Putting together a play-by-play for the big day is the best way to ensure your wedding timeline is (almost) stress-free.
When it comes to event planning, timing is everything. The organizing of any large celebration requires countless moving parts, which, if not timed correctly, can make an event feel disorganized and the opposite of free-flowing. Weddings are no exception. Creating a wedding day timeline ahead of the ceremony and reception is a critical part of the wedding planning process, and should be drafted and shared well ahead of the big day.
If you're a couple that wants a relaxed celebration. It's tempting to disregard a wedding day timeline altogether, and simply let events flow naturally. But taking this approach will quickly land you in hot water. As vendors and loved ones simply won't know what to do when. Leading to even the breeziest, laid-back guests feeling frustrated, and a bit lost.
Those weddings that feel chilled, effortlessly unplanned, are typically the ones that've been meticulously scheduled. From the first look to the last dance, vendors and venue will have been following a thoughtfully planned wedding day timeline. Creating the illusion of a care-free wedding reception, while also giving guests the confidence that everything is in-hand. It's an art.
No idea where to start? Don't worry, we're going to share all you need to know about putting together the perfect wedding day timeline. And, show how our interactive wedding itinerary tool can quickly, and effortlessly bring yours together.
What is a Wedding Day Timeline?
If you are working with a wedding planner, they will typically put together a wedding timeline for you. But if you're not, it can be difficult to really know what to include, how detailed it should be, and what a wedding timeline actually is?!
Essentially, the timeline, or itinerary for your wedding should outline all the major, and minor events that need to occur on the day. Including vendors, guests, and deliveries involved in those events. For instance, one of the first items on your wedding day timeline will likely be 'getting ready'. A critical part of any celebration, when the wedding party will have their hair and makeup taken care of by a professional, or themselves. This part of the day, although fun and exciting, needs to be timed fairly precisely between yourselves and any professionals involved. As further events will start to roll into each other, overlap and generally cause confusion if that initial stage doesn't run on time.
Setting aside a clear getting ready time for both you and the vendors is key in helping the entire day run smoothly. The timing you assign to this task, and every subsequent section of the itinerary is also vital. Give yourself too much time for any part of the day, and you'll quickly find the energy dips. Not give yourself enough, and events will begin to roll into each other, and certainly raise the stress levels.
If you're unsure of how much time to dedicate to each part of the day, fear not. Our sample wedding day timeline includes suggested timings for every event of the day. And below we're going to guide you through the structure an ideal wedding itinerary should have.
How Long is a Typical Wedding Day Timeline?
The length of a wedding schedule largely depends on the style, and traditions involved in the celebration. A typical, Western style wedding will typically last around 5-6 hours. Which includes the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception. This length of time may seem short when seen written down (how can you possibly fit everything into 5 hours), but in reality any celebration that lasts longer than 6 hours can feel like a bit much.
You're already asking friends and family to be generous with their time, and to commit to your plans for the day. Therefore, the last thing anyone wants is for the celebrations to fall a little flat because everything has gone on too long. If you have booked separate ceremony and reception venues, then sometimes the travel time between them can also affect the vibe, and length of the day. But that depends on the distance your guests will need to travel between wedding venues.
Of course, as we say, this is culturally true of Western weddings. But Indian nuptials, for example, often go on for days, with numerous events happening each day. Polish weddings too are usually celebrated over a weekend, with guests more than happy to carry on celebrating the day long after the happy couple have tied the knot.
If you're planning a destination wedding, that will also likely involve guests joining you before and after the ceremony to toast your new beginnings. As loved ones would typically arrive in the days leading up to a destination wedding day, and are not always too desperate to get the first flight out of there following the reception!
Your Ultimate Sample Wedding Timeline
Before you head across to our free wedding itinerary builder, and start putting together your timeline for the day. We thought it would be useful to outline all the things that should be included. A guide to each part of the day.
You'll find that the sample wedding day schedule on our builder begins with getting ready at 8am, and finishes with the grand exit at 10:30pm. And for the purposes of this guide we're going to follow this hypothetical schedule, just to keep things simple. It may well be that your wedding day doesn't fit within these timings, and that is totally normal. Not every wedding is the same. The timeline we have put together is just a suggestion. A way to help you better build the timeline for your big day.
Our wedding itinerary builder is designed to be flexible, making it easy for you to swap events around and change the time of any event according to your unique schedule.
Once you have a solid wedding day timeline template in place, featuring all the major events. You'll find in the days leading up to your nuptials that the smaller moments will naturally fit onto your schedule too. Making it easier to visualize the entire day, every little detail.
