What To Know Before Planning A Destination Wedding In Europe

Oh, Europe, you romantic wonderland, you. A haven for amorous couples looking to tie the knot in an unforgettable locale, Europe offers everything you could want for a destination wedding: cobblestone streets, dreamy churches, historic monuments, lush vineyards, and of course, fabulous food. There are many reasons why destination weddings are the best, but relishing this special day in a captivating locale with close friends and family tops the list.

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Social media has romanticized scenic ceremony locations, boosting the "wed away" craze. According to Future Market Insights Inc., the European destination wedding market is predicted to grow from $9.9 million in 2023 to over $56 million in 2033. If you hope to join this trend, there are myriad things to know before planning a destination wedding in Europe. From understanding country-specific legal requirements to deciding whether to hire a wedding planner to the best time to visit the venue, we designed this inclusive list to reduce stress so you can focus on what's important — saying "I do." We researched advice from experts — wedding planners, bridal magazines, and professional photographers — to find the most important tips to ensure a smooth and seamless walk down the aisle. All that's left for you to do is pack, exchange vows, and enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.

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Easy cost-saving tips can help rein in your budget

Getting married abroad can be more expensive than getting hitched in your hometown. According to The Knot 2023 Real Weddings Study, a wedding close to home costs, on average, $35,000, while saying "I do" in a faraway land can raise the bill up to about $42,000. If those numbers make your pulse quicken in a not-so-good way, twirl that engagement ring slowly and breathe. Now, settle in with your budget and break down the major costs like the venue, wedding planner, photographer, alcohol, food, musicians, and flowers. Don't forget the less weddingy things, like airfare and hotel.

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Essential destination wedding budget tips include choosing a weekday for your ceremony (they're often cheaper) and making a few small cuts to your plans for savings (e.g., opting for only wedding cake as dessert). The more reductions you make, the bigger the savings. Booking a wedding in the off-season can lead to cheaper rates for hotel stays, airfare, venue bookings, and services. If you don't want to start married life in the red, consider one of Europe's cheaper destinations. The Knot found that Portugal is the most affordable place to get married, with an average 126-guest wedding costing $15,700. Spain topped the charts with an average 130-guest wedding priced around $23,400. However, The Knot identified Italy, France, and the U.K. as the most expensive places for a destination wedding in Europe.

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It's easier to have a symbolic marriage than a legal one

Each country has different requirements and regulations for a legal marriage, which can make organizing from afar complicated. Even if you get married legally, your union may not be officially recognized once you return home. A legal wedding in Europe requires loads of paperwork and various documents (e.g., a birth certificate, valid U.S. passport, declaration of your intention to get married, and a sworn affidavit claiming no impediments to your impending nuptials). These documents may also need to be translated into the country's main language. Wedaways Travel claims that couples hoping to get married in France will have to apply for a "special dispensation" to have a legal marriage if they don't have a parent living there; unfortunately, this request is often denied. A symbolic wedding, however, is pretty much plug-and-play.

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Another factor to consider before planning a destination wedding in Europe is the country's view on same-sex relationships. While same-sex marriages are legal in countries like France and Italy, others won't recognize a legal union of this type (e.g., Russia and Turkey (a.k.a Türkiye)). It is best to check the country's requirements before cementing your plans. Experts recommend visiting city hall in your hometown to get legally married before heading overseas. That way, you can rest assured that your marriage will be recognized, and focus on having the ceremony of your dreams in a European locale.

Wedding planners can help with language barriers

Wedding planning can be challenging no matter where you host your nuptials. With so many moving parts — guest lists, menu selections, venues, etc. — there is much to handle. Adding a new country to the mix can complicate the situation, especially if you don't speak the local language. Hiring a wedding planner can help smooth any bumps along the path to newlywed bliss. Local pros know how to plan the perfect beach wedding, choose the most cost-effective vendors, and organize everything you might not have realized you needed, like those legal documents we mentioned earlier. Another bonus to paying for someone else's expertise? Wedding planners can help secure fantastic venues you might not have found on your own.

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Another bonus to enlisting professional planning help? These pros are physically at the location and can deal with issues in real-time, saving you the stress of long-distance calls and language barriers. You can relax on your side of the proverbial pond, knowing that your most important details are being well taken care of. If going green is an essential goal for your nuptials, wedding planners can assist with this, too. Research and Markets reports that "Eco-friendly and sustainable weddings are becoming increasingly important in Europe," so wedding planners should be well-versed in greener options.

