It's the pre-nuptial play-by-play.
No matter what kind of wedding you're having, one thing is for certain: Timing is everything! There are so many moving parts on the day-of that it's imperative to have a detailed schedule mapped out.
But another thing that's certain? No timeline is going to fit every wedding! There are countless variables that go into a wedding day—and your timeline will be determined by what you and your fiancé choose to include.
Our best advice is to hire a wedding planner to help. If you have a limited budget, try to find a day-of coordinator or a venue that includes on-site coordination in your package. The goal here is to be fully present to enjoy your day instead of stressing about if you're on schedule...if X vendor arrived on time...if you need to push dancing back 10 minutes because dad is watching the last drive of the big football game. Real life.
But if this is something you need to DIY, we've got you! Below are some questions that will help shape your wedding day timeline, as well as a sample wedding day timeline—from ceremony to reception—to use as a guide as you begin putting together your own.
21 Questions To Consider Before Creating Your Wedding Timeline:
- Will your wedding take place at one venue, or will guests have to travel to separate ceremony and reception sites?
- Will hair/makeup/getting ready happen at the venue or off site?
- What are your breakfast and lunch plans for the day?
- Do you and your fiancé want to do a first look before the ceremony?
- If you're having an outdoor ceremony, what time is sunset? (You'll also want to take advantage of the "golden hour" for photos!)
- For your Grand Entrance into the reception, do you plan to announce your entire wedding party or just the two of you?
- Will you do a receiving line, or simply greet your guests at their tables during dinner?
- Will you do a First Dance?
- Are there any other special dances you want to include? (father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, anniversary dance, etc.)
- Are there any cultural traditions you'd like to include in your reception? (the horah, the kalamatianos, etc.)
- What about a blessing and/or welcome toast before dinner?
- Will you and your new spouse want to say a formal thank-you toast? (This could occur on the wedding night or at the rehearsal dinner.)
- Who else will toast? (Maid of Honor, Best Man, another VIP guest, etc.)
- Would you like to do a cake-cutting ceremony?
- Will you be doing a bouquet toss and/or garter toss?
- Are there any other activities you want to include? (tray-passed late-night snacks, karaoke, flash mob, etc.)
- Does your reception venue have a curfew?
- How long will your reception be?
- How many hours did you contract your vendors for? (photog, videographer, DJ/musicians, coordinator, etc.)
- Will you have a Grand Exit (sparklers, glowsticks, etc.) and/or a getaway car?
- Will you host an afterparty?
Boston Harbor Hotel | Person + Killian Photography
And now, the Sample Wedding Timeline:
- Wedding ceremonies typically last 30 minutes to an hour, and wedding receptions typically last 4–5 hours, depending on what you have contracted with your venue.
- The sample timeline below is based on a one-venue wedding that begins at 5:30pm.
- This is a very traditional timeline with a very traditional wedding used as an example. Please shake it up and make it your own!!
Sample Wedding Day Timeline
- 9:00am – Hair & makeup begins at on-site bridal suite; food + beverages (mimosas?) available
- 10:30am – Groomsmen arrive at barber shop for haircuts and hot shaves
- 12:00pm – Lunch delivered to wedding parties
- 1:00pm – Vendor arrivals begin at venue
- 2:30pm – 8-hour photography session begins with detail shots
- 3:00pm – Bridal and bridesmaids portraits begin
- 3:30pm – Groom and groomsmen arrive at venue, dressed and ready for photos
- 4:00pm – Couple has "first look" at special location
- 4:30pm – Photography of full wedding party continues
- 5:00pm – Wedding party retreats out of sight
- 5:15pm – Couple gets first look of reception setup; detail photography continues
- 5:20pm – Guest shuttles arrive and welcome drinks are passed
- 5:25pm – Guests are seated for ceremony. Wedding party staged for processional
- 5:30pm – Ceremony begins
- 6:00pm – Ceremony concludes, newlyweds + witnesses sign marriage license; family portraits follow and cocktail hour begins
- 6:45pm – Couple moves to "sweetheart room" for drinks and appetizers
- 7:00pm – Guests move to reception space; wedding party staged for grand entrance
- 7:10pm – Grand entrance begins, followed by first dance
- 7:20pm – Welcome toast by the Father of the Bride or another VIP guest
- 7:25pm – Blessing, if desired
- 7:30pm – Dinner service begins
- 8:30pm – Champagne is passed and toasts begin
- 8:45pm – Thank-you speech by the couple, followed by cake-cutting ceremony
- 8:50pm – Father-daughter dance / Mother-son dance / or other special dances
- 9:00pm – Dance floor is open!
- 9:45pm – Bouquet and garter toss (if that's your thing!); late-night snack service begins
- 10:45pm – Last call at bar
- 10:55pm – Last dance
- 11:00pm – Grand exit sparkler tunnel and getaway; guest shuttles depart
Historic Sunset Station | Jackie Willome Photography
No matter what your own wedding timeline looks like, we want you to do one thing: Build some cushion into that bad boy! Why? Because it's pretty much a sure thing that you're gonna need a bit of wiggle room in your day.
Hair and makeup could take longer than you'd think, as could wrangling up all your nearest and dearest for formal portraits. If transportation to the venue(s) is required, factor in some buffer time for unexpected traffic. Planning extra time for potential glitches like these is crucial if you don't want a series of minor delays to throw your entire day out of whack.
Ready? You got this!
CalUp – A refreshingly simple app to keep your big day on track.
Keep your guests informed with CalUp! From event itineraries to pinpointed maps, CalUp effortlessly guides your wedding party and guests to where they need to be—at exactly the right time. You can rest easy knowing you can send real-time updates and text alerts to everyone quickly.
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Some clients may have paid to be placed in our editorial and some of these links may be affiliate; however, we never include a venue, vendor, or product unless they have a proper place here. This is part of our Core Values. We create our website first and foremost to be good for the couples using it to plan their Big Day. We won't stray from that for a few advertising dollars. #scoutshonor