Where better than Budapest for two lovebirds to say ‘I do’? Romantic, luxurious and affordable for all, the Hungarian capital is increasingly coveted as a setting for the perfect wedding. So what do couples have to do to get spliced here? We speak to a trio of destination wedding planners to find out.
Newly-weds from China pose in front of Chain Bridge, an American groom and his Hungarian bride step out of Matthias Church and an Indian couple sit in front of the Royal Palace beneath a mandap, a canopy lavishly decorated with flowers. Once considered distinct attractions, these scenes are now an indispensable part of the summer sights in Budapest as the city gains widespread recognition as a first-class wedding destination.
Riding this blissful wave of the tourism sector are wedding organisers who specialise in the executive planning of marriage ceremonies for foreigners in Budapest, attended by a few dozen guests or a few hundred. They take care of all the tiny details, from the venue to the decoration to the menu card, making sure that everything is in sync with the couple’s style and national traditions, whether this means customised wellies or a mehndi ceremony.
“With most of our clients, either the bride or the groom is of Hungarian origin,” explain Dóra and Gábor, founders of Budapest Wedding, one of the biggest destination wedding companies in the Hungarian capital, with a strong network of high-end suppliers. “But we also work with international pairs who met or got engaged in Budapest and now they want to come back to the city to strengthen their bond here.”
The Magyar metropolis seems to be an obvious choice for those with ties to the city, but there are still a fair number of couples who will be touching down in Budapest for the first time just months or even days before their big day. “Some of our clients have never been here before, but they consider getting married in a European capital prestigious,” says Gábor. “And while cities like Istanbul have been successfully tapping the wedding market for decades, Budapest has recently emerged as a popular destination of the same ilk and offers real value for money.”
With venues such as cobblestoned Buda Castle, hallowed St Stephen's Basilica and the Baroque-style Kiscelli Museum, the Hungarian capital provides a picturesque backdrop for any wedding photo. Ceremonies here are often combined with an all-inclusive package that includes sightseeing, a boat tour, a dinner party and a brunch event for all incoming guests. And those invited for the celebration can be numerous indeed.
“600 people, three days and four locations. That was our first big wedding we organised in Budapest,” say Dalma and Dani of Grand Budapest Wedding, a business specialising in large-scale ceremonies and Indian weddings. “A distinctive feature for an Indian ceremony is the baraat, when the groom arrives on a white horse or an elephant,” says Dalma. “Our groom wanted to go with the elephant.” While Dani contacted Budapest Zoo and local circuses to somehow secure a ride to Buda Castle atop a pachyderm, the planners eventually managed to convince the couple to opt for a more local feature: a horse, white, of course. This customised element, along with the traditional baraat DJ van and a team of dhol drum players, artfully blended Hindu heritage into a European setting.
“We also work with couples from the Middle East, who get the same service standard in Budapest as they would receive in Western Europe, but for the fraction of the price, especially in comparison with London, Paris or Geneva,” adds Dani. “The city’s ideal position in Central Europe and the walkable logistic of downtown Budapest also help.”
“International clients are fascinated by the architecture of Budapest,” points out Maxine Andrea Adams, the brains behind her own boutique agency, Maxine Andrea Events & Floral Design. Part British, part Hungarian, Maxine is known for her delicate style and taste of classic elegance. When under Miss Planner, a previous company she co-founded, her first wedding was themed around the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland, a then brand-new concept for a Budapest wedding. “Nobody had done this theme in Hungary before. I arrived early in the morning and watched the Kiscelli Museum being completely transformed for this special event – and it was just fascinating.”
Maxine has also organised weddings at the Fishermen’s Bastion and in the rustic vineyards of Etyek, 30 kilometres from Budapest. With her considerable experience and passion for dressing up spaces for events, she plans the entire decoration herself, from A to Z. “I like to source my props locally, so I can touch everything before I place an order. This way it’s easier to do a sample table beforehand.”
The three wedding organisers agree that an initial interview and a meeting with the clients will define the final concept. Then each planner adds their own signature style to the event. The trio also unanimously state that ceremony traditions greatly depend on the couple’s origin, but they always suggest giving a little Hungarian twist to the occasion. Like a pálinka toast, Gypsy music or a Magyar dish.
These local planners have all it takes to create a fine wedding. Supported by professional suppliers, they can help cut through red tape when it comes to official wedding licences and they have the expertise to meet special requests. However, what often challenges planners is getting the most desired landmarks for the big day, a major museum, a classic concert hall or, recently, even parts of Buda Castle, the city’s most popular wedding site. This is either due to ongoing reconstructions affecting the location or, in most cases, inflexible management.
“Among the locations we currently recommend couples are Fishermen’s Bastion, the Corinthia Hotel, Vajdahunyad Castle and the Railway History Park,” says the team at Budapest Wedding. “The central Ervin Szabó Library within the beautiful Wenckheim Palace has an ornate reading room that’s also nice for weddings.”
Meanwhile, Maxine’s boutique agency often takes weddings outside of Budapest: “One of my favourite venues is the Liszkay estate by Lake Balaton, it’s like being in Tuscany”.
And if the group is too big and hotels in Budapest can’t provide a block booking for several hundred guests, then Dalma and Dani take the whole production as far as Switzerland. “This summer, we are shifting a wedding for 450 guests from Budapest to Montreux by Lake Geneva. Due to availability problems with the locations and hotels, we decided to take the whole infrastructure there.”
Back in Budapest, despite the occasional hiccups in arranging a popular venue, those who do decide to tie the knot here can rest assured that local planners will go the extra mile to arrange the most capriciousrequest – whether it’s an Indian guru, a decoration made from cabbages or an international star DJ.
To allow all the elements to come together on the big day, wedding planners request clients to contact them a year in advance. But seasoned firms, such as Budapest Wedding, Maxine’s agency and Grand Budapest Wedding, are also ready to take unexpected challenges if circumstances require. “One couple contacted us just two weeks before their wedding day. The event had already been arranged in Istanbul, but due to riots there, our customer decided to shift the entire show to Budapest,” says Gábor. “Miraculously, we managed to pull it off!”
For a Chinese ceremony, Dani remembers they had to learn how to adapt the decoration to suit Oriental traditions. “We had to use hundreds of red roses, as this colour means good fortune according to Chinese tradition.”
To Maxine, luxury means attention to detail. “According to my experience, suppliers here tend to be two years behind US and UK trends,” she highlights. “I follow international tendencies to gain inspiration for how to transform a plain white room into a winter wonderland or a setting that resembles a spring garden. With every event that I organise, I try to hit another mark that I haven’t hit yet – it can be with the type of furniture I use, the flower arrangement or the menu card. This attention to detail is what makes me different.”
And the price of it all? An all-inclusive wedding combined with a Budapest weekend tour package for 100 guests will cost around €30,000 a day, the rough estimate given by most agencies. Clients usually approach multiple Budapest-based planners for a quote, however it’s not the budget that eventually seals a deal. “One very important aspect is the chemistry between us and the client,” all three planners concur.