You'll need an approved ETIAS to visit Europe in 2025

Starting in 2025, tourists from 39 countries will need to apply for an ETIAS to enter 30 European countries. This shouldn't be tricky; just fill out an online application, and pay a small fee. Once approved, your ETIAS authorization is linked to your passport, and remains valid for three years. A word of warning: If you are issued a new passport during this time, you'll need to reapply for a new ETIAS.

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Designed to improve security, ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System. This electronic system aims to ensure safety for those traveling to the Schengen Area, Europe's border-free zone, which includes most EU countries (Cyprus and Ireland are exceptions). It is not a visa, but a "visa waiver," according to ETIAS.com. If approved, tourists won't need to apply for a visa to visit the 30 countries that require the new waiver. You can find the full list of EU countries requiring an ETIAS in 2025 on Travel Europe, along with a complete list of the visa-exempt countries whose citizens will need to apply for this travel document. Nationals of Canada and the United States will need to apply.

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Visiting the location a year prior to the wedding is ideal

While the adage says, "a picture is worth a thousand words," it can also be misleading, especially in the days of AI and skilled photo editing software. Venues can appear much nicer online than in person, so it's best to see the place IRL to make a well-informed decision. After all, this is your wedding. If possible, book a trip to see the venue that interests you a year in advance, suggests photographer Michelle Weaver. This allows you to get a glimpse of how things will look (e.g., blooms and sunlight) on your big day. You can also evaluate the staff to see if they seem nice and attentive.

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An early trip also lets you ask specific questions about the venue in person. Have your wedding planner join to add their thoughts and queries. They can also help you select a few stellar backdrops for your photos, and decide where to have the actual ceremony. Incorporating the area's most beautiful components into your wedding style can help make your day even more personalized and memorable. When viewing the destination in advance, it is easy to become inspired in terms of design. Seeing the place in person can help you visualize the perfect color scheme, centerpieces, and flowers.

Booking your venue early can ensure an ideal date

No matter where you plan to wed, other couples may covet the venue of your dreams, especially if it's one of the only options in a small area. So, get a jump start on planning. The happy couple should secure their venue between 10 and 18 months before their big day, as some places book up as far out as 18 months in advance. If the venue you crave is super popular, you may want to book it two years ahead.

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Making early arrangements comes with many bonuses. In addition to securing the locale you desire, you could score savings on other purchases like flights. Plus, the more notice you give your guests, the better chance they'll have to schedule time off work or school and avoid possible conflicts, like — eek — another wedding. Consider sending your save-the-dates out between nine and 12 months ahead.

Arrange for a variety of hotel options for guests to consider

Before you panic, thinking you have to cover each guest's accommodation fees, rest assured this isn't the case. While destination wedding etiquette indicates that you won't be expected to pay for a guest's lodging, it is helpful to offer a variety of price points when it comes to a comfortable and clean place to stay. Your guests are already making the trip to support your new union. Do them a favor by narrowing their search for a location to rest their heads.

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Destination wedding guests spend about $1,400 on accommodations, according to Paradise Weddings. That's a significant chunk of change to attend a wedding that's not your own. Do some research to whittle down their options to a handful of hotels located close to your venue. Booking a hotel block — a set number of rooms reserved at a pre-arranged rate with the hotel — is another good option to help your guests save money. Croatian wedding planner Kristina Skvrce noted on Wedding Wire that 10 to 20% of guests will be thankful for alternative accommodations that consider their budget. So, start searching, and put together a few ideas to help them out.

Incorporating local traditions can be magical

You chose a destination wedding for a reason, and we're guessing that reason has a lot to do with the locale's beauty, culture, and food. Make your day feel more authentic by adding some local flair to your celebration, but be sure to do so tastefully. Research the area's traditions before you arrive and work with your wedding planner to incorporate something local, be it a piece of clothing or a type of music. Why not serenade your guests with local tunes and dance traditions during your big day?

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If you've chosen a country known for its delectable dishes (ciao, Italia), incorporate a few traditional options into your menu. Don't forget the booze! Whether it's French Champagne, Greek ouzo, or Spanish Tempranillo, toasting with a local vintage will make the occasion even more memorable for you and your guests. Speaking of guests, why not slip something unique to the region into their welcome gift, like a local soap? Using regional items for a wedding favor or décor is another way to tie the area to your special day in an elegant yet subtle way.

