The Ultimate Destination Wedding Guide for UK Couples
Picture this, you are with your closest friends and family, travelling to a beautiful Greek island for a long weekend. You are enjoying the stunning sea views over a warm night with a gentle breeze and amazing food, drinking bubbly Champagne, chatting and dancing…
All of this can become a reality if you choose to have a destination wedding. In fact, destination weddings are becoming one of the most popular wedding forms among modern couples, as a destination wedding provides a paramount experience: spending a few days with your friends and family at a destination location, everything’s different from ‘home’, the landscape, the culture, the weather; there is an added level of excitement and it will truly create a unique experience for you and your guests.
Photo by Dilani Schipper
However, planning a destination wedding isn’t easy. The distance, language and cultural barriers create real challenges for couples planning their own destination wedding.
Wedding planner Valentina, who had her own wedding in Tuscany, Italy said that Italy’s wedding scene is very different from here in the UK, it is more prone to large agencies and she found it difficult finding suppliers that were aligned with more personalised tastes.
Siobhan, also a wedding planner, who has planned her own wedding in South Africa shared that she had difficulties with the venue she originally fell in love with online. The venue was a lot smaller than it looks in the pictures, so she has to find another venue at very short notice while she was visiting there. Not being able to meet all the suppliers is challenging, as communication through emails are slow and you have to put all your faith in their online presence, Siobhan adds.
I have talked to some of the most wonderful destination wedding planners/suppliers and put together this guide to help you overcome the barriers to plan your own destination wedding.
First, you should understand the cost of a destination wedding.
How much does a destination wedding cost? Is destination wedding really cheaper than a traditional wedding in the UK?
Based on Bridebook’s latest wedding report, an average UK wedding spend abroad in 2017 was £14,151 compared to the national average £17,913, which is significantly cheaper.
But is a destination wedding really cheaper than a traditional wedding in the UK? I interviewed a few of my wedding friends, and all of them said NO. Siobhan says “I don't really think they are (cheaper) after you factor in everything, like flights and accommodation and the time you need to be out there for. You also have to hire everything as you can't take a lot of stuff with you, what with limited baggage on flights.”
However, in certain regions, like France, the Mediterranean countries, your money may stretch further. Valentina says “in Italy, you can get some phenomenal venues off the beaten path, and you tend to be given a lot of food and drink in even the most basic catering packages, plus it’s delicious!” She opted for an open bar for her Italian wedding because the caterer offered some great prices.
In terms of the overall cost of a destination wedding, it is completely dependent on how you want to spend the money. As a ballpark figure, I would say you should expect to spend £20-£30k for a stylish wedding with trimmings in a European destination for 100 guests, which includes:
- Food and drinks with an open bar,
- Flowers and venue decorations,
- DJ and band,
- Wedding outfits.
Whether I need to hire a wedding planner?
The first step after you decided that you are going to have a destination wedding is to decide whether you’ll need a wedding planner. Some venues come with their own on-site planner who can also help you liaise with suppliers, it might be a good option as they will know a handful of contacts that they are used to working with, but it may be restricted when you want a more personalised experience, that’s when an independent planner can help. When you don’t speak the local language, don’t understand the true local cost and can’t keep flying over to check whether your suppliers are as good as they say. Instead of putting all of your faith in your supplier’s Instagram feed and hoping it will turn out well, it’s much safer to use a good wedding planner who knows who to trust.
Louise, a wedding planner based in the south of France, says “If you're using a wedding planner, make sure they know the region you have chosen. Speaking the local language is also a massive bonus, you don’t want anything getting lost in translation or you may end up with something totally unexpected!”
Canadian wedding planner Margot adds “Your planner will have a whole host of local knowledge that no amount of Google searching can compete with and can guide you not just in finding the right suppliers, but also in understanding realistic costs in that area as well as local laws, customs or general practices that you will need to be aware of.”
Where to find a destination wedding venue?
- The Google way, just search ‘wedding venue’ + ‘your destination location’ and see what comes up.
- Check wedding blogs, like Rock My Wedding, filter ‘real weddings’ by location, and you can get some ideas from reading about other people’s weddings.
- Trip Adviser. Search ‘wedding venue’ and put your destination country in, and you’ll get a list of venues that people have reviewed.
- Instagram, search #frenchwedding, #portugalwedding etc.
If you've got a planner, it’s always good to ask them for recommendations. Olivia, who specialises in planning Portuguese weddings shared her local knowledge “think beyond the Algarve! From vineyards in the Douro Valley to cork fields in the Alentejo, Portugal is a vibrant, eclectic country with so much to offer. Lisbon area is bohemian, shabby chic and bright. Porto is glittering, cool and creative. The Alentejo is sleepy, timeless and untouched. The Minho is glamorous, high end and traditional. Aim to explore beyond the beaten track and you never know what hidden gems you might find!”
When to send the destination wedding invitation and what should I include?
