Wedding venues are one of the first items on the “we’re getting married” checklist. Easily in the top five after, “She said yes!” and “Who should I tell?”

There are the obvious options for wedding venues: Churches, hotels, community centers, private resorts. Some of those options are expensive and some of them aren’t.

However, if your wedding has a lead time longer than just a week or two, you might be overlooking a few more interesting options.

And let’s be clear right up front: the point of this piece isn’t to save money, necessarily, but you may find that many of these options are more affordable than a 10k booking at a downtown resort simply because they haven’t been commercialized in the way that traditional wedding venues have.

Ready? Let’s get started!

1. Beaches and Lakefronts

Imagine a pristine morning on the water.

Maybe it’s a bit brisk, but the waves are crashing gently on the shoreline. The sun is up, but the air is still cool and the breeze from the coast keeps the bugs well away from everyone and everything.

Growing up on the coast, I’ve seen this one personally. Beach wedding venues are a great way to give everyone in your wedding party (no matter how large) a breath of fresh air and a gathering to remember.

While you might need to check with the local municipality to see if there are any restrictions, beaches are, by and large, free and open to the public.

If you close off a space or you need to rent out a few pavilions or whatnot, you might be charged for that — but you’ll likely be looking at something relatively affordable, as weddings go.

One of most straightforward tricks for better photography is to find a photogenic subject. Placing a wedding in a beautiful location is a great way to end up with beautiful wedding shots.

2. Private Cottage

Here in the city, everyone wants to get away. Many of my clients rent a cottage (if they don’t have own one anyway) at least once or twice a year.

Why not have a wedding out there? As far as wedding venues go, you’ll have privacy and a wide selection to choose from, especially if you’re planning advance. Particularly if you have a family cottage, you’d find yourself surrounded by ancestral heritage.

Cottages are usually secluded and well away from the city, so expect a drive if you go this route. However, if saying your vows in a secluded place and surrounded by loved ones feels better to you than a church or a hotel ballroom, it can be a much better way to connect with friends and family who want to be part of your special day.

3. Forests and Parks

Avid hikers and morning walkers will relate to this one. There’s just something about the serenity and pristine stillness of the woods that gives the area and atmosphere of quiet anticipation.

A wedding party in the woods requires a bit of planning, but as far as wedding venues go, it’s a great pick!

You’ll probably need to speak with a public official of some sort to register and check for any guidelines. On top of that, you’ll need to plan for bugs if the middle of summer. (Nothing a few of those citronella lanterns can’t fix!)

Of course, a wedding at the height of fall is all about the colour change, and that’s a love story that practically writes itself. Remember what I said earlier about wedding venues in photogenic places?

Check around your local area. Go for a drive or walk the hiking trails nearby. You typically don’t have to venture very far into the woods to find an ideal spot for a quiet getaway.

4. Historic Sites

Though historic sites are often equipped for weddings, they’re often forgotten in the search for ideal wedding venues.

Old grist mills, barns, even covered bridges and log cabins are all possible contenders for an alternative venue, particularly if you prefer a rustic style.

If you see something you like while you’re walking around the city or driving down the highway, don’t be afraid to ask about it.

The worst answer you can get is “no”, and you’ll have a host of other options anyway.

5. Seasonal Sites

This is my personal favourite. When searching for the perfect venue, try to find something that matches the season.

That corn maze you visited last year or the pumpkin patch right down the road might be great fits for wedding venues with a fall or harvest flavour. Sunflower and wheat fields are wonderfully scenic during midsummer. And, of course, winter weddings are beautiful even if it’s a little chilly.

Reasonable Alternatives

As a photographer, I see the inside of churches quite a bit. And don’t get me wrong — most of them are really beautiful. The wedding business has no shortage of wedding venues when it comes to churches, hotels, and similar commercial getaways.

All I’m saying here is that, whatever your budget, you might find your wedding even more memorable if you treat your search for the perfect location like a treasure hunt.

Find something that aligns with your personality and style. Unique venues like the ones above also gives a photographer like me the chance to deliver a host of images with a different look and feel than your standard chapel service.

I mentioned at the top of this piece that this article wasn’t about saving money. And that’s true; it’s not. It’s about making memories that last. The place you choose to say your vows will mean even more if the place you select is something special.

That’s something that a lot of couples overlook.