The best part of a destination wedding is that it brings your favorite people together in a locale that offers excitement for everyone involved. If guests will be traveling long hours to celebrate with you, one way to show your appreciation is to plan a memorable pre-wedding activity for the group.
"It’s good to include other hosted events in your wedding weekend because a lot of people are spending a lot of money to come to your wedding," says event planner Alison Laesser-Keck. "If you’re going to ask guests to hop on a plane, you want them to come away from the experience feeling immersed in the local culture." Aoife Owens of White Elephant Resorts agrees, saying, "Scheduled activities are a great way to showcase the destination the couple has chosen."
Meet the Expert
• Alison Laesser-Keck is the director of events and creative director of Alison Bryan Destinations, a luxury destination event planning company that specializes in weddings that feel like vacations.
• Aoife Owens is the director of sales and marketing at White Elephant Resorts.
Still, deciding the best way to rally disparate groups of attendees can feel overwhelming. How do you pick something that will appeal to different ages, personalities, and preferences? Where is the line drawn between forced fun and, well, actual fun?
"Ultimately, you want to lean into what specifically makes your destination cool," suggests Laesser-Keck. "What’s special about the area? Gravitate towards that."
In need of further advice or inspiration? Read on for a roster of 15 unique activity ideas to include in your own wedding weekend as well as answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pre-wedding activities for guests.
Throw a Welcome Party
If the majority of your guests are coming from out of town, a welcome party is a great way to kick off the festivities and give guests an opportunity to meet ahead of the main celebration. Typically thrown the night before your wedding, this event can occur after or even in place of your rehearsal dinner. "Make it a casual 'stop by for drinks and light bites' kind of thing because people will be checking in at all hours and will be tired," advises Laesser-Keck. "They don’t immediately want to go into a formal experience."
That said, you don’t have to sacrifice a theme! Go for something light-hearted that either nods to a shared interest or allows guests to experience a segment of local food or culture that won’t be part of the wedding. And, if all else fails, opt to gather in the most scenic spot available. "Any time you put your guests in front of a cool view, you can do as little or as much as you want," Laesser-Keck says with a chuckle.
Charter a Boat
If you’re marrying in a waterfront locale, boat excursions of all types and sizes are a wonderful way to experience the area. Opt for a sunset cruise, send a few sportsmen out deep-sea fishing, or schedule a larger group to go whale watching. Owens suggests incorporating a ride into a more exclusive pre-wedding event, such as the bridal luncheon. Laesser-Keck has even taken guests out via speedboat to a houseboat and then hosted a party in the middle of the water.
Set Up a Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is a great way to organize guests into groups they don’t already know and encourage participants to explore all corners of a resort or smaller destination, such as an island. Instruct groups to collect tokens from various corners of the property, then have everyone meet up at a final gathering place for celebratory drinks and snacks.
Take to the Water
Kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, river floats, and surf lessons are all lower-cost and less time-intensive on-the-water pre-wedding activities. For weddings in Tulum, Laesser-Keck has also organized cenote tours.
Chill Out With a Sound Bath
"A group sound bath underneath the stars sets the tone of the entire weekend," says Laesser-Keck. Even if not everyone is big on meditation, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to break from their hectic everyday life, reset, and relax.
Get Your Yoga On
A low-key yoga session is the fitness-oriented pre-wedding activity most likely to appeal to the largest swath of wedding guests—especially when done on the beach or against another awe-inspiring outdoor backdrop. "It also accommodates a bigger group, and is a good way to start the day," says Owens.
Run a 5K
A pre-wedding race definitely isn’t for everyone, but, for a group of particularly active wedding guests, the endorphin boost could be just the ticket. To make it extra fun, end in a scenic spot and "have lunch and drinks afterward," suggests Owens.
