A darling of the New England wedding scene, Newport, Rhode Island has a reputation for the gloriously ritzy: It’s home to the former summer “cottages” (read: sprawling estates) of families including the Vanderbilts and the Kennedys (where Jackie and John said “I do” in 1953). But don’t let the seaside city's swanky image fool you. Newport is an eloper’s dream no matter the budget, full of historical beauty and nautical vibes. Head inland, and you’ll discover the cobblestone Thames Street—charming any time of year, but particularly so during winter, when shops fill their windows with white lights, cueing up the colonial tradition of candlelit windows for the holidays. The city’s rich history is also displayed in a bevy of quaint inns dotting its tree-lined streets, any one of them a lovely storybook setting for the first chapter of your marriage.
Best Time of Year to Visit
March - May and September - October
Newport’s spot along Rhode Island’s stunning coast makes it practically synonymous with “summer weekend” for anyone in the northeast with an extra buck. But even though it has plenty to offer in those hot months—lighthouses to explore, polo matches to watch—you can really feel the depth of the city’s New England charm in the spring and fall. During these shoulder seasons, the temperatures clock in between 40 and 60 degrees, but nature’s colors fill the landscape with warmth. In the spring, Newport is blanketed in yellow daffodils, and in the fall, covered in crimson foliage. And there’s something about the crisp ocean breeze in these seasons that makes strolling the city’s historic streets, bouncing between its mom-and-pop shops, and enjoying the area’s fresh seafood al fresco that much more pleasant.
Pro Tip: If you don’t mind the cold (and you’re not planning a beachside ceremony), consider eloping to Rhode Island in January. The off season may bring lows in the 20s, but it’s also the time of year when you’ll find Newport at its most peaceful. And it’ll be much cheaper, too: The second half of January brings Hotel Week—a fourteen-day event (coinciding with Newport Wellness Week) during which more than 20 of the state’s top boutique and historic hotels offer discounted flat rates, starting at $100 a night.
Perhaps the best way to soak in Newport’s most scenic seaside attractions is to take a ride on the ten-mile road tracking along its southwestern coast, aptly named Ocean Drive. Conveniently located around mile 5 of the loop is Brenton Point State Park. Its sloping grassy lawns, once the grounds of one of the city’s sweeping estates, are most well-known for their awesome waterfront view: The park looks out upon the spot where Narragansett Bay spills into the Atlantic. As a result, the winds can be stiff here (it’s a favorite among kite enthusiasts for a reason), so consider having your ceremony and taking portraits in the park’s inland gardens or on one of its shaded walking trails during peak breeziness, then heading out to the rugged coastline for a few striking shots when things calm down.
This 3.5-mile walk traces the rugged Atlantic coast on one side and curves behind Newport’s opulent Gilded Age mansions on the other. In 1975, it became the first trail in New England to be designated as a National Recreation Trail, and has since become the most popular tourist attraction in Rhode Island. For all of the nature to be had on the walk, it’s also an extremely romantic landmark. Stick to the northern end, which is paved; venturing south leads to steep and abrupt drops and, during rainy summer weather, poison ivy.
Since the Cliff Walk is technically a public right-of-way over private property, you’ll need to notify the City of Newport for details on permits. If you do choose this scenic spot for your vows, plan to park at Eastons Beach, which is smack-dab in the middle of the walk, and is where you’ll find the only public bathrooms in the vicinity. The walk is open 365 days a year and is free to access.
If low-key, secluded waterfront vibes are what you’re after for your elopement, look no further than King Park, a picturesque grassy expanse that backs up to the south end of Newport Harbor (a quieter coast than the Atlantic-facing side of the city). On one side it gives way to a narrow rocky-sandy beach, lined with beach roses. But make your way to the wider, grassier side, and you’ll discover the white-columned gazebo where local musicians perform on summer evenings—ideal for exchanging your vows amid the sea breeze. You can reserve the space for your ceremony for a fee of $100 (residents) or $250 (non-residents) beginning on January 1 of the year in which you’re planning to marry.
If both of you are Rhode Island residents, you’ll need to apply for a marriage license from the city or town clerk’s office where you or your spouse is from, and if only one of you is a resident, you’ll need to apply in that person’s hometown; in either case, the license will be valid anywhere in the state. If you’re both non-residents, you’ll have to apply, specifically, in the city or town where you plan to have your ceremony.
To do so, you’ll show up in person, complete a marriage worksheet on-site, and pay a fee of $24. A few forms of identification are required, too, from both of you—typically, a long-form certified copy of your birth certificate, and either a driver’s license or passport. If either of you has been previously married, you’ll also need to provide a certified copy of the final decree of divorce or dissolution, or of the death certificate of the former spouse.
Within 3 months of receiving your marriage license, you’ll need to have a wedding ceremony officiated by an ordained clergyman or minister, or civil servant (check this Rhode Island state law for those qualified), with at least two witnesses present (each 18 or older). For more information on marriage requirements in Rhode Island, visit the Rhode Island Department of Health’s website.