- 8am — Wake up
- 8:30am — Breakfast
- 9am — Vendors and planner arrive at the venue
- 9:10am — Hair & Makeup
- 11:30am — Get Dressed
- 12pm — Lunch
- 1pm — Photographer arrives
- 1:30pm — Detail shots
- 2pm — Flowers for the bride & bridal party delivered
- 2:30pm — Bride completes their look
- 3pm — First look photos
- 3:30pm — Catering vendors arrive and set up
- 3:30pm — VIPs & Family Portraits
- 4:30pm — Guests arrive at the ceremony and music begins
- 5pm — Ceremony time!
- 5:15pm — Reception entertainment arrives
- 5:30pm — Cocktail hour
- 6pm — Reception room photography
- 6:20pm — Take a moment together
- 6:30pm — Guests invited in for the reception
8am — Wake up
Hopefully you've managed to get a good night's sleep ahead of your special day, and now you're ready to begin preparations! It's important to give yourself as much time as possible in the morning to wake up, relax, and mentally prepare for the day.
8:30am — Breakfast
Even if you're not typically a breakfast person, you need to eat something on the morning of your wedding. Whether it's a healthy mix of cereals and fruits prepared the night before, or a filling group meal in the hotel breakfast spot, you'll feel better for it later on in the day. Skip breakfast, and likely feel weak as the hours tick by, and potentially not feel 100% after a glass or two of Champagne.
We know it's not easy for everyone to eat in times of anxiety, or stress, but it's essential to try.
9am — Vendors and planner arrive at the venue
If you have a wedding planner, or coordinator, they will likely organize a small army of vendors on your behalf. It's good to check in with them though, or have a loved one act as a go-between.
For those without outside coordination, you should assign someone from your wedding party the responsibility of checking off all vendors. Depending on the service, each of them should arrive first thing. If any are not on time, they must be chased up for an ETA, so your other vendors can plan around them.
9:10am — Hair & Makeup
Now's the time to gather your wedding party and get their hair and makeup done! Throw on some tunes to get everyone in the mood, don your special robes and welcome the hair and beauty team to the festivities.
The larger your group is, the longer you will need for hair and makeup to be completed. 3 hours is generally enough time to get everyone ready. But it's important to discuss timings with your vendors, as they'll know from experience how long your group will need.
11:30am — Get Dressed
Some of your wedding party may well have gotten ready while others are still having their hair and beauty looks completed. Regardless, it's good to set a time for everyone to slip into their outfits by. As sometimes slight adjustments will need to be made to outfits last-minute, and time should be allowed for that. Plus, it's important to know that everyone is ready before the photographer arrives, unless they're there already.
12pm — Lunch
Lunchtime is the perfect opportunity to relax a little with your bridesmaids, and wedding party, before the madness really begins! Plan, or book this meal in advance with the caterer, just so there's one less thing to think about on the day. Avoid choosing anything that could stain fabric, and try to pick lunch items that'll fuel you through the day.
Again, we know it may feel hard to eat right now, but listen to the loved ones around you when they say you certainly should.
1pm — Photographer arrives
Photographers generally offer packages based on a set amount of shooting hours. A standard package will usually be around 8 hours, but you can of course book a lot less if you only want certain parts of the day captured.
Getting ready shots are typically some of the most popular sections in an album, and they really help to capture the mood of the day. While also ensuring there are shots taken of you at your very best! Which is important to keep in mind when debating between packages.
Most wedding photographers will work in pairs, or teams, so no moment is lost. This is especially useful pre-ceremony, as couples typically get ready separately.
1:30pm — Detail shots
You've spent countless hours designing and choosing the perfect stationery and detailing for both for the ceremony and reception, and the end product deserves to be celebrated! If you have any other personal items like family heirlooms, or photos you'd like included within these detail shots, be sure to collate these when planning your wedding.
2pm — Flowers for the bride & bridal party delivered
The bridal party should be dressed and made up for the day by this point, ready for their photos to be taken. But a key part of everyone's look is the bouquets, fresh floral hairpieces and boutonnières's for the groomsmen. Your florist will likely be delivering all the flowers to your ceremony location, and potentially the reception too. Personal flowers will therefore need to be collected from either venue wherever you're ready for them.
2:30pm — Bride completes their look
As the bride, it's expected that you'll be the last to finish getting ready on the day. But don't leave putting on your dress and accessories to the last minute. Little fixes nearly always need to happen on the day, and as long as there's enough time to sort them, they're generally not a problem.
