How to Build your Wedding Day Timeline

wedding day timeline


Creating a well-structured wedding day timeline is essential to ensure your special day flows smoothly from start to finish. Planning a wedding timeline requires careful thought and consideration to account for all the important moments and activities that will take place. Every detail must be thoughtfully organized, from pre-ceremony preparations to the grand reception.

A thoughtfully crafted wedding timeline helps keep everyone on track, ensures that key events are given the right amount of time, and minimizes stress for the couple and their loved ones. By planning your wedding timeline, you can optimize the flow of your day, allowing you to savor each magical moment and create lasting memories.

What is a Reception Wedding Timeline?

A reception wedding timeline is essential to planning a memorable and seamless wedding celebration. It outlines the order and timing of various events during the reception, ensuring a well-orchestrated flow of activities.

From the grand entrance and toasts to the first dance, dinner service, and cake cutting, a thoughtfully planned reception timeline ensures that each moment is given attention. It allows smooth transitions between events, keeping guests engaged and entertained throughout the evening. By creating a reception wedding timeline, couples can make the most of their special day.

Wedding Timeline Template

Planning your wedding day can be exciting but also an overwhelming task. One essential tool that can help you stay organized and on track is a wedding timeline template. A wedding timeline template provides a structured outline of the entire day, from the early morning preparations to the late-night celebrations.

Whether you prefer a detailed minute-by-minute schedule or a more flexible framework, a wedding timeline template is a valuable resource that will assist you in creating a well-structured and memorable wedding day. We have made  our very own wedding timeline template! Take advantage of this resource to help you plan your special day down to the smallest detail. 

1. Start with your ceremony time

We always start building a wedding day timeline with the ceremony time. This is the main event of the day, so it only makes sense to build your timeline around it! When deciding on your ceremony time there are a few key things to take into consideration:

  1. Are you getting married onsite, or at an offsite location like a church? If you’re getting married offsite, your ceremony location might have a designated time for your ceremony, which would in turn decide your ceremony time for you.
  2. What day of the week are you getting married on? If you’re getting married on a weekday, you might want to consider having a later ceremony time to accommodate those coming from work. 
  3. What time is sunset? If you're planning an outdoor ceremony, nobody wants to get married in the dark! 
Once you decide on your ceremony time you can work backwards/forwards to build the rest of your wedding day timeline. Keep reading for a breakdown of the other major parts of your wedding day!

2. Getting Ready

Believe it or not, this is actually the part of the day that we probably get the most questions about. It’s hard to know how long to budget for getting ready! This is especially important to figure out early on so that you can know if you’ll need additional hours at your venue (depending on how many hours are included in your rental package). Hair & makeup takes roughly 4-5 hours, including a 30-minute touchup window.

It takes roughly 45 minutes for each service to be done (1.5 hours for both hair & makeup), and one artist will usually do 5-6 services on a wedding day. This takes a total of 4-5 hours, but don’t worry if you have a large group getting services done - your hair & makeup company will staff the appropriate amount of artists needed. 

Your hair and makeup start time will really depend on when you need to be ready for pictures. We most often see hair & makeup starting between 8am & 9am.

3. Photography Wedding Timeline

A wedding timeline for photographers will help to ensure smooth and efficient photography coverage throughout the day. It provides a detailed schedule that outlines the key moments and locations for capturing beautiful images. 

Don’t forget to budget in about 30 minutes for you to get dressed & ready to go before pictures! Your photo schedule will heavily depend on if you’re doing a first look or not. 

Getting ready shots are more for the girls, but guys can do some tie-tightening and shoe lace-knotting for classy detail photos. The actual process can be lengthy, but if you know what you want captured prior to the day of, you can talk with your photographer to determine when they need to arrive and how long the photos will take.

A second photographer can be useful for getting photos of one of you and getting set up for the first look, while the lead photographer is snapping away with the other fiance.

If you’re not doing a getting ready or first look your photographer will most likely still try to fit in some photos before the ceremony, but the majority of them will be done during the cocktail hour. Individual portraits and bridesmaid/groomsmen photos are some that your photographer will take before the ceremony. In that case, you can plan about 1 hour for those photos.

If you are doing a first look, you can plan about 2 hours for all of your photos. Talk with your photographer about their preference for a timeline breakdown, but here’s an example for a photography timeline:

  • 15 minutes for your first look
  • 30 minutes for couple portraits
  • 30-45 minutes for wedding party pictures
  • 30-45 minutes for family pictures 

4. Ceremony

An average ceremony is 30 minutes long, but of course, this will be different for everyone! Some things that may affect the length of your ceremony are any religious elements, cultural traditions, or your officiant. Another aspect can be photo shoot duration as well. When it comes to taking photography during or after the ceremony getting your families together, posed for a photo can be difficult. Knowing about how many family members will be attending before you plan your timeline will help determine how long family photos will take.

When planning your ceremony timing, don’t forget that we recommend hiding away at least 30 minutes - 1 hour before the ceremony while guests arrive. One more thing to note, if you have to travel between locations at all we suggest planning double the travel time just in case!

5. Cocktail Hour

Typically your cocktail hour will just be one hour, but there are some cases where we would suggest making it a 90-minute social hour with photo shoots included. 

  1. If your venues needs to do a room flip from an indoor ceremony to your reception setup (check with your venue on this!)
  2. If you need to take the majority of your photos during this time. *If this applies to you, talk with your photographer about timing/photo order, but here is an example breakdown:
    1. Immediately after the ceremony start with family photos (30-45 minutes)
    2. Remaining wedding party photos (15 minutes)
    3. Couple portraits (30-45 minutes)

After the ceremony, couples have options for the reception timeline, including a receiving line, photos, dinner, first dance, speeches, and cake cutting. Prioritize important shots with your photographer and consider videography preferences. Discuss the reception duration and potential extra hours in advance to avoid last-minute chaos and added costs.

Whether you’re having an hour-long cocktail hour, or a 90-minute social hour it’s important to have good food & beverage options for your guests! Wedding tip: if you’re wanting to do a specialty cocktail for a portion of the evening, cocktail hour is a great time to do so! 

6. Dinner 

You’re married, and now it’s time to celebrate!! Plan 15 minutes into your timeline for your guests to get seated for dinner (it takes them some time to grab a drink & find their seats!). After they’re seated, plan 5 minutes for your grand entrance, 5 minutes to cut the cake, and 5 minutes for a welcome toast/blessing. Immediately after that, dinner will begin.

Most caterers will offer two styles for your meal service: a plated meal or a buffet meal. Each caterer does things a little differently, but you can usually plan an hour for the entire dinner service. After dinner, we will begin toasts.

7. Toasts & First Dances 

Plan roughly 5 minutes per toast, but if you know someone is going to be a bit more long-winded buffer in some extra time for their toast. After toasts, we'll transition right into your first dances.

The first dances would traditionally include the couple and each one of them with a person of significance. We suggest planning 15 minutes for your first dances. After that, open dance will begin & it’s time to dance the night away! 

8. Open Dancing

If you’re planning on doing any extra activities such as a bouquet toss, garter toss, anniversary dance, etc. we recommend doing that 30 minutes -  1 hour after the open dance begins. Doing those activities earlier in the evening will ensure that the majority of your guests are still there to participate. 

9. The End of the Event

Eventually, your last song will play, and your beautiful day will have come to an end. 


Hopefully, this guide provides some clarity & confidence on how to start building your wedding day timeline. But no matter what, we are always here to help in any way we can. Just because we love you all so much, we’ve included two sample timelines below! 😉 One example with a first look, and one without. Enjoy!

wedding timeline first look wedding timeline no first look