Far from tourist traps, Scotland’s sightseeing destinations are revered worldwide – and, with a little imagination, could make unforgettable wedding venues
Tourists. For some of us, the word strikes fear into the heart of even the most laidback city dweller. If you’ve lived in Edinburgh during Festival season, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s swell that people want to visit, but the sheer volume of human beings who turn up can be hard to handle. And it makes it difficult to step back and appreciate the appeal for them in the first place.
But Scotland is undoubtedly unique. For the sixth year running, its visitor attractions have outperformed those everywhere else in the UK, bar London. Once the Tattoo packs up for another year, it all becomes clear – we are incredibly fortunate to call this country home, to have castles, museums, distilleries and galleries right on our doorstep. It raises the question: why not marry in one of them? Take a fresh look. It could give your big day the iconic backdrop it deserves.
Eilean Donan Castle
Not exactly a hard sell, Eilean Donan Castle near Kyle of Lochalsh has achieved almost mythical status both at home and abroad. Perched on an island where three sea lochs meet, its majestic exterior (rebuilt at least four times during its battle-scarred history, most recently in 1932) and dramatic approach by bridge bring thousands of tourists each year to its atmospheric setting – not to mention brides and grooms hoping to soak up some of that quintessential Scottish spirit.
But is it possible to pull off big-day plans in an area that’s relatively remote? The simple answer is yes – the team here are a force to be reckoned with, and have organised weddings for couples from all over the world, often just via email. At high season, ceremonies take place after 6pm, mostly in the Banqueting Hall, which can hold around 70, and if the weather’s on your side, you can tie the knot out in the courtyard.
The Dumfriesshire village became a beacon of hope for young, runaway brides and grooms, who’d elope from Wales and England from around 1754 to bypass their countries’ stricter marriage laws and wed without their parents’ consent. As more and more unconventional nuptials took place, blacksmiths soon proved to be the unlikely celebrant of choice, and, as a result, the anvil in their workshops became highly symbolic.
Today, a series of venues across the village are built on this love-conquers-all ethos. “The Famous Blacksmiths Shop is full of romantic history,” says Gretna Green’s Kevin Stewart. “It’s where the legend of Gretna started. The Blacksmiths was built in the 1700s and remains virtually unchanged. You can see the original marriage room and anvil surrounded by memorabilia in the heart of the shop.”
National Mining Museum Scotland
“The brickwork, vast arched windows and industrial features contribute to the charm of our Lady Victoria Power House,” describes Gillian Rankin of National Mining Museum Scotland. “It can host up to 120 guests for the ceremony, drinks reception, formal dining and dancing, all the while reflecting Midlothian’s proud mining heritage.”
The museum has a fascinating collection of 60,000 objects, and across the four-acre site there are a handful of public areas, such as the Colliery and Undercroft, but it’s the Power House that’s available for exclusive use. Choose ceremony-only from £168, right up to one-and-a-half day’s hire from £850, or opt for one of four winter wedding packages, starting at £2,789.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum
Approaching 120 years of age, this Glasgow institution houses all manner of art and artefacts, from Impressionist masterpieces to Ancient Egyptian sculptures. Tourists mainly flock to see Salvador Dali’s remarkable Christ of Saint John of the Cross, one of Kelvingrove’s best-loved paintings, but its sweeping grounds and instantly recog-nisable red-sandstone façade make it a wholly worthy wedding venue.
The resplendent Centre Hall can seat up to 500 for a spread (although getting your guests to tear their eyes away from the opulent chandeliers, balconies and vaulted ceiling long enough to eat might be a challenge) and the KG Café is a heavenly ceremony spot or alternative reception area for up to 80 of your nearest and dearest. Catering is provided by Encore Hospitality, which has a permanent base there.
Lindores Abbey Distillery and House for an Art Lover
Can’t get enough of the golden stuff? There’s also Lindores Abbey Distillery in Fife (left), a venue soaked in myth and legend. Distilling was thought to be in full swing on site as early as 1494 – there’s a reference to Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, being commissioned by King James IV to transform eight bolls of malt into whisky. To marry at Lindores, there are several options: the ethereal ruined abbey, a marquee in the gardens or the distillery itself. “Our events team has worked in the industry for many years and enjoy helping couples explore the distillery and abbey,” notes the venue’s Helen McKenzie Smith.
Internationally renowned architect and innovator Charles Rennie Mackintosh is synonymous with Glasgow’s rich artistic legacy – if you can think of anyone more qualified to have dreamt up your wedding venue, you just let me know. I’ll wait. “House for an Art Lover (right) offers couples the opportunity to celebrate their day in a beautiful set of rooms imagined by Mackintosh,” describes the venue’s Lynn Stevenson. “The house was designed in 1901 as a country retreat but not built until almost a century later, when it finally opened in 1996. Visitors travel from as far afield as Australia and Japan just to see the unique building, and yet couples have the chance to host their day surrounded by works inspired by the drawings of the city’s most famous architect.” Tip: marry in the Music Room.
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
The National Trust for Scotland-owned Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayrshire is as romantic and rich in inspiration as the Bard himself. “From the elegant, modern architecture of the museum, to the eclectic and cosy interior of Burns Cottage, there is a spot to suit every bride and groom,” says the Trust’s Derrick Lothian. “The stunning gardens and nearby Brig o’ Doon are available for exclusive use throughout the year.” Just think of the puntastic, Burns-themed fun you could have with the centrepieces…
From the giant panda exhibit to the ever-popular penguin parade, Edinburgh Zoo is the capital’s liveliest attraction – but possibly not one you’d think of as a wedding hot spot. Don’t worry, though, we’re not throwing you to the lions: the venue has the Mansion House up its sleeve, a 200-year-old building overlooking the zoo’s gardens. The Macmillan suite can play host to your ceremony if sunshine doesn’t make an appearance, while the Geddes and Gillespie suite can seat up to 90 loved ones for dinner. Big-day packages start at £90pp, and include exclusive hire of the house and gardens.
