Thinking of having a wedding abroad? We share some advice and tips for planning your Destination Wedding.
Thanks to cheaper air-fares, destination weddings have never been as popular. Although it seems daunting and expensive at first, the costs of a destination wedding can end up being much less than you imagine. In fact, if you plan it right some destinations may work out significantly cheaper than a UK or Ireland wedding.
First things first, you need to decide on a destination. You might already have a location in mind - maybe a place that is special you - but there are still a few things to consider. Look at destinations that will be easy for you and your guests to get to without too much hassle and expense. No one wants to travel for 12 hours with multiple stopovers. Check if your local airport does regular flights to the destination. If flights are limited to certain days, make sure your wedding date takes that into account.
The Costa Del Sol (Spain), Cote d’Azur (France) and Tuscany (Italy) are extremely popular with brides thanks to the abundance of spectacular venues and the likelihood of having great weather. Because of this popularity, they are served by good airports with daily flights to most major UK and Irish airports.
Your dream location could be a remote mountain-top villa or a charming countryside village. If so you will need to research whether it has enough accommodation for all your guests. If your wedding is particularly large you might want to speak to a local hotel and make sure that they can accommodate everyone. Some hotels will be willing to give your guests a preferential rate if there is a large number booking.
It’s a good idea to organise a trip or two over to the venue in advance of the wedding. If you can, make a small holiday of it and use the time to have meetings with local suppliers such as florists, makeup artists and hairstylists. You’ll often only be able to decide on a vendor/supplier through meeting them face to face.
We’re massive fans of Airbnb when it comes to finding accommodation but did you know that you can also use it to find your perfect wedding venue? First of all type in the date or dates you are considering for your wedding - it’s a good idea to have a little flexibility. Under the ‘number of guests’ option choose the maximum possible. Then, under amenities check the box that says ‘suitable for events.’ If you find a venue that you think might suit, talk to the host to find out as much as you can about having your wedding there.
If you’re lucky, your host might just offer to be your wedding co-ordinator. Having on-site accommodation for 16 or more people will mean that you can have your bridal party and immediate family all staying with you at the venue, without the need of worrying about a hotel.
WHAT TO WEAR
If planning a wedding in a hot country, you really must remember this when you’re buying your wedding clothes. If a groom shows up in Andalusia in July wearing a 3-piece tweed suit, they’ll likely pass out before their vows! And a bride will not want to be carrying about a huge train in 30 degree heat. Choose light, breathable fabrics - they’ll not only look stunning but it will keep you comfortable. Pack sunscreen and avoid the harsh midday sun so you won’t get sunburned. Our top tip for grooms and groomsmen is to bring an extra shirt or two if you’re getting married in a hot country - trust me, you’ll thank us for that tip!
TIMING IS... EVERYTHING
If you’re getting married in the UK or Ireland, it’s very likely that you’ll have your ceremony around 12-2pm with your evening meal starting somewhere between 5-6pm. If you’re booking a venue in a hot country in the summer you’ll find that things are often a little different. We’ve typically found that ceremonies can start as late as 4-5pm with the evening meal beginning around 8-9pm.
In countries like Greece, it’s not unusual for the evening entertainment to only start at around 11pm and continue on until the early hours of the morning.
Your photographer will prefer to shoot portraits during golden hour (the hour before sunset) so to get the best possible photos, try to ensure that you give them some of your time around then.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
On the journey over, if you’re planning to fly bring the essentials in your hand-luggage. Checking in your dresses/suits could end in disaster should the luggage get lost. It’s a good idea to ring ahead and let the airline know that you’ve got your dress with you. Many airlines make every effort to ensure that you get to carry it on the plane - some might even offer to hang it for you so it doesn’t have to fold.
Some of our couples who booked a destination wedding were apprehensive about how their guests would react. The truth is that we’ve never seen an unhappy person at a destination wedding. Your guests, particularly if they’re from the UK or Ireland, will be delighted at getting a mini holiday in the sun. Help your guests as much as possible by providing detailed information about locations, airports, car hire and accommodation.
Send out save the dates as soon as you can so that they can book time off work and their flights as early as possible - we’ve gotten return flights to Spain for as little as £50pp by booking far in advance. If the reception venue doesn’t have accommodation, make sure to put on a bus to transport everyone back to their hotel safely.
It’s a good idea to involve as little travel as possible on the wedding day itself to remove a lot of stress for yourself and your guests. If you’re having a civil ceremony it’s a good idea to have the prep, ceremony and reception all at the one venue. You’ll find that things run much more smoothly that way. If you’re having a church wedding, try to choose one close to your reception. If yours is a destination wedding in a City it’s always fun to have the church within walking distance of the reception (and to make a lot of noise on your way there).
FOOD AND DRINK
Destination weddings open up all kinds of exciting possibilities when it comes to food and catering. Even the pickiest of eaters will enjoy sampling some local delights at your weddings so don’t shy away from local hors d’oeuvres, towering croquembouche or delicious tapas if the venue offers it. Beachfront Mediterranean venues will likely have access to wonderful fresh fish and seafood. Be sure to sample some local beer, wine and spirits. You might find that local produce works out cheaper, and it's always nice to be able to get drunk in the name of culture.
It’s always nice to lay on some activities for the guests the day before and after the wedding. If possible, arrange a drinks reception the night before - it’s a good way for the guests to all meet up and enjoy a drink together. For the day after, often called a decompression, it’s lovely to get everyone together again for a nice brunch. Some couples choose to lay on sightseeing or another activity the next day.