You should work this backwards, figure out when you need to give your final headcount to your venue and caterers and set the deadline of the RSVP at least 1-2 weeks before. Formal invitations should be sent out 4-8 weeks before the RSVP deadline. I personally believe you should send 'save the dates' as soon as you booked the venue, so you can give your guests the maximum time to plan and save. Bear in mind, it’s very costly for your guests to travel for your wedding, the more notice you give the easier it is for them to plan.
For the save the dates, you should include
- The date,
- Venue location,
- Instruction for booking their transport and accommodation,
- When they will receive the formal invitation and when should they RSVP by,
- It would also be a good idea to build a wedding website (you can use Appy Couple, it’s very easy to build a beautiful website with minimal spend) and give them the link where they can get more information, on your website, you can also include local tourist information.
For the formal invitation, it acts as a reminder and gets the final guest list. You should have also finalised your activities around your wedding, it’s a good time to get the RSVP for all your wedding activities as well, for example, who’s going to attend the welcome party the night before, and who’s going to the coach trip you arranged on the day.
Can I have a legal ceremony at my destination venue?
It’s not always possible to have a legal ceremony at your destination venue in Greece, Holly, a Greek destination wedding planner, says. Louise also mentions that in France, without a local address, you can’t do the legal part of your wedding. Siobhan, who is British, ended up hiring a solicitor sorting out the legal documents to get her and her South African born husband legally married in South Africa a day before the wedding, then they had a symbolic blessing on the day.
So, the general advice here is to do your legal registration where you live and then have a symbolic ceremony at the destination venue.
What’s a typical destination wedding schedule?
In some of the hotter areas of Europe, the wedding ceremony starts later than in the UK. Holly says in Greece, wedding ceremony normally start around 4pm. Valentina’s Italian wedding also started in the late afternoon, while they had dinner at 7:30pm.
Olivia provided a full time table for a typical Portuguese wedding, it is similar to a UK wedding but just starts later.
- 4pm Wedding ceremony with a celebrant or in church
- 4.30/45pm Drinks reception
- 5.30pm Seated for dinner
- 8pm Speeches
- 8.45pm Cake cut
- 9pm First dance followed by dancing
- 11pm Evening food
- 1am Carriages
As some guests travel to your venue a day before and won’t leave until the day after, it would be great to show your hospitality to host a welcome dinner/drinks prior to your wedding and a farewell brunch/barbeque after the wedding. Some people will also organise group activities, like a half-day trip or spa which you can give guests the option to opt in.
How to arrange accommodations for guests?
It is up to your guests where they want to stay and it’s their responsibility to book their own accommodation, but it would be nice for you to do the hard work for them, researching nearby villas or hotels.
What Valentina did was that she listed various budgets accommodation options nearby on her wedding website, and left the guests themselves to book their hotels.
Some hotels are willing to negotiate a discounted price and block rooms if you can guarantee a certain number of bookings.
If your venue is fairly remote, it would also be a nice gesture to arrange transport between the main hotels and the venue.
Who should pay what for a destination wedding?
As general guidance, Olivia thinks, you should cover the venue hire, all food and drinks, as well as the wedding day itself. Holly adds it would be great if you can pay for a welcome dinner and farewell brunch so the guests feel well treated. Louise says, guests should generally pay for their own flights and accommodation, they may also pay if you have events around the wedding, like a day trip or surf lesson.
This is completely depending on your personal situation and how you feel. Nina, who is a wedding photographer and had her own wedding in France, also paid for her bridesmaids and groomsmen’s food & accommodation which was in the same chateau for 4 days, but all her other guests paid for their own travel.
What’s the best way to pay destination wedding suppliers?
One cost that people often forget is bank charges when making foreign transactions. Margot recommends using TransferWise or Revolut when you need to make payment in local currency. TransferWise is an online money transfer service that offers a faster service but at lower fees. Revolut is an online bank account, you can also use for paying destination wedding suppliers, the fees they charge are also less than normal banking fees.
Most UK suppliers would require a deposit when you book them and the balance prior to the wedding, however, in some other countries, the payment terms are different, you may be required to pay in cash on the day, just be prepared.
A very important family member/friend can’t attend my destination wedding, what should I do?
As a destination wedding requires travelling and a sizable cost for transport and accommodation, you should understand and respect when some of your guests choose not to attend your wedding. You can always host a small, informal party at home to extend the celebration with them and make them feel included, Margot suggests. With modern technology, you can live broadcast your wedding to those who are unable to attend, says Holly.
A special thanks to the following UK & International wedding planner/suppliers. Click on the links to find out how they can help with your wedding.
- Valentina Ring, The Stars Inside, a London based wedding planning and styling Studio.
- Margot Watt, Petite Pearl Events, a Canadian planner and event designer who now lives in London.
- Siobhan Louise, By Siobhan Louise, a London based UK Event and Wedding Planner.
- Olivia Santos, Nulyweds, a wedding planning service in Portugal.
- Holly Episkopou, Wonderlust Events, a destination wedding planner across Europe.
- Louise French, French Bague-ette, an English wedding planner lives in South France.
- Lisa Barsotti, an Italian wedding stylist works between UK and Italy.
- Nina Wernicke, a wedding photographer between London and Johannesburg.