Distance between wedding ceremony and reception: How far away is too far?

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GenCJ-0789I've found the perfect reception venue after many sleepless nights! We are having a big ceremony at our church with afternoon tea to follow, and are then having a “smallish” reception with 50 people, mostly family.

I've realized, though, that the place where I would love to have the reception is over half an hour away from the church. I'm guessing this would be a big drive, especially for the out-of-towners (and there are a lot).

What do you think? How important is location in your venue search? I don't want to be “that wedding we went to where we had to drive so far to have dinner!” But do you settle for a venue you don't really like for the sake of convenience to your guests? -Anonymous

The answer to this will largely depend on where your wedding is taking place. If it's in a big city, half-an-hour can be a relatively close distance! Again, time and distance is all relative, but it does beg the question: How far is too far between ceremony and reception venues?

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Comments on Distance between wedding ceremony and reception: How far away is too far?

  1. We had a distance of about that and even worse, it was an evening reception with drinking. I think especially since yours is in the afternoon and won’t be a boozy party, that will be just fine. Assuming folks have to drive to get to your church, that is–if the church is walking distance from the hotel and then they have to drive to the reception, they’ll get confused. But it sounds like that’s not the case.

  2. A friend had a church wedding in her local village, then a larger reception about 40 mins drive away. No one minded, as it was an easy trip, and it mentioned on the invite that there was a bit of distance so we were all prepared. If it’s lovely, it’s worth it!

    One thing worth thinking of is where people will stay – it might be easier to stay near the church the night before, and at the venue/hotel the night after

  3. If you build it, they will come. People will drive for booze! No worries!!! Just have directions printed out, on the back of the program and force people to take those babies you spent hours on!!! Because I’m always amazed there are always people without a GPS, could you imagine?

  4. One way to mitigate the concern, if you have the money for it, is to hire a coach service to take the guests from the ceremony to the reception and back (if that’s where their cars will be). If you are concerned about people wanting to leave whenever is right for them instead of having to wait for everyone, you might want to set up an early departure coach and a later departure coach.

    We’re hiring a coach service to take people from the hotel to the venue because we’re getting married in a part of the city that would be difficult for out-of-town guests to navigate, especially the older folks. Lots of oddly placed streets with tiny signage and cars parked all over the place makes driving in that neighborhood a challenge, so we’re trying to make it easy for everyone. We’ll probably have an early and late departure back to the hotel, as well.

    • My Brother got married recently at a location that was a bit of a drive from where everyone was staying. The distance wasn’t bad, but the road was winding, narrow, and harrowing. They had shuttles pick up guests at the hotel (even if you weren’t staying the night) in 10 minute intervals and were very clear on what time the last pick up would be. This guaranteed everyone got there on time and the wedding wouldn’t be delayed. I think the shuttles took a lot of stress off the guests and gave them a chance to socialize beforehand. Plus it also helped with the whole drunk driving thing afterwards…

  5. I think anything more than 20 to 30 minutes is ridiculous. When my MIL’s neighbor’s niece got married, she had the wedding at the parish church, but expected everyone to go to the reception 75 minutes away, and it was in another state, north of a major city!

    I’ve found I’ve had the most enjoyment at weddings where the wedding and reception are held at the same location. I know this is not possible with most churches, but try to keep the commute down.

  6. I grew up in a rural area where a 30 min drive to get anywhere was pretty much the norm. I’ve attended several weddings where there was a gap between the ceremony and the reception to allow for travel. Get a block of hotel rooms near the reception venue as people are more willing to travel to something than to travel home from something (people are strange). Make sure you allot time for travel, and make sure both addresses are on the invite.

  7. If you’re going to have a large gap between the service and the reception to account for travel distance, keep in mind the natural gap that tends to occur for pictures. At most weddings I’ve been to, the bride and groom show up at the reception (what seems like) an hour after everyone else. That’s probably going to seem even longer if lots of time is reserved (and needed) for traveling. So if you’re going to need more travel time, you may want to think about doing most of the wedding pictures before the wedding.

    • I went to a wedding that had this problem. A 30 min drive in city rush hour traffic, followed by the bride and groom showing up over an hour later. That meant that there were two hours between the end of the reception and the first service of food. Made me cranky.

  8. As many others have said, it largely depends on the people you are inviting. I personally don’t think 30 minutes is that far. I would suggest having accommodations near the reception site for an easy end of the night.

    Do take into consideration what time the ceremony ends, travel time, and the reception start. I helped cater a wedding where the ceremony ended nearly 3 hours before the reception started and guests were allowed into the venue. The ceremony was about an hour away, but it was such an awkward length of time for guests: not enough time to go do something or relax at the (out of the way) hotel, too long to kill with a coffee break.

  9. I just went through this situation. The wedding was on top of a mountain, the reception was back in town 40 minutes away. I gave two hours between wedding and reception, which was mostly photo and travel time.

