21st birthday ideas: themes, invites and gifts

Your 21st birthday is a milestone you will never forget, so you’ll want to celebrate it in a way that feels perfect for you. Unfortunately, when you’re celebrating this big occasion all your friends are usually celebrating theirs as well, which can make coming up with original 21st birthday ideas tricky. Luckily, we’ve got suggestions and tips for how to make your twenty first birthday truly special, and how to create a birthday invitation that is the perfect match for your big day.

21st birthday theme ideas and 21st party themes

21st birthday ideas: themeShare on Pinterest

Sometimes a birthday theme is the best place to start when planning your 21st birthday party, since it gets the ideas flowing for all the other parts of planning. Here are 21 birthday ideas for themes (the very best 21st themes!):

  1. Casino
  2. Masquerade
  3. Around the world
  4. Carnival
  5. 21 favourite things
  6. Arabian nights
  7. Metallic
  8. Black and white (wear red to really stand out)
  9. Seven deadly sins
  10.  Black light/neon
  11. Speakeasy
  12. Glitter and sparkle
  13. Disco
  14. Hollywood glamour
  15. Decade or year of your birth
  16. First letter of your name
  17.  Under the sea
  18. Heroes and villains
  19. Burlesque
  20. Favourite film/tv show/book
  21. Season-themed (e.g. winter wonderland)

If none of these themes for 21st parties take your fancy, take a look at our full list of birthday party theme ideas for more 21st birthday themes. There you’ll find 21st birthday ideas for boys, 21st birthday ideas for girls, and 21st themes for everyone. Whatever theme you end up choosing – remember to hire a photographer to capture the magic, or ask a talented friend to be in charge of documenting the occasion as a birthday gift to you.

21st birthday venue and activity ideas

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If 21st party themes aren’t your thing, you might prefer to plan your 21st party around a specific venue or activity that will set the tone for the event. Instead of a traditional cocktail party or black tie soiree, here are 21 birthday ideas to consider instead:

  1. Hiring a party bus
  2. Hiring a party boat
  3. Planning a weekend away with your best friends
  4. Going paintballing
  5. Going go karting
  6. Going rock climbing
  7. Going horse riding
  8. Relaxing with friends at a day spa
  9. Reliving your younger days with a slumber party
  10. Throwing a low-key barbecue in a park or your backyard
  11. Having a lavish high tea
  12. Gathering your friends for a celebratory brunch
  13. Doing an escape room
  14. Taking a road trip with your bestie
  15. Hitting up a winery or brewery (perfect if you’re looking for birthday lunch ideas!)
  16. Taking a class with your friends (cooking, dance, art…anything!)
  17. Getting your friends to help with charity work for a day
  18. Going to see a show (theatre, music, comedy, acrobatics)
  19. Cheering on your team at a sporting event
  20. Hosting a scavenger hunt or amazing race
  21. Hiring a hotel pool for a luxurious pool party

Choosing an activity or unique venue like one of these will create the central focus of your party and set you apart in a sea of cocktail parties. Perfect for people who are bored with going to a 21st every weekend. These 21st birthday celebration ideas are truly unique and can be perfectly catered to your own tastes and hobbies.

21st birthday invitations: ideas and invitation templates

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Shop the design: Flora

Your 21st birthday invitations are one of the first things you choose when planning your party, and it can become one of the defining aspects of your day. The style of 21st invitations you choose often influences decor and other elements of planning, so you want to get it right! It can be overwhelming sorting through all the ideas for 21st birthday invitations that are around.

If you’re stuck trying to think of 21st birthday invitation ideas, start by considering your theme or activity. Plan your invitation around that, and everything will match! For example, you might choose floral patterns for a garden party, tropical for a pool party, or a classy minimalist design for a black tie event. You want the invite to give your guests an idea of what to expect at the party, and this sort of ‘matching’ expresses the vibe of the party.

Some of the most popular 21st invite ideas for styles include:

  • Floral 21st invitations
  • Geometric 21st invitations
  • Bold 21st invitations
  • Typographic 21st invitations
  • Hand drawn 21st invitations

There are, of course, tonnes of other styles and 21st birthday invitation ideas on our site. As well as the style or theme of your 21st birthday invitations, you should consider what print style you might like. Your main options are:

  • Digital print (standard ink on paper)
  • Letterpress
  • Foil
  • Raised foil
  • Print on wood
  • White ink
  • Metallic ink
  • Combination print (e.g. letterpress and foil)

Digital print invitations, on either matte or glossy paper, are the most affordable choice which means they are also the most popular. At a cheaper price point, you can pass them out to everyone you know like a birthday invitation flyer and throw the biggest party of the year. For an event as significant as your 21st birthday, though, many people choose to spend a little more to get something special like letterpress or real foil. For them, a milestone event demands a fancy party invite to match. This can be a little pricier, but it also has the ‘wow factor’ that will make it stand out in a sea of invites.

