The options are endless in where you want to get married in Wilmington, North Carolina. You can get married on the beach, in a garden, surrounded by fish in an aquarium, in the forest, or in downtown. You have so many options!! Making sure you know all your options is why I have created this guide on how to elope in Wilmington from sharing locations, activities to do, answering FAQs, and more! Get ready to say absolutely fall in love with this southern coastal beach town.
Where is Wilmington, North Carolina?
Wilmington is on the east coast of the United States in the southeast of North Carolina. Wilmington is located about 2 hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, 3 hours and 15 minutes from Charlotte, and 1 hour and 30 minutes from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Wilmington is a coastal beach town with a ton of history, lots of good food, is a college town, and has so many things to do.
How to Get to Wilmington
There are 3 airports that are close to Wilmington:
- Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is only 7 miles outside Wilmington.
- Albert J. Ellis Airport (OAJ) is 62 miles from Wilmington, or a one hour drive.
- Raleigh/Durham Airport (RDU) is 144 miles from Wilmington, or about a two hour and ten minutes drive.
If you’re planning on driving to Wilmington or renting a car after flying into Wilmington:
- When driving into Wilmington, taking I-40 or I-17 is usually your best options.
- Traffic in Wilmington is most common Monday-Friday between 6:00-9:00am and 3:00-6:00pm. Fridays will always have more traffic, especially during the warmer months.
- There is a lot of street parking available. Most street parking has an hourly rate or an all-day rate, although most street parking is free after 6:00pm or 6:30pm. Some street parking is free on Sundays. Just make sure to read the signs near your parked car!
Other Towns Near Wilmington
Although Wilmington is the “major town” in the area, there are plenty of other beach towns in the area too that you could elope at!
- Topsail Beach
- Surf City
- Oak Island
- Bald Head Island
- Emerald Isle
Why Should You Elope in Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is the ultimate “North Carolina beach town” being right on the riverfront, stunning blue water in the oceans, and colorful beach houses. The weather is pretty consistently warm from April through October, so the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors are endless! Even during the winter, there’s still a good chance of having sunny and warm weather being 50-70 degrees.
FAQs About Getting Married in Wilmington
Do I need to live in or be from Wilmington to get a marriage license? Nope! You do not need to be a resident of North Carolina to get a marriage license from them. The marriage license is only good for North Carolina though.
How much does it cost to get a marriage license in Wilmington? It costs $60 to attain a marriage license in Wilmington. After attaining your marriage license, you have up to 60 days to get married. You can read more about the process and what you need to get your marriage license in Wilmington here.
Can we have a family member or friend perform the ceremony? Unfortunately, no. In the state of North Carolina, only “an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, a magistrate, or a federally or state-recognized Indian Nation or tribe” (as stated on the marriage application website) is allowed to ordain a ceremony. However, you can get legally married in a courthouse, and then hold a ceremony where a family member or friend performs the ceremony during your wedding or elopement.
Will we need a witness to get married? In North Carolina, you will need 2 witnesses for your marriage. You can ask either two guests to be your witness, two vendors (your photographer and videographer, for example), or you can ask two strangers that are hanging out near your ceremony. I’m always happy to sign your witness paper if you do not want any guests present at your elopement in Wilmington too!
Best Locations to Elope at in Wilmington
The options are endless on where to get married in Wilmington! You can get married on the beach, in a garden or at a park, at a wedding venue, or you can get creative and elope at a more non-traditional location in Wilmington.
In case you didn’t know, North Carolina has some of the prettiest beaches. The water is crystal clear, some beaches have white sand, and it’s generally pretty easy to find a private spot on the beach even in the middle of summer.
One thing to consider when eloping on the beach is parking. Most beach accesses have parking fees between the hours of 8am-5pm and is typically $5/hour or $25 for the whole day. Parking spots cannot be reserved, so I suggest staying in a place within walking distance of the beach, getting to the beach early in the morning or later in the evening, and/or eloping on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Carolina Beach – is a pretty beach town located right by Wilmington with a vintage boardwalk (including a ferris wheel!), clear waters, live music, and awesome surf. A permit is not needed to hold a ceremony on Carolina Beach; however, tents and chairs are not allowed.
Wrightsville Beach – is another stunning beach right by Wilmington with clear waters, lots of water sports available (surfing, paddle boarding, and sailing), and a fun nightlife. A permit is needed to get married on Wrightsville Beach. The permit fee is dependent on how many guests you will have, which you can read more about here.
