Wedding Venue Licensing: A Quick Overview

Venue licensing is a long and complicated topic. Has it got you scratching your head? If you’re confused about the legal aspects of getting married, you’ve come to the right place.

Firstly, your wedding day is about you and your partner. Thus, your primary concern should be to arrange a day that reflects you both. However, for a legal marriage there are numerous aspects to consider. When you’re planning on getting married, the building you have chosen must have a marriage license for weddings. Otherwise it’s not an official or legal marriage ceremony.

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The UK government has a 36 page document specifying what is needed for a venue to register for civil ceremonies. We have broken it down. Find out more about venue licencing for your big day below…

Civil ceremony or religious wedding?

Before we go any further, let us point out that this article refers to civil ceremonies. We are not referring to religious ceremonies, or to wedding receptions. To clarify, let’s break down some definitions.

Religious wedding

A religious wedding is one that takes place in any registered religious building. This can be a church, chapel, cathedral, mosque, synagogue or temple, or anything else we have missed here.

Civil wedding

In contrast, a civil wedding is one that does not take place in a religious building. This could be a register office or at any registered venue (which we will discuss later in this article). A registrar must be present, as well as two witnesses. This does not mean that it is a non-religious weddings, as couples in England and Wales cannot have a legally binding humanist wedding.

Civil partnership

Currently only available for same sex couples, a civil partnership, or union, includes most of the rights as a marriage but under a different name. There is no need for a ceremony to take place, although many would choose to have one. Same sex couples can choose to have a religious or civil wedding (but not in Anglican churches).

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A ceremony is the legal part of a wedding. Dependent on the style (your religion or a secular ceremony) this can last anywhere from twenty minutes to several hours. It usually involves exchanging rings and vows.


This is where people can get creative with their weddings. There are no restrictions on where you can host your wedding reception. Think of it as the after party to officially tying the knot.

So can I get married anywhere?

Well, no. Unfortunately there are plenty of restrictions in place as to where you can get married. First and foremost, the venue must have a licence.

If you are browsing our directory, this should be easy to spot. Although some venues listed on our site cater solely for receptions, plenty do the whole shebang. Look out for phrases like “all-inclusive venue” to find somewhere to host both your ceremony and reception. Licensed venues should be well marked.

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However, you needn’t worry too much. Most wedding venues do hold civil ceremony licenses nowadays, whether that is a manor house, hotel or barn venue and everything in between. Most locations will offer couples at least one space that is licensed to host civil ceremonies.

If you are looking for a location to host your ceremony, then make sure you check with each venue that you peruse to ascertain if they hold the necessary license first!

Can anywhere get a licence?

Again, unfortunately, no. There are some places where it is just not possible to wed.

1. Outdoors

For those looking for an al fresco ceremony, we have bad news. Whilst technically you can say your vows and exchange rings in the open air, marriages in England, Wales and Ireland must be signed indoors. This also excludes any form of transport, including boats that are not permanently moored.

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This is not the case in Scotland, where you can be legally married in a respectful and approved outdoor location with a humanist ceremony. Take a look at a previous post for further information about this!

The reason for this law in the first place is because of Britain’s inclement weather! The register is an important document and nobody wants it to get wet.

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But, even in the rest of the UK, there is a loophole. You can get married outdoors if it is underneath a fixed, permanent structure.  This could be a gazebo or any other type of structure, as long as the bride and groom are stood underneath it. This does not include marquees, but talk to your venue as they will know the laws best.

2. Anywhere other than the registered room

Even if the venue you have chosen holds a wedding licence, this does not mean that you can get married where you choose. Similarly to not being able to marry outdoors, you cannot marry outside of the registered room.

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Importantly, it is not buildings that are registered but individual rooms. So, if you thought you liked the idea of signing the registry in your hotel bedroom, think again.

When visiting venues, make sure you check exactly which rooms are registered. However, remember that you can often choose exactly how to lay out the room, so you can still get your personalised venue.

3. Undignified venues

Weddings are, legally speaking, solemn events. As a result, the primary purpose of a building will be taken into account. And undignified is not just the word we are using. The Approved Premises Guide quotes “the premises must, in the opinion of the authority be a seemly and dignified venue for the proceedings”.

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Furthermore, you cannot register a venue for a single event, as “it is expected that the premises are made available regularly for the registration of civil partnerships and the solemnization of civil marriages.”

All venues must prove safe from fire, and individual councils have the right to set their own restrictions, too. Take a look at our article where we discuss exactly where you can get married in much more detail.

That’s all, folks

Of course, a legal ceremony is not for everyone. A blessing is an alternative option if your dream space isn’t licensed for ceremonies and if you’re not too fussed about the legalities.

On the other hand, you can always do all the legal stuff at a registry office in the morning or a few days before your wedding. After that, you can hold a blessing wherever you choose. This means that legally you are married and you can still have the ceremony you have always dreamed of.

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And of course, you don’t need a license to host your wedding reception celebration!

Licensing may seem like a difficult and restrictive element in searching for a wedding venue, but it’s really quite straightforward. Simply ask at each prospective venue if they hold the appropriate licence, and good luck!

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