While micro weddings and elopements provide opportunities for a more relaxed celebration, at the end of the day you're still planning a wedding. One of the best things you can do to help with your planning process is to make the decision of where you'll be getting married—it can set the tone, help work out details, and guide your future plans.

Here are a few pros and cons of different wedding venue options for your smaller ceremony needs.

Small, daytime ceremony at VOWS DSM

VOWS | East Village, Des Moines, Iowa



  • Minimal Setup. Most venues will have everything included when it comes to setup—chairs, cocktail tables, even basic decorations, meaning less planning on your part.
  • Assistance from Staff. Along with all the items you need to make your wedding day comfy, often venues will also provide staff to help. Whether that's flipping spaces or day-of coordination, having extra set of hands is always nice.
  • Weather? No Problem. Wanting to get married outside, but worried about Iowa weather foiling your big day? Most venues will have the option for an indoor or covered ceremony space in case of poor weather. Rest easy knowing your ceremony won't get rained out.
  • Convenient for Guests. Along those lines, your guests will be grateful for all the amenities a wedding venue has to offer. Air conditioning, in-door plumbing, heck, maybe even a bar!
  • That Wedding Feel. Want to be less traditional on your wedding day but not too out of the box? Smaller/non-traditional venues still provide a wedding "feel" without the "we're getting married in a ballroom" vibe.


  • Budget. Having a venue means you're paying for a venue. Even if you don't want some of the perks or services they provide, most places only offer a handful of packages with little wiggle room when it comes to budget.
  • Limited Availability. In general, wedding venues can be competitive to book, especially after the pandemic. If you're hoping for a specific date, there's a chance you'll be out of luck. Even wanting a specific day of the week can be difficult, so if you're in love with a particular venue be prepared to be flexible and/or book out far in advance.
  • Not a Lot of Control. While you may love the ceremony space, you might not like the reception area. Or you may love the outdoors for sunset portraits, but you don't have a getting ready space. There are lots of little things at venues you can't control and may have to compromise with—it's up to you to decide if those compromises are worth it.

Two smiling men in suits hold hands in front of the Des Moines Courthouse

Polk County Historic Courthouse | Des Moines, Iowa



  • Built-In Officiant. This is probably the best part of getting married at a courthouse: not only do you have a built-in officiant, but one who you know is going to make sure you're getting that paperwork signed correctly.
  • Super Affordable. Like, as affordable as free in some cases. (My favorite price.)
  • Quick, Easy, and Convenient. You can almost feel the weight lift off your shoulders knowing that you'll just have to show up, say "I do", and you're done. No muss, no fuss, no additional planning.
  • Weather? No Problem. Again, we're in the Midwest—weather is a constant threat to any activity. If you don't want to have to worry about the elements possibly interfering with your wedding shenanigans, the courthouse is a great option to make sure the show will go on rain, sleet, or snow.


  • Mark Your Calendar. While some courthouses allow folks to show up during a certain window on certain days, most require you schedule an appointment time to ensure you can be seen. Be sure to check with your local courthouse to make sure they have a date/time that works for you—otherwise, keep in mind you can get married in other counties and see if another courthouse could do the trick.
  • Can I Get a Witnesses? While they're provide a judge to officiate, you still have you bring your own witnesses!
  • "You May Kiss the..." Another little courthouse quirk you might run into: some judges don't hold ceremonies, meaning they may just simply go over marriage license signing with you and your witnesses.
  • Say Cheese. Some courthouses don't allow photographer—which is a bummer, but for legal reasons makes sense when you remember you're in a courthouse. If taking photos is important to you, check with your courthouse to see if they allow photos, either in the courtroom or in a certain area of the courthouse. (Some have designated spaces/floors where they allow photos/photographers.)

A bride and groom stand with their wedding party in front of rock bluffs at Ledges State Park

Ledges State Park | Boone County, Iowa



  • Something With a View. Nature is great. (I mean, they do call it the great outdoors.) Getting married outside comes in with built-in decoration in the form of beautiful scenery. Pick a time of year where the flowers are in full bloom or the leaves have all turned shades of yellow, red, and orange.
  • Super Affordable. Like courthouses, parks can be incredibly affordable, especially if you're not renting a lodge or required to pay for a permit.
  • Who Needs Decorations? You can almost feel the weight lift off your shoulders knowing that you'll just have to show up, say "I do", and you're done. No muss, no fuss, no additional planning. Mother Nature does all the work simply by being beautiful and providing you with a backdrop.
  • The Photos Tho. Of course parks are stellar for your elopement photos. With the great outdoors at your fingertips, you can run all over the place taking photos in the most beautiful and epic spots your heart can imagine.


  • At Mother Nature's Mercy. Flexibility when getting married is always a factor, but weather in the Midwest is especially...prone to surprises. So even if the forecast says it'll be 70 degrees and sunny, and historically it should be 70 degrees and sunny, there's still a 50% chance it'll snow.
  • A Little Privacy, Please? Depending on the location and time of year you decide to get married, there's a chance you'll have a few uninvited guests milling around during your ceremony.
  • Be Prepared. Being in nature always comes with additional prep/planning. Poor cell phone reception, little to no access to public restrooms or potable water, having to plan for all the little details—it's a little more work up front if you're wanting to ensure comfort for any additional guests.

A private home ceremony | Des Moines, Iowa



  • Incredibly Personal. I mean, come on. What's more sentimental than getting ready in the room you grew up in? Say "I do" in the backyard you used to play in? Toasting to the start of the family you're starting on the foundation of the family you've loved your entire life?
  • Super Convenient In Some Ways. No worries about guests locating the venue, figuring out difficult parking situations, or having limited access to the space for set up/tear down. This is also a great option if your guests are mostly local, meaning they won't have to worry about renting a hotel room.
  • No Additional Cost. Possibly the best thing about a backyard wedding? Saving anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars on venue rental!


  • And Inconvenient in Others. While it can be incredibly convenient is some ways, it can also be inconvenient in others. Lack of parking, limited restrooms, sound ordinances, and a messy space at the end of the celebration are all things to consider when deciding if your home is your best option.
  • No Helping Hands. Along those lines, if something goes wrong, you won't have any designated staff or vendors to assist. That puts a lot of responsibility on friends and family instead of allowing them to simply enjoying the festivities.