What is the difference between a wedding and an elopement?

The difference between a wedding and an elopement can be significant so it is important to understand the difference to make your planning easier for you. Do you plan an intimate elopement for just your and your immediate family or do you have a traditional wedding and all that they involve? In this guide, we will help you decided if you want to elope or have a traditional wedding. And try to explain the difference with each.

So just in case you are new to elopements, let’s just talk about what an elopement is.

Photo by Rohit Jhawar Photography

Elopement definition

If you looked at the old, traditional meaning of elopement it meant to run away secretly without the family knowing, and getting married. It was talked about in a very negative fashion and even to this day, people think of it in a bad way. But the modern-day definition is changing. Couples are looking for something different and more meaningful to them.

Eloping, by our definition, is:

“An elopement is to get married with a small number of guests, in a beautiful location, where the ceremony and the day is all about the two of you.”


Read more: What exactly is an elopement

milton gan weddings
Photo by Milton Gan Weddings

So what are the differences between an elopement and a wedding?

Guest Count

The guest count or the number of people attending your marriage is probably one of the biggest factors to the definition.

An elopement has an intentionally limited amount of guests. The number of guests is totally up for debate and up to you. But we like to think of an elopement as less than 20 guests. The key phrase is ‘intentionally limited’ because at an elopement you only include those people closest to you. That could be just your parents, it could be your immediate family and a few close friends. That is totally up to you. But it should be an intimate event and you should really know these people.

Please note, that in Australia, a legal marriage requires two witnesses to witness and sign the marriage certificate. If there are no guests at the elopement, then this duty is often done by the photographer, videographer, a stylist or someone from the venue accommodation. You can also just have a symbolic elopement ceremony and do the legal stuff at the registry.

A wedding traditionally has a lot more people attending. Anywhere from 50 to 1000+. And as a couple, you may not know every single person at your wedding. You may know of them, but you really may not know them. At a wedding, people tend to bring a +1. So a partner, girlfriend or boyfriend. So you will inevitably be introduced to people at your wedding.

Tessa Cox photography
Photo by Tessa Cox Photography


Generally speaking, an elopement will require less planning than a wedding. There are fewer people involved. But you may still need to organise accommodation, a ceremony location and a few other wedding vendors. Maybe a small dinner somewhere. But it is not quite to the extent of a wedding.

A wedding involves quite a bit of planning as they are bigger events and more people to organise. Say you have 150 guests at your wedding. Just for your guests, you have to organise invitations, you have to follow up with guests to see if they are actually coming. You may have to offer accommodation suggestions, maps on how to get there and where to park. For the ceremony, you will have to seating for 150 people, programs for 150 people. If you are outdoors you may need umbrellas, parasols, blankets for people. Plus water or drinks for after the ceremony. For the reception, you need to organise seating plans, name cards, place settings, wedding favours, get dietary requirements, tables and chairs for 150 people, canapes for 150 people, drinks for 150 people, three-course meal for 150 people, and flowers and decorations for every table and the room. You may even have to organise buses for your guests at the end of the night. And that is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo by Red eclectic


Elopements can be less expensive for couples. Having fewer guests automatically reduces the cost of significantly. So generally speaking, you can save money by eloping. BUT this is not a rule. Couples who elope may still spend a lot of money, but they will spend the money on things that are more important to them. Instead of paying for 150 guests to have a three-course meal with unlimited drinks at $200+pp, they put that money to something else that is important to them. Like staying at a $2000 per night luxury resort for their elopement. Buying their dream wedding dress. Buying their favourite wedding rings. Paying for their favourite photographer and celebrant. Using that extra money for their honeymoon and travel the world together for six months. Or even just saving the money for the future.

On average, couples spend more money on weddings than elopements. Australian couples spend about $30,000 on a wedding and the actual figure is up for debate as many sites think it is a lot more. But there is no doubt that weddings with around 100+ guests, will get expensive.

Photo by Cavanagh Photography

Ceremonies Involved

The only ceremony involved in elopements is the actual legal marriage ceremony. It is pretty simple and easy. Other than the exchanging of rings, most of the wedding traditions are ditched and the day becomes more about the couple and their relationship together.

Weddings have a whole bunch of ceremonies that you may not even realise. There is the actual marriage ceremony. And at the reception, there are speeches from the best man, maid of honour, father of the bride, father of the groom, the wedding couple. And maybe more. There is also the cutting of the cake, father-daughter dance, first dance, cutting of the cake, garter & bouquet toss and a farewell arch at the end. Then there are other cultural elements that you may have to do, depending on what country and religion you and your family are from.

Photo by The Runaway Hearts

Time frame

An elopement is a much, much smaller event that can be done in a much quicker time frame. Legally speaking, in Australia, a ‘Notice of Intent to Marriage’ has to be lodged at least one month prior to the marriage. So you can organise an elopement in just over a month if you wanted to. It is not quite like what you see in American movies… you can’t just fly off to Brisvegas and get married on a whim.

The average Australian wedding takes between nine to twenty-four months to plan. Why so long? There is a lot of planning, as mentioned above. But one of the major reasons is that most weddings happen on a Saturday and wedding venues book out a long time in advance. The top wedding venues in cities and towns can book out two years in advance. Particularly if you are wanting a Saturday wedding in Spring or Autumn.

Photo by My Scandii Style Photography

The Elopement Location

Elopements can take place anywhere. You are only limited to your imagination. You can get married at the registry office (which is a little boring if you asked me) or you can get married at your favourite park, lake, beach, forest or mountain top. You just need to get permission (in writing) and then have your ceremony.

With weddings, you are often limited to where you can do it logistically. You have to be able to get 100+ guests to a certain location. You may also have to deal with transport, parking, accommodation, access for the elderly, the safety of children, toilet facilities etc. You can quickly see that your options greatly reduce when more people are involved.

The couple will normally spend the night apart with their respective bridal parties.

Time Together

You actually spend more time together when you elope. When couples elope they will normally spend the night together. They spend the morning together. They even get ready together. They then spend the rest of the afternoon and night together. You are together, potentially, close to 100% of the time.

With a more traditional wedding, the couple sleeps at separate locations. Even couples who have lived together for years. They spend the morning apart with their separate bridal parties. They see each other in the afternoon at the wedding ceremony. At the wedding reception, they are busy all night trying to talk to and thank all their guests. So at a wedding, you will spend a surprising amount of time away from the person you are marrying.

Observatory Hill wedding photos

Weddings and elopements have many, many similarities. The main being, spending time with those people who are closest to you and marrying the love of your life. Those things will always stay the same. But it is important for couples to choose the right one for them. There is no right or wrong. They are just different and work for different people. So hopefully this guide has helped you define the difference and work out which one is right for you.