Top Wedding & Civil Union Venues in Britain

wedding ringsEarlier this week, we reported that a change in British law has made it legal for gay men and lesbians to marry in England and Wales. The Queen gave her Royal Assent and same-sex marriage became legal on July 17. The new law doesn’t allow same-sex couples to get married in a church (yet), and also does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

VisitBritain told us that the country's first legally recognized same-sex weddings will take place by next summer, and while the delay may be frustrating for some, we say it will give couples plenty of time to plan a dream wedding. 

Best of all for travelers, foreign nationals can also marry in the UK (read all the rules here: VisitBritain has picked some of the most special wedding destinations.

A member of IGLTA (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association), British-based Further Afield offers a collection of handpicked accommodation for gay and lesbian travellers. Simon Forrester, who launched the business in 2010 with his partner Andrew, says that many of the properties are licensed for civil partnership ceremonies. Next year they will launch a dedicated gay marriage collection. Good to know: Although some are gay-owned and run, none of properties on Further Afield are exclusively gay, and heterosexual couples can also tie the knot there.   

Top picks include The Rectory, a renovated property set in three acres of Victorian walled garden in the Cotswolds, 90 minutes’ drive away from London. With accolades from Vogue and Brides Magazine, this 12-bedroom country house hotel is licensed to hold intimate ceremonies for up to 60 guests. There’s a variety of dining options too, from a wedding breakfast with champagne and canapés in the conservatory, to beer and pub classics in The Potting Shed, winner of The Good Pub Guides 2012 Pub of the Year. 

Across the border in Wales, The Grove is another of their gay-welcoming recommendations. Derelict for eight years, its current owners worked with local craftspeople to restore this extensive estate as a boutique hotel with 20 bedrooms and suites divided across the main house, Coach House and Long House, plus four self-catering cottages. Guests can opt for a summer wedding for up to 150 guests in a marquee on the lawn, or try an intimate candlelit ceremony in front of a roaring fire in the Panelled Room. The Grove is in west Wales, just over 1.5 hours’ drive away from Cardiff. 

In London, the Goring is where the former Kate Middleton spent her final night as a commoner before marrying Prince William at Westminster Abbey and becoming the Duchess of Cambridge. The hotel offers private rooms for civil ceremonies, the private garden is ideal for a marquee, and they have access to top local suppliers including florists, photographers, horse-drawn carriages and toastmasters. 

Want a wedding fit for a king...or queen? Hampton Court Palace (pictured), Kensington Palace, Banqueting House and Kew Palace are available via Historic Royal Palaces

One of London’s most distinct new buildings is 30 St Mary Axe, better known as The Gherkin. The restaurant and bar on levels 39 and 40 are licensed for weddings and civil partnerships via Searcys. Couples can get married surrounded by family, friends and top 360 degree panoramas of landmarks like the Houses Of Parliament and St Pauls Cathedral. 

The Barbican Centre is another iconic London building licensed for ceremonies. Europe’s largest multi-arts centre, it hosts a mixed repertoire of art, music, theatre, dance and film, as well as being home to the London Symphony Orchestra. Its Conservatory and Garden Suite, a which has more than 2,000 species of tropical plants, can accommodate up to 264 guests. 

Other English cities with significant gay populations provide excellent wedding opportunities. Manchester’s Cross Street Unitarian Chapel was Britain’s first place of worship to offer civil partnerships to same-sex couples. The Unitarian Church is not part of the Church of England and has a number of openly gay ministers, and was approved for civil partnership ceremonies in March 2012. They intend to begin offering same-sex marriage ceremonies as soon as the law allows. Manchester is in northwest England, a two-hour train ride from London. 

The English seaside city of Brighton has a range of licensed civil partnership venues, including the Prince Regent’s Indo-Gothic Royal Pavilion; the four-star myhotel Brighton; and beachfront options like famous Brighton Pier. For a really quirky option, water-loving couples can opt for Brighton Sea Life Centre, the UK’s oldest working aquarium. 

Although same-sex couples can (for now) only get civil partnerships in Scotland, these ceremonies can be held in real castles with royal connections. Recommended by Further Afield, Fenton Tower dates from the 16th Century but was in ruins for 350 years. Restored since 2002, it now provides five-star accommodation for up to 12 guests just 18 miles from Edinburgh. The pastoral castle has its own loch and is decorated with tapestries, antiques and plenty of tartan. 

And finally, when choosing dresses or tuxes, consider some authentic British designers like Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood. Bicester Village, a luxury fashion outlet centre in Oxfordshire, is just an hour north-west of London and is one of nine Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe (and is also a member of IGLTA). Couples can head here for flowers, rings, hair & make-up, champagne, or just wander around on their honeymoon.