Plan a Pool Party
A pre-planned gathering at the resort pool is a relatively low-lift way to spend a pre-wedding afternoon. (Take note, though—this will be harder, and potentially more expensive, to pull off if you haven’t opted for a hotel buyout.) Blow up a few fun pool floats, set up a bar, and, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, maybe even bring in a DJ.
Take a Cooking Class
Foodies opting for a more intimate wedding can kick things off by getting hands-on! Schedule a cooking class that celebrates local flavors and unique traditions (Ceviche in Mexico! Pasta in Italy!), and use it as an opportunity to host a non-drinking pre-wedding activity. "Alcohol will fit into every other activity," says Laesser-Keck. "This will be a welcome break."
Try Something Totally New
Whether it’s pickleball, Muay Thai, or even line dancing, offering up a way to get active that feels unique to your wedding destination will definitely be a pre-wedding activity for all guests to remember.
Head Out on a Hike
If you’re marrying in a mountain destination, the best way for guests to experience the scenery will be to head directly into the woods. A guided hike will keep everyone on the safest paths, and maybe even lead to lesser-known sites of natural splendor, but this more casual pre-wedding activity can also very easily go a more DIY route.
Schedule a Spa Day
If you are doing a hotel buyout for your destination wedding, your group may be required to spend a certain amount at the resort spa. This is the perfect opportunity to treat your VIPs to more unusual forms of R&R. "It’s always nice to get a massage, but you can also get into treatments that are more health-focused, such as lymphatic drainage massages," says Laesser-Keck.
Host a Tasting
Whether you’re sipping tequila in Guadalajara, full-bodied reds in Burgundy, or bourbon in Kentucky, hosting a night to sample the spirits of the region is a fun way to localize the standard pre-wedding cocktail party.
Go Horseback Riding
More adventurous guests will love exploring their surroundings on horseback. Just be sure to coordinate this activity well in advance, as it will likely only accommodate a smaller group, and waivers and release forms will need to be signed.
Offer Hair & Makeup Services
Want to really pamper your guests? Bring in extra glam squads on the morning of your wedding to help get their hair and makeup on point. "This idea is new on the scene and so fun," says Laesser-Keck. Added bonus: with everyone looking and feeling their best, more camera-shy loved ones may be more inclined to ham it up for the camera—which means your wedding album will be filled with even more wonderful memories.
How many pre-wedding activities should we plan?
"As much as your guests want to spend time with you, this is also an opportunity for them to see a destination that they might have never experienced before," says Owens. "So you don’t want to overschedule people." Depending on the length of the wedding weekend, one or two pre-wedding activities are ideal. Guests can use the rest of the time to craft their own itineraries.
What is the best day for a pre-wedding activity?
If you’re marrying on a Saturday, Laesser-Keck says Friday is the ideal day for more adventurous or off-site excursions. On the day of the wedding, opt for more relaxing, low-key activities that keep guests close to the property. That way, no one will stress about getting back in time to get ready.
Do I have to include everyone in each activity?
Definitely not, but you’ll want to be strategic about scheduling. If you’re planning something super special for a smaller group of VIPs, Laesser-Keck suggests having them arrive a day or two early—or leave a day or two late—so that you can fully enjoy the experience without worrying about other guests feeling left out.
What’s the best wedding size for pre-wedding activities?
"If you would like to have a destination wedding that feels more like a vacation, keep in mind that the majority of activities, and even event spaces, are best suited for a smaller guest count," says Laesser-Keck. She recommends keeping the invite list to under 100 people and also being aware that more involved activities, such as sailboat rides and cooking classes, may cap at 15 to 20 people.
We’re marrying in a major city. Should we consider pro sport games or guided tours?
While baseball games in D.C. or architecture tours in Chicago might seem like no-brainers, these types of activities will require an ample amount of planning in advance and will also be subject to factors beyond your control. (And you do not need the extra stress!) Instead of attempting to book them for guests, offer them as suggestions for things to do on your wedding website or in your wedding welcome letter. That way, guests who are interested can still make them happen on their own time.