Everyone wants the perfect wedding, and for some, that means jetting off to a picturesque location far from home. In fact, nearly 25 percent of nuptial ceremonies are destination weddings. Whether it's an island setting amid swaying palm trees and daiquiris or the rolling countryside away from the city lights, where one gets married is typically the first decision when planning the celebration. There are some locations that are tried-and-true for a reason (we're looking at you Mexico and Caribbean), plus more that are often overlooked. Here are eight top places to plan a destination wedding, suitable for both all-out affairs and low-key occasions.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At least that's our motto when it comes to having a destination wedding in Hawaii. Sure, you'll be competing with the roughly 20,000 other people having weddings there (according to a 2012 statistic), but the stunning beaches, aloha spirit, and abundance of leisure and recreational activities make it worth it. Plus, family and friends are more willing to pay that hefty flight charge for a chance to surf in Waikiki and hike Diamond Head.
High rollers should consider planning their ceremony at Travaasa Hana in Maui, while Royal Lahaina Resort offers a more affordable, yet undeniably stunning, setting for nuptials.
2. U.S. Virgin Islands
The Caribbean has long been a favorite for weddings among U.S. citizens, thanks to its year-round pleasant weather and picturesque island setting. While there are numerous spots to choose from, we love the U.S. Virgin Islands for its lovely marina backdrop that will certainly appeal to sailing and yachting enthusiasts. Plus, the currency is U.S. dollars, a passport isn't required for Americans (though recommended), and the drinking age is 18 (sure to delight 18-to-20-year-olds invited).
Caneel Bay Resort is our top pick for an elegant wedding, but of course, romantic beachfront events do come at a cost. The more affordable Concordia Eco-Studios offers a breathtaking location and wedding services.
3. Florida Keys
Travelers looking for Caribbean-like weather without having to leave the continental U.S. should look at the Florida Keys. The string of islands are along the same latitudinal line as the Bahamas, but getting to the former is significantly cheaper. While it does have kitschy areas and hordes of tourists, it also offers excellent snorkeling, calm waters, delicious seafood, and fun nightlife. The Keys are also very gay-friendly, making it a particularly attractive spot for gay and lesbian weddings.
The luxurious Cheeca Lodge & Spa is a popular pick for weddings in Islamorada, while Sunset Key Cottages can help plan ceremonies in Key West.
4. Los Cabos, Mexico
Thanks to direct flights from several major U.S. cities, and easy wedding packages, getting married in Mexico can be a fairly painless affair. Though Cancun and Cozumel are viable options, we prefer Los Cabos for its recognizable rock formation Land's End, gorgeous historic sites, and visible whale migration from January to March. Numerous all-inclusive resorts help keep costs in check (a major pro for guests), though some may be disappointed by how Americanized Cabo San Lucas is.
The Grand Solmar Land's End Resort & Spa is an excellent pick for its stunning setting, though we love Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Resort & Spa for its adult-only policy and all-inclusive rates.
5. Tuscany, Italy
You might be surprised to find that the top country in Europe for American destination weddings is not the très romantique France, or even the easy-to-get-around England. Instead, Italy, which is arguably more romantic than cities like Paris, takes the number-one spot. While the Amalfi Coast and Lake Como are breathtaking coastal spots, we're going to suggest Tuscany for an Italian wedding. The expansive rolling hills, abundant wineries, and thermal spas make it a dream come true for countryside-loving couples.
There are numerous scenic options to choose from, but Castel Monastero—a historic property surrounded by vineyards—and Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa—an exclusive stay with numerous spa facilities—are some of the best.
A more convenient option for Kiwis and Aussies, Fiji is a gorgeous country in the South Pacific, made up of hundreds of islands. It offers everything from backpacker-heaven beaches to exquisite luxury resorts that go for over $1,000/night, plus everything in between. If you're looking to have a wedding in a honeymoon-worthy spot, this is it. It's known for its marine-life-filled coral reefs, rugged terrain, and genuinely friendly locals and hotel staff that seem to perpetually have a smile on their face.
The InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa is a large, amenity-filled property situated along a beautiful beach on the main island. If only adults are attending the wedding, Lomani Island Resort is a romantic and peaceful property, while still providing a ton of free activities.
You don't have to be of Irish descent to have a wedding in Ireland's jaw-dropping countryside or stunning castles. A ceremony in Ireland means the bride, groom, and guests will get to experience both culture and scenery on their trip, without the cookie-cutter presentation found in many popular destination wedding spots. Whether the event is in Dublin, Galway, or Cork, travelers should schedule some time on the links, drink Guinness with locals in a pub, and visit gorgeous spots like the Cliffs of Moher and Ring of Kerry.
If a historic manor amid sweeping greenery sounds like the ideal "I do" spot, consider the upscale Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. If a grand city dame is more your speed, The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel is an iconic property with a superb location right on St. Stephen's Green.
Couples looking for a bit of culture may prefer the still tourist-friendly Jamaica. Yes, there are lots of honeymooners and families, but visitors are guaranteed to see live reggae performances, roadside shacks serving up delectable jerk chicken, and locals jumping off cliffs. Whether in the more commercialized Montego Bay or laid-back Negril, there's a spot suited to most.
If you're having an intimate wedding, look to The Caves for your ceremony, as the cliffside property has just 11 cottages. Though it's a bit of a trek to get to, Jakes Hotel, Villa & Spa is a hippy-chic boutique property offering personalized events. But you better book far in advance for one of these popular wedding spots.
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