White dress, black tux, ’til death do us part, you know how it goes. But for some couples, the trappings of a traditional wedding feel too, well, traditional to truly represent them. Thankfully, there’s more than one way to celebrate a marriage—and now more than ever couples are embracing a non-traditional approach.
"These last two years have been so unpredictable that people are saying, 'Let’s just do what makes us happy,'" says event planner Gabrielle Pinkerton. "That might mean breaking the mold and doing something completely different."
Meet the Expert
Based in Nashville, Gabrielle Pinkerton is the founder and CEO of Cause We Can Events, a destination wedding planning outfit for adventurous couples. She specializes in non-traditional, festival-style weddings in remote locations.
If you’re thinking about venturing down the non-traditional path, you’ve come to the right place. From brunch weddings at home to adventure elopements on remote mountaintops, these alternative wedding ideas are guaranteed to make your event feel memorable, unique, and, most importantly, just like you.
Exchange Vows in a Hot Air Balloon
As the classic ballad goes, love lifts us up where we belong...so why not celebrate with a ride through the sky? Equal parts adventurous and romantic, a hot air balloon elopement is the perfect option for couples looking for a mix of both.
Elope with Just Your Kids
If your marriage will give way to a blended family, show your children how important they are by making them your chief—and only—witnesses. Giving them the opportunity to dress up and participate in the ceremony will affirm how integral they are to your relationship, and so will crafting separate vows to recite to them.
Host a Brewery Celebration
"Brewery weddings are getting very popular," says Pinkerton. It’s not hard to see why: Thanks to their large sizes, high ceilings, built-in alcohol options, and typically lax rules on bringing in outside food, breweries were pretty much made to host a party. So even if you’re not big on lagers and IPAs, it’s still a worthy avenue to consider when looking for a more unique venue.
Have a Double Wedding
If someone you’re especially close to—like, say, a twin sibling or favorite cousin—is engaged around the same time, consider marrying with them by your side. A double wedding might seem overwhelming, but as long as two of the four have considerable overlap in guest count and the group is okay with allowing each member to make certain decisions about the celebration, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to pull off.
Bowl Out Your Unity Ceremony
From sand rituals to candle lighting, there are plenty of wonderfully symbolic options for your unity ceremony. But if you’re marrying at a bowling alley—a surprisingly delightful option for retro-loving couples—we love the idea of bowling down some pins together instead.
Wear Whatever You Want
There’s no law that says a wedding dress has to be white. (Or, while we’re at it, even a dress.) This is your celebration, so you should wear whatever makes you feel most like yourself. For her funky Colorado farm wedding, Emily Sullivan Canova donned an embellished peach gown by Alice + Olivia and did just that.
Hightail It to the Courthouse
A courthouse wedding doesn’t have to mean a cookie-cutter ceremony in a drab government building. "Pick a courthouse that inspires you," says Pinkerton. "The Santa Barbara courthouse, for example, is beautiful." Pinkerton also suggests commemorating the occasion by getting your hair and makeup done the morning of and making time to celebrate afterward. "Honor the experience, even if it’s just going to brunch with some friends or the two of you to dinner," she adds.
Hike Up a Mountain
An occasion as momentous as a wedding deserves an equally momentous backdrop. And a relationship is a journey that takes effort, so why not extend the metaphor to real life with a hike to your elopement spot? The views will make the trek more than worth it.
Celebrate With a Picnic
Follow up a morning wedding ceremony with a picnic meal. This can be as simple as a few blankets and takeout lunch, or a full-blown, boho-inspired seating arrangement in an open field or park. Either way, the daytime event will keep things feeling more casual than a nighttime reception.
Brunch It Out
"I love brunch weddings," says Pinkerton. "Especially if you’re marrying on a Sunday because people can still recover and go to work the next day." Another added bonus: you can still offer a full meal, but the cost per person will likely be less—especially on the alcohol front. "People aren’t necessarily going to be having rum and cokes, so you can do something fun like a Bloody Mary bar," Pinkerton adds.
Host a Multi-Day Festival Wedding
Think: Coachella, but with vows. This on-the-rise wedding trend involves more planning than your standard one-night ceremony and reception, but the payoff can be so worth it—especially for couples who value memorable experiences above all else and don’t frequently have the opportunity to bring all of their loved ones together. Often held in glamping sites, near national parks, and in other remote locations, festival weddings typically involve a few days of activities (yoga, hikes, etc.) as well as multiple nights of live music or DJ sets. Per Pinkerton, who specializes in this type of celebration, the relaxed pace of the weekend also takes the pressure off the couple to cram in all their quality time with each guest into one night.
Adventure to a Volcano
Ah, Iceland: the land of glaciers, waterfalls, and fire. While you could pick any number of gorgeous natural backdrops to elope against in this stunning Scandinavian country—an under six-hour flight from NYC—there’s something especially other-worldly about lava flowing from an active volcano. Because if your love is on fire, your wedding should be, too.
Get Married at Home
A backyard wedding is a lovely way to celebrate the coming together of two families—especially if your guest count is on the smaller side. Just be sure to prepare: Pinkerton says a restroom trailer can be crucial, as your home plumbing may not be able to handle a deluge of people, and you may need an extra power source to cover lighting and your DJ’s sound equipment.
Say 'I Do' on a Weekday
With the wedding boom showing no signs of slowing down, couples are going to continue to look beyond Saturday night and into weekday weddings for their nuptials. "This can also be a good choice if you’re looking to save a bit on your venue because you’ll likely get a lower rate Monday through Thursday," says Pinkerton.
Get Hitched at a Coffee Shop
They’re cozy, inviting, and have a built-in (espresso) bar. If you and your boo had your first date in a coffee shop, or just really enjoy a caffeine buzz, consider marrying at a coffee shop. Many aren’t open at night, so it might be easier than expected to find one to rent out for your celebration.
Get Hitched at a Restaurant
If a truly delicious dinner menu is a top priority for your wedding, head straight to the professionals. A restaurant wedding will ensure your food is top-notch, and as an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about renting tables or dishware. To keep the night flowing, you’ll want to make certain decisions ahead of time. "The biggest thing is to pre-set your menu, so you’re not wasting time with everyone trying to order their own thing," advises Pinkerton.
Host a Dinner Party
For their Brooklyn nuptials, Cait Goodman and Nate Weger threw a dinner party for 30 of their nearest and dearest—and even did the cooking themselves! While it’s certainly a more labor-intensive way to celebrate, creating the meal yourselves is one of the most heartfelt ways to show your guests how grateful you are for their attendance.
Consider an Adventure Elopement
If setting off into the great wild yonder with just your fiancé(e) and an officiant sounds right up your alley, then an adventure elopement should be your next move. Many couples who go this route combine their honeymoon and elopement into one unforgettable trip.
Host an Anniversary Reception
If you hosted a smaller wedding celebration, use your one-year anniversary as an excuse to bring together all the people you wish you could have added to your original guest list. Anniversary receptions are a fun option for couples who perhaps eloped far away from home and are still yearning to share in the joy with their loved ones.
Don’t Actually Get Married
Marriage isn’t for everyone, and that is more than okay. Instead, celebrate your commitment to each other with a milestone anniversary party or a relationship celebration. The shindig can be low-key or a major production, and doesn’t need to include vows—but you should take a moment to thank the folks in attendance for being the support system that has allowed your love to flourish.