Guide to Outdoor Weddings
Love the idea of an outdoor wedding, but not sure where to start? We know all the common questions, so we hope this guide to outdoor weddings will help you through and get you feeling even more excited about planning your perfect day!
Can we get legally married outdoors?
This is by far our most frequently asked question! The simple answer is yes – there are a great many licensed outdoor venues all across the UK – however there are plenty of other considerations, which differ according to which part of the UK you wish to marry in:
England and Wales
Many outdoor venues across England and Wales are licensed for civil marriage ceremonies conducted by a registrar, meaning you can get legally married outside in these approved venues. In order to be granted a license, an outdoor venue must have a ‘fixed and permanent structure’ in place which has a fixed roof and is large enough to hold the couple, their two witnesses and the registrar. This means that you would be required to stand within this structure (such as a gazebo) for the duration of the ceremony, with your guests looking on from the outdoor area.
Registrars are employed by the local authority and so your ceremony will be relatively limited in terms of the choices open to you, and it is unlikely you would meet the person conducting your ceremony before the big day. It is also important to note that no religious or spiritual content whatsoever is permitted in registrar-led ceremonies.
Many couples set their heart on a particular venue that is not licensed for marriage ceremonies, such as a woodland, field or garden, so decide to complete the legal process separately and then choose a celebrant to conduct the ceremony itself. Completing the legal marriage is a straightforward process of booking a date with your local register office to answer a few contractual questions and sign on the dotted line, along with two witnesses. You are then legally married, and can look forward to a special and personal ceremony at the venue of your choice. This is very similar to the continental marriage process.
Celebrant-led outdoor weddings can take place anywhere, with no requirement for the couple to stand under a fixed structure, so many outdoor ceremonies of this kind take place in beautiful woodlands or fields, and even on beaches. Another advantage is that celebrant weddings can be made completely personal to you, telling your story and including any elements you choose. For this reason, many people are now opting for a celebrant-led ceremony even if their chosen venue is licensed. See our Guide to Celebrants and celebrant directory to find out more about the great service they offer to couples. We also list a wide range of both licensed and unlicensed outdoor wedding venues across England, Wales and Scotland.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
The laws on outdoor weddings are slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As in England and Wales, legal marriage ceremonies can be conducted by registrars at approved venues, of which there are many outdoor options, but in 2018 the law changed to allow Humanist celebrants to conduct legally binding ceremonies at any location the couple chooses. Humanist celebrants are able to conduct bespoke ceremonies that are unique to the couple, but cannot include any acts of worship as Humanism is an atheist/agnostic belief system. If you did want to include an act of worship without being married in a religious building, you have the option to complete the legal paperwork separately with a registrar and choose an independent celebrant for your wedding ceremony.
Who sets up an outdoor wedding?
The organisation of the ceremony on the day depends on the venue you choose, but most venues will provide the necessary furniture (chairs or hay bales, tables, etc), and provide staff to take care of the setup for you. Others are ‘blank-canvas venues’ where you may need to be more hands-on with the preparations, and perhaps hire the furniture separately (most of our listed marquee companies provide furniture, either separately or as part of a marquee package).
Be sure to check with your chosen venue what their procedure is. Most venues will also allow you to dress the area as you wish, which may include beautiful flowers, a runner for the aisle or an arch to act as a focal point for the ceremony. You will usually need to source these decorations from florists and venue dressing companies, who should then be able to dress the area for you prior to the ceremony.
What if it rains at my outdoor wedding?
Ok, so we know from experience that we can’t always rely on the Great British weather, therefore it’s crucially important that you choose a venue with an indoor option you are completely happy with. Many venues have indoor areas such as barns, function rooms or marquees, while blank-canvas venues often allow you to erect a marquee, tipi or tent of your choice – take a look at our list of wonderful marquees, tipis and tents.
Speak to your chosen venue about their indoor options and make sure you view both the outdoor and indoor spaces before you book. It’s also a good idea to check what the process would be for transferring the ceremony indoors on the day, and how quickly the space would be turned around after the ceremony if you are using the same room for your reception. Most venues come with a wedding coordinator and staff who would seamlessly take care of the setup for you, but for others you may need to ask members of your wedding party to muck in and help carry chairs etc if the weather doesn’t go your way. Whatever you do, assign these tasks to somebody you can trust before the big day so that you can simply relax and enjoy, no matter what the weather holds!
Some couples decide that they will go ahead and hold their ceremony outdoors come rain or shine. That’s great, and a bit of rain can actually create a really fun atmosphere on the day! However if you would like to do this, we recommend you are very clear about it in your invitations to guests so that they can dress appropriately. It’s also a lovely gesture to provide umbrellas and maybe even wellies for your guests, perhaps matching them with your chosen colour scheme – this looks fantastic in photos!
Can we play music at an outdoor wedding?
Music is usually a key part of any wedding ceremony, so be sure to ask your venue what sound and speaker systems they have in place. Many celebrants will also offer portable PA systems that also play music (being so used to conducting outdoor weddings!), so if your chosen venue is not set up for this then that’s a key point to discuss with the celebrants you contact. By far the easiest option is to go with a portable, battery-operated system.
Live music is also a very popular choice at outdoor weddings, be it a singer, harpist, jazz band… you name it. There are many specialist wedding musicians available to hire who are a dab hand at setting up for outdoor events, or perhaps you have a friend or family member who you could ask to sing or play your favourite song as you walk down the aisle or sign your certificate/register – it really does create a magical atmosphere.