Your Guide to Planning an Unforgettable Wedding Weekend


Lynne Kendall Lawson

Whether held in your hometown or a far-flung locale, wedding weekends give you and your guests more quality time to bond and celebrate than the standard one-day affair. You might not have seen some of your guests for years and other family and friends, often but perhaps not often enough. From the welcome party to farewell brunch, a wedding weekend gives you ample opportunities to entertain all of your loved ones with fun, memory-making, personalized events and details.

bride and groom
Photo Credit: Micha and Megan Photographers

What We ❤ About Wedding Weekends:

  • A multiday wedding is more affordable than you might think: Not every meal has to be a formal sit-down, and some events (the rehearsal dinner, for example) may be hosted by parents, which makes them free to you.
  • Guests get more value out of their travel and lodging expenses when there’s more for them to enjoy.
  • There are plenty of photo opportunities with your guests.
  • You get hours of opportunities to infuse family and cultural traditions into your celebration.

Typical Wedding Weekend Timeline:

Daytime events for early-arriving guests might include a ladies’ lunch and a guys’ outing to a driving range. If you have wedding planning tasks to handle on this day, arrange for a member of your wedding party to host these events. Rehearsal dinner/welcome buffet: Depending on your budget and number of guests, the rehearsal dinner can include just your bridal party, officiant and immediate family members or you can open it up to your out-of-town guests as well. If you hold a more exclusive dinner, be sure to provide your out-of–town guests with a welcome cocktail party/buffet, generally held at the hotel.

Before the wedding: a buffet breakfast for your bridal party. After the wedding: a fun after-party. You might all gather at the hotel lounge, or take your friends out on the town while parents host their own friends elsewhere. (Added bonus: Your hotel might allow you free use of their shuttle to take your group to the destination.)

The morning-after brunch or breakfast. And if some guests don’t need to depart right away, you might plan an early afternoon outing like a local souvenir shopping trip.

Next: Weekend planning essentials ►

Weekend Planning Essentials

1. “Save-the-dates should be sent out 6-8 months before the big day, and can be sent up to a year in advance for destination weddings. This will give guests plenty of time to plan for any necessary travel and assist in securing competitive rates,” says Amber Harrison, etiquette maven at Wedding Paper Divas. “Details can be confirmed and shared with guests closer to the event or updated through your wedding website.”

2. Make it clear when guests will be expected to pay for their own expenses. The best way to do this is through invitation or wedding website wording. For instance: “On Friday evening, we’ll head out to a country bar for drinks and dancing. See the menu, drinks list and pricing at (website.)” When guests see the word “pricing” mentioned, they’ll know to bring their wallets. When guests see that an event is hosted by you or someone in the wedding party, the message conveys that the hosts are paying.

3. Share dress codes for each event on your wedding website, so that guests will know what to pack.

4. Send guests a weekend itinerary in advance of the big day, whether print or a link to your wedding website. If a new event is planned just a few weeks before the wedding, send guests your itinerary page link with a message of “New Party Added!” or “Even More to Look Forward To!”

5. Print out copies of your itinerary and add one to each welcome basket, so guests have the schedule and details easily on hand.

weekend welcome bag
Photo Credit: Laura Hooper Calligraphy via

6. For a twist on the traditional welcome basket, surprise guests with a different treat in their hotel rooms each night, like a plate of fresh-baked cookies or chocolate candy.

Timing is Everything:

7. Space out activities so your guests don’t feel drained by racing from one event to the next and will have time to get back to the hotel, shower and change into the next event’s appropriate attire.

8. Allow for enough downtime so that guests can make plans amongst themselves, relax by the hotel pool, explore the area or enjoy some alone time.

9. Plan shorter events, not an all-day hike or endless touring excursion.

Next: Reception locations and themes ►

1. Vineyard
Of course, a winery-hopping tour is a winning idea that guests love, and most vineyard area hotels will likely have fabulous wine-pairing catering options, plus fabulous views for outdoor celebrations. Activities abound: Wine country towns often host festivals, and there are plenty of quaint shops to visits plus notable chef-owned eateries.

vineyard wedding

Menu Ideas:
Chef Brandon Sharp, Executive Chef of Solage Calistoga resort in California, suggests “sweet cherry tomatoes stuffed with fresh ricotta and fino verde basil, petite legumes à la nicoise with marjoram and tempura of baby fava beans with Meyer lemon mayonnaise.” Charcuterie and cheese platters, and locally grown menu items complete the tasty fare. “

