Mary Ellen and Will met at university and live in New York city. They flew to Scotland’s Edinburgh to get married with this beautiful destination wedding. Their Gatsby-esque celebration was modern with a timeless air, with a few elegant Scottish touches thrown in. The wedding took place in two iconic Edinburgh locations: Canongate Kirk and Prestonfield House, captured by Crofts & Kowalczyk Photography. Mary Ellen has some practical advice below on having a destination wedding, and be sure to check out the challenges they faced if you’re planning a wedding abroad yourself!

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“I (Mary Ellen) went to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh. Will and I wanted a small destination wedding, but since we were doing all the planning ourselves from the United States it was important for us to have easy communication and access to vendors. We contemplated other destinations such as the Loire Valley in France, but with a strong connection to Edinburgh and ease of planning a wedding in a city centre, Edinburgh won. We picked our venues based on the size of our expected group (about 30 people) and ease of coordination. Canongate Kirk for the ceremony was chosen for its modest size and because the Reverend was extremely congenial and accommodating to us. We met him for the first time just a few days before the wedding! He was wonderful to work with leading up to the wedding and we were frequently in touch over email in the months prior.

Prestonfield House was chosen as the reception venue for a few reasons. Mostly, they are an event/wedding venue (in addition to a boutique hotel) and are almost full-service, so aside from music, almost all of the arrangements were made directly with them through their event planners. We even used their preferred/in-house florist, so there was no issue coordinating a florist with a venue they weren’t familiar with. Secondly, the house and grounds are absolutely stunning- you feel like you are in the middle of the countryside, but in reality, you are a ten minute taxi ride to the city centre. I have to say, it was all pretty ideal.


Probably the biggest challenge we faced was getting our United Kingdom marriage visas. It was a ton of paperwork and there are time limits on how far in advance you can apply for your visa- no more than three months in advance of your wedding date. Additionally, you have to apply for your marriage certificate separately with the local registrar’s office at least thirty days in advance of the wedding, preferably more for foreigners. So with the two separate processes, you have a tight two month window in which to get your visas and apply for the marriage certificate. There were a few days I was waking up at 4:30/5:00am in New York in order to call the registrar’s office to make sure we were doing things properly. On top of that, my husband was frequently having to travel internationally for work and couldn’t give up his passport for an unknown amount of time during the visa process. We ended up paying to have our visas expedited- best money we’ve ever spent. There was a certain amount of anxiety over all of that.


We wanted a traditional and elegant celebration and didn’t use a wedding planner, but thankfully Prestonfield House has event coordinators, so the reception was handled by them. I don’t think we could have picked better venues for the church and reception, they were both perfect. We also did a “first look” and did our wedding portraits/photography before the ceremony so that we could enjoy the drinks reception with our guests. We got married on a Monday, which I think was a good decision. We didn’t have to compete with other weddings for vendors/etc. Also, almost all of our guests came from the U.S. and made a vacation out of their trips, so they had a few days to adjust before the wedding. It would be hard to pick a favourite moment as honestly the entire day was memorable. I remember every detail! I think that’s one of the perks of having a small wedding- you aren’t so overwhelmed by the sheer number of people or worried about talking to everyone.


We have no regrets- I would do it all over again exactly the same. My advice would be to expect and embrace a certain amount of the unknown with a destination wedding- and also to embrace certain cultural wedding norms/differences which will make the wedding that much more unique and memorable. Travelling internationally in general (not to mention planning a major event like a wedding) can be stressful. Your guests came a long way to celebrate with you, not to watch you freak out if the smallest detail doesn’t go your way. If you approach it with a relaxed attitude and are simply happy to be with your friends and family in a beautiful place, everyone is going to have a great experience.”

Photography: Crofts & Kowalczyk Photography | Ceremony Location: Canongate Kirk  | Celebrant: Rev Neil Gardner | Wedding Reception: Prestonfield House Hotel | Reception Music: Capella String Quartet | Florist: Flowers by Maxwell | Bride’s Dress: Lela Rose | Bride’s Shoes: Jimmy Choo | Bride’s Earrings: Dannijo | Hair Styling: Electric Hairdressing at Harvey Nichols | Makeup: YSL counter at Harvey Nichols | Bridesmaid Dress: Coast | Stationery: Reaves Engraving Inc | Groom’s Suit: Custom Tailored | Car Hire: Wedding Taxi by Central Taxi

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