What You Need to Know About Planning an Outdoor Wedding

Discover tips on how to have a seamless alfresco event from expert wedding planners.

Whether you choose to have an outdoor wedding ceremony, an alfresco cocktail hour, a reception dinner under the stars, or an entire event outdoors, there are some things you may not consider when selecting an outdoor wedding venue.

real wedding photo the farmhouse ojai valley inn wedding geller events bride in monique lhuillier wedding dress walking wood aisle toward parents
Photo: Heather Kincaid

Whether you choose to have an outdoor wedding ceremony, an alfresco cocktail hour, a reception dinner under the stars, or an entire event outdoors, there are some things you may not consider when selecting an outdoor wedding venue. How will it impact your guests? What weather elements should you be prepared for? Are you willing and able to pay for surprise costs?

We reached out to two top wedding planners to get their advice on the subject. These helpful tips will guide you in your planning process, and some of their advice may surprise you!

5 Outdoor Wedding Tips from the Experts:

1. Be Clear on Your Invitation. 

"Having an outdoor wedding can impact your guests, so let them know what to expect by including information on the invitation. For example, 'Join us for dinner on the lawn under the stars' will let guests know that they may wish to wear wedges and bring a wrap." - Debbie Geller, Geller Events

2. Keep Guests Comfortable. 

"An outdoor winter wedding is possible! Hold guests inside until 10 minutes before the ceremony. Serve something warm, like mugs filled with miniature hot chocolate or warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks, and be sure to have the heaters on. This way, guests are in and out and don't have time to be cold." - Alyson Fox, Levine Fox Events

3. Choose Safe Lighting Techniques. 

"Make sure to consult with a lighting expert. When considering lighting, too often it's just in terms of highlighting décor. Having dark areas not only detracts from your décor, but it can be unsafe as well. Make sure that all pathways to kitchens, restrooms, and exits are properly lit." - Debbie Geller, Geller Events

4. Have a Back-Up Plan. 

"It doesn't matter what month it is, or where you are in the United States or the world, you always need a back-up plan. Sometimes it's really expensive, but it's important to always be prepared and never say never." - Alyson Fox, Levine Fox Events

Whether you're hosting an indoor or outdoor wedding, it's helpful to have a wedding planner to guide you along the way. He or she will not only know how to turn your vision into reality, but they will have years of knowledge regarding the logistics of planning an event. Visit our Vendor Directory to find a wedding planner (and other event professionals) in your area!

For more outdoor wedding ideas, see what some real brides and grooms did below:

Keep Guests Hydrated

Infused water dispensers at outdoor wedding

Have beverage dispensers on hand to ensure loved ones don't become thirsty during your outdoor wedding. Instead of serving typical ice water, add fresh strawberries, or other fruits, for an flavorful infused water beverage. Photo by Amy & Stuart Photography; From Real Wedding: Chic White, Blush & Gold Seaside Wedding at Montage Laguna Beach

Offer Shade from the Sun

Outdoor Carmel Valley wedding with umbrellas

If you're having your ceremony during the day, chances are you'll need some shade for your loved ones. Especially on warm spring or summer days, protect guests from the sun with umbrellas – or pass out parasols or fans. Photo by Mischa Photography; Planning & Design by Alyson Fox, Levine Fox Events; From Real Wedding: A Heartwarming Ranch Wedding with Sophisticated Rustic Details

Keep Décor Minimal

Oheka Castle wedding ceremony with Original Runner Co aisle

If your outdoor wedding is taking place on the lawn of an estate, it's okay to highlight the beautiful design of the home or garden during your ceremony. Use neutral colors instead of bright hues to complement the surroundings, instead of overbear them. Photo by Brett Matthews Photography; Venue: Oheka Castle; From Real Wedding: A Romantic Fairy-Tale Castle Wedding in New York

Butterfly or Dove Release

Butterfly release at wedding ceremony

If your wedding ceremony is outside, you'll be able to participate in some traditions that may be prohibited indoors. Surprise your guests with a dove release – or for a unique spin, consider a butterfly release like the couple in the photo above. Photo by Meg Perotti; From Real Wedding: A Colorful Outdoor Wedding at a Northern California Ranch & Winery

Invite Your Dog or Pet

Large grey dog with tuxedo at wedding ceremony

Since some indoor venues do not allow pets, hosting your wedding ceremony at an outdoor location gives you the opportunity to invite your furry friend. Give your beloved dog the duty of being ring bearer and dress up your pup in a tuxedo. Photo by Clane Gessel Photography; From Real Wedding: Rustic-Inspired Summer Wedding at a Vineyard in Northern California

