The key to a smooth-running wedding day is planning. You don’t need a minute-by-minute schedule (that’s only more stressful!) but a basic structure of when you need to get ready, your arrival time at the ceremony, and when the wedding breakfast and speeches are will make you feel more in control and relaxed.
Naturally, putting a timeline together is confusing as you likely have no idea how long everything takes. We’ve written three example wedding day timelines: for ceremonies starting at 11am, 2pm and 6pm. You’ll also find some alternative timelines for brunch and afternoon-tea style receptions.
We’ve calculated the rough amounts of time you’ll need to allocate for the main events of the day, which means you can create your perfect timeline whatever your ceremony start time. Don’t miss our top 10 tips for putting together your order of the day too!
Note: all these timelines assume the ceremony and reception are held at the same venue. Allow extra time if guests have to travel between locations.
What is the Most Common Wedding Ceremony Time in the UK?
Most ceremonies in the UK start between 11am and 3pm depending on the type of service. Church ceremonies are equally likely to take place in the morning as afternoon, while most registry office and civil ceremonies will only take place in the afternoon. However, the most common start time for a wedding ceremony is between 1pm and 3pm.
How Long Does Each Part of the Wedding Day Last?
First-Look Photos – Not as popular in the UK as in the US. If you choose to have first-look photos, you’ll want around 15-20 extra minutes added in before the ceremony. You may wish to travel to a different location to do this, in which case you’ll need much more time.
Civil Ceremony – A simple registry office wedding or civil ceremony at a venue can last as little as 10 minutes. If you choose to add readings, poems and music, your ceremony will typically last around 20-30 minutes.
Religious Ceremony – Religious ceremonies will vary depending on your denomination and religion. A Church of England service will normally take around 45 minutes and will include an address from the vicar, prayers and sung hymns as well as one or two readings. A Catholic service can be much longer if it involves a mass; potentially up to an hour and a half.
Photos After Ceremony – Most couples will have photos taken with their wedding party after the service . We’d recommend allocating 15 to 30 minutes for this, but speak to your photographer and see what they suggest. Some photographers may want to take you to another location. This time will coincide with your guests travelling to the reception venue if it’s in a different place to the ceremony.
Reception Drinks – ‘Cocktail hour’ is a misnomer as you’ll want to leave about an hour and a half. This gives time for guests to freshen up and you to mingle and take photos with them before the wedding breakfast. If you are including a receiving line, add another 15 minutes (depending on your guest list size).
Wedding Breakfast – Two and a half hours for the wedding breakfast is about right, if it includes the speeches. Your venue and caterers will have plenty of experience and tell you what’s best.
Speeches – We don’t recommend any more than 10 minutes per speech otherwise your guests will get bored. The traditional order is father of the bride, groom and finishing with the best man – and they usually follow one after the other. It’s your choice at what point in the meal the speeches occur – often it’s between the main and dessert or after the meal has finished.
Cutting of Cake – The cake cutting happens before the evening guests arrive. Do this in another room at the venue to give the staff time to turnaround the wedding breakfast room into your dance floor (if you’re using the same room). You’ll want to give them at least 30-45 minutes, although the actual cutting of the cake will only take around five with photos.
Evening Reception – 7.30pm or 8pm is the usual time to invite evening-only guests.
2pm Ceremony Timeline
One of the most common ceremony start times is 2pm so we’ll kick off with that. If you’re having a 1pm or 3pm ceremony, move this schedule forward or back by an hour respectively. We’re using bride and groom in this example schedule, but it’s easy to adjust for a same-sex wedding. You’ll need to decide a few things among yourselves first, like are you getting ready and arriving at the ceremony together or separately?
9am – Breakfast and showers.
10am – Photographer arrives. Hair and makeup begins on bridesmaids.
11am – Bride starts hair and makeup. Bouquets delivered. Suppliers begin to set-up at venue.
12pm – Bride gets dressed.
12.45pm – Bridal party photos. Eat a snack here if you can, especially if you’ve had a glass of prosecco!
1.30pm – Groom and groomsmen arrive for ceremony. Guests begin to arrive.
1.45pm – Bride and bridal party depart for venue with photographer.
2pm – Ceremony starts.
2.45pm – Ceremony ends. Confetti shots. Couple depart for photos.
3.15pm – Reception drinks begin. Canapes served.
3.30pm – Couple returns from taking photos. Photos with wedding party.
4.45pm – Seat guests for dinner.
5pm – Starter and main course.
6.15pm – Speeches.
6.45pm – Dessert.
7.15pm – Cutting cake. Bride and groom leave for ‘golden hour’ photos.
8pm – Evening guests arrive.
8.30pm – First dance.
8.45pm – DJ/band starts.
10.30pm – Evening food served.
11.45pm – Bride and groom depart.
12pm – Party finishes (or continues on in another bar!).
11am ‘Morning Ceremony’ Timeline
A morning ceremony is fantastic as you get the whole day to spend celebrating with your loved ones, but you need to pace the day correctly. Don’t serve alcohol too early or guests may overindulge too soon, and make sure you have food planned for throughout the day. Your guests (and you!) will likely want to freshen up for the evening so having at least a two-hour gap between the end of speeches and evening guests arriving is essential.