A party in the vineyard’s tasting room is a great way to get the weekend off to a fun and energetic start,” says Kim Pennel, director of catering and conference services at CordeValle, A Rosewood Resort in San Martin, California. “At CordeValle, we like to do the welcome party cocktail-style and serve wines from the vineyard with lots of passed hors d’oeuvres that showcase fresh California ingredients. To get people talking to one another, our winemakers mingle with the crowd and share tasting notes and stories about the wines and the winemaking process.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Bottle stoppers
  • Wine journal
  • Coasters
  • Cheese knife and cheese ID flag sets
  • Bottles of wine or champagne
  • Mini summer sausage trios

Next: Coastal wedding-themed ideas

2. Coastal Town
Think Cape Cod, Mystic, Newport…those breezy, quaint towns by the shore often hold sweet family memories of sand, salt and sun-filled vacations, sailing and watching sunsets over the ocean. If you’re hosting an intimate wedding, you might consider having guests stay together in a rented beach house or a more traditional bed and breakfast. Beyond the typical water-centric activities such as sailing, water-skiing and paddle boarding, landlubbers can partake in the likes of beach walks, antiquing and museum visits.

coastal wedding

Menu Ideas:
Serve lobsters, clams (quintessential clambake fare), or raise the gourmet level with Chef Sharp’s suggestions of “barbecued oysters, and mini crab rolls with avocado green goddess and salt-and-vinegar chips.”

Shots of clam chowder or lobster bisque warm up a cool evening, as does sitting around a bonfire on the beach or a fire pit on a restaurant or hotel terrace.

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Nautical-theme-printed drink cozies
  • Mini jars filled with decorative sea glass
  • Polished seashells
  • Frosted cookies in lobster, crab, seahorse, starfish, sailboat, anchor or other themed shapes
  • Authentic regional fudge or saltwater taffy
  • Container of regional seasonings, like Old Bay

Next: Winter wedding-themed ideas ►

3. Winter Resort:
Spectacular scenery and winter sports add beauty and adventure to your wedding weekend events. Beyond drinks at the lodge, there’s skiing, horseback riding in the snow, hot-tubbing, snowmobiling and the resort’s spa to enjoy.

winter resort

Menu Ideas:
Go full-on gourmet with confit lamb shoulder with caramelized fuji apples, cheesy spaetzle with poached eggs and black truffles, donuts with cinnamon-cardamom sugar, and pistachio ice cream affogato (topped with espresso).

“Add in soup shots and hot spiked toddies for a tasty winter-themed menu,” Kristin Polhemus, event planner at Reverie Events in Hamilton New Jersey, says. “For dessert, I love a hot chocolate drinking station. Guests can choose classic hot chocolate, or they can add fun elements like peppermint, cinnamon or chipotle.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Snowflake-motif mittens
  • Fun knit ski hats or headbands
  • Frosted coasters
  • SPF lip balm
  • Hot chocolate mix packets
  • S’mores package of graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows
  • Locally brewed bottles of beer

Next: “Glamping” wedding-themed ideas

4. Camping or “Glamping”
Weddings held at breezy rustic sites — some truly camplike, most more luxe interpretations — are becoming popular, whether you or your fiancé were once happy campers or simply love the casual outdoorsy vibe of carefree summer days gone by. “Glamping” adds in glam decor elements like lighting effects, crystals and chandeliers hung from trees, and lush fabric drapings in tents. Guests can join you in kayak races or on nature hikes and horseback trail rides.

glamping wedding

Menu Ideas:
How about adding homemade gourmet marshmallows to s’mores fixings, and a “hobo” dinner of beef short ribs, yellow finn potatoes, and cipollini onions cooked in the coals. Hotdogs, hamburgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, cornbread, popcorn and classic ice cream sandwiches evoke fun camp memories.

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • “Care packages” with mini pampering items, packaged snacks and a pair of socks for a take on what parents would send to kids at camp
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Citronella travel candle tin
  • Playing cards
  • Bandannas
  • Blackberry jam, paying tribute to berry-picking memories at camp

Next: Dude Ranch-themed ideas

5. Dude Ranch
Head out to the ranch for western-flair activities like horseback riding, roping lessons, archery, fly fishing and campfire cookouts in breathtaking natural scenery.

ranch wedding

Menu Ideas:
Chef Sharp suggests “bison sliders, empanadas and churros,” and prime rib, southern-fried chicken, roasted pork, sliders and breakfast burritos with slow-cooked beans and cornbread for authentic western flavor. Again, s’mores by the campfire are always a hit with guests.

Lottie Fowler, event planner at Fort Worth, Texas-based Grit and Gold, adds, “For an after-wedding breakfast, we serve southern Texas toast, biscuits with chocolate on top and muffins.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Packets of barbecue rub
  • Ranch logo drink bottles or cozies
  • Beer bottle openers
  • “Little bottles of whiskey,” says Fowler
  • Sheriff badges or toy horses for kids