While some people dream of a big wedding day surrounded by all of their friends and family in a local venue, many couples are choosing to elope these days, for myriad reasons.

A young newlywed couple sitting on the sand looking at the ocean.
Many modern couples choose to elope © kc1212/Getty Images

For some, the idea of being in the spotlight is terrifying, while others don't want to want to spend a huge amount of money on just one day.  Then there are those who embrace the opportunity to travel and celebrate the big day somewhere that is special to them or in a place they have always wanted to visit. With that in mind, Manchester-based videographer Catherine Luther Wedding Films analysed 100,000 Instagram images with the hashtag #elopement to compile a list of the 25 most popular destinations around the world for wedding elopements.

A bride and grooom on bicycles
There are many reasons behind a decision to elope © MarioGuti/Getty Images

She found that Bali is the most popular destination for elopements, followed by New York, Paris, Las Vegas and Yosemite National Park. US National Parks were also incredibly popular for elopements, offering stunning backdrops for wedding photography. “For some, the decision to elope may be down to avoiding the undesired limelight that naturally comes with a big wedding, and for others, it’s a great excuse to avoid complicated family relationships or simply to keep costs low,” says Catherine.

Intrigued as to what makes people decide on a location, Lonely Planet asked these couples why they chose to elope to the top five destinations.

1. Bali

Margot Russ was gifted a trip to the Indonesian island of Bali as a 30th birthday present from her fiancé of two years, Austin. The idea of a traditional wedding didn't appeal to them, and three months before the trip, they decided get married while in Bali. "We wanted to add new stamps to our passports and start our life together with an adventure," says Margot. "Eloping to Bali was our way of having a unique and meaningful experience, with a focus on the commitment we were making to each other at the center."

A bride and groom in front of a temple in Bali.
Margot and Austin got married in Bali © Anni Graham

Margot and Austin started their wedding day by sharing deeply personal vows by the Indian Ocean, in which they promised each other a lifetime of rich, authentic experiences. Then they rode scooters down a narrow, windy trail and climbed down 1000 steps to discover half a dozen waterfalls. They explored a historic temple and watched the sunset over a rice field beside a remote hillside village.

"Bali is so spiritual, welcoming and the true definition of paradise," says Margot. "We felt like we saw so much of this beautiful, lush island on our wedding day, but it was the genuine warmth and kindness of the local Balinese people that made us feel at home."

2. New York

New York is a very popular spot for proposals and engagements, with iconic locations like Central Park, the top of the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge serving up a huge dollop of romance. Indeed it was on Brooklyn Bridge that Lisa Rübsam was proposed to by her fiancé Julien in 2016, during their first visit there.

A bride and groom on top of the Empire State Building
Lisa and Julien were married in New York © Sascha Reinking Photography

"Traveling is, and always was, our passion," says Lisa. "We love to explore countries, cities and cultures. As we wanted to enjoy the special day of our wedding on our very own, we decided to go back to the most stunning city in the world, which was already a special place for us. And, of course, I wanted to have a kind of Sex and the City/Carrie Bradshaw feeling." 

3. Paris

There is no shortage of glamorous backdrops for elopement photos in Paris, ranging from the wrought-iron Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe guarding the avenue des Champs-Élysées, to the lamplit bridges spanning the Seine.

A bridal couple in front of the Eiffel Tower
Nina and her husband in front of the Eiffel Tower © Pierre TORSET

Nina Gill says that she and her fiancé chose to elope to the City of Love because they weren’t inspired to plan a traditional wedding day. "The idea felt a bit overwhelming," she says. "Paris was a trip that we’d both dreamt about, so the idea was sparked and the rest was history. We loved the experience and felt that it was the very best decision for us. Of course, we’d do it again without hesitation."

4. Las Vegas

Bride Marina and her fiancé live in Los Angeles, and they felt that Las Vegas was a perfect option for their elopement. "It’s fast, it’s beautiful, it’s fun and definitely romantic," she says. "We had our ceremony at sunset in Red Rock Canyon and it was the most beautiful and emotional moment."

A bride and groom on the Las Vegas strip
 Marina and her husband were married in Las Vegas © @anartphoto_lv

Marina says that wedding planning is stressful, and couples don’t have the time to realise the importance of what’s happening and live it through with each other. "I believe that a wedding, most importantly, is a celebration of two people, and it is vital to experience each moment with your significant other with no distractions," she says. "This was the main reason we decided to elope. It was just the two of us."

5. Yosemite National Park

Hiking and being outdoors is a huge part of Katie and Ryan's relationship and they visit Yosemite National Park several times a year. They held their ceremony on a trail they have hiked many times with 15 of their closest friends and family present. "It was a no-brainer when we were deciding where to get married," says Katie. "Both of our families had never visited the park, so it was a blast getting to be the ones to introduce them to the place that means so much to us."

A bride and groom at Yosemite National Park.
Katie and Ryan decided to marry in Yosemite National Park © Ari Christine Photography

Katie and Ryan chose to elope because they said that their dream wedding wasn’t about the frills, but about the deep commitment they were making to one another. "Marriage is one of life’s big adventures, and we wanted our wedding to reflect that," says Katie. "No other place we have been to makes us feel more connected to our earth or creator. I felt so relaxed and excited on our wedding, and if I could do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing."

You can see the full results of the findings of the elopement research and an interactive map on the Catherine Luther Wedding Films website here

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