How to Master Your Wedding Day Timeline + Example - Zola Expert Wedding Advice (2024)

To ensure your big day flows smoothly and keeps everyone on track, here's everything you need to know about timing the day of your wedding.

Think planning your wedding has to be a colossal stress? Think again. Ignore everything you have heard up until this point. The fact is that if you have a well-planned wedding day timeline, slotting every element into place can be a complete cinch. So, how do you get started? In the following guide, we’ll answer that question and share an example timeline.

Wedding day timeline example

Each wedding is unique. What happens minute by minute will depend on a range of factors including what time your event starts, the creative flourishes you want to include, and the vendors and venue. However, it seriously pays to have a plan mapped out ahead of time.

Before you start planning your wedding day timeline, you may be looking for some inspiration. Luckily, we have you covered. Let’s take a quick example of a wedding day schedule from start to finish. For this template, we’ll use a 6-hour wedding timeline. That means the wedding event (i.e., everything after you get ready!) will take this long.

Before the ceremony

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8 am: Wake up

When the day rolls around, you’ll barely be able to contain your excitement. Wake up around 8 am (or 8:30 if you want that extra snooze!). Set a few alarms so you don’t oversleep. It’s worth making sure you know exactly what the plan is in advance. Next, do your general “getting up” routine—brush your teeth, shower, wash your face, etc. You do you.

9 am: Breakfast

Before all of the hussle starts, make sure you have something to eat. If you are staying in a hotel where breakfast is included, head down to it with your closest friends or family members. This is one of the steps that many couples miss out on, but it can make a world of difference. You will be busy all day long, so it’s important that you fuel up now.

10 am: Hair and makeup

You should never underestimate how long hair and makeup can take. The ceremony may not be until 6.30 pm, but you must book an early slot for dialing in your look. If you have a large wedding party—many bridesmaids and VIPs, for example—they’ll all need their hair and makeup done by a professional. Allow around 45 minutes for each hair and makeup slot.

Now, you will need to do some scheduling and arithmetic here. You can have the hair stylist in one room and the makeup artist in another. Have your party members switch between the two at intervals. That way, each one will look picture-perfect by the end of the session.

12 pm: Photography starts

Looking to capture those all-important behind-the-scenes snaps? Aim to have the photographer join you at around 12 p.m. This is before the bride has sat down for her hair and makeup shots. The professional will have the chance to get some pictures of the process, such as photos of the bride chatting to the stylist and her bridesmaids.

12:30 pm: Bride’s hair and makeup

Now, the magic happens. By this point, the rest of the wedding party should be ready. The bride takes the last slot with both the hair stylist and the makeup artist. Of course, this slot will likely be longer than 45 minutes, as every element of the bridal look has to be flawless. Allow around an hour for hair and an hour for makeup.

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12:30 pm: Dressing up

While the bride is having her hair and makeup done, the rest of the wedding party should be getting dressed. That includes the groom and the groomsmen, or any other people who will play a role in the wedding. To mark the occasion now is the ideal time to start popping bottles. The wedding party may choose to have some Champagne or drinks as they dress.

1 pm: Candid shots

While the VIPs are getting ready, the photographer steps up. This is when they’ll capture some of their best and most authentic shots of the entire event. You can instruct your photographer to take candid pictures in the dressing rooms or while the bride is having her makeup done. Decide in advance what areas the photographer will have access to here.

2:30 pm: The dress

When the bride’s final look is complete, the next step is putting on the dress—or any other wedding attire. Once again, you may want to ensure the photographer captures this in real-time. You may need to work with a tailor to ensure it’s perfect.

2:45 pm: Wedding party portraits

By this point, everyone in the wedding party is looking their best. It’s only natural to start with the formal wedding pictures. The photographer will likely have some creative ideas.

For example, you may choose to have the wedding party members stand along a staircase in succession or down a corridor. At this point, you and your partner may have some photographs taken alone without each other.

3:15 pm: Travel to venue

Next, it’s time to travel to the venue. Be sure to arrange transport for yourselves, the wedding party, and any other VIPs who will be there early. Of course, you’ll want to leave enough time in advance in case there are any hiccups. You can control most parts of your wedding day timeline, but you can’t control the traffic.

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4 pm: Arrival and first look

Now that you are at the venue, there will be more time for photos. This is usually the point when you and your partner will get your “first look” at each other. Of course, this is optional and depends on your preferences. Should you want to, you can steal a private moment together. You may want to take the opportunity to take each other in before the ceremony.

4:30 pm: Family photographs

With the wedding party and the family already at the venue, you have the chance to take some final photos before the ceremony. This is the perfect opportunity to capture some unique family photos. Allow the photographer to take the lead, choosing which members to be in which pictures. Ensure you have plenty of time to mix things up and take snaps.