Topsail Beach – is a beautiful beach located about 40 minutes north of Wilmington. The water is an unbelievable blue crystal clear color, there are white sand beaches, and there are no major hotels or resorts nearby. Don’t just take my word for it, Topsail Beach was also voted as North Carolina’s Most Beautiful Beach in 2022. In my opinion, Topsail Beach gives you the highest chance of having a more intimate and private wedding ceremony. There is no permit required to get married on Topsail Beach unless you plan to use amplification equipment. You do have to notify the Topsail Beach Police Department of your wedding for safety reasons or in case of an emergency. You can read more about the rules of eloping on Topsail Beach here.
Ocean Isle Beach – is a pretty beach located 45 minutes south of Wilmington. Ocean Isle Beach has a classic brick lighthouse, endless beautiful beaches, and is known for its history of pirates and its help during World War II. Permits are not required to get married on Ocean Isle Beach, but you must notify the Ocean Isle Police Department of your wedding for safety reasons or in case of an emergency. You can read more about the rules of eloping on Ocean Isle Beach here.
Gardens and Parks
The beach is not the only place Wilmington has to offer to elope at! Wilmington also has gardens and parks to elope at:
Airlie Gardens – is available for weddings March through mid-October, must be held between 9am-10pm, and has a 3-hour minimum. There are 4 beautiful locations at Airlie Gardens that allow a ceremony to be held, although you’re allowed to take photos throughout the gardens. The locations all have a variety of showing off the flower gardens, the Spanish moss on the trees, and/or have a view of the water. You seriously cannot go wrong with any of the locations!! More info about eloping at Airlie Gardens can be found here.
Carolina Beach State Park – is a pretty state park with a mix of beaches and forest. There is a Special Events permit that may be needed depending on how many guests you’re planning on having present and a Photography Permit that is required if you choose to get married at Carolina Beach State Park. However, Carolina Beach State Park is free to enter. Here is more info about eloping at Carolina Beach State Park.
Fort Fisher Historic Park – is stunning with endless views of the beach and Spanish moss trees. It’s closest to Carolina Beach. There are two gazebos to choose between getting married on, or at the Ocean Grove. Parking is free, but you must pay a fee to get married here. The gazebos are easily accessible for any disabled or elderly guests. More info about eloping at Fort Fisher Historic Park is here.
Even if you’re planning on eloping, you can still get married at a stunning wedding venue. Typically if you choose to elope at a wedding venue, you must get married on a weekday with 0-30 guests – although it totally depends on the venue.
Riverwalk Landing – is located in downtown Wilmington right on the boardwalk with a view of the Cape Fear River. It’s the only outdoor river location in downtown Wilmington. You can rent this venue for a ceremony-only fee or you can host a mini reception here too. Check out more info about eloping at Riverwalk Landing here.
Station No. 2 – is located in historic downtown Wilmington. This venue is a perfect balance of elegance and history. The Station No.2 venue is already a smaller, more intimate venue, which makes it the perfect spot for an elopement! You’re able to rent this venue any day of the week and can stay on the property. Station No. 2 is also LGBTQ+ friendly. You can learn more about eloping at Station No. 2 here.
Graystone Inn – is located in downtown Wilmington and provides a luxury experience with stunning architecture and delicious food. Elopement packages (up to 10 people) are available Sunday through Thursday and includes a 2-night stay. Find out more info about eloping at Graystone Inn here.
Ocean Isle Beach Chapel – has two options for a ceremony: inside the chapel or outside in the gardens with a view of the water. The chapel is located about 50 minutes south from Wilmington. Regular church services (non-denominal) are held here, but the chapel can be rented out for weddings. Reach out to the owners, the Williamson family, at 910-579-6222 for more information. Get more info about eloping at Ocean Isle Beach Chapel here.
The Village Chapel of Bald Head Island – is a beautiful building, has beautiful gardens, and on a beautiful island. Can you tell it’s just beautiful here!? This chapel is about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Wilmington. Here is more info about eloping at the Village Chapel of Bald Head Island.
On a sailboat – There are lots of sailboats or riverboats to say your vows on and celebrate your marriage on! A sunset sail or a brunch sail are the most popular times, although you could any time of day you want. Check out this sailboat, this boat, or this river boat.
