Perfectly Planned Wedding Timeline
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Perfectly planned wedding day timeline

A guide to planning and keeping your wedding day on schedule.

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We tend to think of our wedding day in brief moments.

Your dad seeing you in your dress for the first time, walking down the aisle, the first dance.

There are so many different bits and pieces that make up your wedding day, it’s easy to imagine they just automatically fall into place, but in fact it takes just a little bit of planning.

And it’s worth it too!

Making a wedding timeline (sometimes called a wedding schedule or wedding itinerary) not only helps you arrange and organise what you’re doing and when, but when things inevitably go a little off track, your timeline can get you back on course without any worry.

But every wedding is different, and the truth is there’s not really any such thing as a typical wedding day timeline. But if you go through the different stages of the day, you can come up with a good guideline to follow. But how can you know how long everything will take?

In this guide we’ll take you through your day, step by step.

We’ll go through all the essential wedding day moments, how long they might take and some tips and tricks for how to save a little time, or make the day run more smoothly.

There’s even a clever tool at the bottom of the article that you can use to design your own unique wedding day timeline template!

Chapter 1

Starting the day right

Put your feet up for a while, gentlemen (you lucky things!), generally the wedding day begins with the ladies.

The bridal party (or parties) usually gather together in the morning to start the day with hair and makeup.

It’s one of the parts of the day that I really enjoy as a photographer, with the bride, her friends and family all getting excited, getting ready and having some fun before the big event. I get some absolutely AMAZING shots!

But I have also noticed some little overlooked elements that can really make a difference to the day running smoothly.

Breakfast

Ladies, a bowl of cereal in the morning is not going to stop you fitting in your dress!

Too many brides, bridesmaids and even mothers of the bride forget to eat a little breakfast in the morning, and come to regret it later in the day.

You don’t want to be struggling down the aisle because you’re feeling faint, or have a big rumbly tummy, or just not be able to enjoy the day because you’re so flipping hungry!

Not to mention that the bubbly is usually out pretty early on your wedding day, and the combination of an empty stomach and too many proseccos can leave you light-headed (or downright drunk!).

There’s nothing wrong with being a little tiddly to get the day off to a flying start, but I highly recommend a nice light breakfast in the morning, and maybe stick to the buck’s fizz before midday - that’s even one of your five a day!

Morning showers

Glamorous, I know, but it’s vital that you’re showered before you get to your preparation location. The last thing you need is everyone running late because there’s a queue for the bathroom.

In fact, lots of hair stylists ask you to wash your hair the night before - not in the morning.

That means it’s nice and dry and easy to manage on the day so whether you’re going for an updo or something more flowing, your hair stylist will be able to get it done nice and quickly, and make sure it stays in place all day.

Hair and Makeup

If you’re getting a professional in to do your hair and makeup on the day, they’ll help you work out when they need to be with you to get started, but if you’re having a friend help out, or doing it yourself, remember to leave enough time to get everyone looking stunning before you set off.

The bride might need anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour for hair, and same again for makeup. Bridesmaids will probably need less time, probably 30-45 minutes for each - and don’t forget mum either!

A bride smiling into a mirror

Of course while your hair stylist is getting bridesmaids sorted, your makeup artist can be working too. The most common setup is for the bride to have her makeup done first (with a little top-up right before she leaves), and her hair done last. That gives her the best chance of looking perfect all day.

A small wedding party (bride and two bridesmaids) will probably only need a couple of hours for this phase, but bigger wedding parties (I once did a wedding with six bridesmaids!) will either need to get out of bed much earlier, or arrange for their stylists to bring extra pairs of hands to speed the process up.

Getting dressed

It does depend on what you’re wearing, but some dresses need a little more time than others to get on.

If you’ve got a corseted dress, you’ll need to leave a little extra in your wedding itinerary to get yourself trussed up - it’s not the sort of thing you can leave to the last minute, and you definitely want to take your time to make sure you’re comfortable and looking fab before you set off.

Grooms and groomsmen

Typically, the men in the wedding party have a bit of an easier time of things. In fact, lots of guys arrange something to keep them occupied the morning of the wedding, so they’re not just sitting around and waiting.

I highly recommend avoiding the pub is you are going to do something fun, as well as anything that might result in physical injury! Maybe get 9 holes in or go for a run, you could maybe fit in a movie if you’re 100% certain you have the time. Or you could always turn on the Xbox and hang out playing some games.

It can really help settle any nerves to have something to DO the morning of your wedding, so if the prospect of sitting around twiddling your thumbs fills you with dread, put something in your wedding timeline to keep your mind occupied until it’s time for you to get ready.