Another popular 21st birthday invitation idea is to choose a photo card invite so the focus is all on you for your big day. Whether you include a recent photo or a picture of you as a cute little kid, your friends will love it and all eyes will be on you.

If you’re on a tight budget, you might be interested in finding 21st birthday invitation templates that you can print yourself at home. Printable 21st birthday invitations or making invites online free can work out, but just be aware that there can be hidden costs involved. You’ll need to factor in the price of ink, paper and envelopes, the time required to put the invitations together, and the risk of having to reprint everything if you make a mistake. You’ll likely also have to compromise on finding your perfect invitation design and on the quality of the finished product. That said, it can be the best choice in certain situations! If you’re looking for free 21st invitation templates online, we’ve got some birthday templates you can use, customisable in either Word or Pages (PC or Mac).

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Shop the design: Lissom

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Shop the design: Fruity

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Shop the design: Modern Flow

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Shop the design: Oriental Romance

Ideas for 21st birthday gifts and registry

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It can be tricky knowing what to do about your 21st birthday presents: should you have a gift registry? Should you ask for money to contribute towards something big? Is it okay to mention presents at all?

It’s definitely not considered rude to mention gifts in your birthday invitation suite (usually on a separate card, or on an event website) especially if you’re throwing a big party or if it’s a milestone year. Your 21st definitely counts!

The main options for your 21st birthday gifts are:

  • No mention of gifts – just let your guests handle it as they wish
  • No gifts – ask your guests not to bring presents
  • Specified category – ask guests to bring a specific kind of gift (e.g. something to help you move out of home)
  • Charity – ask guests to donate to a charity of your choice in place of gifts
  • Wishing well – politely ask for money in place of presents. You might want to ask guests to contribute towards a specific purchase (e.g. a car or a big trip)
  • Gift registry – choose specific gifts you would like to receive (either online or in store) and guests can pick from the list.

Any of these options are completely appropriate, as long as the request is written politely and as a preference rather than a demand. Guests will be grateful for some direction: there’s nothing worse than trying to buy 21st birthday presents and trying to find something the guest of honour will love, use, and that they don’t already have.

That’s a starting point to help you come up with plenty of 21st birthday ideas for theme, activity and venue, invitations and gifts. These can be some of the most difficult aspects of your 21st birthday party to plan. Once you’ve got these sorted, it’s just a matter of finding some decor, food and drinks, and that’s much easier once you’ve got the main stuff planned!

What if I’m planning a surprise 21st birthday party?

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Shop the Design: Sweet Peach

A surprise 21st birthday party is – as the name suggests – a surprise to the guest of honour. Somebody close to them throws the party in their honour, and they don’t know about it until they arrive. Maybe you’re planning a surprise party for a friend or family member and aren’t sure what to keep in mind? Here are our top tips to help:

    • The number one rule: Surprise birthday party invitation templates should always clearly mention that the party is a surprise! Don’t leave room for any misunderstanding or for somebody to miss the small print. Make it unmissable so guests don’t ‘forget’ and let it slip.
  • If you’re stuck for surprise 21st birthday party ideas, consider some of the most popular themes listed on this page and try to match them with the interests of the birthday boy or girl. If nothing seems right, stick with a more general theme rather than trying to get too specific.
  • Have a convincing cover story, and make sure all the key participants are aware of it! There’s nothing that can ruin a surprise party like conflicting versions of events from different people in the leadup to the big day.

Help, I’m attending a 21st birthday party!

Sometimes you’re not looking for 21st birthday party ideas for your own event, you’re just looking to make it through a 21st party that you’re attending. Lucky for you, we can help with that too.

21st birthday ideas: cardShare on Pinterest


Attending a 21st birthday party and wondering what sort of card to take and what to write in it? Or maybe you’re sending one from afar? Either way, we can help! We are the stationery and event experts, after all.

Choosing the right birthday card

21st birthday cards should reflect the person you are giving the card to, and your relationship to them. There are three main categories of 21st birthday card ideas to choose from:

1. A generally attractive card that anyone will love
These kinds of birthday cards are pretty or well designed and work for anyone. You don’t need to put too much thought into them, although it’s a good idea not to give a pink floral birthday card to a friend who hates traditionally girly things. Beyond that, just pick a card you think looks nice, and you’ve got the card sorted. They might be blank, or they could have a message in them ready to go.

