Getting married in a beautiful part of the world such as Scotland is a great way to start your married life. If huge weddings are not your thing, you can opt instead for an elopement. It gives you the option to design a meaningful and intimate ceremony that reflects your values and personality with minimal hassle and stress, not to mention reduced costs. If you are dreaming of an elopement in Scotland, this article will help you plan your special day.
Why Elope in Scotland?
Blessed with breath-taking scenery and steeped in history, Scotland is a popular destination for elopements. Whatever your preferred style, romantic or adventurous, moody or relaxed, you can design your dream day in Scotland.
Since you can get married pretty much anywhere in Scotland without having to apply for a permit, the country offers an endless selection of possible wedding locations and atmospheres. From romantic castles to ancient cities to rugged natural spots, there is something for every taste.
As long as your ceremony, whether civil or religious, is officiated by a registered marriage celebrant, it will be legally recognised worldwide.
The Legal Stuff – Visas & Marriage Notice
Although not the most romantic part of your elopement in Scotland planning, this is an essential step to making things happen.
If you are coming to Scotland to get married from outside of the UK, you will need to apply for a Marriage Visitor visa in your home country. The Home Office, which is responsible for immigration matters in the UK, is the best source of visa information. You can apply for the Marriage Visitor visa three months before you travel to Scotland. If you provide all the required documents and prove your identity, you will normally get a decision on your visa within three weeks.
If you are living in the UK on a visa (e.g., Student or Work), you will be subject to immigration control. The registrar will notify the Home Office when you lodge your notice of marriage. They will then review your case. If they think your marriage is suspicious, they will launch a more detailed investigation that might take a couple of months. However, if you hold an Indefinite Leave to Remain or EUSS pre-settled or settled status, your case will not be referred to the Home Office.
If you have lived in the UK for over two years and can provide evidence of your residency in the country (e.g., a utility bill), there is a good chance that a full-blown investigation will not take place. However, it is best not to assume anything when it comes to immigration.
To legally get married in Scotland, both parties must lodge marriage notice forms and associated documents to the registration office in the district where the ceremony will take place. You must submit the required paperwork no later than 29 days before the date of the intended marriage.
It is recommended that you lodge your notice 10-12 weeks before the date so there is enough time for the documents to be checked properly. Timely lodgement is especially important if your case is going to be referred to the Home Office.
Your registrar will advise on the best way to lodge the forms and answer any questions you might have about the legal process. The National Records of Scotland have the most comprehensive information on the process of giving marriage notice. Make sure to carefully read their guidance to fully understand what you need to do.
Once the registrar reviews your documents, they will issue a marriage schedule. You will need to pick this document up in person before your special day and then return it within three days of your ceremony.
By law, you are required to have two witnesses over the age of 16 to be present at your ceremony. If you are planning a ceremony for the two of you, don’t worry. Your photographer can be your witness. Your celebrant might also be able to organise a witness if you let them know in advance.
Select a Location for your Elopement in Scotland
Now on to the fun part. Finding the perfect location for your elopement in Scotland might seem daunting as there are so many stunning options to choose from. First, decide on the type of atmosphere that you are after and what you would like your whole elopement day to look like.
Would you like a civil ceremony in a historic city followed by a meal at a beautiful restaurant? Maybe, being surrounded by moody mountains and pristine lakes away from the rest of the world is more of your thing. If you always dreamed of a fairy tale castle wedding, Scotland has plenty of options as well.
Please note, you will need to decide on the location of the ceremony and its type (religious or civil) before you give your marriage notice. Your location will determine which registration office you will submit your forms to.
Here are some ideas for elopement locations in Scotland:
The Isle of Skye
This stunning island located just off the West coast of Scotland is famous for its rugged scenery. With dramatic mountains, stunning coastline, ancient rock formation and magical glens, the Isle of Skye is sure to delight nature lovers.
Located right in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Glencoe offers both romance and drama. The region features towering mountains, pristine lakes and historic sites that you can explore during your stay.
The Cairngorms National Park
Another lesser-known gem found in the Scottish Highlands that brings together mountains, rivers, lochs, woodlands, historic villages and whisky distilleries. This is the perfect choice if you want to get away from it all.
The Scottish capital is the perfect destination for history lovers. After the ceremony, you can explore its cobbled streets and take in the beautiful architecture of the city. Finish the day at one of Edinburgh’s historic pubs or world-class restaurants.
