the day or £10 if you collect it afterwards, although many registry offices include the certificate cost in their room price. We’d always recommend having a copy of your marriage certificate to hand at home.
Additional things that will contribute to your registry office wedding cost can include: paying for a ceremony room not just a registry office room, extra charges for Saturday appointments to give notice, and fees paid for approving divorce documents from outside the UK or making changes to your application.
Dawn Kavanagh, Senior Registration Officer at Morden Park House, shares some insight into a registry office wedding cost in London: "It depends usually where in London, how many guests you would like at your ceremony and what day of the week!
"For example it could be anywhere from £275 in our smallest room on a weekday to £725 for our outside gazebo on a Saturday for up to 100 people! However, in some register offices in the city you could increase these fees by a couple of hundred pounds."
What to Consider When Planning a Registry Office Wedding?
When it comes to registry office weddings, they'll usually be a bit shorter than civil ceremonies or religious ceremonies - a marriage ceremony in a local registry office will take approximately 10-15 minutes.
And you'll also need to invite some witnesses. As romantic as it might sound to get married with no one around but the two of you, you sadly can’t say “I do” in the absence of witnesses.
Not only must your marriage be conducted by a person (or in the presence of a person) authorised to register marriages in the district, but you must also have at least two witnesses.
These two witnesses must witness the ceremony before signing at the time of marriage. Witnesses don’t legally have to be of a certain age but you should check with the person marrying you if they have an age limit on who they’ll accept. Oh, and you don’t actually have to know your witnesses!
If you’re tying the knot abroad at a destination wedding, there are a few more things to take into consideration. The first thing is: do you need to first have your marriage in a registry office in the UK before getting married abroad?
This will depend on the country you’re getting married in as to whether you’ll need to get officially married in the UK before going away.
Many countries have a minimum residency period before you can obtain a marriage licence there. For example, in parts of Italy it varies between four and seven days, but in France, at least one of the parties will need to prove they’ve lived in the country for a minimum of 30 days prior to the application for a marriage licence.
In Spain, you can only marry if you’ve been a resident for the last two years, or, if you live in the UK, for either party to be a Spanish national. Unless you want to move to Spain for two years, a British couple living in the UK can’t have a legal wedding in Spain.
Start your research early, and if the country you want to get married in has a minimum residency period, it might be easier to get married in a registry office in the UK and then just hold a blessing abroad.
The other thing to bear in mind is that if you’re looking for a religious wedding ceremony, then a registry office wedding might not be for you. Getting married in a registry office means that your ceremony can’t be officiated by a religious official, and religious readings or music are a no go. Non-religious passages and songs are permitted - check out our list of wedding quotes for some inspo.
What Does a Registry Office Wedding Look Like?
If you think registry office weddings are dull, you couldn’t be more wrong. According to the General Register Office, you can more or less tailor the ceremony to suit your own individual tastes, needs and wedding ideas.
Registry offices are normally decorated with flowers pre-ceremony, but there’s nothing to stop you from arranging your own floral display or decorations. That said, you should bear in mind that several weddings may be held on the same day as yours, and any intricate decorations or displays are likely to be impossible. They’d take far too long to put up and take down!
Your choice of music and readings are allowed at a registry office, but music and readings with religious connotations are not allowed.
If there’s anything out of the ordinary that you’d like to have or do at your marriage in a registry office, it’s best to speak to your local superintendent registrar. They can have different criteria as to what is and isn’t allowed during the ceremony, and they should be open to discussing ideas with you.
Dawn offers some further insight: "Couples should also be aware that registrars (especially in Merton) actively encourage customising their civil ceremonies with readings, music, personal vows, even the occasion singalong, anything which makes their ceremony special and unique to them.
"It makes the day even more special to inject a little of the couple's personality into the ceremony. If couples have any special requests, we would love to hear them and see how we can incorporate them into their ceremony."
What to Wear to a Registry Office Wedding?
If getting married in a registry office is your main event or an add-on to your destination wedding, you’ll want to look and feel your best when you’re saying your vows. When it comes to what to wear to a registry office wedding, we say anything goes!
If you're dreaming of traditional wedding dresses, there's nothing to stop you wearing a classic look, whether that's a ballgown or a fishtail - your wedding, your way.
Of course, you could also use the fact that you're having a registry office wedding as an excuse to break away from tradition. You could rock some sleek bridal tailoring or make it casual with a shorter gown. Everything is entirely up to you.
In case you’re still feeling stuck, we've put together an edit of our favourite registry office wedding dresses plus some expert advice for registry office wedding fashion. You can also check out our pick of bridal jumpsuits if you want something different.
For anyone wearing a suit, it's a similar vibe - wear something that makes you feel good. It could be a sharp tailored suit, something more colourful and fun, or a relaxed shirt and trouser combo. Speak to your partner and decide how smart/casual you want your ceremony to be.
The Best Registry Offices in the UK
Registry office weddings are on the up in the UK. Whether you want a registry office that's more on the functional side or a seriously pretty registry offices, there are plenty around the UK that make for stunning backdrops for a wedding ceremony full of romance.
Experts at Hitched have rounded up the top 24 most popular registry offices in the UK based on how many Google searches each receives every month, as well as how many images are linked to hashtags for each venue. Combining these figures reveals that Manchester Town Hall is the most popular registry office in the UK. Here are the top 10 most popular registry offices in the UK:
1. Manchester Town Hall
2. Islington Town Hall
3. Cheltenham Town Hall
4. Chelsea Old Town Hall
5. St Georges Hall
6. Hackney Town Hall
7. Glasgow City Chambers
8. Marylebone Town Hall
9. Oxford Town Hall
10. Liverpool Town Hall
If you’re planning on getting married in a registry office in the capital, then check out our roundup of the best registry offices in London.