It can also take a while for corsets and bodices to be laced up correctly, as the people helping usually have only practiced once or twice. Leave enough time for them to do a good job, and avoid making anyone feel rushed.
3pm — First look photos
Not every bride and groom wants to break with tradition and see each other before the ceremony. But first look sessions rarely fail to create beautiful moments.
Pre-ceremony is a great time to capture you both looking your very best, and potentially feeling the most emotional. Some couples worry that the process will take too long, and delay the ceremony etc. But if planned properly, with an experienced photographer, you'll likely be done in under 15 minutes. Including couple portraits.
3:30pm — Catering vendors arrive and set up
The set-up times for your caterer will depend on what you've requested for the day. For instance, couples who desire hot food, or something more labor-intensive than the average for their cocktail hour, will generally require vendors to show up earlier than if light nibbles were all that was being served. The size of your guest list will also affect their workload, and arrival time too.
3:30pm — VIPs & Family Portraits
We would suggest not waiting until after your ceremony to take all the portraits with your immediate family and friends. It may feel more natural to do so, but if your loved ones can arrive a little earlier and take photos beforehand, you will certainly free up a lot of your wedding reception timeline.
Guests rarely like being taken away following the ceremony, or during the evening reception to shoot group photos. Therefore, it's likely they'll be only too happy to get ready a little earlier, and get photography done before your nuptials, Rather than miss the party later.
Allow plenty of time for portraits, between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your group and shot list. That being said, try to keep things snappy and avoid having people wait around unnecessarily. If your photographer doesn't have an assistant, appoint someone to look after the group. A wedding party member who can confidently let loved ones know when they're needed, and where they can go following their group picture.
4:30pm — Guests arrive at the ceremony and music begins
Give your guests time to arrive, and find their place. While they're doing this, it's a nice touch to have music playing, either live or recorded, just to set the mood for the occasion. You could also place the guest book and a gift table near the entrance to your ceremony as this'll allow loved ones greater opportunity to leave you a special note, and/or present. Instead of simply having a station at your reception.
10 minutes before the ceremony, while guests are arriving, it's a good idea to drink some water, maybe have a snack, and brush your teeth before your grand entrance. When you're ready, make sure everyone involved in the ceremony is lined up and ready to enter in order.
5pm — Ceremony time!
The actual length of your ceremony will depend on the style of nuptials you're having. But wedding ceremonies typically last 30 minutes and under, if they are non-religious.
If you're concerned about everything coming together on time, allow 10 minutes for delays. Make sure the wedding invitations state a clear ceremony start time to ensure guests are promptly in their seats. But by giving yourself a little secret leeway, you'll stop any undue stress if things aren't running to schedule. Guests will be entertained by the occasion and love capturing up with friends and family members, so they won't notice if things are a little late!
5:15pm — Reception entertainment arrives
If you've hired a band to play during dinner, and through into the late evening, they will almost certainly need to arrive at least 3 hours before they're expected to play. A DJ will typically need less setup time, but that will vary depending on their performance.
This is also a good time for any performers, photo booth operators or integral vendors working at your evening wedding reception to arrive. Just to allow for everyone to eat, get acquainted with the space and prepare for the festivities.
5:30pm — Cocktail hour
Ceremony done, now it's time to celebrate! Guests love cocktail hour as it gives them the chance to catch up with loved ones within a generally more relaxed scenario than dinner provides. Mingling freely and sipping whatever cocktails or sparkling drinks you've provided.
As we mentioned earlier, if you attempt to take as many family portraits as possible pre-ceremony, that will limit the number of guests needing to be dragged away from cocktail hour. Some, of course, will still need to participate in wedding photography at this time, somewhere else within your venue. Which often means a second photographer will capture the action during the drinks' reception.
The task of wrangling extended family away from catch-ups and taking them to have their photo taken is a job within itself. So if the second shooter at your wedding will be busy capturing celebrations, nominate someone vocal and responsible to gather guests. This can be a member of your wedding party, or a person involved with the planning team.
Cocktail hour at a traditional wedding should feel like a smooth transition from ceremony to reception. With an ambiance that is in keeping with the vibe of the day, and a service that never leaves guests wanting. Servers and bartenders should be ready well ahead of guests' arrival, and be on-hand to deliver whatever is needed.
6pm — Reception room photography
No matter what kind of wedding reception you're having, it's really nice to capture the room fully decorated, before you let loved ones loose in it! Besides, you're going to be busy greeting guests and celebrating at this time, so probably won't get a chance to see the space in all its glory. Therefore, any pictures taken of it will be priceless!