7am – Hair and makeup begins on bridesmaids.
8am – Bride starts hair and makeup. Bouquets delivered. Suppliers begin to set-up at venue.
9am – Bride gets dressed. Photographer arrives.
10am – Bridal party photos.
10.30am – Groom and groomsmen at venue. Guests begin to arrive.
10.45am – Bride and bridal party depart for venue.
11am – Ceremony starts.
11.30am – Ceremony ends.
11.45am – Reception drinks and canapes. Couple depart for photos.
12.15pm – Couple return. Group photos.
1pm – Guests seated for lunch.
1.15pm – Three-course lunch is served.
3pm – Speeches and coffee.
6pm – Evening guests arrive.
6.30pm – Cake cutting and first dance.
7pm – Dance floor opens.
7.30pm – Evening buffet served.
6pm ‘Twilight Ceremony’ Timeline
A ‘twilight’ ceremony will normally take place anywhere between 5pm and 7pm. There’s two main reasons people choose a twilight ceremony: either they can get a cheaper deal on a venue or they plan to party later into the night. Evening weddings aren’t kid-friendly, so bear that in mind, but it does mean you can sleep-in on your wedding morning.
2pm – Photographer arrives. Hair and makeup begins on bridesmaids.
3pm – Bride starts hair and makeup. Bouquets delivered. Suppliers begin to set-up at venue.
4pm – Bride gets dressed.
4.45pm – Bridal party photos.
5.15pm – First look photos (if applicable).
5.30pm – Groom and groomsmen arrive for ceremony. Guests begin to arrive.
5.45pm – Bride and bridal party depart for venue.
6pm – Ceremony.
6.30pm – Reception drinks and canapes.
7pm – Couple depart for sunset ‘golden hour’ photos.
7.30pm – Couple return.
7.45pm – Cake cutting and first dance.
8.15pm – Evening buffet/dinner is served.
11.45pm – Bride and groom depart.
12pm – Party finishes (or continues on in another bar!).
Alternative Wedding Day Timelines
A 10am wedding or earlier lends itself to a brunch wedding. Have a cocktail hour of mimosas or Bloody Marys starting at 10.45am and serve a sit-down brunch or brunch buffet from 11.30am. Key to this is not letting your guests get hungry and not serving copious amounts of alcohol too early. It means you can have speeches by 12.45pm; cake at 1.30pm for dessert; and the day can end around 4pm or 5pm.
Afternoon Tea Wedding
A 12pm or 1pm ceremony is ideal for afternoon-tea style food to be served after your cocktail hour. Gin-cocktails in vintage tea cups will set the tone for finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, Victoria sponge, and cakes. We’d recommend serving this earlier, at about 3pm or 4pm, so guests don’t get ravenous. You can either end your wedding at about 6pm with no evening party, or ask evening guests to attend from 6.30pm onwards. Serve up something like a BBQ or hog roast from 7.30pm.
Tips for Planning Your Order of the Day
- Always allow contingency time for bad weather and bad traffic. Better early than late!
- If you’re worried about lulls during the day, arrange for entertainment like a magician, garden games, or a hair/makeup station where guests can freshen up.
- Plan enough music to cover the hours of your wedding. You don’t want a Spotify playlist of wedding breakfast background music to end too early.
- The number of bridesmaids you have will alter your timeline. Got lots? You’ll need two hair and makeup artists and will have to allow at least two hours’ prep time for the bridesmaids alone. The fewer you have, the less time you’ll need to allocate.
- Never skimp on feeding your guests. They won’t remember if there was an extra half hour while you were taking photos that they chatted and relaxed, but they will remember if they were starving for 30 minutes and you didn’t provide any canapes.
- Pace your guests’ drinks the earlier your ceremony is. If you have a morning ceremony, start your open bar later and serve lighter alcohol during your drinks reception, like Pimm’s or a cocktail topped with soda water. Make sure there are non-alcoholic alternatives.
- If you want to cut down on photography time between the ceremony and reception, ask your photographer to do a pre-wedding shoot with your family members. You’ll need to be ready a bit earlier, but you’ll have plenty of time with your guests later.
- Bear in mind what differs at your wedding from these sample timelines: are you having your hair done at a salon rather than at home? If you’re getting ready at the venue, what time will the room be available? How many bridesmaids do you have?
- The amount of time you need for dinner depends on what you’re serving. A two-course meal will naturally be shorter, as will a buffet-style meal or sharing platters on the tables. Caterers tend to expect around 100 guests to move through a buffet in 20-30 minutes. Plated meals tend to be served 40-45 minutes apart so you’ll want at least an hour and a half to two hours for your full meal.
- You’ll want to make it clear on your invites when guests are expected to leave. Have a ‘carriages at’ time, and make sure there’s a last call at the bar and last song from the DJ. Your suppliers and the venue staff will want to know when they can start setting down.
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