Your perfect wedding venue
Finding your photographer is NOT your number one priority. Yes, really!
While it would be nice if the photographer was the first thing to think about after your engagement, there’s probably a more important decision to make first (yes, really). One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when planning your wedding is where you’re going to get married. Once you’ve got the venue(s) and date confirmed, everything else follows on from there. You’ll then want to look for suppliers who have availability on your date and in the area where you’re getting married. While photographers may cover weddings across the country, you’ll probably want to choose a florist, make-up artist and hairdressers who are a bit more local.
One quick point – budget. You may dream of getting married in a fairytale castle, but if this is way out of your budget, move on! Although your wedding day is important, and you’ll want it to be special, you don’t need to cripple yourself financially. There will be a venue that’s right for you, at a price that’s right for you, and that will allow you to have your perfect wedding.
These are some of the questions you’ll need to consider when choosing your venue(s)
How many guests do you want?
This is pretty crucial. There’s no point falling in love with a quaint church & intimate barn if you’ve got a guest list of over 100.
Do you want a religious ceremony?
For some couples religion plays an important part in their life, and saying their vows in a religious setting is extremely important. Other couples may not be particularly religious, but if bride has always dreamt of getting married in the same church where her parents married, this will have a huge influence on the overall plans. I hate to say it grooms, but your bride has probably been thinking about her wedding day for a very long time already, and may already have pretty firm ideas about how the day will look.
Even if you’ve set your heart on a church wedding, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll be allowed to get married in the pretty church you’ve always admired. Some churches have very strict guidelines about who they’ll allow to marry there. You may find this article useful if you’re planning a church wedding.
If you are having a religious ceremony you’ll also need to find a venue to hold the reception. Ideally this should be no more than 30 minutes from the church (the closer the better), otherwise you’ll lose a chunk of your day while people travel from one venue to the next.
Home or abroad?
If you’re looking to get married abroad I’m afraid I don’t have many pearls of wisdom! If you plan to get married at a church in the UK then your reception venue will be limited by the location of the church. If you’re not tied to a specific area then you can get married anywhere in the UK. I got married miles from where I lived, simply because the venue ticked all the boxes and I fell in love with it as soon as I visited.
Would you be happy to get married at a registry office?
Not every reception venue is licensed to hold weddings. You may fancy erecting a marquee to have your reception in your back garden, or hire a tipi and take over a field for a relaxed country vibe. If you’re not having a religious ceremony you’d first need to legalise the marriage in a registry office. This doesn’t have to be on the same day as the reception, but it can be nice to do it all at the same time! Be aware that registry office services tend to be fairly quick, and you may only be allocated 30 minutes before the next couple arrive for their slot. You will not be allowed any religious elements to the service, and it won’t be as easy to personalise the venue as it would be if you had it to yourself for the day. Hazel and Jason got married in a registry office a few days before their wedding at home, where they had a humanist blessing at their home in front of their family and friends, which had the same feel as a ‘real’ ceremony, but without the legal part – I loved it.
Do you want to keep everything all in one venue?
There are a lot of advantages to choosing a venue where you can have both the ceremony and reception. The obvious one is that you’ll have the maximum amount of time with your guests as they won’t need to travel from one venue to another. However close the two locations are, someone always gets lost or needs to stop for petrol on the way, so it can seem like the reception takes a little while to get going. From a photography point of view the photographer also needs to be certain that everyone who is needed for the group photos is there before they can start. I once photographed a wedding where the groomsmen decided to stop at the pub after the church service and only arrived at the reception shortly before the wedding breakfast. This didn’t leave much time for photos and meant the bride and groom couldn’t really relax until all the guests had arrived.
Do you want exclusive use?
Some venues allow you to take over the whole venue, while others may host more than one wedding in a day. If you don’t want to bump into another bride on the staircase, find a venue that will be exclusively yours. This won’t be practical, possible or even affordable in some of the larger hotels, but there are plenty of smaller venues that will ensure all eyes are on you and you alone.
Do you want to add the personal touch?
Some venues are perfectly lovely exactly as they are. While you might want to add flowers and table decorations, you don’t need to do much else. Others, such as village halls and some barns are much more basic, and you’ll need to work quite hard to make them look beautiful by adding lighting, flowers, bunting etc. This can be great if you’ve got the time, money and vision to create something special, but make sure you know what you’ll need to do in advance.
Where will your guests stay overnight?
