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How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline

When planning a wedding, creating a wedding timeline can be stressful. If you don’t have the help of an experienced wedding planner, you’re probably double-scared. You’ve never been married before – how are you supposed to know how long everything takes?!

Well, you’re not. That’s where I come in.

As a rule, pad your wedding timeline. It’s way better to be ahead of schedule than falling behind. Rushed is NOT how you want to feel on your big day!

* Me looking at a timeline that is too stuffed *

If you don’t have a wedding planner, a good photographer should help you to craft a wedding-day timeline, but usually those will usually center around photo-moments. But how soon should my bridesmaids and I start getting ready?  How long before the ceremony should I arrive on site? How long does cutting a cake really take? Having been to many, many weddings now, I’ve put together some time blocks to help you create a wedding timeline that makes sense to you, PLUS a sample wedding day timeline. Here we go:

Wedding Day Breakdown

Wedding party gets ready – two hours.

This is the longest stretch of the day. If you have more than 3-4 bridesmaids, I would suggest giving yourself an extra hour for this portion! The last thing you want to feel is rushed while putting together your hair and makeup. You as the bride will want to start getting ready last, so your hair and makeup look fresh for photos.

Bride gets dressed – 15 minutes.

You might think this sounds like a lot of time, but tell that to the 32 satin buttons on the back of your dress! That’s really a joke, but the actual reason for this amount of time is for the photos. Your photographer will likely ask you to do a couple of light poses with the dress, or if you have your mother or maid of honor secure the back for you. It can be such a special moment to look back on.

Bride and bridesmaids getting ready shots

Solo portraits – 15 minutes.

This is optional, but you won’t regret taking a few minutes to get some pictures of yourself all dolled up for your wedding day. I skipped this on my wedding day, and I honestly wish I hadn’t! You might hardly have a chance to look at yourself in the mirror once you have your dress and veil on before it is time to leave for the ceremony.

First look and bride and groom portraits – 40 minutes.

If you decide not to do a first look, this will happen during cocktail hour. I suggest at least 40 minutes for this portion; these photos are usually the ones you will look back on the most out of the whole day! It’s a good idea to spend some time here, lingering in the moment and enjoying having your photos taken.

First look groom reaction

Photos with your wedding party – 20 minutes.

15-20 minutes here is usually ok! If you know you have a bigger wedding party (more than 4 people), or if you want individual portraits with each person, you can add a few extra minutes to this part.

Wedding party travels from getting ready location to ceremony venue – 30 minutes.

Optional, of course! If you are having the ceremony at the same place as your getting ready location, lucky you. I will say, if there’s any travel involved, give yourself much more travel time than you think you’ll need. It’s not a bad idea to double the travel time if it’s under 30 minutes!

Prelude music begins as guests start to arrive – 30 minutes.

If you have any live music, you’ll want to hire them to start playing 30 minutes before the ceremony.

Ceremony – 30 minutes.

Most wedding ceremonies are short and sweet. If you are doing a church ceremony or if you have any extra moments you’re including, bump this up to an hour.

Brazilian Court summer wedding

Family photos – 20 minutes.

Not gonna lie – this can be the most stressful and chaotic part of the day. Gathering all of your people to take pictures all in different smaller groups can take a while. If you have a big family, give yourself extra time here. I’ve had family photos take a full hour in the past!

Cocktail hour – 1 hour.

A bit self explanatory. If you didn’t do a first look, this is when you will go off to take portraits with your spouse and the bridal party.

Reception begins. Intro bride & groom and first dance – 15 minutes.

Make sure your DJ knows how to pronounce your last name!

10 minutes: Parent dances.

Some people like to shorten these songs! Totally up to you.

First course is served – 30 minutes.

Just enough time to eat a salad and get to know your table.

Welcome toast – 15 minutes.

Usually the hosts will do this, either the bride and groom or their parents.

Main course is served – 40 minutes.

Make sure you eat during this time, too!

Wedding party speeches – 20 minutes.

This is usually more than enough time for speeches. I will say, it can be tough for your guests to sit through more than 20 minutes of talking – they want to dance!

Cake cutting. Dessert served – 10 minutes.

Bride and groom wedding cake cutting

Dancing – as long as you want!

Best part of the night!!!!

Wedding exit – 15 minutes.

It can definitely take some time to wrangle your guests off the dance floor and line them up. I’d say start about 15 minutes before you plan to actually leave.

Sample Timeline

9:00 a.m Bride & bridesmaids arrive on-site

12:00 p.m. Hair and makeup prep begins

1:00 p.m. Photographer arrives on-site

1:45 p.m. Videographer arrives on-site

2:15 p.m. Wedding party gets dressed

2:40 p.m. Couple first look and photos

3:30 p.m. Wedding party and bride & groom shots

4:30 p.m. Wedding party arrives on-site for ceremony

4:30 p.m. Ceremony musicians arrive and begin to play

5:00 p.m. Ceremony begins / DJ arrives at reception location

6:00 p.m. Ceremony ends/cocktails begin

6:00 p.m. Family portraits begin

7:00 p.m. Cocktails ends and guests are ushered into the reception

7:20 p.m. Introduction and first dance

7:45 p.m. First course is served

8:00 p.m. Welcome speech

8:10 p.m. First course cleared and main course set

8:45 p.m. Toasts from maid of honor and best man

9:00 p.m. Dancing

10:30 p.m. Cake cutting

10:45 p.m. Gather for reception exit

11:00 p.m. Reception ends

Need extra tips? Watch this video!