Essential breakfast timing tips

Leave a buffer

Prepare to be ready at least 30 minutes before you’re due to leave, just in case. There’s always something that needs to be done, and it’ll calm down any worriers in the party too.

Keeping that 30 minute buffer in your wedding itinerary can also give you the chance to take a breath, or a moment with your family before the day really gets going.

It’s those quiet little moments on the day that you’ll really treasure when you’re looking back.

Photos

Lots of people like to have their photographer there to take pictures of the bridal party getting ready - so make sure you speak to yours about essential shots you might want.

I always love to be there while everyone is getting their hair and makeup done. I think some of the best wedding photos I shoot are the candid ones of you all getting ready together.

Your photographer can also use this time to take some photos of the dress, your shoes and bouquet and any other little wedding elements that you might want photos of.

Some photographers even pop round to both partners before you set off for your ceremony, but you need to make sure you factor that into your timeline in advance so they know where to be and when - with plenty of time spare to get to your ceremony ahead of you to take some photos of the venue as well as your guests arriving.

Kids

If your bridal party includes kids, it can be hugely helpful to plan their day out in your timeline too. With so much going on around them and lots of strangers coming and going, it can be difficult for children (especially the little ones) on the big day.

Little things like giving them some special activities to do or responsibilities to practice in the morning can keep them occupied and feeling important.

At one wedding I’ve been to, there was a four-year-old flower girl who spent a joyful hour on the morning of the wedding practicing throwing petals. Another time a maid of honour had arranged special wedding puzzles and a toy bride and groom for each of the children in the bridal party.

Keeping the kids occupied can help them enjoy the day too. Remember that it’s very difficult when you’re little to be well behaved, quiet and out of the way all day, not to mention that on this day they aren’t the centre of attention for a change! Better to keep them distracted and happy instead.


How much time to leave

The Ladies

If you’ve got a small bridal party, 2-3 hours should be enough to get everyone ready.

If you’ve got more than 3 bridesmaids then you are probably going to set aside more time unless you bring in extra people to help with hair and makeup.

The Gentlemen

You probably won’t need more than an hour to get everyone ready - but if you’re planning to do something in the morning, don’t forget to leave enough time to get back, get changed and be ready half an hour before you’re due at your ceremony.

A groom sitting on a car
Chapter 2

Travel

It’s really easy to forget you need to factor in travelling time on your wedding day - and that doesn’t just include getting to the ceremony.

Don’t forget travel time to your reception venue too if it’s a different location - even if it’s just a 5 minute walk. There’s also the inevitable time taken by rounding people up, as well as all the little factors that people forget - such as roadworks or traffic.

It all adds up!

Time to leave

Always prepare to leave 30 minutes before you think you need to - just in case.

You’ll be surprised how long it takes simply to get into wedding cars, there’s a dress to carefully consider, bridesmaids to wrangle and the essentials to remember, so you don’t want to be doing it in a rush.

It’s a little easier for the gents, but you should be leaving a little earlier in any case, so the 30 minute rule is still a good one to keep!

Travel time

If you have hired your cars for the day, the company will help to keep you on track, but if it’s all down to you to keep time, make sure you know the route to the wedding venue beforehand, and if there’s anything like traffic or roadworks along the way.

Between venues

Don’t forget to include travelling from your ceremony to your reception in your wedding timeline! This always takes longer than expected, mainly because you never actually leave on time.

However, this is the journey where you can absolutely take it easy. There’s likely a bottle of bubbly in the back, and you might have arranged with your photographer to make a couple of stops at particular places for some pictures before moving on.

Essential travel tips

Prepare

It can help to have a sneaky check on Google Maps an hour or so before you set off to make sure there are no unexpected problems en route.

I have heard of weddings where a closed road has caused havoc for guests trying to get to the wedding venue, so it’s always best to over-prepare!

Photos

If you do want to stop for special photos on the way to your reception, please tell your photographer first!

Buffer

The 30 minute buffer is essential. It’s traditional for the bride to be a few minutes late, but it’s not fair to leave people waiting.

In fact, if you’re having a civil ceremony, registrars are often on a fairly strict schedule, so more than 15 minutes ate and you could be in danger of losing them - which means you won’t be getting married after all!

Keep things simple

If your ceremony and reception are at the same venue, it might be easiest just to skip the travel entirely.

If you’re able to get ready at the venue, not only will it save you some cash on fancy wedding cars, but it also means you’ll be on the property all morning, so there’s very little chance of you being anything more than fashionably late!