Sending a packing list can help guests

When sending out your wedding invites, consider including a list of items your guests might want to pack. Before you get carried away, do not take this as an opportunity to go all Bridezilla on them. We're talking about recommending a swimsuit for a wedding at a venue with a private beach, informal cocktail attire for the rehearsal dinner, or formal dress if that's the dress code you've chosen for the wedding itself.

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Since your wedding will likely span multiple events, guests can feel confused about what clothing to bring. Giving them an idea of what to expect (e.g., is there a casual brunch or a hike in their future?) can help guide their list of must-include items. Don't stop at clothes. Including a packing checklist with essentials like passports, credit cards, sunscreen, and toiletries can go a long way. Be sure to include information about the ETIAS travel document. If your guests aim to pack for a seven-day vacation in only one carry-on, they'll surely appreciate all the details they can get.

Prearranging airport transfers helps limit stress

Experts at Wedinspire recommend organizing airport transfers to limit travel hiccups for your guests. It can be disconcerting to step off a plane in a new country, especially if the locals speak a language you don't understand. Trying to find your luggage and figure out a way to get to your hotel can feel daunting. Add jet lag to the mix, and your guests might feel less than level-headed. Knowing they have a prearranged service picking them up will help alleviate stress and set the trip off on the right foot.

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Wedinspire also suggests providing helpful tips like flight information (including date, time, and cost) to aid in planning. Extra points for including your itinerary. If guests have a better idea of your plans, they may be able to arrange a group discount. Many airlines offer reduced fares for larger groups. Delta, Southwest, and American Airlines, for instance, boast savings for groups of 10 or more travelers with the same itinerary. These are only a few easy steps to consider when planning a destination wedding. It is these little, thoughtful details that show guests how much you care.

Knowing the area's climate before booking might save the day

Just as you would for a regular vacation, it's important to research an area's climate before booking your destination wedding. While summer is a great time to visit Europe, high temperatures and crowds can be downsides. In July 2019, Paris reached 106.68 degrees Fahrenheit, and that was in the shade! In July 2023, a massive heatwave gripped southern Europe, with temperatures reaching well above 103 degrees Fahrenheit in Italy, Greece, Spain, France, and Germany, among others.

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That kind of heat would make an outdoor ceremony almost unbearable, and if thoughts of jacking up the AC give you confidence, think again. According to CNBC, less than 10% of European homes had air conditioning units in 2016. Winter is cooler, but the sun sets earlier, too. If you hope for evening photos, be prepared to use flash. If you want sunny skies, avoid October, which tends to be one of the wettest months in many countries. Depending on where you travel in Europe, the climate varies, so check your location before securing a date.

Avoid crowds and price increases by researching local events

Before finalizing your destination wedding, ensure no major events will occur in the area at the same time (yes, that includes Taylor Swift's Eras Tour). Concerts, bike races, and festivals can impact the ambiance of the region and reduce the availability of hotel rooms in your chosen locale. In addition to checking city websites, Festival Finder, and Visit Europe, the Indian wedding planning agency Eventrics advises couples to contact their venue for information about local events scheduled around their proposed wedding date. A tip: While speaking with the venue, ask if they have any renovation or construction projects planned for that time.

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Planning a destination wedding over a holiday weekend in Europe is another no-no. With many people off work and school, you're likely to face crowds and fully booked hotel rooms. As if dealing with a horde of people weren't bothersome enough during your European celebration, popular events and holidays often lead to inflated prices on everything from flights to accommodations. Additionally, you could encounter staff shortages.

Preparing for snags will make them easier to accept

As with any wedding, there are bound to be a few disappointments. The flowers may arrive later than you wanted, the cake might be the wrong size or color, or perhaps your bridesmaid's flight got canceled. Regardless of the obstacles, try to breathe through them and accept that, just like in life, nothing goes perfectly. And no matter what goes wrong, at the end of the day, you'll be married (hopefully), and that's all that really matters, right? So, place your trust in those you've asked to help you — the wedding planner, vendors, friends, and family — and take things as they come.

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As Elyse Dawn, co-founder of The Wedding Planning Guide, told Wedding Wire, "Going into your wedding day with a solid plan is important, but just as important to a successful day is embracing that a few things will probably change as the day unfolds." You never know, these changes might create an even more memorable and magical event. Plus, you may be able to laugh about any mishaps for years to come.

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