Your perfect destination wedding location awaits. But how to find it? Whether you’re an adventurer or a princess, a romantic or a road-tripper, a culture buff or a beach bum, our guide to the most beautiful wedding locations has just the place to suit your style.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Belize may be most famous lately for the Maya calendar’s apocalyptic prophecy of 2012 (we survived!), but Ambergris Caye is home to a lot more than pre-Columbian culture. In addition to ancient ruins, the lush jungle region features beaches, underwater caves and an immense barrier reef (second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef) inhabited by rays, turtles and even sharks. A waterfront wedding is a must; choose from seaside venues such as Victoria House and Grand Caribe, both of which offer customizable packages and onsite wedding coordinators. Or say I do at the island’s newest hotel, El Secreto, which opened in October 2012 with 13 thatch-roof villas, a spa and easy access to the region’s best diving and snorkeling sites.
Aruba You’ll admit it: You want a wedding location with guaranteed sun. (Seriously, you will call it off if it rains.) Located below the hurricane belt, arid Aruba has the lowest rainfall of any Caribbean island. And this sunshiny isle just got sunnier, thanks to a new wedding location that opened at the end of 2013: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, which elevates I do’s with its upscale style and exclusive Palm Beach location. Classic properties such as the family-friendly Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino (with its own private island for ceremonies) and the Radisson Aruba Resort (home to an open-air cocktail bar and one of Aruba’s best casinos) are other bright options.
Just a two-hour flight from New York City, Bermuda is a tropical paradise with British flavor — think pubs, high tea, mannerly locals and the oldest continuously occupied town of English origin in the New World. And did we mention its brilliant pink-sand beaches? For a touch of Bermuda’s storied history, plan a ceremony in St. George’s Unfinished Church, a 19th-century stone structure with rustic archways and columns lining a lush lawn. Even older are the 500,000-year-old caves located beneath Grotto Bay Beach Resort, where you can marry in an underground gazebo, followed by a rum-swizzle-fueled reception beside the grotto’s blue waters. Seal the deal by stepping through one of the island’s iconic moongates with your sweetie — it’s said to bring good luck to newlyweds.
Big Sur, California
Internet billionaire Sean Parker’s June 2013 wedding among Big Sur, California‘s ancient redwoods stirred controversy — but no one could deny its sublime beauty. Unlike the Napster co-founder, you don’t have to build an $8 million movie-set site to tie the knot in this magical region. Look to Ventana Inn — whose 243 acres of rolling meadows and wooded hillsides were the site of Parker’s over-the-top fete — for a grand event for up to 150. More intimate affairs take place at Post Ranch Inn, a wood-and-glass lodge that has been the setting for more than a few celeb I do’s. Brides on a budget should head to the Big Sur River Inn, where the great outdoors and rustic-chic accommodations don’t come with a jaw-dropping price tag.
British Virgin Islands
Will and Kate’s sexy getaways — from their Seychelles honeymoon to their Mustique babymoon — always garner media attention. (Who doesn’t wonder about a future king’s vacation choices?) But for us commoners, the British Virgin Islands are more accessible than Mustique and much closer than the Seychelles. Even better, their pristine white sands and granite boulders could double for both idyllic locales. Many of the islands’ most luxurious events take place on Virgin Gorda, where resorts such as Rosewood Little Dix Bay and Bitter End Yacht Club feature picture-perfect beaches and charming island accommodations. For an ultra-exclusive wedding location, look to Biras Creek Resort, accessible only by helicopter or boat; 140 natural acres are home to secluded strands, vast gardens and an ocean-view gazebo.
You’re seeking a screen-saver backdrop — without the six layovers. News flash: The Cayman Islands are home to more than your rich uncle’s offshore bank account. Boasting world-famous beaches, reputable vendors and simple marriage requirements, this remote British territory is the Caribbean’s I-do mecca — and it’s only a 90-minute flight from Miami. Head straight to renowned Seven Mile Beach, where the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa unveiled a multimillion-dollar renovation in January 2013. In addition to a newly redesigned ballroom for up to 320, the resort is also home to the island’s only beach gazebo. Or book Rum Point, a laid-back beach restaurant where a whitewashed pier is the perfect wedding location (you can arrive via sailboat!). For a classy affair that channels the Cayman Islands’ British heritage, marry at the plantation-style Grand Old House, a restaurant and full-service event venue with a seaside veranda.