Lots of wedding venues offer rooms for couples (or just the bride) for the night before the wedding too, making it even easier to get things rolling the next day.


Timing travel just right

Actual travel time plus 30 minutes for the trip to your ceremony - always play it safe! - and again if you need to travel on to your reception. Take into account your start time - different times of the day will have different traffic levels.

If you’re also planning to stop for photos on the way, it’s a good idea to add another 30 minutes in to your wedding timeline.

Chapter 3

The Wedding Ceremony

All wedding ceremonies are unique, but there are a few factors in all of them that can add time to your day.

Whoever is performing your ceremony, whether it’s a religious service or a civil ceremony, they will let you know how long it’s expected to last, so that will help you work out your wedding timeline.

Photos

If you’re arriving in a wedding car, you’re probably going to want to take a few photos before going in to the ceremony, so make sure your photographer knows and is ready at the wedding venue for you.

You are probably going to want some more photos after the ceremony too - particularly if you’re having confetti, so don’t imagine you’ll be running off as soon as you’re married!

The actual marriage

The length of your ceremony will have a lot to do with what kind of ceremony it is.

Religious ceremonies tend to be a little longer, with time set aside for hymns and prayers, and often a short sermon as well. Typically they last between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on how many readings and hymns you’d like to have.

Civil ceremonies are typically 20 minutes to half an hour, and again the variation really depends on how many readings you’d like to have.

Leaving

So, so easy if you’re getting married at the same place you’re having your reception, but more complicated if you’ve got two different locations.

Firstly, leaving the ceremony will take MUCH longer than you think! There are photos to take, friends and relatives who want to give you congratulations, and a lot of chaos as people prepare to move on to the reception.

Newly weds leaving the venue

A nice way to manage it if you’re having a church wedding, is to arrange a proper mini reception for after the ceremony. If you have enough spare time on the day to set aside an hour for hugs, teas and maybe even a cupcake or two, it can at least put a time limit on how long people are expected to stay, and your guests are more likely to leave in dribs and drabs, instead of trying to get out all at once.

If you’re already struggling to keep on track, it can be a good idea to do the confetti and get in the car asap once the wedding ceremony itself is over - that will encourage the rest of your guests to follow on.


How to get the ceremony timing just right

Parking

A commonly overlooked element of your wedding day timeline! If parking at your venue is difficult, it’s going to take longer for guests to get in and out again.

If your ceremony venue doesn’t have much in the way of parking, maybe encourage guests to use somewhere close by, or you can even arrange transport between the ceremony and the venue.

Big red double deckers are a big favourite for that sort of thing, and they look lovely and festive too!

Hymns and Readings

If you’re trying to keep things short and sweet, you can always cut down on the number of hymns or readings you have in your ceremony. Some weddings don’t have any at all and just crack straight on to the vows!

On the other hand, this is your actual wedding, so don’t just rush through it to get to the party at the end. Make sure your ceremony is everything you want it to be.

After all, this is the whole point of your day, marrying the person you love.

Head out fast!

If you can get going quickly it will help speed things up for your guests - you’re the big attraction here, so naturally people are going to want to come and give their congratulations and a big hug, and you can easily lose track of time.

If you do want to have this moment with your guests, maybe add a little tea and cake into your wedding itinerary and make the most of it.

I have been to weddings with a big church ceremony and a small reception, so the afternoon tea they laid out after the ceremony was the time for everyone to chat and congratulate the happy couple, with a small party of close friends and relatives going on for the evening do.

Or, try and move it along by skipping the confetti and the bouquet toss, and getting back in the car as soon as photos are done - you’ll be able to get a big hug from everyone once you’ve got to the reception.


How long does the ceremony take?

Give about an hour for a religious ceremony, and 30 minutes for civil ceremony, with another 20 minutes for photos and confetti.

If you do go arrange for tea and cakes in the church, add another hour to your wedding timeline.

Chapter 4

Drinks Reception

This is probably the most standard section of your wedding timeline, most people will take about an hour and a half for their drinks reception, which is also the time you’ll be having your photos done.

A little pause

If you can, this might be a nice time for you and your new spouse to take a moment.

Some venues (maybe at the ceremony or the reception venue) have an area that they let you use just after you’re married to take a breath, have a glass of champagne, and just relax with each other.

No photos, no intruders. Just a quiet moment together.

It can be really nice to have that quiet space to yourselves before going back into the happy noise of your celebrations!

