Destination weddings in Ireland and DC/MD USA. Your Irish wedding planner – styling and coordination to die for weddings since 2006. Based in Dublin and Maryland.

Elopement v. Intimate Weddings: Choosing Your Perfect Wedding Day – REPOST

While the times we are living in are making more and more brides and grooms think about the option of an elopement or a intimate wedding as an alternative to their big wedding day we have adored, recommended and planned them for over 14 years!

Some of our greatest weddings and happiest memories are from romantic elopements and intimate weddings filled with nothing but love, adventure and fun. View a handful of those amazing days here:

Below is a BLOG we wrote from 2017 talking about all the fabulous reasons to elope or keep your wedding day to a intimate group. All the more true in 2020.


One question we get quite often here at Waterlily Weddings is the difference between an elopement and an intimate wedding. Many couples will use the terms interchangeably, which can lead to confusion in planning your dream wedding day. This post will look at the difference between the two, the advantages of each, and how they both are a perfect choice in Ireland.


In the strictest definition, an elopement is when a couple marry in secret. Traditionally, it is just the couple (i.e. no family or friends present), tends to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, and more ceremony-focused rather than incorporating the other details of a larger wedding like seating arrangements at the reception or a cocktail hour. A couple can elope in their home town or to a dream destination, have a spiritual or legal ceremony, and can be as fancy or casual as they like!

The reasons a couple may want to elope are varied. For some, being in the military may require speeding up a wedding day because of deployment. These couples may elect to elope before deployment, then plan a larger more detailed celebration at a later time. For others, the wedding planning process is fraught with too many complications — family interference, drama, negativity, feeling overwhelmed — and the couple feels the focus of their wedding day is going into a different direction than they wanted. They would choose to elope somewhere where they could take control of their wedding day and refocus it back to what is important for them. For others, having a big lavish wedding just isn’t something they are into; they always envisioned something very intimate, just the two of them, in an incredible location for their dream wedding day.


Intimate weddings are basically weddings with a small guest list. The couple will invite up to around 25 people. There will be a ceremony followed by a reception, with the same schedule and details of a larger wedding but done to suit a smaller guest list. There are invitations and logistics to plan, a ceremony attended by the guests, a reception that follows, and the etiquette that goes along with a traditional larger wedding applies.

Couples who choose to host an intimate wedding as opposed to a larger one usually are financially motivated; they want to focus on the “quality not the quantity” of their wedding day. Some couples have their heart set on a particular location for their wedding day that simply cannot accommodate a larger party. Others just want to keep the guest list very small so they can spend their wedding day enjoying it with their closest family and friends rather than entertaining a huge group of people.


As with everything, there are pros and cons, but with elopements and intimate weddings there are some specific advantages you may want to consider when deciding what kind of wedding day best suits you.

Eloping.  When you elope, you have a more fluid schedule to your day. This enables you to adjust your timeline a bit throughout the day so you can spend more time on what you’re enjoying in the moment, and could let you move on faster to the next thing when you’re ready. In particular, during the getting ready portion of your wedding day or time before your ceremony, many couples who choose to elope to a destination report enjoying a leisurely time getting ready, having the focus solely on themselves for hair and makeup without being distracted by others in the room, having a sense of peace and calm about them that really lets them focus on what they’re about to do. Some couples even find time to enjoy a round of golf, a drive in the country, even a workout to get any jitters out because they can spend the time on themselves they’d otherwise be spending entertaining friends or family.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for elopements are in pictures. Having just the two of you really lets you explore your ceremony location, often gives you time for extended portrait shots, even boudoir shots (!), and less pressure to take pictures quickly and move on.  Since you don’t have a dinner reception and band starting at a set time waiting for you, you really have this incredibly flexibility to work with your photographer as long as you like to get lots of incredible photographs of the two of you in your dream locale.

If having a cake and proper dinner, even entertainment are something you’re afraid you’d miss if you elope, have no fear. Plenty of couples who’ve eloped enjoyed a miniature size wedding cake, beautifully designed and decorated just like its larger counterpart and just as delicious. Couples who elope often enjoy a very romantic candlelit dinner specially prepared for them by award-winning chefs in incredible venues, from cozy fireplaces at the castle to upscale restaurant in the city. If music and dancing is something you’re afraid you’d miss out on, especially in Ireland it can very easily be arranged. There are plenty of venues and restaurants that have the quintessential Irish experience that would work perfectly for your post-wedding celebration. And good chance the locals will toast you both well into the morning hours for a very memorable wedding day!

Intimate Weddings.  Although involving more cost than an elopement, for the right couple an intimate wedding is the absolute best decision. This is for the couple with a tight nit group of friends or family whom they adore that they want to share an incredible and special day with. It’s very conducive to a destination wedding in particular, as you can build in bonding time together with sight-seeing, adventures, activities and more leading up to your wedding. That build up can create a lot of positive energy and excitement that will carry over to your wedding day to make it even more memorable and unique.