Hotels and other venues that offer overnight accommodation for you and your guests are great, as this can help the party continue to the next day. However, make sure your guests are aware of the key timings for the day – it can be frustrating when everyone is called through for the wedding breakfast to find that some of the guests have gone up to their rooms to freshen up, as the caterers won’t want to serve food until everyone is seated. If you have lots of guests coming from a long way away they’ll need somewhere to stay the night, so if your venue doesn’t offer rooms make sure you have a list of local hotels and B&Bs that you can share with your guests in plenty of time for the wedding. Be conscious of other events happening in the area at the same time. If you plan to get married anywhere near Henley during the week of Henley Royal Regatta you’ll find accommodation gets booked up months in advance.
Where will you get ready?
I love it when a bride gets ready at the same venue as the ceremony. Not only does this mean I can keep popping down to get some shots of the groom and guests, but she knows exactly how long it will take to get to the ceremony. It also saves on the cost of hiring a car! If you want to get ready at the same place as your bridesmaids make sure you’ve got plenty of room. Six women trying to get ready in a small hotel room is not very relaxing for anyone!
If the groom can get ready at the same venue as the bride that’s even better, as this means I can nip along and get some photos of him getting ready too!
What type of venue do you want?
The range of places where you can hold your wedding reception is getting more and more diverse. Hotel, golf club, rustic barn, stately home, school, castle, field, football stadium, town hall – the list is huge! The hire charges vary hugely, so make sure you know what budget you have available before you fall in love with one that’s out of your price range. Go and see lots of different types of venues, you may be surprised by the one you choose. There are lots of websites out there that list available venues, and it’s worth reading wedding blogs and joining some bride groups on facebook for venue suggestions, but be aware that many brides will only be able to rave about their own venue!
What time of year do I want to get married?
If you’re planning a summer wedding and hoping that you can spend most of the day outside, then you’ll want to find a venue with lots of outside space. However, you can’t guarantee sun at any time of the year, so make sure you’d still be happy at the venue even if you were stuck inside all day. If you’re planning a winter wedding the outside space is less important, but your photographer will still probably want to get you outside for some photos (unless it’s raining of course). If the ceremony and reception are all to be held in the same room make sure there’s sufficient space for you and your guests to hang out between the ceremony and wedding breakfast. If the venue plans to kick you all outside while they turn the room around, what alternative can they offer if it’s raining?
My faves (in no particular order!)
I know I probably shouldn’t have favourites, and I love it when I’m asked to photograph a wedding at a venue I haven’t worked at before, but there are some venues that are a bit special to me, so I wanted to give them a shoutout and say why I love them. All of these venues are licensed to hold civil ceremonies and should suit a variety of budgets. No, I’m not paid by any of the venues to recommend them, just as some of them aren’t paid to recommend me!
A beautiful barn in the Hambleden Valley just outside Henley on Thames, with fairy lights, its own vineyard, courtyard, garden, outside marquee and a few rooms for people to stay over. The sloe gin and blood orange liquors made on site are AMAZING! Read more here.
Set overlooking the River Thames, the Great Hall is a stunning place for the ceremony and wedding breakfast, with plenty of other rooms for guests to mingle in during the room changeover. It’s just as beautiful inside as it is outside. Read more here.
This 800 year old spectacular manor house on the River Thames has so much character, and the lawn is the perfect place for your drinks reception. I love the light in the ceremony room and the Great Hall looks so pretty lit by candlelight. You can read more here.
This venue just outside Henley-on-Thames is about to undergo a makeover, and the plans sound great. There are a few rooms for guests to stay over, different rooms to hold your ceremony & wedding breakfast across two floors, as well as different areas to enjoy outside. Read more here.
Another riverside venue set in the centre of Henley-on-Thames, there are plenty of rooms for guests to stay over, various room options for your ceremony, wedding breakfast and evening reception depending on the number of guests, and the chance to walk down and feed the ducks! Read more here.
Another lovely barn just outside Pangbourne with courtyard, gardens, and the chance to take a drive in a golf buggy down to the open fields. There’s also a room where the bride can get ready on site. I’ve had the most amazing hog roast here! Read more here.
I also love the following venues, so you might like to have a look at these if you’re still looking for inspiration. I’ve linked to my blogs where available (I don’t blog every single wedding!):
Bix Manor, Notley Abbey, Stoke Park, Coworth Park, Lympne Castle, Pennyhill Park, Wotton House, Coltsford Mill, Oaks Farm Barn, Waddesdon Manor, Burnham Beeches Hotel, Phyllis Court, Russets Country House, Gildings Barn
I hope this is useful. Please also have a look at my guide to planning your perfect wedding, as well as other articles you might find useful. I’d love you to leave a comment, including any suggestions of points I may have missed!
Tags: badgemore park golf club, barn wedding, berkshire wedding photographer, bisham abbey, Henley, henley on thames, herons farm, old luxters barn, oxfordshire wedding photographer, oxfordshire wedding photography, photography, red lion hotel, shiplake college, wedding photographer, wedding photography, wedding venues, weddings
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