Wedding photos

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll be swept off to have your photos taken as a couple before coming back to the main venue for the group shots with family members and other guests.

I always advise that you bring a couple of “helpers” with you, maybe your Best Man and Maid of Honour to do the practical stuff, like keeping your dress out of the way or holding the bouquet - and most importantly, to start the big wedding wrangle!

Drinks and nibbles

While you’re off taking gorgeous pictures, your guests will generally be enjoying a drink, and (if they’re lucky!) some canapes too.

Drinks and Nibbles

I do enjoy a wedding with nibbles, because it keeps everyone occupied during photos - and gives them something to talk about too! Usually this is the time that people are starting to feel hungry too, so some canapes can really take the edge off.


Keeping the drinks reception on track

Photo wrangling

One of the things that’s most likely to slow down the photos is not having the right people in the right place at the right time.

So make use of your bridesmaids and groomsmen! Give them a list of group photos you want, who is needed for each one, and set them the task of rounding people up. It usually helps to have someone from each side of the family involved so collectively they’ll know who everyone is.

This is definitely the best way to keep everyone in check and to keep your wedding timeline on track!

Photo list

Try not to go overboard with group shots. These are always the ones that take the longest, but people honestly won’t feel left out if they’re only in the big “everyone” shot at the end.

I’ve been at some weddings where the bride and groom have asked us to skip the group pictures entirely and just focus on doing candid shots of people enjoying themselves.

In fact, group wedding photos are one of those outdated wedding traditions that are falling more out of fashion each year.

Drinks and nibbles

Try not to pick strong drinks for arrival or canapes that are messy - you want everyone unstained and on their best behaviour at least until the speeches!

In general

Of course you want to take your time to get some glorious photos of you and your new spouse, but keep your wedding schedule in mind when you’re organising the time for your ceremony and your wedding breakfast.

There’s nothing more mood-killing at a wedding than a four hour gap for photos where guests are just twiddling their thumbs. If you are expecting to take longer with photos than the standard hour and a half, maybe think about some games or activities to keep people occupied until you get back to entertain them!


Drinks reception timing

An hour and a half is the standard for your photos and drinks reception. If you manage to get a little pause in for you and your partner you can add another half an hour to your wedding itinerary.

Chapter 5

Wedding Breakfast

Here’s the bit that starts getting complicated!

Your wedding breakfast is always completely unique, and the wedding timeline will change a lot based on big things like how many courses you’re having, number of speeches and biggest of all, the number of guests.

The receiving line

It’s a tradition that is becoming less popular, but some people still love to have a receiving line to bring people through to the wedding breakfast.

The lovely thing about that is that it guarantees that everyone gets a little one-on-one time with the newlyweds, but it does take time - especially if it’s a big wedding.

Food!

Always remember that bigger parties take longer to serve, so if you’ve got lots of mouths to feed, your wedding breakfast is going to take a lot longer.

One way to streamline your wedding timeline, is to cut out a course. Lots of people don’t bother with a dessert, and go for a cake table instead, which is a nice way of leading into your cake cutting.

At other weddings couples have chosen to have (lots of!) canapes with their reception drinks and skip the starters.

Speeches - who speaks when?

Three speeches is generally the expected number, but of course you can have as few or as many as you like - or none at all.

The traditional speech set is for the father of the bride to speak first, followed by the groom, and then the best man.

Of course it’s much, much more common today to hear from the bride, the maid of honour or the mother of the bride or groom as well. And after all - you might not even have all those roles at your wedding!

It’s also getting more popular to have joint speeches, from both parents, for example, or two close friends. It can make it a little less daunting when you’ve got a friend standing up there with you!

Getting the wedding breakfast timed perfectly

The wedding breakfast takes up a big part of the day, but you don’t want to feel like it’s dragging.

Keeping things short and sweet often prevents guests getting a bit hangry and frustrated, so it’s popular to skip things like the receiving line, or swapping starters for canapes that can come out during the drinks reception instead.

Also, it’s best to keep each speech to under 10 minutes. That should be enough to shed a tear, have a good laugh and tell a couple of great stories.!


Wedding breakfast timing

Generally the wedding breakfast can be expected to take 2-3 hours, depending on the number of guests, courses and how long the speeches are (and yes, people will be betting on how long they’ll take!).

Chapter 6

Evening

And at last, it’s party time! The great thing about the evening do when it comes to working out your wedding timeline, is that it’s probably the most flexible part of the day.

Evening wedding photos

At some point during the evening you’ll get “the golden hour”, which is the hour or so before sunset, when the light is just magical.

