Yes…and no. How to Plan a Wedding in Central Park.
After taking a few months off for social media summer vacation, I am back and wanted to share with you my latest wedding. I had the pleasure of photographing Matthew and Travis this past week in Central Park. We lucked out with weather and crowds, and the result was some amazing photos in a (mostly) hidden spot right past Bow Bridge (a.k.a., ‘Bow Bridge beach’). I want you all to learn from Matthew and Travis’s good fortune, so in today’s blog I tell you everything you need to know about how to planning a wedding in NYC’s most visited park. So let’s start by answering the question, ‘do you need a permit to get married in Central Park?’
Do you need a permit to get married in Central Park? If you are planning on getting hitched in the Conservatory Garden on 105th Street, then absolutely yes, you need a permit. There are guards in the Conservatory Garden preventing you from even taking photos here unless you have a permit. The cost for a Conservatory Garden permit is $400. The garden is a very popular choice, so make sure you book a year in advance if possible. You can fill out a permit application here. (I will have more details on the pros and cons of a Conservatory Garden later in the year with photos from Katie and Zach’s wedding.)
The good news is that every other spot in Central Park is much less competitive (and pricey). If you have a guest count of less than 20 people, you do not need a permit. If your guest count is over the 20-person limit, however, then you are required to get a special events permit from Central Park. It takes 30 days to process the permit and costs $25.
No bad weather backup spots. The major fear I had with Matthew and Travis’s wedding was the weather. We have had more rain this year than ever before, and there are no bad weather backup locations within the park. The only undercover options in Central Park are the Bethesda Terrace mosaic arch and the Dairy – and these spots absolutely won’t accommodate a large guest list. Know the risks beforehand and – I plead with you – have a backup location in mind ahead of time.
There are restrictions. Central Park is not a private venue, and as such, there are restrictions so that your wedding doesn’t interfere with the pleasure of other park visitors. Here is the official list of ‘don’ts’ in Central Park:
- No set-up (includes tents/tables/chairs); chuppahs may be hand-carried in and out with prior permission
- No amplified sound (acoustic music is permitted)
- No vehicles or pedicab drop-off permitted
- No alcohol
- No flowers, balloons, or decorations
- No banners or signs affixed to Park property or trees; no staking into the ground
- Cleanup is required; the venue should be in the same condition as it was before the event
- The public must always have access to the park
For Matthew and Travis’s wedding, there were no flowers but the couple wanted to celebrate saying ‘I do’ by throwing rose petals in the air. Those rose petals you see are made of rice paper and will dissolve on contact with water. In addition, the couple wanted to signify their vows by throwing stones into the lake. The stones, like the rose petals, were ecologically friendly and not obtrusive to the park environment. Oh, and never mind the bubbly… In short, for your own wedding don’t do anything that will mess up the park for other visitors and take out all of your trash afterwards.
Crowds are a HUGE factor. Please note that last restriction about the public having access to the park. You technically can’t tell anyone to move even if you are getting married. When we arrived at Bow Bridge beach, there was a couple talking on the bench. I politely let them know that a wedding was about to begin, and the couple left. However, during the ceremony a very annoying European tourist decided to make himself a part of the ceremony and nearly walked between the two grooms during their vows. We also had a group of kids shout out loudly, ‘Congratulations!’ during the ceremony. Why, people? Why???? Mind you, this was on a Monday evening so the crowd level was quite light but we still had people making themselves a part of the event. As such, you really need to consider the day, time, location, and your level of comfort with Joe Q. Public when you select your Central Park wedding location. For Matthew and Travis’s wedding we were pretty much hidden and still had interruptions. Central Park is in the middle of New York City, and the city will be loud and proud – even while you are saying your vows. If you want complete privacy for your nuptials, then Central Park should not be your choice of venue.
