How to Get Married in Washington DC: A Complete Guide

Dreaming of saying your “I Do’s” in the nation’s capital city? From venue options and wedding costs to the best places for photos, here’s everything you need to know about getting married in Washington, DC.

couple getting married in DC
Photo by Zola

Would you like to have your wedding in the nation’s capital city? Nestled between Virginia and Maryland, Washington, DC is full of history and must-see attractions. You may come for the wedding, but stay for the events!

As home to the presidential inaugurations (hey there Madam Vice-President!) and renown annual festivals, there’s a reason why Washington DC continues breaking its own record of U.S. visitors nine consecutive years in a row. Not to mention, the city’s beloved cherry blossom trees and famous landmarks make excellent wedding photography backdrops!

Planning a wedding may be extensive, but it doesn’t have to be stressful! In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about getting married in DC. From information on COVID-19 protocol to LGBTQIA wedding support, we’ve got you covered!

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Where to Get Married in Washington, DC

Where to get married in Washington DC

From the most iconic museums to acclaimed monuments, there are plenty of glorious venue options in DC. In case you have trouble deciding on a location you love, we have a list of prescreened wedding venues in DC at your service! Search by capacity, availability, type, price, and more!

Below are a few popular DC wedding venues to consider:

  • Museums and galleries: Washington, DC is abundant in eclectic and praiseworthy museums. Stunning and unique, the National Museum of the Marine Corps is one of many museums in the DC metro area that provides an unforgettable experience for wedding ceremonies amidst treasured artifacts.
  • Hotels: From marvelous catering to elegant ballrooms, hotels can be the most convenient venues for out-of-town couples. DC boasts plenty of luxurious hotels, including the Omni Shoreham and Grand Hyatt.
  • Mansions and estates: Like hidden gems throughout the city, these elegant buildings add to the history and charm of DC. The Patterson Mansion, among many others, has been the venue of choice for presidents and pioneers.
  • Farms and ranches: A little beyond the Greater Washington, DC area in northern Virginia and Maryland, you can find dozens of beautiful farms and ranches. With spacious, rustic settings and mountainous backdrops, these farms make the perfect venue for wedding ceremonies.

How to Obtain a DC Marriage License

COVID-19 Update: The DC Marriage Bureau is only processing marriage license applications remotely and performing weddings by videoconference until further notice.

Here are the steps to obtaining your marriage license in Washington, DC:

  • Apply for your marriage license: The application is available to complete and submit online. You must show proof of legal age through driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, or similar official documents.
  • Choose an officiant: In DC, you may choose a court official, any authorized celebrant, or self-officiate your wedding ceremony. You will indicate who your officiant will be on your marriage application.
  • Pay the fee: The marriage license application fee is $45 and can be paid online via PromptPay, the court’s electronic payment portal.
  • Physical Presence: All parties, including the person performing the wedding, must be physically present in the District of Columbia during the time of your wedding ceremony. With a DC marriage license, your wedding is only legal if it takes place within the city of DC.

Once you’ve submitted your marriage license application, a representative from the Marriage Bureau will contact you to complete the process. Fortunately, DC marriage licenses do not expire once issued, so there is no expiration date for when you must have your ceremony.

DC Courthouse Wedding

DC Courthouse Wedding

If you and your partner prefer a quick, civil wedding, you can get married at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. You must indicate “court/civil wedding” on your online marriage application and wait for a representative from the Marriage Bureau to contact you regarding next steps. Due to COVID-19, the Marriage Bureau is performing civil weddings via videoconference.

Do I Need a DC Marriage License?

Yes. You will need a DC marriage license to get married within the District of Columbia.

Where to Get Your Marriage License

Currently, you must apply online for your DC marriage license through the official DC Courts website. A court staff member will contact you receiving your application.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Marriage License in DC?

It may take up to five business days to receive your DC marriage license due to COVID-19 and the court staff working remotely.

Can I Get Married the Same Day in DC?

Yes! Since there is no wait time from the time you receive your marriage license to when you have your wedding, you can get married the same day in DC.

Do you need an officiant to get married in DC?

Yes. DC is the only jurisdiction that requires marriage to be performed by an officiant authorized by the DC Court Marriage Bureau office. This means that you cannot have someone officiate the wedding without the court’s permission. You must provide the full name of the desired officiant on your marriage license application.

Who can officiate a wedding in DC?