If there are certain details you really want captured, and believe they could be missed, be sure to discuss them with your photography team.
6:20pm — Take a moment together
There has been so much anticipation leading up to your wedding date, and now it has finally arrived! For so long, getting married seemed like such a far away prospect, but now, it's official. And you're already over halfway through the day!
Don't let this moment slip by without calm reflection and a little moment of intimacy together. Just ten minutes, somewhere private, away from guests and vendors, just to chat and let it all soak in. Trust us, you'll regret it if you don't.
6:30pm — Guests invited in for the reception
The style in which you invite your guests in for dinner will depend on the vibe of your celebrations. For those hosting a sophisticated soirée, for example. It's a nice touch to have members of the team go around the group, and quietly request their presence within the reception space. But if you're aiming for a slightly more casual style of occasion, you could simply ask the loudest member of your wedding party to announce that dinner will be served shortly.
Whichever way you choose to gather guests and get them seated, don't assume it'll be quick. You must allow for chats, toilet breaks and loved ones simply getting distracted on the way to their table.
- Wedding Reception Timeline
- Grand entrance
- First dance
- Family dances
- Dinner is served
- Cake cutting
- 8:30pm — DJ and/or Live band
- 10:50pm — Last dance
- 11pm — Newlyweds exit
Wedding Reception Timeline
Most of the key moments during a wedding reception can be shifted around to suit your schedule, and the desired feel for the day. To help you stay organized, we've listed below the main events you'll need to time block ahead of the big day.
This is your moment. One you have either meticulously rehearsed and dreamed about in the weeks and months leading up to your special day. Or the moment you dreaded worst the entire wedding day! If you do fall into the latter category, don't plan a grand entrance. Keep it subtle, and enter the room in a style that suits your personality. Don't be swayed by bridal party members desperate for their moment in the spotlight, their time will come.
For us, the first dance is an after dinner thing, but many couples prefer to get it out of the way early, so they can relax the rest of the evening. Either way, give yourself roughly 10 minutes for it, and that'll allow you time to get ready and not feel rushed.
It's up to you to choose who gives a toast during the reception, and by now you've probably got a firm idea of the loved ones you'd like to deliver one — regardless of what stage of wedding planning you're at. Typically, the best man and maid of honor deliver toasts during dinner service, or following it. While the father of the bride traditionally welcomes guests to the dinner.
15 minutes is probably a good length of time for the toasts, any more than that and guests will start to lose focus. However, if you're planning to have three to five toasts, or more, obviously increase that length of time depending on how many would like to speak.
We love a mother-son dance, almost as much as we love a father-son dance! These moments are guaranteed tear-jerkers and a sure-fire way to keep guests spellbound by the occasion. Much like the first dance, you should give yourself 10 minutes for the family dances, and typically, they take place after the toasts.
Dinner is served
The dinner schedule will very much depend on the style of service you've chosen for the day. Those who've opted for a buffet, or cocktail style occasion will find the timeline is quite flexible. Whereas couples who've opted for a formal, sit—down meal are typically led, schedule-wise, by the demands of that service. Your caterer, and professional wedding planner will know exactly how things should run, so take their lead on timings.
This lovely moment usually comes a little while after dinner service, once guests have worked up an appetite for something sweet. Between 1 and 2 hours after dinner should be about right — unless you know your ravenous guests will not be able to wait that long!
8:30pm — DJ and/or Live band
Dinner out the way, it's time to hit the dance floor and make some hazy memories with your loved ones. As we mentioned, you'll likely need to schedule a brief pause for the cake cutting ceremony, and maybe provide some late-night snacks. But apart from that, guests are usually more than happy to simply sip some drinks, and let loose on the floor.
10:50pm — Last dance
Planning a wedding feels like a marathon, but the day itself is a sprint. Before you know it, you'll be standing in the spotlight for the last time, dancing with your partner and wishing you could do it all over again. It's clichéd to say, but it's true, the entire event will fly by so fast. Try to enjoy every moment, and forget the stress.
11pm — Newlyweds exit
Whether you've armed guests with sparklers, organized an impressive firework display or decorated your wedding car in a classic getaway style — it's good to leave with a bang. Create a moment, whatever that may be, that'll last in the memories of your entire wedding party.
In conclusion, the creation of a perfect wedding day timeline is crucial, particularly when you have separate ceremony and reception events. Such a timeline is the key to keeping your day on track, ensuring that every moment flows smoothly. With careful planning and a well-structured schedule, you can transform the complexities of your big day into a seamless and unforgettable experience.
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