National Museum Of Scotland
After a three-year renovation to the lofty sum of £47 million, the National Museum of Scotland’s Grand Gallery and Entrance Hall were reborn in 2011, fully restored to their Victorian glory. Sixteen new galleries were also added, taking the total up to 36 (with ten more in 2016), meaning that couples are now spoilt for choice when it comes to where to host their nuptials at the Edinburgh museum. If you know 950 people, this is the place to invite them for dinner – there’s enough space within the imposing atrium. If those numbers seem a bit ambitious, there’s the Bute Room, or the roof terrace for intimate summer celebrations, both of which can cater for 50.
Teetering atop Castle Hill, Stirling Castle has a strategic location that other fortifications in Scotland could only dream of – and as such became a key royal residence as well as a fortress. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here in 1542 and there have been at least eight sieges, the last a failed attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. In fact, Scottish history and Stirling Castle are so densely interwoven, they’re practically one and the same.
Make like Game of Thrones and stage your day in the Chapel Royal (which has a painted frieze dating from 1628 and space for up to 200 for the meal) or the 16th-century Great Hall, a vast banqueting space with room for 300, with a minstrels’ gallery and trumpeters’ loft to take care of the live music and a dais area for dancing and maybe a floral crown station (you are a 21st-century couple, after all).
Highland Folk Museum
Britain’s first open-air museum, the Highland Folk Museum is paradise for anyone even remotely obsessed with Outlander (that’ll be all of us, then). “We aim to give our visitors a flavour of how Highland people lived and worked, from the 1700s up until the 1950s,” explains the Newtonmore attraction’s Lesley Junor. “We have over 30 buildings on display, appropriately furnished to their time period. Our site is a mile long, with a 1700s township (featuring six houses) at one end and a 1930s working croft at the other.” Like a true crofter, you can wed in the old church on site.
Abbotsford and Low Parks Museum
You might be aware of the Scott Monument, that gothic rocket-shaped structure dominating Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens – but did you know you could also visit the prolific novelist’s home, Abbotsford (left), and exchange vows there? Scott was an advocate and judge but during breaks from his legal responsibilities he escaped to the country to write. He bought a ‘mountain farm’ in the Borders, gradually modifying it until it became Abbotsford, an enormous manor house.
Stay in the Hope Scott Wing (which has seven individually styled bedrooms) and choose between getting hitched in the Library (with capacity for up to 70), the gardens or the simple, intimate family chapel. Full-on Highlandwear is a good idea too – Scott’s novels had a huge influence on the Victorian craze for all things Scottish among the British monarchy.
Originally part of the influential Dukes of Hamilton’s sprawling estate, Low Parks Museum (right) is housed in two historic buildings of national importance – the perfect setting for a fascinating collection tracing the local history of South Lanarkshire. There are displays relating to Hamilton Palace, local regiment the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and life in the region, including agriculture, weaving and coal-mining.
You can also check out the Assembly Room, now the location for ceremonies for around 80 guests. The 18th-century space was once a trendy meeting place for the town’s high society, and you can see why – all the original plasterwork is still intact (and highlighted in a sunny, lemon shade), as is the musicians’ gallery at the top of the ‘aisle’. “The room has a baby grand piano and has outstanding acoustics,” adds the venue’s Lauretta Carey. “And you can have drinks in the adjacent private courtyard afterwards.”
The National Piping Centre
We’re all for niche museums, and The National Piping Centre, a former church in Glasgow’s city centre, is an especially charming example. Centred around our national instrument, there are 300 years of piping history for visitors to explore, along with a wide selection of artefacts, such as Iain Dall (Blind John) MacKay’s chanter, the oldest of its kind anywhere on the planet.
The venue’s main advantage? Music will certainly not be a worry for your big day: a top-notch piper obviously comes as part of the deal and, having quite frankly seen it all, the team have plenty of quirky suggestions for your w-day entertainment. “We’ve had a pipe band quartet, as well as one wedding where all the guests were from the traditional music world and they acted as the band and piper!” says joint senior manager Caitlin Houston.
If you’ve been brought up in Scotland, chances are at some stage you’ll have been on a school trip to Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh’s vibrant science museum. Yes, the starry lift back in time is magical, and, no, nowadays you probably can’t get away with running like mad around the Ozone, the glass-enclosed, central space, but there’s more to the venue than that.
“With the spectacular backdrop of the Salisbury Crags, and with its own impressive canopy structure, Dynamic Earth is a special venue with a subtle, heritage twist,” explains business development manager Selina Van Hagen. If you’ve got 150 guests, there’s the flexible Biosphere suite, while the Ozone can take care of 80.
Scotch Whisky Experience
It’s our most important and profitable export, so you’d better believe there’s a visitor centre (and wedding venue) dedicated entirely to whisky – and a pretty comprehensive one at that. The Edinburgh venue’s priceless collection comprises 3,384 bottles and the viewing experience, naturally, includes a tasting session, as well as a fun barrel ride.
The Scotch Whisky Experience’s Gillian Beaton paints a picture: “Set in the heart of the city, next to the Castle and Ramsay Garden, we pride ourselves in distilling the essential ingredients for your day. Our specialist events team are experts in the careful blending of setting, service and cuisine to ensure your reception is truly bespoke.” It has its own restaurant, Amber, on site (which can also be hired out for the celebration), and the dining is exquisite.