The DC court authorizes the following candidates to perform marriage in the District of Columbia: judges (active and retired), civil celebrants, temporary officiants, Members of the City Council, the Mayor of DC, authorized persons of any religious denomination or society, and temporary officiants. If you want a loved one to officiate your wedding, such as a friend or family member, they can simply complete the temporary officiant application with the $25 fee to receive authorization from the DC Marriage Bureau.

If you’d like to elope or cannot find an officiant, DC also allows couples to have a self-officiated wedding, meaning with a third party. To do so, you and your partner must appear together in person at the DC Marriage Bureau with valid government-issued IDs and indicate you will officiate the ceremony on your marriage license application.

An officiant application must be submitted via email at MarriageBureau@dcsc.gov. You can visit the official website for more information.

DC Wedding Trends

DC Wedding Trends

After the pandemic left numerous couples unsure of their wedding plans, the year 2021 is making up for lost time! From bold, bright wedding colors to sustainable wedding dress ideas, couples are stepping outside of tradition for ceremonies that fit their personality. With cherry blossoms, famous museums, and the most dynamic festivals, DC definitely speaks to the adventurous soul.

Average Cost of a Wedding in DC

Surprisingly, the nation’s capital isn’t the most expensive city to get married. The average cost of a wedding in Washington, DC is $37,500, which is less than other popular wedding destinations in the country, including San Francisco and New York City.

Average wedding costs in dc

Remember, the number of guests, location, season, and other factors can affect wedding costs. If you’re on a budget, consider having your wedding during an off-peak season or an intimate civil wedding at the DC courthouse. These options can help cut down the venue and lodging fees.

Best Times of Year for Weddings in DC

Washington, DC has a semi-continental climate, where you’ll experience and enjoy all four seasons. Visitors can expect the general hot and humid summers after Memorial Day and crispy, snowy winters after Labor Day. Below is a helpful overview of each season.

Seasonal Guide to DC Weddings

Busiest Weeks in DC

Be sure to plan ahead! Below is a helpful list of events when one can expect heavy traffic and tourism while visiting DC.

  • Presidential Inauguration Day: January
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival: March/April
  • Memorial Day: May
  • DC Jazz Festival: June
  • Capital Pride: June
  • A Capitol Fourth: July
  • H Street Festival: September
  • Filmfest DC: October
  • Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week: December

DC Weddings and COVID-19

As of Friday, May 21st, Washington, DC began its reopening plan, in which COVID-19 restrictions on most commercial and public activities were lifted. Residents and visitors must continue following the CDC’s mask guidelines, unless they are fully vaccinated. For more information and details, you can visit the official website.

Real DC Weddings

Check out some of these photos of real DC weddings, where you can filter to find inspiration by season, trending styles, and location!

Real DC wedding intercultural couple Intercultural Vibrante Fête

Real DC wedding same sex couple Intimate Fall Nuptials

Real Wedding Teal Inspiration in DC District Extravaganza in Teal

Best Spots for Wedding Photos in DC

Best Spots for Wedding Photos in DC

Once you’ve booked a Washington DC wedding photographer, take advantage of some of the “Instagram-worthy” spots in town! Below are a few awesome spots for you and your partner to pose for the camera:

If you know of a wedding guest planning to propose, these locations also make great backdrops to pop the question!

7 Instagram Worthy Photo Spots in DC

LGBTQIA Marriages in DC

LGBTQIA Marriage in DC

As one of the most diverse cities in the nation, not to mention the most prominent location of civil rights marches, Washington, DC has a very LGBTQIA-friendly community. Although same-sex marriage has been legal in DC for over a decade, the city is rich in pride history. DC is home to The Washington Blade, America’s oldest LGBTQ+ newspaper that began in 1969 as well as Capital Pride, one of the largest pride celebrations in the country. From popular LGBTQ+-owned businesses to events all year long, DC is an exciting place for same-sex couples to plan their weddings.

Fun Fact: Washington, DC has the highest LGBT+ population percentage in the nation!

How to Find Local DC Vendors

Need some assistance with your wedding planning? Check out our lists of pre-screened vendors where you can filter vendors by price, venue style, wedding theme, and more.

DC Wedding Guest Guide

DC Wedding Guest Guide

Your guests’ arrival to Washington, DC is only the beginning. Since there’s so much to do and see in the nation’s capital, they won’t know where to start! Jumpstart their itinerary with these help lists of travel tips, best neighborhoods, and notable attractions in the area.

