Choosing a wedding venue is one of the first big decisions you’ll make when you start your wedding planning. When you start to search for a term like ‘wedding venues near me’ the list that comes back can seem exhaustive so how do you start to narrow it down Firstly, it can help to think about the types of wedding venues that are available and see what might suit your style and life together as a couple.
Photo from Katherine & Jonny’s Ashridge House wedding
Similarly, you will need to decide if you’d like to have your entire wedding day in one location (ceremony and reception) or whether you’d like travel between your ceremony and reception and therefore will be looking at two venues.
Let’s dig in to the different types of wedding venue then!
Photo from Cassie & Scott’s Cripps Barn wedding
What type of ceremonies can you have?
There are three main types of ceremony to consider. The first is a religious ceremony in your church. Different churches have different rules about marrying in the area in which you live, how often you need to worship there in the run up to your wedding and photography so it’s a good idea to get a feel for these things before assuming that you’ll automatically be allowed to marry there just because your parents live nearby, or the church is near a venue you like for example.
Lots of venues have churches on the grounds (like the beautiful Hengrave Hall) so if you are wanting a religious ceremony without moving between church and venue, there are some great venue options out there.
The second popular option is a civil ceremony. Usually a registrar will come out to your venue of choice, unless you are getting married at a Register Office of course. These ceremonies must have no religious elements in them but can be much more personalised to you as a couple with your chosen readings, songs etc. If you’re getting married in London check out some of the town hall wedding venues, they are stunning, like the Islington Town Hall which has a stunning round room.
Photo from Jerry & Saira’s Pembroke Lodge wedding
Growing in popularity is the humanist ceremony which is incredible personalised to you as a couple, but has the downside of not being legally binding, so you will need to have a civil ceremony on a different occasion. Humanist occasions are wonderful as they can take place anywhere and I have photographed them at private houses, at small intimate weddings, at larger weddings and with wonderful elements like hand tying ceremonies and sand pouring incorporated. I can’t wait until they are made legal ceremonies!
Photo from Kim & Simon’s Hertfordshire humanist wedding
What type of reception venues can you hire?
Country house / National Trust / English Heritage weddings
One highly popular choice is stately homes, whether they are exclusive use venues like converted country house wedding venues that are used full-time for weddings or English Heritage wedding venues or National Trust which you will not have sole use of for your wedding. All of these venues usually have beautifully maintained gardens for your drinks reception (if the weather is in your favour) which can make for gorgeous photos and lovely mingling time.
These are a perfect choice is you want original features and that sense of old-fashioned romance for your day. All of these venues are beautiful places of course, but also come with the benefit of having a large team of wedding coordinators to help make your day go without a hitch. It’s not surprising that over 25% of all weddings in 2019 took place at country houses for this reason!
Photo from Ellie & Jon’s Great Fosters wedding
Barn wedding venues remain a popular choice for weddings. There is a huge range even within this category from the very traditional venues that remain largely untouched to the barns that have been updated with modern facilities, ceiling windows and ample accommodation. Many barn venues also have added on other elements like Gaynes Park which has a beautiful orangery for the ceremony, or others where you can have an outdoor ceremony.
Photo from Carly & Laurie’s Priory Barn wedding
Marquee weddings (or tipi weddings!)
A lot of couples love marquee weddings for the blank canvas it can offer them. The great thing about marquees is the flexibility. I’ve photographed weddings in marquees in all manner of places; the gardens of parents’ houses and rural locations but also weddings with a great number of guests where they are attached to more formal venues. The other benefit of marquees (using the term broadly) is that there is so much choice in how they look and how they can be decorated.
Obviously you have your standard white ‘tent’ marquee with the ceiling windows through to tipi weddings with no sides and a more rustic feel. Bear in mind that tipi weddings can offer little protection from bad weather.
Photo from Annabel & James’ Hertfordshire marquee wedding
The potential downside of a marquee wedding venue is that you often have to put a lot more work in to the wedding planning process, especially if you are hiring a marquee to have in your back garden. You will need to arrange every element of your day from tables and chairs, to cutlery and plates to lighting and toilets. So it’s definitely a way to get your perfect day but potential with more work to do!
