One question we get all the time is, “What’s the difference between a wedding and an elopement?” While most couples have an idea of the size, scale and style of ceremony they want, it’s not always clear exactly what type of celebration they’re planning.

So let’s break it down, wedding vs elopement, and find the right ceremony for you!

The difference between a wedding and an elopement

Generally speaking, a wedding is a larger ceremony with a bit more pomp and circumstance, such as an aisle walk and a wedding party. The guest list is larger, the ceremony is longer, and there’s more room for traditions or creative elements.

An elopement, on the other hand, is a scaled-down version of a wedding ceremony. It’s smaller, shorter and without some of the big ceremony elements, like a processional aisle walk. Contrary to its origins, modern day elopements do not have to be secretive or something the couples runs off to do without their parents’ blessing.

Let’s dive into more of the differences between weddings and elopements below so you can plan the ceremony that’s right for you two!

elopement ceremony with Young Hip & Married wedding officiants
by Breezy Photography
wedding ceremony with young hip and married
above & feature by Erica Miller Photography

Wedding vs elopement: Guest list size

A wedding guest list is limited only by the venue capacity. The average wedding ceremony guest list is 75-150 people, though in some cultures and religions it can grow much larger. Basically, your guest list size is only limited by your budget!

By contrast, an elopement has a very small guest list. At its smallest, an elopement can just be the couple getting married, the wedding officiant who marries them, and two witnesses to sign their marriage licence. In our Intimate Elopement package, we allow for up to 10 guests, or up to 20 guests in our Intimate Elopement Plus. 21 or more guests? That’s considered a wedding ceremony in our book!

Wedding vs elopement: Length of ceremony

A wedding ceremony can vary widely in length, but we think the sweet spot is around 20 minutes. Any shorter and your guests may wonder why they bothered attending. Much longer and your guests may get bored. Though keep in mind that if you are adding cultural practices, religious traditions, readings or unity ceremonies, your overall ceremony length will be longer.

Elopement ceremonies are shorter, usually just 5-10 minutes in length. Because of the small guest list and more intimate style, there’s usually no need for a wedding officiant to share the couple’s love story (most people in attendance already know it!) and any extra readings or unity traditions can feel out of place. While short, an elopement ceremony is still very meaningful.

Green Lake elopement in Whistler with Young Hip & Married
by Erica Miller Photography

Wedding vs elopement: Style of ceremony

Wedding ceremonies can take on whatever style you want! You have the freedom to customize your ceremony and ensure it represents you and what’s most important to you. By their nature, wedding ceremonies are more formal. Everyone is usually dressed up nicely and taking part in ceremony traditions, which you’ll want to take seriously. Though that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your wedding ceremony!

Elopements, on the other hand, are more casual. It’s not unusual for couples to elope in jeans and t-shirts in their living room – though you can also elope in your fanciest outfits in a ballroom, on a boat or on a mountaintop. Regardless of outfits or location, elopements still feel more relaxed and intimate based on their size.

We like to say that elopements have a “gather and wed” style. Instead of a formal processional, you’re gathering with a few loved ones in a special spot and saying I do. Often this looks like standing in a circle instead of walking down an aisle with chairs on either side.

Wedding vs elopement: Ceremony elements

While shorter and more casual, an elopement will still have the essential ceremony elements you would expect in any wedding ceremony. You’ll still exchange vows, rings and a first kiss (if you want to), as well as sign your legal marriage licence. Your officiant will still lead the ceremony and share words about your love and marriage. And you can still take beautiful ceremony photos!

A wedding has all of those things, plus more. You can include more elements into your ceremony like readings, prayers, toasts, etc. A wedding also allows for all of the elements that happen before and after a ceremony, like processing down the aisle with your wedding party, having a ceremony musician or DJ, recessing back up the aisle, etc.

Wedding ceremonies are also where you’re more likely to see wedding decor, like arches, chairs, aisle runners, floral displays, etc. By contrast, elopements often don’t have any decor or the decor is quite minimal.

recessional at Vancouver wedding with Young Hip & Married
by Beige Weddings

What do weddings and elopements have in common?

Both weddings and elopements include:

  • A legal ceremony led by a licensed wedding officiant
  • A celebration of your love and commitment
  • Vows, rings and a first kiss
  • The first step to your awesome marriage!

Who is a wedding right for? Who is an elopement right for?

Now that you know the difference between a wedding and an elopement, it’s time to decide which one is right for you.

A wedding ceremony is best for couples who want a larger, longer ceremony experience with all of their loved ones. Weddings are best if you have more than 20 guests and plan to rent and set up a venue space for your ceremony. If you have your heart set on special ceremony elements, like readings, walking down the aisle, and a wedding party, then a full wedding ceremony may be right for you.

Weddings are also great if you want to customize your ceremony and have your officiant write and share your unique love story!

An elopement ceremony is best for couples who want a sweet and short moment to celebrate their love with a small guest list (20 or fewer guests). Eloping couples are okay with no frills; they don’t need to walk down an aisle, set up decor or have any readings. They’re just after an intimate, casual and meaningful moment.

Elopements are also great for couples on a budget. Not only is the elopement ceremony package less expensive than a full wedding ceremony package, but you’ll also save money skipping on decor and other ceremony elements.

difference between a wedding and an elopement ceremony
by Ryan Funk Photography

Bottom line: There is no one right way to get married! Whether you choose to elope, have a huge wedding or do something in the middle, it comes down to what works best for you and how you want to celebrate your commitment to each other. Now that you know the difference between a wedding and an elopement, you can check out all of our wedding and elopement packages here!