For intimate weddings, expect to do everything a larger wedding would have but you have the advantage of personalization and details. Little things like customized menus that go beyond the “chicken or fish” choices larger weddings usually require, craft cocktails and top shelf choices instead of the select bar menus, meaningful personalized gifts instead of the standard votive candle holder. An intimate wedding allows you to bring your guests closer into the ceremony itself: invite them to take parts within the ceremony by doing readings, lighting candles, or holding special objects. If you’re doing flower crowns, make that part of the day’s activities by inviting your friends to custom-design their own! Let the boys bond together by treating them all to a classic shave morning of the wedding and an Irish coffee. The options are really endless as it’s easier to coordinate a smaller group of people to experience your wedding day with you.

Having a smaller guest list means you can splurge more on the quality of the details. For many brides, opting for an intimate wedding allows flexibility in the budget to get their dream dress, jewelry, decorate the ceremony space more whimsically, execute that pinterest-worthy table setting to perfection, and more. Many couples would rather spend the money having what they want and celebrating with the people that really matter most to them rather than covering the cost for a huge wedding and cutting back on details.

The rule with intimate weddings is Go For The Details! Really take advantage of being able to personalize here and really create a custom experience that extends beyond just the wedding itself.


Be it elopement, intimate wedding, vow renewal, huge 300+ wedding, and more, Ireland is the absolute perfect location to host your dream destination wedding. We’ve written many posts here about why, but for elopements and intimate weddings in particular Ireland really is a perfect match.

Both elopements and intimate weddings offer the chance to really explore the area. Ireland has some of the most spectacular and breathtaking natural beauty in the world, and an ease to explore it all! This offers great options to host a ceremony in an incredible location where you can bring in all the senses for a truly unique ceremony. The pictures will be absolutely stunning — Ireland’s natural beauty offers a stunning backdrop to work with and inspire your wedding details. Ireland’s rich history and traditions offer a variety of aesthetic options to choose from: it can accommodate supremely elegant and refined, upscale, bohemian, rustic, urban, spiritual, traditional, and religious to name a few. It is quite easy to come up with the perfect bespoke ceremony and celebration for any couple.

Ireland is easy to navigate. Roll your honeymoon straight into your elopement for a week long adventure. As stated before, explore Ireland with friends and family together before your wedding day as a bonding experience, or kick off the party with your wedding and then party together throughout the country for a week afterwards! Use Ireland as a starting point to explore the rest of Europe! We’ve had couples host their dream wedding in Ireland and then honeymoon in Italy for example!


On a logistical standpoint, there are some factors you may want to consider when deciding which wedding day is right for you. Photographers, for example, will be hard pressed to block out an entire Saturday to shoot an elopement; they are giving up a prime day to shoot a larger wedding which will mean more hours and thus more money. If you’re planning an elopement, consider doing it on a weekday so you can secure your dream photographer without issue. Intimate weddings are treated like their larger counterparts, so they will be organized and treated similarly by your vendors for the most part, photographers included. Because of the smaller guest list, things like “family portrait” shots will go much faster, giving you more time to take candid shots or detail shots of your wedding day. Another reason to go for the details on this style of wedding!

Be careful of approaching vendors with “elopement coverage” or asking for the “elopement style packages” thinking that they will be more affordable for your intimate wedding. The reality is elopement packages are planned and priced out a certain way to reflect two people getting married; it’s an entirely different scenario than an intimate wedding. Using “elopement” when you’re in fact hosting an intimate wedding (i.e. more than just the two of you) can create a lot of confusion with planning and logistics. You want to be honest and clear with your vendors on what kind of wedding you’re having so they can figure out the best way to support you and give you their absolute best product and service.

Contact us today to create your dream destination wedding in Ireland! Be it elopement, intimate wedding, or huge bash of a lifetime!

Photo by Awake and Dreaming Wedding Photography

comments +

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Ireland's top destination wedding planner

Advice and insight into how to pick your perfect wedding venue in Ireland or your home state.


Castle, Cliff, or Country Manor?

Your guide complete with food suggestions, things to do, and other info to help you plan an epic 5-day adventure in Ireland.


5-Day Adventure

Emma and Alex’s breathtaking wedding has been featured in print in Weddings & Honeymoons!


Weddings & Honeymoons

We are so happy to share Christina and Martin's stunning black tie wedding at Luttrellstown Castle has been featured on Style Me Pretty!

Style Me Pretty

Featured In


Talk about your list here and embed your newsletter opt in below! Crucifix kale chips vinyl tbh cloud bread gochujang jean shorts stumptown.

get this exclusive thing