Photo from Kim & Simon’s Hertfordshire humanist wedding
City venues are often popular with their modern facilities, good food and perfect location for ease of travel for guests. As well as the variety of hotels available to you, there are many other venues like RAC, RIBA and super cool venues like the Gherkin, London Eye and other landmarks that you can marry in if you fancy a London wedding.
Photo from Emma & Ben’s Andaz Hotel wedding
If you really want to bowl your guests over then a lot of castles can be hired out for your day. Plus you really get the wow factor for your wedding photos! Nothing says historic wedding venue like picking a castle that has been standing for hundreds of years and is steeped in history, and it can match well if you are really wanting that romantic feel to your wedding theme!
One of the castle weddings I photographed also tied their wedding in with a honeymoon in their beloved Scotland and all of their guests travelled up from the south of England for the day so everyone there got to enjoy a holiday near the Scottish coast as well – it was truly picture perfect. Could a castle be the perfect venue for your day?
Photo from Fiona & Steve’s Barcaldine Castle wedding
Hotel / golf clubs / restaurants
Hotel wedding venues are often a popular choice because your guests don’t have far to go at the end of the day! Similarly, these venues have big teams of planners that will make your day go off without a hitch. However, with hotels, and golf clubs, your wedding will usually not have exclusive use of the venue for the day, so it is worth considering how important it is to you to have strangers around you, or not, on your wedding day.
With restaurant wedding venues, you can prioritise your meal if fine dining is one of the most important things to you as a couple. If you aren’t big into partying then perhaps a nice meal and fine wines would be better suited to your tastes? Lots of excellent restaurants will accommodate weddings, although restaurants often suit small intimate weddings better and rarely offer accommodation.
Photo from Kathryn & Matthew’s Andaz Hotel wedding
Alternative wedding venues
The laws in the UK are still fairly strict compared to some other countries in the world (they were written in 1836 after all!) and you can’t just pitch up and get married anywhere you fancy. You have to get married at a licensed venue with an official structure (hence so many gazebos at venues!) but there are some signs that this stands to be relaxed.
In the meantime, there are a lot of other cool and more original types of wedding venues that you can choose for your reception, so it’s worth doing your research if you fancy doing something a little different for your day.
Photo from Heather & Rob’s Notley Abbey wedding
You can still have an outdoor wedding venue for your reception, even if you need to have a ceremony elsewhere first (or on a different day) but the British weather can be notoriously unreliable so consider this carefully!
Don’t overlook church halls or village halls if you want to do your own thing and do it on a budget. These are great, inexpensive budgets that can be beautifully decorated – you can even get your guests to help as part of their gift to you.
Other places that you can have a reception in the UK include sculpture gardens, zoos, sports stadiums (overlooking the grounds), some of the caves on the south coast, custom built tree houses, vineyards. The sky really is the limit so just do a search and check out the licenses if you are set on having your ceremony in the same place as your reception.
Photo from Ellie & Jon’s Great Fosters wedding
And of course, no article would be complete without talking a bit about destination wedding venues. Of course this can often circumnavigate the bad weather problem, but does come with some cons of its own. It is more expensive for your guests to travel to so it’s usually more difficult to host a large-scale wedding overseas, as well as the difficulty of having elderly relatives join you to celebrate.
On the plus side, you can have the venue you are going to do everything for you and turn up to a ready made wedding, so if you don’t think that the wedding planning process is going to be for you, this can be a wonderful option, like this beautiful wedding I photographed in a French chateau!
Just make sure you seriously consider taking a photographer with you. Often the included photographer offered by venues, isn’t a photographer at all. One friend was provided with a waiter with an iPhone, oh dear!
Image from Alexandre & Anastasia’s destination wedding in the south of France
What do you think then, what types of wedding venues will you be considering for your big day? Has this helped at all? Let’s have a chat and see if my style of laughter-filled wedding photography fit into your day – I’d love to hear all about what you’ve got planned!