A timeline is key to keeping your wedding day organized and running as smoothly as possible, and the more detailed you can make your schedule, the better. Just keep in mind that sometimes your day may go a little off-schedule, and that’s totally okay!
This sample wedding day timeline was created with a 4 p.m. start time but can easily be adjusted for earlier or later ceremony times. This timeline is also built on the assumption that both the ceremony and the reception are held in the same venue. If that’s not the case for your big day, make sure to schedule in travel time for both the wedding party and the guests to move from the ceremony venue to the reception venue.
Sample Wedding Day Timeline
10 a.m. – Hair & makeup / Getting ready
Getting ready always takes longer than most couples expect, so it’s important to schedule in plenty of time. Make sure the photographer arrives at least half an hour before the bride is ready, so they have time to capture detail and venue shots, as well as images of the wedding party getting ready.
12 p.m. to 2 p.m. – Vendors arrive for setup
Have your wedding coordinator (or whoever you’ve placed in this role) in place to manage vendors and make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be.
2 p.m. – First look
The first look is a private, intimate moment between you and your soon-to-be-spouse captured by your photographer. If you choose not to have a first look, you can skip this part of the schedule and move both these photos and the wedding party and family photos to after the ceremony.
2:45 p.m. – Wedding party and family photos
Some couples choose to take these photos after the ceremony, but that leaves your guests waiting at the reception for much longer. If you take the photos before, make sure everyone is nearby and gathered together so you don’t have to run around searching for anyone.
3:30 p.m. – Doors open / Pre-ceremony music begins
Guests should begin arriving at this time, so make sure they don’t have to wait outside.
4 p.m. – Ceremony Starts
4:30 p.m. – Ceremony ends
Most modern wedding ceremonies last somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour, while the reception runs about four to five hours. Different religious ceremonies vary, depending on their unique traditions and rites, so your timeline will be unique to the type of wedding you’ve chosen to have.
4:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. – Travel from ceremony location to reception location
5:00 p.m. – Cocktail hour begins
If you’re not having alcoholic beverages, this time can include a snack bar and some refreshing drinks for your guests while they wait.
5:45 p.m. – Wedding party enters reception / First dance
Have a designated emcee announce each member of the wedding party, as well as the couple. Moving from the entrance to the first dance is much smoother than having the first dance later in the evening and keeps the energy up for everyone.
6 p.m. – Buffet opens / Dinner is served
Your emcee should also announce dinner, with the couple and wedding party eating first, followed by the rest of the guests.
6:30 p.m. – Toasts
As dinner is finishing up, the Maid of Honor and Best Man should give their toasts. Be sure to set a limited time, no more than five minutes for each speech.
6:45 p.m. – Parent & child dances
If you’re doing father/daughter and mother/son dances, the perfect time is right after the toasts and just before you open the dance floor to everyone.
7:00 p.m. – Cutting of cake / Bouquet toss & garter toss / Dessert
Before the dancing, cut the cake and announce the serving of dessert. This is also a good time to do the bouquet toss and garter toss, if you plan to include them.
7:30 p.m. – Open dance floor
Dance the night away!
10 p.m. – Grand exit
Arrange for a final song with your band or DJ that marks your exit with your partner. If you have a prop for the exit, like sparklers, be sure to hand them out and have guests line up along the path outside the door. Once everyone is outside, hold hands and run through to your happily ever after!