Destination Weddings

The main differences between American & European Weddings

Are you planning a destination wedding in Europe? Then, read on to discover how American weddings differ from those in Europe!

Bride and groom at waist height holding the bouquet in the middle

The British royal family regularly captures the attention of the world, particularly when it comes to royal weddings. The weddings of Meghan and Harry and Kate and William amassed viewing figures in the millions and got many curious about what a typical European wedding might be like.

The exterior of Westminster Abbey in London
Westminster Abbey in London, where the Royal Wedding of William & Kate was held

The United States and the United Kingdom are similar countries in many respects. So how different could British weddings be from American ones? And how does a wedding ceremony in London compare to one in Paris? As someone who has photographed both styles of weddings, I can tell you that there are definitely some unique differences.

Happy newlyweds coming out of church after getting married
Newlyweds coming out of church after getting married

While both Europeans and Americans celebrate love and commitment, the traditions & customs surrounding the weddings are what set them apart. So, if you’re planning a destination wedding in Europe or simply want to add a twist to your upcoming celebration, keep reading to discover some of the ways that European weddings differ from their American counterparts.

Bride & Groom in front of Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament in London
Bride & Groom in front of Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament in London

So, how do European weddings differ from weddings in the United States of America?

Europeans have fewer pre-wedding activities

In the timeline of a typical American wedding, couples arrange an engagement party, a bridal shower, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and a rehearsal dinner. These events are time-honored, fun traditions and all part of the thrilling lead-up to the big day. But in Europe, these events differ slightly or do not exist at all.
That being said, some European countries are starting to incorporate American traditions into their weddings. For example, we now see many brides-to-be opting for bridal showers, even though this is generally a custom unique to the US.

Ladies partying with champagne and celebrating the Hen Party in the UK
Hen Party celebrations in the UK

Engagement Parties

Engagements are now being celebrated in a much bigger way than they once were. However, most European couples do not have large engagement parties or a rehearsal dinner.

Man holding his fiancés hand showcasing the engagement ring

Bachelor & Bachelorette Parties

British couples have bachelorette and bachelor parties, but they’re called hen (bride) and stag (groom) parties. The theme of these events is relatively similar to American pre-wedding festivities, with the emphasis typically being on celebrating with your friends & loved ones! Hen and stag parties are usually celebrated locally on a night out, activity day, or over a long weekend, maybe in mainland Europe.

Ladies clinking their cocktails together to celebrate the bachelorette party

Not all guests are invited to all wedding day events

The British have a tiered invitation system. While many Americans would expect to be a part of the full wedding day, the Brits have a more exclusive approach. Only family and close friends are invited to the ceremony and sit-down meal, with the evening reception being opened up to other guests. While this custom may seem harsh, it allows for a more relaxing and closer celebration between the bride, groom, and their dearest loved ones during the key moments of the day, allowing for bigger celebrations with a broader guest list in the evening.

Full group wedding photo at Hawkstone Hall

The first look will be at the altar

It has become common for couples in the USA to do a ‘first look’ shot before their ceremony. I personally love this new wedding tradition, as it gives the couple time to really let the moment soak in and have some bride & groom portraits when you look your best!

Groom tearing up at the first look of his bride before the wedding ceremony
The ‘First Look’ moment between the bride & groom before the wedding ceremony

The first look moment is not currently part of the average European wedding day, although it is starting to be adopted more in the UK. As for the rest of Europe, the feeling is still to keep the first look at the aisle, as it is considered highly superstitious. In fact, in some parts of Italy, the bride is not even allowed to see herself before the ceremony!

Groom seeing the bride for the first time at the altar of the church
The ‘first look’ at the altar

The bridal party will not be waiting for you at the altar

At the start of a traditional American wedding ceremony, the bridal party would typically form an organized line at the front of the church or ceremony space and watch as the bride walks down the aisle. This is contrary to the entrance of a British bride, who is traditionally followed by her bridesmaids, including the maid of honor.

Bridal party following the bride down the aisle at a wedding in the UK
Bridal party following the bride down the aisle at a wedding in the UK

In Spain, there is no tradition for groomsmen or bridesmaids. This means that only the groom will be waiting at the altar. Of course, in modern times, many European countries have adopted the classic tradition of American bridesmaids. But don’t be surprised if you attend a wedding overseas with no bridal party.