    Problem is, people from sea level drank during that time, IN the mountains, and then got so wasted they couldn’t MAKE the reception.

    In the end, it was worth it because I would rather have people right by their hotels and not drunk driving 40 minutes from the reception back to town. I highly recommend keeping your reception at/near your hotel.

  10. I’m having my church ceremony at my parents’ parish church in Sugar Land, and the reception downtown in Houston. We’re also having everyone from out of town stay in downtown, so that it minimizes the amount of people driving after the reception. It’s about a 35 minute drive on a good day, and I hmmed and hawed over it a lot, but no one’s going to be drinking at the ceremony, and there’s no other church I’d want to get married at. In the end, if someone doesn’t like it, they’ll deal with it.

    • Had to comment because SL is my hometown! SL – Houston is definitely not a bad drive. I commuted from SL to Rice every day for a semester and it was no big! I’m sure you’ll have a lovely wedding, and you’re right – people will deal! 🙂

      • Had to comment because I also went to Rice! I agree that it’s not too bad to have to work your way from SL in to the downtown area, there are worse parts of town to try and navigate.

  11. I don’t think that’s too far to drive. Our reception and ceremony are being held at the same place but it’s about a 30-40 minute drive from either of our hometowns, which is where a large number of our guests will be staying. I honestly feel, though, that the people that truly love you will do so without judgement and will be happy to join you even if they need to do so small distance away. 🙂

  12. I faced this same quandary, in reverse: we chose a reception site, and then had trouble finding a suitable ceremony venue nearby. Once we fell in love wtih a ceremony venue, the reception site was over 30-minutes of driving away! Given that the vast majority of our guests will be driving at least an hour to the ceremony spot, I felt weird “making” them go even further afield afterwards. So we nixed the original reception idea since the ceremony venue was equipped for the reception too. Simple for us and our guests!

    In my heart, I know my people would have likely been on board with whatever plan we hatched, but I just didn’t want to make it more complicated than necessary. The notion that we are host(ess)-ing influenced me, in that I wanted it to be easy for my guests to attend and enjoy themselves.

    If you’re comfortable with the logistics of your venue choices, go for it! If it’s what you really want, you’ll have a great time and so will your people!

    • I hear you on wanting it to be easy for people! Something like 90% of my guests are from way out of town, and I am super appreciative of the trouble they will have to go to to fly here, get a hotel room, and rent a car, so I want to try and make the wedding experience itself as simple for them as I can!

  13. For us, our wedding is being held on my parent’s farm and then we are convoying to the reception at the closest town about 15 minutes away. The only accommodations in the area are at another town 15 minutes away from the reception site. This might be ridiculous elsewhere, but totally normal for rural Saskatchewan. So I think it depends on where you are from and the culture around driving. We moved back from the Maritimes this last summer and I know that people out East would consider our ceremony and reception site ridiculous because of the attitude about driving there. People would accuse me of living too far away from work in Moncton and I only lived 8 kms from my office! So in short, do what you need to!

  14. I think it’s very forgivable if it’s a rural area and it’s going to be a pleasant drive, but if it’s a matter of driving through a city (say have your ceremony north of a big city and the reception south of it, then it could get stressful)

  15. I think about 30 minutes is fine Then again, my reception was about 45 mins away. I figured that since it was very close friends and family, they all loved us enough to go that small distance. Everyone had a great time and no one complained. 🙂

  16. I think it’s important to remember that these aren’t nebulous guests that you’re inviting, but your friends and family. For my BIL’s wedding, there was easily a 30+ minute drive between the two sites and no one had any complaints. They had a cocktail hour that started from when the guests arrived and ran until the wedding party made it (they boarded a party bus, took pictures, and hit a couple of bars; which sounds to be a local area tradition).

    Our venue is an all in one, but people will have to drive themselves between the reception site and the hotel, which is 5-10 minutes away. Honestly, we just lucked into an all in one venue, otherwise I would have been planning for a 20-30 minute drive, not in a rural area, with staggered start times due to constraints from the venues.

    Again, these are your friends and family. If you’re worried about how they might feel, ask them. My husband and I were major out of towners for the BIL’s wedding (flew from Southern Turkey to Minnesota) and we still didn’t mind the driving. It gave us a chance to chat up family we hadn’t seen in awhile during the carpool. They did put the hotel right next to the reception though, which meant that when the jet lag hit us, we were able to stumble home without the need to beg for a ride.

  17. I have gone to a couple of weddings with that sized gap. The ones that are the most successful/fun are the ones where some sort of transportation is provided. If you have a gap between times, have the shuttle leave from whatever hotel the majority your guests are staying at (many shuttle services will make multiple stops). That way you don’t have to worry about out of town guests getting lost.

