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Where You Can’t Get Married in the UK

27th June 2018 |By | 9 Comments

In an ideal world, you could have the wedding of your dreams on your terms: in the most remote or unusual location you want. There are, however, some rules concerning where you can’t get married in the UK. Here’s the law as it stands today, with some amazing ideas for where you can now marry, such as at a wedding venue in the middle of the sea!

Where you can't get married in the UK |

Lusty Glaze Beach, Cornwall | Image by Sarah Lauren Photography

Where You Can’t Get Married in the UK

You can fall in love literally anywhere: at the checkouts in a supermarket, on a train, on a beach, in a hospital but there still remain many places where you can’t get married in the UK legally. In fact, the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Regulations asserts that weddings cannot happen just anywhere.

Can I Get Married on the Beach?

A wedding on a British beach, to the gentle sound of the lapping waves of the sea, against a rugged coastline with the sun setting in the distance might just be the most romantic idea ever. And it is possible – in some places. In Scotland you can legally marry with your toes in the sand, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can only legally wed by the sea if you take your vows in a licensed venue on the beach with a solid roof. You cannot legally marry on the beach without this, nor can you marry in a tent or a marquee or any other temporary structure. The good news is there’s now an amazing choice of beaches and coastal wedding venues where you can tie the knot on the beach or very nearby.

Can I Get Married in the Garden?

You may have always dreamed of getting married outside in your family garden under the tree you so happily climbed as a child but sadly you can’t have a legally binding marriage ceremony there – unless your parents own a venue that has been licensed for civil ceremonies, of course. For couples who want to marry in the great outdoors, the good news is, as of 2015, outdoor wedding venues are now legal, provided the venue obtain an additional licence. The beautiful Bickleigh Castle in Devon was one of the first UK venues with a licence to host outdoor weddings in their stunning Victorian style garden gazebo on a lush green lawn, surrounded by breathtaking countryside views on all sides.

Can I Get Married on a Train?

Train spotters and classic car enthusiasts may be interested to know that another place where you can’t get married in this country is in most forms of moving transport, meaning trains, planes and cars are all out of the question – unless they don’t move. You can, however, have more than a romantic brief encounter with all things trains if you get married at the National Railway Museum in North Yorkshire. In fact, the law states legal premises are those that are permanently immovable, comprising of at least a room that is permanently moored, like a boat…

Can I Get Married at Sea?

You can get married in a boat or other vessel in the UK, as long as it, like all other legal venues, is fixed in place permanently. There are slightly different rules that apply to weddings on a cruise ship that is leaving the UK, as you may marry on the ship but only if the captain is licensed to perform weddings. If you’re considering a wedding at sea then you will need to take advice from the cruise liner directly concerning possible locations in international waters and the additional documentation needed.

There are other ways, however, that you can have your wedding in or near the waves. You can get married at sea on Spitbank Fort, a luxury hotel and spa set in the middle of the Solent, off Portsmouth, or, for a slightly different type of wedding, tie the knot on Brighton Palace Pier, surrounded by the sea, with candy floss and Elvis!

Can I have a Civil Wedding in Church?

If you’d like to have a civil wedding and not a religious service but you love your pretty little parish church and think it would look perfect for your wedding day, unfortunately UK law prohibits civil marriages occurring on premises licensed for religious holdings. Up until 2012, there were even laws that stated marriages had to take place between 8:00 and 18:00! Thankfully, that is no longer law, giving couples the right to marry any time of day they choose (venue, officiant or minister willing, of course.) You can have a civil wedding in the splendid beauty of a historic chapel in several places now including the stunning De Vere Horsely Estate in Surrey, complete with cloisters!

How to Get the Wedding You Want

If you don’t want to be limited by legal restrictions and intend to have a meaningful ceremony your way then these are your options:

  1. Hold your wedding in Scotland or get married abroad where the laws are less restrictive.
  2. Do it twice so you have the meaningful wedding ceremony you really want on the beach, in the garden or on a train as well as a legally binding marriage ceremony in a church, register office or other civil wedding venue either before or after.