Bride laughing with her 6 bridesmaids on the formal group wedding photos

Wedding day festivities will be longer

American weddings generally begin mid-afternoon and finish around 11 pm to midnight. But in EU countries, festivities typically go on longer, a lot longer in some places! In the UK, weddings will usually start late in the morning and continue until 12 or 1 am. This may seem like a lengthy affair, but not when you compare it to weddings in Poland. There, weddings are spread out over a period of 3–4 days, with each day having a particular theme and numerous cultural traditions.

Bride and groom walaking hand in hand together in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

The tradition of celebrating a wedding over a few days is not limited to Poland; many different cultures do the same, including Germany, where it’s common to have a three-day wedding. One of the main reasons for this German tradition is that couples need to have a civil ceremony before having a religious or grand ceremony. Which often means stretching events out so they’re not all squeezed into one day.

The order of the wedding day’s events differ

The order of events on the wedding timeline may be different during the day for American couples versus those in Europe. For example, in the UK, it’s the norm to have the family group photos after the ceremony. Whereas, across the Atlantic in America, these photos sometimes take place before the ceremony, especially if the couple has scheduled a first look.

Bride and groom posing with both sets of their parents for the family formal wedding photos

And speaking of firsts, did you know that in America, the first dance typically happens before dinner? But in Britain, it’s the other way around and marks the start of the evening’s festivities!

Bride and groom spinning and enjoying the first dance

Breakfast might not be at breakfast time

Any breakfast served after 11 am is considered brunch, right? Well, not at a British wedding! In the UK, a traditional wedding breakfast can be served almost any time and usually involves a multi-course (3+) full dining experience (with starter, entrée, dessert, etc.). This meal usually takes place mid-afternoon, around 1-2 hours after the ceremony. And, the reason it’s called a ‘wedding breakfast’ is in reference to old customs in Britain, when this meal would have been served in the morning.

The wedding breakfast set up at the grand reception room at Hawkstone Hall in Shropshire, England

Don’t expect fireworks and strobe lights as you enter the reception

When a newly married couple enters their wedding reception in the US, they and their party are usually individually introduced by the DJ, and are expected to dance their way into the room. The situation is a little more sedate, however, for British couples, who typically enter the reception room after all guests have taken to their seats to applause.

Bride and groom walking into their wedding breakfast dinner to grand cheers from their wedding guests

It’s the best man’s duty to roast, not toast

If, during a classic American wedding reception or rehearsal dinner, the best man stood up and started telling squirm-inducing stories about the groom and kept referring to ‘that time’ in Amsterdam, the wedding party would be a little upset. Not so at an English wedding, where it is the best man’s job to rib the groom and sometimes members of the bridal/wedding party – yes, it can & does get interesting!

Best man delivering his speech at the wedding

There is a fine line between a roast and a roasting, and the best men in the UK can certainly tread dangerously between funny and offensive. But when done right, it’s very entertaining (and always great for photos!).

Bride with her head in her hands and laughing as the best man delivers his speech.

You’ll be expected to throw the bouquet, but not your garter

If you have a British groom, or you’re marrying a European person, you may receive a strange look if you request they remove your garter so you can toss it. This is one of those American wedding traditions that does not generally occur in Europe. Brides outside the US traditionally wear the garter, but removing this item is done in privacy at the end of the night. You should expect, however, to see a bouquet toss during a European wedding, especially in the UK, where this tradition is said to have originated.

Bride throwing the bridal bouquet to the wedding guests

In Summary

It’s incredible how two continents with similar cultures and histories can have vastly different approaches to weddings, right?

I hope this post has helped to highlight some of the main differences between European and American weddings.

Not everyone follows wedding traditions, but it is nice to peek into other cultures and their customs to see how everybody does it differently!

Ultimately, whether you prefer the traditional American approach or the European one, the most important thing to remember is that your wedding should be unique to you as a couple and represent your love story.

Bride and groom walking hand in hand with the bride raising her bouquet in the air and celebrating their wedding nuptials

Are you ready to plan your dream destination wedding in Europe?

Europe is such a beautiful continent, full of stunning countries and incredible landscapes, and is steeped in history. So it’s no surprise that many couples around the world are opting to have a European destination wedding in places like Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the UK, and many others.

After over a decade as a wedding photographer, I feel fortunate to have captured weddings for families on both sides of the Atlantic. So, if you’re getting married in Europe and are looking for an experienced photographer, I would love to help. I look forward to taking this journey with you!

Bride and groom celebrating next to Lake Como

About Me

Hi, I’m Victoria Amrose, an English-speaking destination wedding photographer based in Europe. If you would like some more information please take a look at my WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES, or alternatively, you may contact me directly HERE! I can’t wait to hear from you.

Headshot of destination wedding photographer Victoria Amrose

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