2. A card specifically geared to their hobbies or interests
Got a friend that loves sports? Why not a sport-themed birthday card? Do they love the colour blue? Why not choose a blue card? You get the idea. This require knowing a little bit about the person in question, but it doesn’t have to be anything too deep. Cards in this category show you’ve put some thought into your choice, but don’t require too much thinking on your part.

3. A funny birthday card
Funny 21st birthday cards might be funny because of a joke or humorous text or images on them, or they could be based on an in-joke between you and the host. A card could look like a simple design with an apricot on it (or some clothes pegs, or a kitten, or anything!) and it will have your friend crying with laughter if there’s a story behind it. Of course, an in-joke card requires there to be an in-joke that you know the person will get. If you’re not close, you might want something more generically funny, or another kind of card.

What to write in a birthday card: 21st birthday greetings

Once you’ve chosen the right card for your friend or family member, it’s time to write them a message.

A good 21st birthday message will include the following elements, where applicable:

  • ‘Happy birthday!’
  • Good wishes for the day
  • Good wishes for the year ahead
  • A favourite memory with the person
  • Something you love about the person

The closer you are to the person, the more you will have to say on these points. If you’re not close to the person and nothing springs to mind, feel free to keep your message to a minimum. Simply wish them a happy birthday and a great year ahead, and leave it at that.

Samples of 21st birthday greetings

Dear Alice,

Happy birthday, beautiful! I hope you have a wonderful day and that you have an absolute blast at your party tonight. May this year ahead bring you all the happy memories you deserve. I am so blessed to have you as my friend. You are such a gentle soul and you bring so much sunshine to my days. Thank you for being you.

Lots of love,


Ps. I’ll never forget our night out in London last year. It’s one of my favourite memories of you ;)


Dear Nick,
Happy birthday! I hope you have a great day and that Lucy spoils you for all of us. May 25 be especially kind to you and bring you much fun and adventure.

21st birthday ideas: speechShare on Pinterest


Another problem many people face when attending a 21st birthday party is being asked to give a 21st speech. This responsibility usually falls to the best friend of the person whose birthday it is, along with their parents. Some people choose not to have any speeches, while others like to ensure there are several speeches, so sometimes the request can be sprung on you even if you think there’s a closer friend who might be asked.

When you’re looking for 21st birthday speech ideas, there are a few different things you should be aiming for. You want your speech to be:

  • Heartfelt – a good 21st speech should be at least a little bit heartfelt, saying something kind about the person whose birthday it is.
  • Funny – everyone loves a funny 21st speech, so try to keep things a little light. You don’t need to be a stand up comedian to include a few humorous stories.
  • Not too long – being given the microphone and everyone’s attention is a privilege, and you should respect it. Don’t ramble for half an hour when everyone just wants to get on with the party. Try to keep things under 5 minutes unless your friend has told you otherwise.
  • Accessible – It’s good to have some in jokes in a 21st birthday speech, but you want to make sure the whole speech isn’t nonsense to everyone besides a small group of close friends. Family members and friends from other contexts should also be able to nod along and appreciate what you have to say.

If you’re stuck, it’s a good idea to look up 21st speech templates online and find one you can adapt and use. A good 21st speech template will hit all of the features above, but you will always need to personalise it to make it about the birthday girl or boy, otherwise the speech will fall flat.

Remember that your speech doesn’t need to be long-winded. If you’re not one for public speaking, it’s totally fine to just give a toast and say something genuine to you. It might be as simple as “I’ve decided to keep this brief so we can all keep the party going, so I just wanted to say that we all think you’re wonderful and we’re so glad to have had you around for 21 years. Please everyone raise your glass, to Locky!”

Hopefully this advice will get you started, whether you’re planning your own 21st birthday party or going along to one for a friend. Once you’ve got these key things worked out, everything else will fall into place for the perfect celebrations.

Know someone with a 50th birthday coming up? Check out our 50th Birthday Invitations

Know someone with a 60th birthday coming up? Check out our 60th birthday invitations

2 responses on “21st birthday ideas: themes, invites and gifts

  • Krista Cioba

    Hi, Thanks for sharing such an amazing post on Birthday party masks. Above all of these, I was looking was something like this and find this very helpful. Thanks again for sharing such an amazing post! Best Regards.

  • Bec

    What an amazingly comprehensive list! Thank you so much, so many ideas. Love the invitation ideas.

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