Even though it may seem as though there are strict rules and regulations concering where you can’t get married in the UK, the laws have loosened in the last few years. It’s good to know also that there are ways you can have the wedding you want or a very near compromise.

For more wedding planning ideas for your ceremony please visit Alternative Unity Ceremony Ideas.

Written by

Kate Thompson is the features editor and wedding expert at Confetti. A widely published lifestyle writer, she has worked in the wedding industry for 15 years and has made BBC television and radio appearances discussing wedding trends in the UK.

9 Replies to “Where You Can’t Get Married in the UK”

  1. Lily

    This is not accurate, as a registrar I can confirm as long as you say the legally binding words a ceremony can be personal to each couple, you CAN compose and read your own vows, you can have readings, even performances as part of your ceremony..

    Being married outside is also completely possible, many choose to be married under the cover of a licensed gazebo, pavilion etc it does have to be a fixed and permanent structure by licensing rules although you can choose an outside in or inside out wedding and as long as the legal vows are completed under the cover of a licenced room, a ceremony can then be delivered outside by the same registrar.

    maybe do a little bit more research before publishing next time.

    Reply· Aug 19, 2017 8:58pm
    1. Becky

      Hello, we are getting married in a licensed barn in West Sussex and we understand we need to be stood inside the barn to legally marry, our guests however will be sat in a courtyard looking into the barn. Do you know if the registrar also needs to be stood inside the barn or are they able to stand just outside the barn, facing us inside? Thank you! Advice appreciated.

      Mar 3, 2018 11:24am
  2. Sonia Gould

    I’d like to get married in a local barn, proper rustic wedding and I understand I’d have to pay for the registrar to travel, so is this actually possible? Any advice would be welcomed, thank you in advance. I am happy with the standard vows so no issues there, just the venue

    Reply· Sep 2, 2017 12:11am
  3. chris griffiths

    Hi Lily
    We are fortunate to own our own boat. Would it be possible for us to get married on her?

    Reply· Sep 9, 2017 10:19pm
  4. Kayleigh Simpson

    My dream wedding is to get married in a garden/ woodland area under trees and have my evening event at the same area. Could it be done legally in this event set up, outside not neccessary in a gazebo?

    Reply· Sep 13, 2017 1:10pm
  5. corinne

    So can you not get married on a beach in wales?

    Reply· Oct 6, 2017 9:11pm
  6. Syliva Littlewood

    Whenever you say “Where you can’t get married in the UK” what you mean is where you cannot get married in England and Wales. It is different in Scotland. Anyone wishing to get married in Scotland should look at the NRS website (National Records of Scotland) where you can get information about how and where you can get married in Scotland. From their website under “What form does a marriage ceremony take in Scotland” it states …There is no legally prescribed form of words to be used in relation to ‘marriage vows’ in Scotland. … Whether you are planning your civil ceremony to take place in a registrar’s office, or at a place agreed with the registration authority, you may choose to personalise your civil ceremony. You may incorporate readings, poetry, music or indeed your own personal vows to one another, in addition to the legal declarations you must make… Please check your facts before publishing things like this or at least give them their correct heading. And for all those reading this please check with the Registrar in the area you wish to get married they know exactly what you can and cannot do in their area and will be more than happy to help and advise.

    Reply· Nov 15, 2017 12:55pm
  7. Beth

    My mother is extremely ill and now bedbound, she has just proposed to her dear ex boyfriend who has accepted.
    We dearly want to make this wish of hers a reality. She’s such an inspiring woman who deserves every effort and every happiness.
    How can this be done? Any advice very much appreciated.

    Reply· Feb 26, 2018 9:05am
    1. Kate Thompson

      Yes it is legally possible to marry in the home of one of the partners if the partner is housebound. I’d advise you to contact your local minister or registrar for more information and we wish you all a wonderful day.

      Feb 26, 2018 10:46am

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