Weddings are an exciting time for friends and family to celebrate with the happy couple while also experiencing a destination that might be new to them.
But heading off on a wedding adventure can present difficulties for out-of-town guests who might not plan on having to fill unexpected blocks of time.
Small blocks of time can be challenging for people to fill if they’re dressed to the nines and not looking to fill up on food before the reception.
Larger blocks of time — such as the night before or the day after the wedding — can present more options for guests looking to explore the area.
Whether your wedding is all in one location or follows up a ceremony with a reception someplace else, couples can anticipate their guests’ needs by providing a list of area activities and community spaces where they can wait out any unexpected blocks of time if weather or other unexpected delays occur. It can mean the difference between enjoying a nice breather from the festivities and sitting in a car counting down the minutes to dinner.
Short breaks and rain delays
Many weddings have a cocktail hour to ease guests from the ceremony to the reception while the bride and groom are taking pictures. But for weddings that don’t offer that transition, or for events with a longer transition to fill, guests might be inclined to search out something to fill their time.
Museums and small-town shops can provide a nice break from the festivities, without making wedding guests feel trapped or overdressed, said Sharon Baroncelli, executive director of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce.
“We have great shopping. I should say it’s eclectic shopping,” she said. Antiques and thrift stores are a big draw for visitors to the area, she added, recalling a recent January day when four separate groups came to the chamber looking for antiquing destinations.
“All on the same day,” she said. “Visitors coming through are looking for shopping; they want a shopping map.”
In nice weather, community parks can provide that perfect respite for wedding guests with some time on their hands. Visitors might consider locations like Clearbrook Park in Clear Brook, Rose Hill Park in Berryville, Jim Barnett Park in Winchester, Sherando Park in Stephens City, Bing Crosby Park in Front Royal or various parks around Shenandoah County.
Other outdoor spaces include the Old Town Walking Mall in Winchester, the Strasburg Square and Market Pavilion in Strasburg, and the Main Street Gazebo in Front Royal. All three are easy walking distance from various local shops.
The walking mall has the benefit of local shopping options and regular events, said Ashley Miller, director of marketing and communications for the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber in Winchester.
“There’s a lot,” she said, as well as “other things in the community depending on the time of year.”
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is a great option, Miller said, “if they’re here and they’re just killing time.”
The museum, which also hosts weddings, offers wedding guests arriving early or staying late free access to the museum and Glen Burnie Gardens, said Special Events Manager Catherine Bogaty. Often, guests attending an onsite ceremony will then head off to a reception elsewhere, such as the nearby George Washington Hotel, but guests with extra time enjoy sticking around the museum to explore for a while.
“We’re a really unique venue with a lot of options and beautiful gardens,” said Bogaty.
Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester and the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum in Edinburg can provide shelter from the elements as well as hours of entertainment for children and adults.
“Winchester Little Theater has different things that they’re always doing,” said Miller. “Belle Grove is a great option if they’re interested in history.”
Miller and Baroncelli also recommended checking out area wineries and tasting rooms.
“They offer special entertainment and special happenings on weekends,” said Baroncelli.
For a cozy, sit-down option, most towns in the valley have coffee shops or cafes that can provide some needed shelter for out-of-town guests on a cold, rainy or windy day.
Wedding guests in a pinch might find their perfect retreat at Cordial Coffee in Berryville, Nancy’s Coffee in Strasburg, Front Royal’s Main Street Daily Grind or Happy Creek Coffee & Tea, the Woodstock Cafe & Shoppes in Woodstock, the Curtain Call Coffeehouse Cafe in Mount Jackson, Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Cafe in New Market, or Winchester’s various cafes that include Firefly Cafe, Hideaway Cafe, Espresso Bar & Cafe, Java Kava, Hopscotch Coffee & Records and 0-60 Energy Cafe.
Sight-seeing can be a great way that guests staying for the weekend can enjoy a new location while also having plenty of time to celebrate with the bride and groom.
The valley offers a variety of activities, said Jackie Puglisi, marketing director at Historic Rosemont Manor in Berryville.
Guests at Rosemont are often visiting from out of town and staying on location for the weekend, so she often suggests they check out the shops in downtown Berryville or take day trips to Winchester or Harrisonburg.
For some family friendly evening excitement, visitors might check out area escape rooms, miniature golf locations, the Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville, Winchester Little Theatre or the Family Drive-in Theatre in Stephens City.
Puglisi has also directed weekend wedding guests to local dining destinations like l’Auberge Provencale in Boyce as a way of escaping for the evening.
Nature lovers might check out the Virginia State Arboretum in Boyce, about nine miles east of Winchester, or the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where visitors can spend some time walking or simply enjoying the outdoors.
Those with more time on their hands could enjoy opportunities to go tubing on the Shenandoah River; hiking along the Appalachian Trail; driving along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park; exploring in Luray Caverns, New Market’s Endless Caverns or Quicksburg’s Shenandoah Caverns; or ziplining at Bryce Resort in Basye or at the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center in nearby West Virginia.
“You can’t beat the hikes and the walks that we have to offer,” Baroncelli said of the valley.
Shenandoah County Park in Maurertown now has paved pathways perfect for visitors looking to enjoy a peaceful stroll, she said.
She also recommended Bryce Resort, “for people who want to get that view.”
A growing trend, all-inclusive wedding venues give guests plenty to do between events, said Colt Nutter, executive director of Historic Jordan Springs in Stephenson.
It used to be that about 8-10% of wedding guests he encountered were from out of town, but these days it’s closer to 50%. Additionally, he said he’s getting more and more inquiries from out-of-town couples choosing Jordan Springs as a destination.
“People want the all-inclusive aspect,” he said. “People want to go to one location and get everything.”