This can be a brilliant time to take some more photos of you, so if you’re getting married during the summer, late spring or early autumn, you might want to consider moving your couple’s photo shoot from just after the ceremony, to after the speeches.

Have a chat with your photographer and they’ll be able to tell you if the light will be right at the time of year - and take them your wedding timeline so you can plan the best point to head out for pictures.

Turnaround

Unless you’re lucky enough to have different rooms set aside (or a great big giant room with space for all) for your wedding breakfast and the evening do, the venue staff will need some time to clear out some of the tables and set up the dance floor.

They’re complete pros at this, so you probably only need about half an hour to get everything ready - which gives your DJ or band time to set up too.

The wedding cake

Some people like to cut the cake right after the speeches, but it’s also popular to do it just before your first dance. It doesn’t take very long, but it’s a popular time to take some more photos which makes it last a bit longer than your average cake cutting (in my house that’s about 3 minutes from plate to tummy!).

First dance

Apparently the traditional setup for the first dance is that it’s actually THREE first dances, one for the newlyweds, one for the father of the bride, and one for the mother of the groom.

A couple having a first dance

If I’m honest, I’ve never actually seen three separate first dances at a wedding before, although once people have joined the couple on the dance floor, parents do often cut in, which is rather lovely.

Again the first dance doesn’t take much time, but the required photos and preparation do mean it’s a lot longer than the song itself (and for some people it feels like it lasts forever - sometimes in a good way, sometimes not!).

Evening buffet

Most people like to do evening food for guests, which is often a buffet, but can be anything from bacon butties to a big hog roast.

When you’re looking at your wedding itinerary, you’ll want to make sure your evening food is coming out a decent time after the wedding breakfast, but before people are ready to head home.


Evening wedding reception tips

Cake and dancing

First dances can be incredibly awkward if you’re not into them, so if you feel self-conscious about shuffling round the floor, don’t feel like it’s necessary.

I’ve been to weddings where the first dance has been the bride and bridesmaids, ones where the couple have a fully choreographed routine prepared, and some with no first dance at all.

It all depends on what you want - it’s your day after all! Don’t feel like you should include something just because it’s traditional.

Time for (more!) food

The best slot in your wedding schedule for the evening food is usually around 7pm.

That’s usually far enough away from your wedding breakfast for people to start feeling hungry again, but early enough that people aren’t too full to head out onto the dance floor!

But if your wedding breakfast is quite late in the day you might not want to have a buffet at all, or just leave an open cake table for people to snack on instead.

The buffet is typically out for an hour (whilst it’s still being replenished at least!), but often the venue will make sure there are still bits and pieces to snack on throughout the rest of the evening.

Evening guests

If you have guests coming just for the evening, it’s so important to have your wedding timeline worked out so that you can make sure they know to arrive before evening events like your cake cutting or first dance.


Timing the evening of your wedding

Essentially your evening will last from the moment speeches are over until they turn the music off, but sorting out your wedding timeline gives you the chance to make sure everything’s done at just the right time.

Your first dance and cake cutting will probably only take 15 minutes each, and your buffet generally takes an hour.

Everything else is dancing!

Guests dancing at a wedding reception

Ready to create your timeline?

Hopefully you’ve now got a good idea of what’s involved in creating your wedding timeline - and why it’s so hugely important to have one.

Your big day will absolutely fly by, and don’t doubt for a second that your timeline will be out almost as soon as you get up in the morning, but having the framework in place, and having an idea of how long things should take is going to help you when you’re planning - or if things go slightly askew.

A wedding timeline can help you choose when to have your ceremony so you can get your wedding breakfast at a good time, as well as where you can save time on the day to fit in all the things that really matter to you.

It will even give you no excuses when setting your alarm for the morning of your wedding day!

And if something unexpected does happen, your itinerary is going to be the key to dealing with it stress-free, so you know how to get back on track without any fuss or worry - and without your guests even noticing!

If you want to create your own wedding timeline template, here’s a little tool to help you.

Remember, it’s not 100% accurate! But it’s a really good guide to how you can structure your day to fit in everything that you’ve dreamed about on your wedding day.

Create a wedding timeline template

Just put in some key details, and it will give you a rough breakdown of your wedding day, from waking up in the morning, to heading off into the sunset as a happily married couple.

How many are in the bridal party?
minutes
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Are you having a Religious or Civil ceremony?
How many guests?

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Here is your wedding day timeline. Remember that this won't be accurate to the minute and real times will vary, but you can use this as a guideline.

Bride
Groom
Ceremony at
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