Once upon a time, the typical wedding involved a religious service, some confetti, and a carvery dinner at a nearby hotel.
As the average cost of a British wedding reaches £21,000, brides (and grooms) are starting to think outside the box to make their day as unique and memorable as possible: think fairy-tale forest weddings, beach ceremonies and dramatic Scottish castles.
Britain has no shortage of romantic locations which will make your big day truly special. Here are a few of our favourite wedding destinations across the country…
If you’ve always dreamed of a beach wedding, you don’t have to look too far. A few years ago, Bournemouth made history as the first British beach which is licensed to carry out weddings. You can choose your favourite stretch of sand, then set up a marquee, barbecue, and a bespoke, shell-strewn aisle, before exchanging your vows to the tranquil sounds of the sea.
TIP: Check the tidal times before your big day, so you can plan your day accordingly. The tide doesn’t come in too far on Bournemouth Beach, but if you want to have a few photos taken in the surf, you might want to arrange for your photographer to be ready an hour before high tide.
Skibo Castle, Scotland
Ever since Madonna and Guy Ritchie held their (ill-fated) nuptials here, it has become a high-society favourite. This is where billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk married Talulah Riley for the first time, where Ewan MacGregor married his wife Eve and where movie star Ashley Judd married Scottish racing driver Dario Franchitti.
The beautiful castle was founded in 1186, and it is still in near-perfect condition 830 years later. But what really sets it apart from Britain’s other castle venues is its exclusivity.
In order to use the facilities, you have to be a member of the private (and expensive) Carnegie Club. However, non-members are permitted to visit once, and only once. This means that your wedding will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you as well as your guests – how many people can say that?
TIP: The castle is set amid 2500 acres of land, and the rugged Sutherland countryside stretches out on all sides. Your guests will be bowled over by the location, so arrange a guided hiking trip and longer-term accommodation in the area so they can explore this beautiful part of Britain at their leisure.
The New Forest, Hampshire
Several swathes of the New Forest are licensed to hold wedding and civil partnerships, so you can have your ceremony in the middle of the woods, with birds singing in the background.
Start your day with a gentle walk through ancient woodland, before arriving at your own private glade, where flowers and lanterns hang from the branches, and your marriage awaits. Choose a Springtime wedding for daffodils, primroses, and budding trees; or an autumn wedding for a rich tapestry of colour in the background.
Most licensed spaces in the New Forest offer ramshackle barns and tipis as rainy-day reception venues. But if the weather holds up, nothing beats an open-air fire circle, where you can toast marshmallows, catch up with guests, and dance under the stars.
TIP: Make the wedding reception kid-friendly by planning a few outdoor games after the ceremony. Hide and seek, treasure hunts, and nature walks are easy to organise and will be fun for the whole family.
Carnglaze Caverns, Cornwall
Cornwall’s Carnglaze Caverns is a definitely contender for one of the most beautiful wedding venues in Britain. Set on the edges of Bodmin Moor, it features a vineyard, a forest, and a network of ancient caves. Couples can choose from four different sites which are all licensed for civil ceremonies and partnerships: The Rum Store Chamber (where you will walk down an 80ft aisle flanked by old casks of rum); The Vine Conservatory (above ground); The Enchanted Dell (in the middle of Quarry Wood); and The Underground Lake (which can be decorated with candles and twinkling fairy lights).
TIP: In May, the surrounding woodland is carpeted with bluebells, which create a magical ambience as your guests make their way to the cave entrance (and look incredible in wedding photos).
Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
The ultimate venue for animal lovers – this is probably the only place in Britain where you can invite elephants, lions, and giraffes to your wedding. And just because you are getting married in a zoo, you don’t have to sacrifice elegance on your big day… The 200-year-old Mansion House sits in the middle of the zoo, and it is surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens. The venue is licensed to perform civil ceremonies, and wedding parties can take advantage of various packages which offer preferred access to the facilities. Guests can get up close and personal with some of the more exotic animals, and you can plan your photographs to coincide with feeding time, so your wedding photos will have a unique Attenborough-esque quality.
TIP: The Mansion House is often in use during term time, when it hosts school groups, researchers, and students. Try to book your date during the school holidays – there may be more people visiting the zoo, but you are much more likely to secure the venue.
Cley Windmill, Norfolk
Perfect for small, quirky weddings, this old-fashioned windmill holds just 22 people (including the happy couple). This 19th century building has served as a flour mill and a holiday home for a local convent, and today it is rented out for private events, including weddings.
The second floor ‘Sitting Room’ of the mill has a wedding license, and an officiant can be provided by the venue if necessary. The circular space is surrounded by a white balcony, where the whole wedding party can gather for photos.
After the ceremony, ascend to the fifth storey gallery, where you can gaze out across the Norfolk countryside and coast with your partner.
TIP: The windmill comes fully equipped with a bar, and traditional afternoon tea can be served upon request. However, if you are looking for something a bit bigger for the reception, there are some lovely traditional inns in the neighbouring villages, and a range of excellent restaurants in nearby Kings Lynn.