  18. My cousins had an awesome wedding on the Outer Banks a few years ago, followed by a reception at a place that was about a 40 minute drive away. (Part of that was the heavy traffic, but nobody can control that, so don’t stress over it.)

    Nobody was really miffed at the distance and we mostly had a pretty rockin’ time. The only thing I would stress, however, is that you have something for the guests to do, to drink and especially to eat at the reception site. The bride and groom and their wedding party, in my case, took pictures for three hours right after the ceremony and the wedding buffet couldn’t start until they got back. They were very pretty pictures, but the rest of us were starving by the time they got there. And since all we had was alcohol and no dancing to pass the time, there were, naturally, people passed out and completely blitzed in the ladies’ room long before dinner started.

    So that’s my two cents. 30-40 minutes is probs fine (anyone who doesn’t want to make the drive is probably one of those lovely people who finds fault with everything everyone does, no matter what), but if you’re going to be there a bit later than your guests, then have something for your guests to do. Other than drink. Anything over an hour away, though, and you might find yourself with guests that decide to do a little bar-hopping in between.

  19. I think it’s important to think of who is invited and what will be difficult for them. I live in a major urban area with good public transit–very few of my friends own cars. If we’d held our wedding way out in the countryside, a lot of them would’ve been stuck renting cars, which is a considerable expense in our circles. The out-of-towners would have also had a hard time with it, because they spent a lot of money getting into town at all. For us, people needed to be able to cheaply cab around, bus it or walk to wedding events. Some folks certainly did drive, but the carless were too large a majority to ignore.

    But that’s my demographic–your group might be totally different. Go down the list and think, who will this be fine for? Who will have difficulties? If the difficulties list is pretty manageable, start talking carpools–if it’s huge, maybe rethink the location…

  20. We really agonized over this, too. Our reception will be in our backyard, both because of a super tight budget and because we want to party at home. But there are really no very appealing ceremony spots terribly close to our house. We kept talking about how much we’d love to have the ceremony in a park that’s really meaningful to us, in the city my partner used to live in and where most of our friends still live. It’s on a river, has a built in amphitheater, is totally affordable, and it’s where we exchanged rings around a year after we started dating. But it’s a little over a half hour from home, so we kept saying it wouldn’t work. We finally ended up deciding to just go for it, there’s no place else we love half as much for the ceremony, and having the reception elsewhere just isn’t an option.

    In our case, we really won’t have out of town guests, so hotel location isn’t an issue. Family mostly live much closer to the reception and friends live closer to the ceremony, but friends are used to driving out to our house to party frequently, anyway.

  21. actually for those in rural areas, 30 min wouldn’t be far either (because you HAVE to drive that far just to get to WALMART to buy groceries for an example from one place I lived…) I also think it depends on what’s around – if it feels like you’re going out of your way to go out to the middle of nowhere for the reception, I suspect may be remembered later as “the wedding where we drove and drove and never thought we’d get there” (but hey, at least it’s memorable!)- but if it’s simply the closest appropriate place to your church (especially if one is getting married in one’s home church) then I would think it would get less attention because it would be clear why it was chosen. But either way – I’m a firm believer that the Bride and Groom should do what they want even if it ends up being memorable to the guests 🙂

    • If you’re in a really rural area, 30 minutes is close. 😉 I went to a wedding in Middle-of-nowhere, Eastern Oregon, once, and the ceremony and reception were more than 100 miles (over 2 hours) apart, and nobody thought twice about it.
      For everybody else, I’d say the main thing is making sure that everybody knows where they’re going and has the ability to get there. You don’t want your guests stranded because they’re relying on public transport when it doesn’t run to that location, for instance.

  22. I generally don’t like it when the ceremony and reception are in different spots, but that’s just my own personal preference and I recognize it can’t always be helped. I think it really depends on your guests (you know them best!) and where the sites are located (rural vs urban area). 30 minutes isn’t too bad of a drive, but is there easy parking? Putting myself in an out-of-towner guest’s shoes, I’d be super stressed to not only have to drive an extra 30 minutes in an area I’m not familiar with, but also search for parking once I got to the venue. This might not apply to your situation at all; I live in a big city so this has been a big concern on my mind as I plan my own wedding.

    • One way I can see around the “How do I get there?” concern is some kind of visual ID on vehicles of local volunteer guests to sort of be the proverbial goose at the point of the V. This would work better in an urban environment than in some place rural where the neighbors might be okay with a sign on a fence or an arrow on a mail box, but there’s a lot of space between landmarks.

  23. I saw an amazing wedding from a photographer I like, the ceremony and reception were about 3.5-4 hours drive apart. Only the bride and groom travelled (and I assume their witnesses) with the photographer, so they have this cool travel album, all the guests were only at the reception, so they didn’t have to worry about getting them all there.

  24. Think about the energy you want for your day too. People are generally happy and relaxed after a ceremony. Not so much after spending 40 min battling traffic in a city they don’t know. What energy do you want going into the reception.