Tucked away in the lush countryside of the Northeast of Scotland, the rose-coloured Brodie Castle is the perfect choice for an uber romantic elopement. You can begin your married life surrounded by the works of Old Masters and historic interiors.
This is just a small selection of places that are great for an elopement. If you would like to explore more of what is out there, check out this destination guide on Visit Scotland website. The National Trust for Scotland is a great source of information for elopements in historic spots such as castles.
Decide on the Guest List
Traditionally, if a couple decided to elope, they would do it without anyone knowing. They would inform their friends and family only after the event. However, today it is common to invite a select group of people – under 12 normally – to share the special day with.
Putting together a small guest list might sound like an easy to thing to do, but you might find that you have to be brutal to ensure that the ceremony stays small. The list can balloon out of proportion quickly. As a result, you might end up with a much bigger day than you originally envisioned.
Be prepared that some friends and relatives might not understand why you are opting for a small ceremony. In an ideal world, people would just respect your choice, but as a big ceremony is still very much the default option, feelings might be hurt.
If any uncomfortable questions do arise, be honest and say that you prefer a more intimate ceremony. Tell them that you want them to be part of your life, but on this occasion, you want to do things your way.
Another option is to have a bit of both. You can have your elopement in Scotland with just the two of you or a small group of guests first, followed by a large wedding reception back home. That way, you can still have your dream small ceremony at a beautiful destination and celebrate the occasion with family and friends.
Ultimately, no matter what you do, remember – it is your wedding day. It is up to you and your partner to decide what your special day looks like. If following the traditional wedding route doesn’t feel right, you have the freedom to design your day whichever way you want.
Choose a Date
When choosing a date for your elopement in Scotland, think about the atmosphere that you would like to have on the day as it really varies with the seasons. Scotland is beautiful all year round, but you will get a different aesthetic depending on the time of year.
In the spring and summer months, you will get long days and lush greenery. However, this is also the busiest time for tourism. If you are considering getting married in a popular location like the Isle of Skye, you need to be prepared for busy carparks and accommodation. Autumn and winter are marked by beautiful earthy colours and softer light. This time of the year is normally quieter, and you might get some natural spots all to yourself.
Keep in mind that Scotland weather is unpredictable all year round. Rain and moody skies are incredibly common, but they also create a special, dramatic atmosphere. Your elopement photos are sure to look amazing.
When deciding on a date, give yourself enough time to prepare. The legal part alone may take a few months. Although elopements are not as demanding as traditional weddings in terms of planning and logistics, there are still a few things to organise.
Book Travel and Venue (if required)
Once you decide on a date, it is time to get booking. If you are getting married at a registry office or a venue like a historic castle, you need to make sure your preferred date is available. Once you find a day and time that works, book it. If you decide to have your ceremony out in the wild, you obviously don’t need to book that beach or glen. However, you still need to arrange for an authorised celebrant to marry you.
This is also a great time to book your travel, especially if you are coming from overseas. This way you will have a good selection of flights, train tickets and car rentals. Early bookings can also help keep the cost of travel down.
Plan Your Itinerary – Accommodation, Vendors and Dining
When you decide on the date and location of your elopement in Scotland, the next step is to select your accommodation and vendors. If you are getting married in a city like Edinburgh, there will be no shortage of accommodation options. You just need to find something within your budget and, ideally, near the venue where the ceremony takes place. I normally use Booking.com to book my stays.
If you opted for an elopement package in a castle or another historic spot, accommodation is most likely going to be included. For outdoor weddings, I would, again, recommend booking a place as close to the ceremony location as possible to simplify the logistics of the day. If staying near your chosen spot is not an option, plan your journey ahead. For example, if you need to drive there, is there a carpark and will you need cash to pay for it? You don’t want to worry about those things on the day.
Aside from accommodation, you also need to think about other details. If you would you like to have a bouquet or a floral arch, you will need to find a local florist who can deliver the items to your chosen location. Also, are you happy to do your own hair and make-up or would you prefer professional help? Some make-up artists and hairstylists will travel to your venue to make things easier for you.
Another thing worth thinking about is the food. Some couples will opt for a simple picnic in their chosen natural location. Alternatively, you might choose to celebrate your marriage at a restaurant or a traditional pub. If you would like to get a wedding cake, you will need to research local bakeries that can deliver to your venue.