Let your guests know if there are any sights, restaurants or tourist attractions that they should make time to visit - many of them will be staying on for a bit of a holiday.
Some couples are more wowed by man-made structures than mountains and beaches and prefer to get married in a city. Cities like New York, Rome, Barcelona, Stockholm and Paris, to name a few, have their own kind of urban beauty. Europe, in particular, has many ancient cities teaming with incredible culture and beauty.
The advantages of a destination city wedding are that you have great transport and easy access to hotels, bars and restaurants. You have the added bonus of hundreds of strangers wishing you well as you walk through the streets.
CAN'T STAND THE HEAT?
Destination weddings don’t have to be about sunshine and beaches. Iceland is becoming increasingly popular for destination weddings and elopements. People come from all around the globe to get married there. It’s one of the most stunning places we’ve ever photographed, offering dramatic landscapes, glaciers, geysers and icebergs.
Despite the country being so rugged and untouched, it’s got a fantastic infrastructure making it really easy to get around. In summer the weather is milder and daylight lasts almost all day, making it possible to take photographs at almost any time.
From October to March you could be lucky enough to get your wedding photos with the Northern Lights, and the snow covered mountains make a spectacular backdrop. Our top tip is to book a next day photoshoot with your photographer and visit some stunning geysers, waterfalls and volcanos for the most spectacular wedding photos imaginable.
Most destination venues will have a wedding co-ordinator that you can work with you in the run-up to the wedding and on the day itself. In lieu of a wedding planner, they’ll be able to recommend local vendors who can supply you with flowers and do your makeup and hair. We’ve worked with some fabulous wedding co-ordinators across Europe.
THE FOLKS BACK HOME
If you’ve kept your destination wedding small, you might want to consider a second reception when you get back home. Rather than have a sit-down meal, you can book a hotel/restaurant and organise an evening buffet for extended family and friends. Book a good DJ and really make a night of it.
Booking your destination wedding in the off-peak season and midweek can save you money on the venue, accommodation and flights. The temperatures in hot countries are often more tolerable in May and September, yet still hot enough that you can have an outdoor ceremony and alfresco dining.
KEEPING IT LEGAL
Marriage requirements and regulations vary greatly from country to country. Some countries require you to be resident for weeks or even months leading up to the wedding, so it’s a good idea to research this thoroughly. You can avoid any legal headaches by actually having your legal/civil ceremony back home followed by a symbolic ceremony abroad. This means that your ceremony abroad can be simply ceremonial and not legal. We’ve seen couples have a friend conduct their destination ceremony, giving it a wonderfully intimate and emotional feeling.
Welcomed breakthroughs in marriage equality over the past decade have seen 15 European countries legislate to allow same-sex marriage with a further 11 countries offering civil partnerships. These countries should be at the top of your list when you are planning your wedding. Bans on same-sex marriage are mostly limited to Eastern and South-eastern Europe, with the exception of Greece. Further afield, Canada, USA, New Zealand and many beautiful countries in South America have embraced marriage equality.
HENS, STAGS & HONEYMOONS
If you’re planning on having a hen or stag do, why not incorporate it into your destination plans and hold it the week before your wedding. This way your guests won’t have to pay as much for two separate events and get a nice extended holiday abroad. It’s also easy to turn your destination wedding into an extended honeymoon by adding an extra week or two onto your itinerary. This will not only save you money on flights but an awful lot of hassle too.
DESTINATION WEDDING PACKAGES
Many hotels and resorts will offer package deals which include absolutely everything you’ll need for your wedding. While this is great for saving you effort and maybe even money, it could mean that you are working with vendors/suppliers that don’t suit your style and tastes. If it’s a photographer or florist, make sure that you look at their work to see if it’s what you’re after. If you find that you don’t like their style, you can refuse the package and source your own suppliers. This gives you more control over the aesthetic of your wedding.
TO DECOR OR NOT TO DECOR
If you’re on a budget, remember that most of the time your destination will be so gorgeous that you don’t need to spend any extra money dressing or decorating it. Enjoying a candle-lit alfresco dinner is spectacular enough without having to worry about extra decor.
USE A COURIER FOR BULKY ITEMS
If there are bulky items that you want to bring rather than source locally, you can simply courier them to the wedding venue. This saves the hassle and heartache of bringing massive suitcases through the airport with you.
NEXT DAY PHOTOS
If you’ve got a few spectacular photo locations in mind but are worried about how far they from your reception venue, then it’s worth considering a next day photoshoot. You simply get dressed up again and head off into the wilderness with your photographer for some fantastic photographs. There are two advantages to this: firstly you get to spend more time with your family and friends on the wedding day and secondly; you get a lovely relaxed photoshoot with no time limits, allowing your photographer to capture the most stunning vistas in the best light possible.
Finally, if you like your local photographer, just bring them with you! Aside from your partner, your photographer will be the person you spend most of your time with on the wedding day. It’s important to get photographers that you feel comfortable with and having no language barrier to worry about can be a bonus. Also, the photographer is probably the only vendor that you’ll have to deal with after the wedding, so it’s helpful if they’re based in your home country - especially if you want an album.
While a local photographer may know the area better, the photographer you bring with you will likely show up a couple of days in advance to scout out photo locations and the venue. We’ve travelled all around Europe with couples and have mastered the art of doing it cheaply and efficiently. We are always excited to shoot in new countries and locations. If you think we can help you with your destination wedding please just get in touch.