    Provide transit for your guests, if possible, and then they can relax on the bus and bring the joy with them.

  25. In general I don’t think 30 minutes is too far… unless you flew in from out of town and didn’t rent a car.

    I’m not suggesting you change the venue but maybe arrange alternate transportation for those guests? Like maybe hitching a ride with local guests?

  26. My friend had her reception very close the ceremony location, but what I loved that she did is put an official ‘start time’. It started about 90 minutes after the ceremony ended. It gave her and wedding party a time-limit to complete the wedding photos in and it gave the guests time to relax and know where they needed to be when. All the other weddings I have been do, everyone went right to the reception and just ‘hung out’ until the bridal party got there (not knowing how long this wait would be)! Because we knew when it started, my date and I enjoyed a relaxing hour long stroll in the beautiful park where the ceremony was held and then drove to the venue, arriving about 10 minutes before it ‘officially’ started.

    The reason I’m providng this detail, is I think this is a great way to have a relaxed transition from the cerremony to reception in general, especially if you know its going to take everyone a little while to get there. No one will be stressed about ‘running late’ if they know they have XX minutes (hopefully more time than the drive takes) to go XX minutes away. An for those who get there quickly and early, they know how much time they have to relax before the official start.

  27. I’d say if there will be more than 30 minutes driving (or sitting in the vehicle trying not to curse at traffic) time, encouraging people to sort out carpools/designated drivers ahead of time may be the way to go. Some people won’t mind driving 45 minutes after a reception and skipping the bar, some will, so figuring out carpools or providing a shuttle service will give more people for whom travel is an issue the option to be at both events.

    Leaving a little extra time also gives vegetarian guests a chance to hit the BK drive through for a veggie burger (just in case) or guests with kids to hit a park and run some steam off the little ones before they have to be reasonably calm again. Highlighting spots for those kind of ‘gap fillers’ can help immensely with the photo time lag too.

  28. A few of my cousins had receptions about 30mins away from their ceremony. The answer is easy – hire a bus to transport everyone there and back. They appreciate that youve done that for them & they dont have to worry about drink driving. Have the bus waiting outside the church after the ceremony & let the company know what time the reception ends so they can take your relatives back to a selected destination that suits most people. 🙂

  29. I’m having this issue too. It’s only an issue because it’s really important to my family I get married at our church, which means all decent venues are over half an hour away. The one I’m leaning towards at the moment, you could maybe do in 20 mins if you drive the right route. If I had more money I would’ve forced people to drive out to the valley to a winery (40mins – hour and a half away) and hired a bus as someone had mentioned before. But then again, most people probably wouldn’t have cared as I’m in Australia and everything is ages from everything else (and we have some guests that will be travelling from 9 hours away). That said, when we went to their wedding 9 hours away it was nice staying in the one location for ceremony and reception. We live sort of half-way in the country if that makes sense, so I don’t really mind if I have to drive out to the country/ into the valley, or into the city; as it’s really all the same to us.

  30. I was in a wedding last year where the reception was at least 30 minutes from the ceremony. Add in the Friday night after Christmas traffic in Philly and it was much longer. I think it took us an hour to get there. It wasn’t too big of a deal, though. I don’t think anyone really cared too much as everyone did make the trip. 60 does seem to be a good max, though, depending on where you live. I used to live in on of those places where the nearest walmart was nearly 40 minutes away (and they killed off a lot of local business so you really had no choice half the time, especially when the town shut down at 9pm and even the gas station closed at midnight) and the nearest actually city was nearly an hour and half. It’s funny, though. Living there, I would have no issue driving an hour two between ceremony and reception. Being back in a major city, I wouldn’t want to travel that far.

  31. I had around a little over a half hour commute between my ceremony and reception locations. I did deal with some grief on my side of the family from my mom whenever I was planning–I managed to appease her by explaining that we had a rain plan for the people who traveled to the ceremony location.

    All of our guest list was invited to the reception; only a select few were invited to our ceremony (immediate family, some friends) through an included postcard that was with the invitation.

    It did make it nice though. Everyone had a good window of time to get from the ceremony to the reception. We basically had a car train of people following each other so that (mostly) nobody got lost. It also gave everyone enough time to do whatever they wanted to in between the two. (My hubby, a few members of the bridal party, our “officiant” emcee, and I went to go to a local tavern to get some food and drinks in between)

  32. I felt strongly about getting married in my home church, and since I’m from the middle of nowhere, that meant that any reception venue was going to be a hike. We gave everyone directions in multiple places (on the invites and the programs) and most everyone came to the reception, though it was over 30 minutes away from the church. In a perfect world, I would have gotten married in the same place as the reception, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I figured that if people were already willing to come out to the wedding itself, what’s another bit of a drive to get to dinner?

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