Book a Photographer
Getting a professional photographer for your elopement is by no means a must, but if your budget allows, it is a great investment. A great photographer will capture your special day in a stunning way so you can have beautiful memories for years to come. You can also share these photos with your friends and family.
There are many Scotland-based photographers who specialise in elopements. The best way to start your search is by simply googling “elopement photographers Scotland”. Look through the photographers’ websites and Instagram accounts to see if you like their styles. Shortlist a couple of options and get in touch with them to find out if they are available for your date.
Once you conform their availability, you might want to have an initial conversation with them to see how well you connect. You want to make sure you are as comfortable as possible on the day. Your intuition will help you choose the right person.
Elopement photographers are also a great source of local knowledge. They may be able to recommend celebrants, accommodation, restaurants, florists and make-up artists in your chosen area. This will help to remove some of the hassle from your vendor research.
What to Wear for Your Elopement in Scotland
This one is completely up to you. Although it is important to take the weather and terrain into consideration, there are ultimately no rules for what to wear for your elopement. Some brides still choose to wear wedding gowns while others don’t even wear white. Grooms may opt for a formal suit or kilt or go for something completely out there.
Since Scotland is notorious for its weather, I would recommend having a cardigan or jacket handy in case you get cold. If the ceremony is out in the wild, I would make sure to wear practical footwear. Stilettos look wonderful but are not suitable if you need to walk up a hill or through the woods.
Originally, I did not intend to wear a white dress for my elopement in Scotland. I thought I would go for a stylish evening dress that I could wear again. However, I saw a long white dress online that I fell in love with. I ended up wearing it on the day.
How Much Does It Cost to Elope in Scotland
The cost of your elopement in Scotland will ultimately depend on your selection of accommodation, venue and vendors. A registry wedding and legal fees normally cost a couple of hundred pounds. The marriage visa, if you require one, is £100 (115 USD). The rest really depends on what you choose to do on the day. On average, an elopement will set you back between £3,000 and £15,000 (US $3,500 – $17,000).
How to Get to Scotland
If you are travelling to Scotland from overseas, you are most likely going to arrive in the country by plane. There are two major international airports located in the two biggest Scottish cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. They offer the widest selection of destinations, including North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Smaller airports, like Aberdeen International Airport or Inverness Airport, might make more sense as an arrival point depending on your elopement location.
If your starting point is within the UK, you may be able to travel by train. Major urban centres in Scotland can be easily reached by rail from key cities such as London, Birmingham or Manchester. However, if you are going to a remote area, getting there by car might be most convenient option that offers the most flexibility.
Our Scotland Elopement Story
My husband and I chose to elope in Edinburgh. He was born and spent lots of time there growing up. Edinburgh is such a beautiful city and we thought it would be amazing to start our married life there. Organising a huge wedding did not appeal to us, so we decided to only have a handful of guests.
We arrived in Edinburgh two days before the wedding and stayed at Macdonald Holyrood Hotel. It is situated at the bottom of the Royal Mile, close to all the popular attractions. Having some extra time in the city before the ceremony allowed us to settle in and organise some final bits and pieces for the day. My parents were visiting Edinburgh for the first time, so we also managed to cram in some sight-seeing.
We had a registry wedding at the beautiful City Chambers, just off the Royal Mile. My initial worry was that the ceremony would take place in a stuffy old room by a boring bureaucrat. That’s why I had low expectations for that part of the day. However, I was completely wrong. The Alexander Suite where we got married was beautifully decorated and the registrar was lovely. It really did feel like a special occasion.
Our wonderful elopement photographer Lina Hayes accompanied us throughout the day. We found her website through a simple Google search and instantly fell in love with her style. After the ceremony, we went on a walk around Edinburgh. Lina has a great knowledge of the city and took us to a great selection of spots for photos.
We chose to finish the day at The Witchery, an atmospheric restaurant near Edinburgh Castle. I find that the food served at wedding venues is often forgettable at best, but as avid foodies we wanted our first married meal to be special. The Witchery did not disappoint, and I can highly recommend it for a special occasion. We had a small but perfectly formed wedding cake from the Pastry Section, an independent bakehouse located in Stockbridge. We found it through Lina’s recommendation.
All in all, it was a magical day. If you are into history and beautiful architecture, Edinburgh is a great choice for an elopement. It is also a great base for a bigger Scottish adventure once you tie the knot.
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