Outdoor Weddings in All Seasons

Deer Valley Utah winter snow wedding ceremony

Though most brides consider spring, summer, and fall ideal times to host a wedding outdoors, winter weddings in snowy climates are unique and beautiful for the bold bride. Just be sure to have plenty of space heaters and blankets on hand. Photo by Handeland Tesoro Photography; From Real Wedding: Snowy Outdoor Winter Ceremony & Cozy Lodge Reception

Oceanfront Wedding Ceremony

Aaron Zalewski Brittney Palmer ocean wedding ceremony

If you've always wanted a beach wedding, but you're not so keen on getting sand in your shoes or salt in your hair, consider an oceanfront wedding on a bluff. UFC Octagon Girl Brittney Palmer and her groom Aaron Zalewski were married in a gorgeous ceremony featuring neutral hues and an view of the sea. Photo by Daniel Kincaid Photography; Planning & Design by Bluebell Events; From Real Wedding: UFC Octagon Girl Brittney Palmer's Sparkling Oceanfront Wedding

Outdoor Wedding Lounge

Resort at Pelican Hill wedding lounge area

Following the ceremony, encourage loved ones to relax and mingle at outdoor lounge areas. Especially on a perfect day, your wedding guests will love the ability to soak up some sun before the reception. Photo by Samuel Lippke Studios; From Real Wedding: Dreamy Newport Beach, California Wedding with Breathtaking Décor

Unique Transportation

Bride in Claire Pettibone on white horse at wedding

While many couples travel to the reception or honeymoon suite by way of a luxurious wedding car, outdoor wedding ceremonies provide additional opportunities for unique modes of transportation. Brides can arrive to the ceremony on horseback, for example, which wouldn't be allowed in a traditional ceremony at a church, chapel, or hotel. Photo by Amanda McKinnon Photography; From Real Wedding: Bride Wears Claire Pettibone Gown to Bohemian Outdoor Wedding

Add Decorations to Natural Elements

Pink crystal chandelier in tree at wedding

Hosting your wedding outside gives you the opportunity to create interesting and appealing décor that brings the inside, out. Add crystal chandeliers to trees for a look your guests will love. Consider chandeliers in unique hues – such as pink – for an even more interesting design. Photo by Jay Lawrence Goldman Photography; Planning & Design by Mindy Weiss Party Consultants; From Real Wedding: A Glamorous Oceanside Wedding at a Malibu Estate

Enjoy Dinner Alfresco

Neutral outdoor wedding ideas with green arches

Neutral wedding décor looks lovely for events on grass lawns surrounded by green hedges. If you prefer a pop of color, choose your favorite hue and create monochromatic flower centerpieces. Nearly every shade will look good with a neutral color palette featuring natural green accents. Photo by Elizabeth Messina; Planning & Design by Mindy Weiss Party Consultants; From Real Wedding: Ethereal Garden-Inspired Morning Ceremony & Alfresco Brunch

Highlight Your Surroundings

White wedding cake on rustic wood slab

If your wedding is taking place in a forest, consider displaying your wedding cake on top of a wood slab. Add greenery for a confection with even more of an "outdoor décor" design. Photo by Catherine Hall Studios; From Real Wedding: A Rustic, Classic Summer Wedding in Lake Tahoe, California

Choose Rustic-Elegant Décor

Rustic wedding reception on cobblestone

While most couples think of outdoor weddings on a lawn, there are plenty of venues with alfresco event spaces on paved walkways or cobblestone. Keep rustic wood tables bare – save for neutral linen runners – to create a rustic-wedding look that complements the alfresco site. Photo by Ryan Phillips Photography; Planning & Design by Sterling Engagements; From Real Wedding: Outdoor Ranch Wedding with Neutral Sparkling Décor in California

Be Lavish, If You'd Like

Lavish opulent rehearsal dinner on New York City rooftop

Most outdoor weddings focus on earthy, rustic décor, but it's definitely not required. This rehearsal dinner on a rooftop in New York City featured opulent décor and and carried guests' eyes upwards towards the skyscrapers of the city. Photo by Roey Yohai Studios; From Real Event: A Beautiful Rooftop Rehearsal Dinner Overlooking New York City

For more wedding planning ideas, gather more expert advice on how to brand your wedding and discover how to prepare for your floral design appointment.

Opening photo by ; Planning & Design by Geller Events; From Real Wedding: Luxurious Fall Wedding at a Farmhouse Venue in Ojai, California