Los Cabos, Mexico
A quick flight from LAX, Los Cabos has long been a playground for the Hollywood elite. The go-to celebrity hot spot is undoubtedly the posh Las Ventanas al Paraíso, which has hosted everyone from George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston to Cindy Crawford and Cameron Diaz. Meanwhile, One&Only Palmilla has welcomed red-carpet all-stars such as Oprah, Hugh Jackman and Leonardo DiCaprio. Happily, “normal” couples can also get star treatment at these resorts, thanks to customizable wedding packages and onsite coordinators. But for a truly A-list-worthy celebration, head to Capella Pedregal, where Yifat Oren — who has planned weddings for Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman — has recently signed on as the resident wedding planner.
From Waikiki’s SoBe-style vibe to the North Shore’s gnarly waves, Oahu is Maui, Kauai and the Big Island all wrapped into one. Unsurprisingly, the island is buzzing with wedding news as well. In June 2013, the newly renovated JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa in Ko Olina debuted its Makalani Bridal Collection with four new packages that include a flower-filled wedding gazebo and a beachfront bash. In Waikiki, the posh Modern Honolulu is a favorite for celebs like Jennifer Lawrence and Wilmer Valderrama, and the neighborhood recently welcomed two more wedding locations as well: The contemporary Vive Hotel Waikiki opened in July 2013, while the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki debuted with a colorful art deco design in April 2013. Ready to book your flight? Sign up for Hawaiian Airlines‘ new Wedding Wings program, and you’ll get a 10 percent discount.
If Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s headline-making escape to the forbidden island of Cuba has you inspired, look to Puerto Rico‘s historic San Juan. The city’s charming casco viejo (old town) has the same magic as Havana, without the government red tape. Historic hotels like Hotel El Convento (located in a 361-year-old former convent) and Condado Vanderbilt Hotel are filled with old-world appeal. Meanwhile, La Concha Resort, with its soon-to-be-completed renovations, has long been a top choice for modern brides. Looking for something more remote and exclusive? Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve debuted to acclaim in December 2012, and Hacienda Siesta Alegre inn can be completely bought out for events.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta already seems to have it all — affordable all-inclusives, beautiful coastlines and a serious foodie scene — but add in the majestic humpback whales that migrate to its breezy shores, and you’ve got a wedding day to remember. Your best bet for a sighting happens from December through May, when the massive mammals travel to the balmy Bay of Banderas to mate. Get up close and personal on a whale-watching tour, and plan a beachfront ceremony — the huge creatures have been known to make surprise appearances during seaside nuptials. For the ease of an all-inclusive wedding, book at the region’s top-rated Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa or Meliá Puerto Vallarta. Both feature onsite coordinators and vendors, plus a bevy of indoor and outdoor wedding locations.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Trade in the party-hearty lifestyle of Cancun for some real culture in the Riviera Maya, where you’ll encounter centuries-old Maya cities, sacred cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) and UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Infuse a bit of Maya heritage into your celebration with a prewedding trip to the ruins at Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum, or go ultra-authentic with a shaman-led wedding ceremony. For something new in this ancient region, try Generations Riviera Maya, by Karisma, an all-inclusive that debuted in February 2014, or Rosewood Mayakoba, which reopened in 2012 following a multimillion-dollar renovation (Sofia Vergara loved the new look so much she celebrated her 40th birthday there in July 2012). Planning to pull out all the stops? Book Viceroy Riviera Maya, which announced an ultimate wedding package in collaboration with couture fashion house Marchesa in April 2013.
South Walton, Florida
Grandma doesn’t do airplanes. Thankfully, we’ve found the perfect drivable beach wedding location. Motor down to Florida’s Gulf Coast, where you don’t have to check a bag to marry amid white sand and turquoise water. Boasting 26 miles of beaches, four state parks and 15 rare coastal dune lakes, South Walton has something for everyone. In quaint Rosemary Beach, top wedding locations include The Pearl (a 55-room hotel that opened in August 2013 with an ocean-view rooftop lounge and a ballroom for up to 88) and Rosemary Beach Town Hall, with vaulted ceilings and wrought-iron chandeliers. For an all-in-one venue, leave it to WaterColor Inn & Resort, a 500-acre retreat featuring a dozen waterfront wedding locations and a number of packages that take care of every last detail.