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher – has sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, alligators, and tons of fish! You’re able to spend time in the garden conservatory, dance under the sea, and dine with the fish. Contact the Special Events team at (910) 772-0535 or email email@example.com for more info about eloping at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Courthouse – is an absolutely stunning historic building with tons of pretty architecture, arches, and columns. The Courthouse is right in downtown Wilmington. After your ceremony, it’s super easy to walk around all the historic buildings in downtown for photos, restaurants for food, and/or go to a bar to celebrate.
The Best Time to Get Married in Wilmington
Honestly, you cannot go wrong with getting married during any time of the year. Wilmington is truly beautiful throughout the year! The weather is pretty ideal year-round, there are a lot of activities and events to do throughout the year, is very dog-friendly, and has lots of good food to try.
Weather: In Wilmington, it is pretty consistently warm and sunny from the beginning of April through the end of October. Even during the winter time, where you do have a higher chance of having colder weather, there’s still a pretty good chance of having a sunny day and warmer weather between 50-70 degrees. The summer time is very hot, so the best time for a ceremony is either at sunrise or sunset or having it indoors. Hurricane season, which is from June to November, does effect the coast of North Carolina with the state seeing most of its hurricanes in August, September, and October.
Crowds: Wilmington is the most popular during the summer months (June to August). The best time to avoid crowds and get married in Wilmington is between March to May or September to November. During the spring and fall, you still have the super nice weather and the opportunity to still get to do outdoor activities without the summer crowds.
Where to Stay in Wilmington
Airbnb’s in Wilmington
Hotels and Resorts in Wilmington
Campgrounds in Wilmington
10 Activities To Do For Your Elopement in Wilmington
- Spend time at the beach: go surfing, go fishing, go for a walk on the beach, watch the sunrise over the ocean, or have a full-on beach day.
- Spend the day on the water on a boat. You can rent a sailboat or riverboat with the companies I suggested above for a sunset sail or a brunch sail. Or you can rent a kayak.
- Go to a brewery in Wilmington. Wilmington is known for lots of breweries, such as Wilmington Brewing Company, Wrightsville Beach Brewery, Mad Mole Brewing, Front Street Brewery, Wilmington Brewing Company, and more.
- Have a picnic lunch on the beach or at a park. There are a ton of picnic companies that will go all out in creating a special picnic with charcuterie, champagne, and more. Check out Elaborate Outings or the Luxe Picnic Company.
- Go check out live music. There’s a ton of live music at Carolina Beach, such as at Sea Witch Cafe or The Lazy Pirate.
- For the history lovers, check out the historical parts of Wilmington. Take a tour of the USS North Carolina ship, walk around Fort Fisher, go to the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, or visit the Bellamy Mansion to see the Victorian era home.
- Get a cold drink to beat the heat. There are tons of bars around Wilmington for a cocktail or mocktail or coffeeshops to get an iced coffee or a smoothie. There are also acai bowls available like at Zeke’s.
- Watch the sunrise over the ocean to start off your day together, or watch the sunset to end your wedding day together.
- Make reservations for brunch at The Basics, Famous Toastery of Wilmington, or at Dixie Grille.
- Go out to dinner at a nice restaurant to celebrate getting married!
Wilmington Elopement Photographer
Well hey there – if you didn’t know me already, I’m Emily! I’m a Wilmington elopement photographer based in North Carolina. I spend a lot of time photographing adventure elopements of rad couples around the world. I’m obsessed with all things elopements, being out on the water, outdoor adventure, and am truly so grateful that I get to call this my job!!!
If you’re looking for a photographer for your Wilmington elopement who will:
- Photograph your beautiful Wilmington elopement ceremony and activities through storytelling photos that you can look back on for the rest of your life
- Help you come up with your dream elopement day and itinerary
- Help you find activities in the Wilmington area to make your elopement intentional, unique, and memorable
…then I’m your person!!!
Visit my website to learn more about me, get to know my approach to elopement photography, and then reach out to me if you think we’re a good fit. I cannot wait to hear from you and start planning your dream Wilmington elopement!!
Final Tips for Eloping in Wilmington
- If you’re planning on doing an outdoor ceremony in the spring, summer, or fall, the best time to get married is during sunrise or sunset to beat the heat and to avoid crowds.
- If you’re wanting a beach elopement, the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean which makes for the best lighting for photos. Sun rise is also usually more private compared to the sunset on the beach.
- How to Plan Your Dream Elopement: Advice from Someone Who Eloped
- All-Day Elopement Timeline Examples
- A gallery of mine to check out of Sunrise Photos on the Beach
- A gallery of mine taken at Wrightsville Beach