Wedding venue locations within Central Park. Here is a list of suggested locations within the park as provided by the Central Park website:
- Cop Cot (max. 50 ppl.): 60th St., close to Central Park South in the center of the park
- Ladies Pavilion (Gazebo, max. 20-25 ppl.): 77nd St. and West Drive
- Wagner Cove (Gazebo, max. 20-25 ppl.): 72nd St. west of Cherry Hill at the edge of the lake
- Cherry Hill (max. 100 ppl.): Off of the 72nd St. Transverse, just east of West Drive
- Harlem Meer (max. 100 ppl.): 110th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.
- Shakespeare Garden (max. 20-25 ppl.): 79th St. and West Drive
- Bethesda Terrace /Bethesda Fountain (25 ppl.): Off of 72nd St. Tranverse in the center of the park
- Cedar Hill (max. 50 ppl.): 79th St. and 5th Ave. on the east side of the park
- Great Hill (max. 100 ppl.): West 103rd St.
- Gapstow Bridge (max. 20-25 ppl.): 59th St. Pond, off of Central Park West and 5th Ave.
- Belvedere Plaza (max. 20-25 ppl.): No access to castle
- Bow Bridge (max. 20-25 ppl.)
- The Pool Lawn (max. 80 ppl.): Between West 101st and 102nd Sts., north lawn of pool
- Summit Rock (max. 80 ppl.): 83rd St. and Central Park West
Based on my own experience as a wedding photographer, here is my list of the best spots for a small Central Park wedding:
- Bow Bridge beach
- Conservatory Garden by water or terrace
- Shakespeare Garden
- Belvedere Plaza (note the structure is under renovation and will be closed until 2020)
- The Pool up north (my all-time favorite spot for family photos)
- Cop Cot
Central Park wedding venues to avoid. The most popular spots to get married (and thus, most affected by crowds) are Bethesda Terrace and the Ladies Pavilion. Because of the crowd factor, I would avoid these spots unless you are planning to get hitched at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday. That said, I have a wedding on Bethesda Terrace later this year, so I’ll let you know how it goes. For Wagner Cove, you are pretty much on display for all of the crowds heading to and from Strawberry Fields and the 72nd Street entrance, so I would say no to this spot. Finally, Gapstow Bridge and Bow Bridge are major walkthroughs, so I would avoid these spots at all costs.
Where to go after your wedding? If you want to stay in-house, then head on over to the Loeb Boathouse or Tavern on the Green. You can certainly go off the reservation, so to speak, and head off to any of NYC’s finest restaurants.
And finally, let’s get the details on Matthew and Travis’s love story!
How did you two meet? Truthfully, on Tinder. Our first face-to-face meeting was a date at an art museum (that I was very involved with). After our first date, we were in constant communication throughout a year of long-distance dating. Early on, we declared we wanted to move in together after a year of dating, and almost a year from our first date we did just that!
Where and how did the proposal take place? Travis proposed to Matty on a hike in Grandfather Mountain State Park, during a weekend getaway trip with our Boston Terrier Windsor.
What is going to be the most special part of your wedding for you both? Being together with friends and celebrating something we’ve been talking about for almost 3 years. Also, holding the elopement in NY means a lot to us, especially since we have decided we want to move back (well, Travis would be moving back and Matty would be moving for the first time).
Any great stories about you as a couple or about planning your wedding? Countless stories—all incriminating.
Any special DIY projects for the wedding? We plan to write our names and wedding date on the pebbles!
Time allotted for groom and groom photos: 1 hour (and we used every moment!)
Portrait locations: the Dakota and the Langham (on Fifth Avenue), crosswalk at 72nd Street Central Park entrance, 73rd Street (gate and stairwell photos), Bow Bridge ‘beach’ (Central Park)
If you would like to see more examples of my photography in Central Park, then please check out these blog posts. And if Central Park is your wedding venue of choice, then definitely check out my more in-depth article on ‘How to Plan a Central Park Wedding, Perfectly.’ If you would like to see more examples of my wedding photojournalism, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com.