Saint Lucia has long reigned as a top honeymoon destination, but weddings on this lush island are no less spectacular. Steamy volcano mud springs, chocolate plantations and champagne sunset sails all make the Caribbean island tops for romantic nuptials. In July 2013, new direct service on United Airlines made the already accessible island even easier to visit, and a slew of upscale resorts like The BodyHoliday, Ladera and St. James’s Club have completed renovations. No wedding photo would be complete without Saint Lucia’s iconic twin mountains in the background, so book a resort where the Pitons are in full view, such as the ultra-luxurious Jade Mountain or Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort (a favorite of Matt Damon, who renewed his vows with wife Luciana Barroso at the property in April 2013).**
You’ve been to a million destination weddings, but you’re determined to break the mold. Less traveled than its more popular neighbors, Tobago‘s untouched (not to mention crowd-free) beaches are only a 3½-hour flight from Miami. Even better, the jungle-cloaked island’s eco-friendly resorts offer some of the Caribbean’s best deals. Make like Rita Hayworth and Robert Mitchum and head to the Blue Haven Hotel, a 1950s Hollywood escape that still captivates today with its four-poster beds and sea-view balconies. For fancier digs set amid mangrove forests, opt for the island’s newest resort, the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort (opened in 2012). Barefoot brides searching for a back-to-nature wedding location will prefer Blue Waters Inn, a secluded boutique that features a rustic pier perfect for overwater weddings.
Diane Lane’s character in Under the Tuscan Sun may have come to Italy‘s rolling vineyard region to forget about her ex, but couples looking to start a new life together can find more than a few reasons to plan a romantic wedding in the area as well. Reason No. 1: 15th-century villas that are a steal compared to nearby hotels. Rentable properties such as Villa Poggio Bartoli in Vicchio and Villa Carlotta in Siena are surprisingly affordable thanks to buyouts that can sleep your entire clan and eliminate expenses like site fees and eating out for every meal. For the ultimate villa venue, book Doorway Ltd.’s Villa Laura — the villa used in Under the Tuscan Sun — for a cool $17,000 per week. With room for 20, that’s just $120 per person, per night.
Drive-thru chapels may be quick and easy, but today’s Las Vegas I do’s take place at kitsch-free, sophisticated wedding locations, from the botanical gardens at Springs Preserve to the sleek new chapel at Aria Resort & Casino, which debuted in April 2013. Wedding locations don’t get any grander than the lush fountain garden at Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas or the indoor waterfall at Wynn. And couples who book The Cosmopolitan‘s swank new Wedding Suite may never want to leave. Looking to raise the stakes? Host an open-air reception 180 feet above the Strip at Sky Las Vegas, a condo tower that launched in June 2013 with 45 floors — guests are strapped into harnesses to make the trip up. Talk about a wedding toast to remember!
You don’t have to fly all the way to Paris for a wedding that’s très magnifique. Montreal has it all — bistros, baguettes, fashion, art. From the chic Le Place d’Armes Hotel & Suites in Old Montreal to the glam Hotel Le St-James on famed Saint-Jacques Street, this Francophile city is every bit as sophisticated as its European counterpart — but it’s a whole lot closer and a good bit cheaper. Recently, Montreal has also become an epicurean’s delight, with fresh new restaurants popping up on every corner. Don’t leave without trying the city’s most recent culinary openings, such as Park, BarBounya and Maison Publique — all helmed by celebrity chefs from Canada and abroad.
New Orleans, Louisiana
No wedding reception is complete without a signature cocktail, so why not head to the city that started it all with a jazzy celebration in classic New Orleans? For an authentic taste of the Big Easy, pick from the pre-Civil War Sazerac (America’s oldest known cocktail) or the Ramos Gin Fizz (NOLA’s hometown specialty). Book your affair at the historic Roosevelt New Orleans, whose legendary Sazarac Bar minted the gin fizz (Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles were all regulars), or opt for a celebration right in the heart of the French Quarter at Hotel Monteleone (home of the famous revolving Carousel Bar). For a touch of true Parisian style, head to the city’s newest hotel, Le Meridien New Orleans, opening fall 2014.
New York State
For many brides, a fairy-tale castle wedding is the ultimate dream. (We don’t judge; we understand.) But you don’t have to fly all the way across the pond to wed Lady Mary-style. New York State has royal flair all its own, thanks to two turn-of-the-century castles located within an hour of Manhattan. Marry at Long Island’s Oheka Castle, and the entire French-style chateau is yours. Farther upstate in the Hudson River Valley, the medieval-style Castle Hotel & Spa was modeled after Castle Lismore in Ireland, with its massive stone turrets and grand ballroom filled with marble, stained glass and hand-carved woodwork.
With more than 325 days of sunshine per year and average winter highs in the 60s, alfresco I do’s are gorgeous year-round in Scottsdale. And between the resort city’s pampering spas, luxe resorts, championship golf courses and desert landscapes, everyone in your bridal party will be happy. For a resort wedding that puts the desert’s splendor at the forefront, choose from Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (with four outdoor wedding locations for up to 360 guests) and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (which completed a $60 million renovation in March 2013). Planning is a cinch thanks to a new do-it-all website, ScottsdaleRomanticExperience.com, which launched in April 2013.