During and after the ceremony

5:30 pm: General guest arrivals

While your wedding may start at 6:30 pm, you need to ensure that all your guests are there on time. For that reason, you should list a start time around an hour before the actual start of your wedding. This will give guests a chance to arrive and settle down.

5:45 pm: Canapés and drinks

While the guests are milling around, have the waitstaff serve some canapés and drinks. This short break will ensure that any guests who are running late (and there will always be some who do!) won’t miss out on the main event. It will also give people a chance to introduce themselves to each other and get into the festive spirit ahead of the ceremony.

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6:10 pm: Take a seat

The staff should instruct the general wedding guests to take their seats ahead of the ceremony. Depending on where the ceremony space is, they may also need to guide the group into it. Leave at least 20 minutes before the start of this part of the event.

6:30 pm: Wedding ceremony

The length of your wedding ceremony will depend on the type of event you’re hosting. It will naturally vary a whole lot. Needless to say, you’ll be aware of the exact timings, so you’ll need to block out the entire period here. For the purposes of this wedding day timeline, estimate that the ceremony will take an hour at most.

7:30 pm: Couple photography and drinks

Now that the ceremony is over, you’ll want to have your first couple’s portraits. The photographer will likely whisk you away to the most scenic part of the venue to take some shots. Entertaining the rest of the wedding party is a must, so you may want to instruct the waiters to start serving celebratory drinks or even a signature co*cktail to the group.

7:45 pm: Guests sit down

Next, the guests will have a chance to look at the seating chart and find their tables. It’s important that they’re seated and ready before you make your grand entrance.

8 pm: The grand entrance

Speaking of which… Your grand entrance is when you and your partner first enter the room as a married couple. You’ll want to have the DJ or maestro make the announcement. You can have a lot of fun with this, depending on how much you want to spice things up. The entrance can be followed directly by the first dance together before you take a seat.

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8:15 pm: A toast to you both

Before you start settling down to eat, you may want to make some initial toasts. This is the time when you thank your guests and, of course, your wedding party for celebrating with you.

8:30 pm: Dinner is served

It’s been a long day (already!), and now is your first slice of downtime. The main wedding meal—sometimes called the wedding breakfast—is served. This is usually a three-course affair. You should allow around an hour for this part of the wedding day timeline.

9:30 pm: Cake cutting

You already know what comes after dinner—the cake cutting. If you’ve chosen to include this tradition in your wedding day timeline, now is the right time to incorporate it. Gather your guests around as you cut the cake and share a moment.

9:45 pm: Speeches

Speech, speech, speech! It goes without saying that speeches are one of the most special parts of your wedding day timeline. Depending on how many people are giving them, you may want to dedicate around 30 to 45 minutes to this part of the event.

Expert advice: Make sure every guest has a full glass of something to toast with before the speeches start!

10:15 pm: Live band or DJ

Have you hired a live band or DJ for your wedding reception? If so, have them start setting up when you take care of the cake-cutting and the speeches. When the final round of applause is over, the band can start their set. You may have two parts to the show at around 30 minutes each or an entire hour-long set. Get everyone up onto the dance floor now!

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11:30 pm: Farewell and goodnight

Things will naturally start to wind down around 11:30 p.m. Depending on your venue, you may have to wrap things up at this point. You might choose to say a big goodbye and drive off into the night in your wedding car. Decide on a farewell that suits you both.

FAQs about wedding day scheduling

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the wedding day timeline.

How long are weddings?

Weddings are often day-long events. As you can see from our wedding day timeline, most weddings start when you wake up in the morning. However, the official event—the part that takes place after the guests arrive—tends to be around the 6-hour mark.

What are the 4 stages of a wedding reception?

Wedding receptions can be as unique as you care to make them. If you’re looking for a guideline, the four stages are the entrance, dinner, speeches, and entertainment. Of course, you don’t need to be rigid here. Simply figure out an order that works for you.

How do you create a wedding day timeline?

Creating a wedding day timeline is one of the most challenging parts of planning your event. Start by using a template to map out when you’d like each part of the day to occur. You must also speak to the staff, photographer, and venue about this timeline.

Nailing down each part of the event ahead of time means that everything will run smoothly.

The wedding timeline takeaway

Ready to start planning out your wedding day timeline? In this guide, we’ve shared an example schedule for inspiration. Talk with your partner—and perhaps your wedding planner—about how long each aspect of your wedding should be. The more energy you put into planning your wedding at this stage, the easier everything will be.

How to Master Your Wedding Day Timeline + Example - Zola Expert Wedding Advice (2024)
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