How to choose a wedding venue

Lavish or simple, outdoor or inside – which venue do you choose for your wedding?

A Traditional Church Wedding

For many couples in the UK, perhaps especially the bride, there is no alternative to having a traditional church wedding ceremony, with a historic setting, the suspense of the wait once guests are seated, the drama of the entrance music, and the emotional walk down the aisle.

With church weddings you have plenty of room to show off your wedding dress to good effect, especially if you opt for a long train or veil.  Then you might have a special bridal car to arrive in and leave once married, flowers in church, a choir or bell ringers, an organist or other musician and Orders of Service.  A church or chapel wedding (or Kirk wedding as it is in Scotland) has a real sense of occasion and for many is worth the investment of time and money.  If the pomp and ceremony of a church wedding appeals to you but you would feel hypocritical marrying in church with the standard church ceremony, there are now many privately owned churches giving you the best of both worlds as you can choose a ceremony tailored to your beliefs and wishes, still in a beautiful, sacred and historical setting.

A Registry Office Wedding

When thinking about budgeting for the different aspects of your day within the overall wedding costs, registry office weddings in a register office would usually be the cheapest option for your ceremony. Whilst you should have the freedom to decorate the room you’ll get married in, you might be restricted by other bookings that day, and some ceremony rooms can be a little lacking in character.   Also depending on the location and busyness of the registrar there may be a limit to the amount of input and support you get around the content of your ceremony.  If you’d like a very personal wedding with a personal ceremony all about you, then you might consider an interfaith wedding ceremony or one held by an independent celebrant who can offer a personal touch and greater flexibility.

A Hotel or Castle Wedding

Hotels, residential stately homes and castles are very adept at planning weddings and can often provide you with the ideal place to have both your ceremony of marriage and reception in one place giving a perfect setting and maximum convenience.  You don’t have to factor in travel time or transport, and you can get ready, marry, eat, party and sleep in one place. You’ll find they often have beautiful rooms and gardens for your ceremony and photographs – sometimes with unique features like a sweeping staircase, a fountain or a maze.  Weddings in Scotland particularly appeal to couples coming from all over the world because there’s such a range of fantastic venues and the fact that celebrities have favoured Scotland really puts Scotland on the map - Madonna famously tied the knot at Skibo Castle, Mark Owen from Take That chose Cawdor Castle for his fairytale wedding, and Zara Phillips (the Queen’s granddaughter) married in Canongate Kirk in the centre of Edinburgh.

An Outdoor Wedding

There is something very appealing about an outdoor wedding, but whatever the attraction – sentiment, atmosphere or budget – it could well be a false economy to have two hundred guests on a beach without an alternative location in case of rain or wind or both, particularly in the UK.  It’s a wise bride who makes a plan B so that if on the day, the ceremony has to be indoors, what could be considered a gloomy hotel conference room would be transformed with flowers and candles.

Celebrating After the Ceremony

Some couples opt for a simple, low key ceremony and celebration with just very close relatives and friends, perhaps having a meal in a nice restaurant or even at home – clearly this is kinder to your budget, than a big wedding.  Others want to share their day with as many people as possible and have a sit down meal for everyone who attended the ceremony, then invite more people to come and join in an evening reception, often with a more food and a live band.

According to Chloe Hayward, Business Reporter with BBC News, up to a quarter of a million couples get married in the UK each year, and the average cost of the day is over £21,000 (this doesn’t include the rings or honeymoon). Some couples will have spent a lot more, whereas others will have opted for a smaller ceremony and celebration on the day so that they can either take an extended honeymoon and go travelling for a year together, or they want to put down a deposit on a house and get a foot on the property ladder.

What do you want?

Some considerations for the ideal venue are:

  • What is your budget?  It pays to do some research before you decide on a date and format for your nuptials so you get an idea of the costs of things to start with, rather than have no idea of what’s current or realistic.  Do you want to have everything you want quickly and go into debt, or do you want to plan ahead and save up? 
  • What are you priorities?  If you’ve set your heart on a designer wedding dress, big name wedding photographer and 4* hotel with a sit down meal for a hundred guests, and have a budget of £6000, you may find you’ve spent half of your budget already on just your wedding dress and your photographer. When Sarah Newman got married she was prepared to pay whatever it cost for her chosen celebrants (she booked a husband and wife team) and she chose to make a big saving by buying her dress for £50 from Oxfam!  On the day she was pretty as a picture and no-one present would have been any the wiser that her dress didn’t cost several hundred pounds! It really does pay to think about what you’ll compromise on and what you will not budge on - decide what’s important to you, be prepared to pay for what you really want, and then budget and save up.
  • Who do you want to be there?  Deciding which family and friends to invite can often be hard to decide especially if you’re restricted with numbers, so it might be best to have an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list.  Also don’t be afraid to have a conversation with people to get early RSVPs then you can invite other people without them feeling offended by being asked last minute.
  • Having a wedding planner can be a great investment and they can often negotiate discounts, but equally if you have a family member of friend who would be good at planning your wedding, put your faith in whoever’s well organised so you can delegate and then relax on the day knowing everything is taken care of.
  • Where do you want the wedding ceremony and celebration to take place? Travel is easy and it’s now possible to have a marriage pretty much anywhere in the world.  Some places will be easier than others in terms of red tape and legal applications, but you can always get married legally with the bare minimum in your country of domicile and then you don’t have to contend with foreign bureaucracy.
  • How many bridesmaids and groomsmen will you have?  The hire or purchase of suits and kilts can soon add up and is on top of the dresses, jewellery and shoes for the bridal party – never mind spray tans, hair and make-up (again who knows, for both bride and groom parties???).
  • What about THE DRESS? Your wedding is after all a very special and unique occasion so you may have no problem in splashing out to be princess for a day, but equally you might have a streak of practicality that finds it hard to spend a fortune on a wedding dress that will only be worn once.  It’s not surprising that there’s an active online market place for once worn dresses, shoes, tiaras and many money saving bargains to be had.
  • How do you ensure the day is meaningful and not get caught up in all the practicalities or frills?  This is critically important and it’s worth remembering what it’s all about – the first day of the rest of your lives, together, come what may.  For a personal wedding ceremony that can really set the tone of the day, explore the possibilities of having an interfaith minister or humanist celebrant create and hold a ceremony which is all about you.  The large glossy wedding magazines often include adverts for celebrants, for example in Scotland the largest is the Scottish Wedding Directory and most celebrants who regularly hold wedding ceremonies have an online presence and are relatively easy to find.

Whilst thinking about this level of detail may seem very daunting, there are many websites that can provide help and information with all aspects of marriage and weddings; being the 21st Century, there are even wedding planning apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet, making it possible to consider different options for hair, flowers, room décor and stationery on your journey to and from work, in your lunch hour or at any other spare moment you have.

Planning a wedding can become all consuming, but at the end of the day, it is your wedding and you decide how to make it a memorable, special occasion for you and your fiancé, and with a bit of common sense, together with some excitement, and a plan and good support, you can enjoy the preparations and not get stressed or overwhelmed along the way.


About The Author

With her work as an interfaith minister in Scotland (see for more information) Jane Patmore is passionate about finding out what matters to the couple getting married, so that she can perform a wedding ceremony which is unique to the couple no matter what their beliefs.  It’s this personal touch that makes such a difference to the couple, regardless of the venue, numbers of people present or simplicity of the occasion.

Jane is based in the Edinburgh area where she enjoys both being close to the bright lights of the city, as well as the lovely beaches and beauty spots.