How to Get to DC

Arriving By Plane:

Arriving By Train: Many Amtrak trains and routes run through Washington, DC’s Union Station, which is conveniently near the National Mall and the Capitol building.

Arriving By Bus: An affordable way to get around the metro area, DC’s WMATA metrobus stops at popular tourist locations and shares a few stations with the metro rail.

Arriving By Car: For visitors living along the east coast, the fastest route to take is Interstate 95, which runs from north to south from Maine to Miami, Florida.

Taking the Metro: DC’s metro rail is a convenient and affordable way to get around the city as well as to and from suburban areas of Virginia and Maryland.

Best DC Neighborhoods for Out-of-Town Guests

Best DC Neighborhoods

From JFK’s old home to law-making edifices, DC neighborhoods have plenty of hidden gems to discover. Here are a few of our favorite areas to visit while in town.

H Street: Home of DC’s annual H Street Festival, this neighborhood is where visitors experience the arts, nightlife, and communal culture of the town. From local food trucks to art exhibits and farmers markets, your guests can enjoy an entire day on H Street!

Dupont Circle: A cosmopolitan neighborhood, Dupont Circle is a social area that offers something for everyone. You’ll see locals walking their dogs or grabbing lunch and a beer with coworkers, while tourists check out the boutiques, bistros, and museums.

Capitol Hill: Having both a vibrant nightlife and the government’s most powerful buildings, this area is great for catching a small group tour. Here, you can visit the Library of Congress, the U.S. Capitol, and grab a bite to eat from local pubs and restaurants.

Downtown DC: As the bustling center of the city, DC’s downtown area is where you can always find something new to do. Popular restaurants, shopping centers, and museums are within walking distance from one another or a quick stop on the metro rail!

Georgetown: The luxurious side of the city, Georgetown is home to DC’s fine art galleries, upscale restaurants, and historic 19th century mansions. The town also has a nice waterfront view where you’ll find bars, cafes, and tranquil bike trails.

10 Fun Things to Do in Washington DC

10 Fun Things to Do in Washington DC

When it comes to DC, learning the city’s street grid is an adventure in and of itself! Nevertheless, with plenty of must-see attractions and local hot spots, your wedding guests’ itineraries will be far from boring. Help them get started with these ten fun things to do in the DC metro area.

  1. Visit the Smithsonian Museums: With over 19 of its museums in DC, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.
  2. Go on a Georgetown Food Tour: Ask in advance for one of DC’s famous food tours as a wedding registry gift! Georgetown, among many others, has plenty of top-rated restaurants, cafes, and pubs to experience and taste!
  3. Stroll through the National Mall: Not to be fooled by the name, as it isn’t a mall at all! Known as “America’s Front Yard,” the National Mall is home to the Washington Monument, Lincoln and MLK memorials, picnic spots, and plenty of Cherry Blossom trees.
  4. Kayak the Georgetown Waterfront: Keybridge Boathouse in Georgetown offers kayak, paddleboard, and canoe rentals. Here, visitors can enjoy a tranquil day on the water and amazing views of DC monuments.
  5. Take a City Cruise: From bachelor(ette) parties to bottomless brunches, there are plenty of companies that offer boat tours and cruises through DC’s Potomac River.
  6. Catch a concert at Echostage: This music venue in DC is a hybrid nightclub and concert hall that brings an indoor festival experience year-round. Locals and visitors can catch a performance here almost every weekend!
  7. Spend an evening at Live Casino: About 25 miles outside of DC, in Hanover Maryland, Live! Casino Hotel is where locals and tourists go to hit the casino, wine and dine, and catch live performances all in one night!
  8. Check out the Library of Congress: Here in the largest library in the world, visitors can tour through and see special exhibits, lectures, and shop for souvenirs.
  9. Tour the National Zoological Park: Make it a family day! The Smithsonian National Zoo is one of DC’s most popular tourist destinations, and is absolutely free!
  10. Enjoy a performance at the Kennedy Center: Named after JFK, this performing arts center has over 2,000 shows and events each year. Here you can catch the opera, ballet, theatre, virtual events, and more.

Now that you have an idea of the DC metro area, it’s time to dive into your wedding planning! Whether it’s personalizing your invites or finding inspiration for wedding hairstyles, Zola has everything you need all in one place.

Sources: DC Courts | Visit Washington DC | TripAdvisor | TripHacks DC

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