How to schedule your wedding day: An Itinerary & Timeline for Success

From your first look to your final getaway, your wedding day is a series of magical moments. But wedding magic can take a lot of prior planning and organization to pull off. So, having a clear wedding itinerary could ensure that everything runs like clockwork. All you need to do is show up and enjoy yourself!

But how do you actually schedule your wedding day? That’s what we’re here to clear up. Below, learn how long a wedding typically lasts, find a sample wedding day itinerary, and get bonus planning tips from real couples. Get ready to schedule your wedding day for success!

How long is a typical wedding from start to finish?

According to Wedding Wire, most weddings last about six hours from beginning to end. In other words, if your wedding ceremony begins at noon, your reception will end around 6 p.m. However, that doesn’t include the time you’ll spend:So, remember to allot for these when building your full wedding day schedule.

  • Getting ready
  • Taking pre-wedding photos
  • Attending post-reception events, like an after-party
  • Setting up or cleaning up decorations

So, remember to allot for these when building your full wedding day schedule.

How long should a wedding ceremony be?

While your wedding ceremony is the “main event” of your wedding day, it’s actually the shortest part. A typical wedding ceremony lasts for around 30 minutes, but yours might run longer or shorter depending on any additional elements you want to include, like a sand-pouring ritual for a beach wedding day.

A bride holding a bouquet while facing the groom

How long should a wedding cocktail hour be?

After your ceremony, a wedding cocktail hour gives your guests a chance to socialize and mingle. As the name suggests, a cocktail hour typically lasts for, well, one hour. However, you can adjust it to be longer or shorter, depending on your timeline. In fact, some couples may skip a cocktail hour at a more casual wedding. 

How long should a wedding reception be?

Your reception provides the chance to unwind and celebrate with family and friends. Most wedding receptions last around four hours, with timeslots allotted for dinner, dancing, cake-cutting, and other festivities. Of course, this will depend on the amount of time you book with your reception venue.

A few floral centerpieces placed on reception table

What time of day should a wedding start?

The ideal start time for your wedding ceremony depends on your overall vibe and general plans for the day. Do you want to start in the morning, or would you prefer an evening ceremony? 

Common start times for morning, afternoon, and evening weddings include the following examples. 

Morning wedding 

If you want to take advantage of the soft morning sunlight, an early ceremony could be just the ticket. It’s a good idea to make 10 am the earliest start time for a morning ceremony since you’ll need plenty of time to get ready – and you probably don’t want to start your day at 3 am.

Afternoon wedding

An afternoon wedding with a start time of noon provides a happy medium between early and late start times. You don’t necessarily need to get up early, and you also avoid your reception running late into the night. However, the afternoon also tends to be the hottest part of the day – something to keep in mind if you’re hosting your ceremony outdoors in a warmer climate.

Evening wedding

An evening wedding gives you the potential to enjoy a more laid-back buildup to your ceremony. Depending on the time of year, this is a fantastic chance to take advantage of the sunset in your photos. Typically, the latest an evening wedding ceremony should start is 6pm, giving you time to enjoy a full night of reception fun. However, you’ll also need to keep in mind that a late reception could be inconvenient for guests who have a long journey home. So, some people may need to leave your reception early. 

An example wedding day timeline template 

Based on the average times it typically takes to host all the key wedding elements, we put together this sample wedding schedule for a ceremony that begins at noon. 

Our wedding timeline assumes that your wedding ceremony and reception will take place at the same venue, but if yours takes place at different spots, you’ll need to account for travel times for yourself and your guests. You can adjust this timeline to your needs based on your desired start times – and feel free to rearrange the order of certain events if that makes sense for you! 

8:00 AM: Wake up & Eat Breakfast

Your wedding day officially begins when you roll out of bed and begin getting ready for the day. Go ahead and enjoy a quick breakfast with your bridesmaids and your family. We won’t tell anyone if you have a mimosa or two. 

Of course, your partner will also start their day and go through their own preparations at the same time. 

9:00 AM: Hair & Makeup

You’ll probably want to prep for your wedding photos with glamorous hair and makeup. If you’re working with a professional hairstylist and makeup artist, ask for their time estimate on your desired look during your initial consultation. 

If you’re styling your hair and makeup yourself, do a few trial runs at home and time how long it takes you to get your desired look. Just remember to add a few extra minutes for chatting with your bridesmaids. 

9:30 AM: Finishing touches & detail shots

Most wedding photographers typically arrive 30 minutes before you and your partner are completely ready. But of course, this depends on your contract. This gives them time to capture some fun candid pics of you and your partner getting ready. They may also take this time to capture detail shots of things like your wedding invitations, rings, and your gorgeous bridal bouquet

10:00 AM: Individual Portraits

Next, you and your partner will likely spend at least 30 minutes each taking solo portraits with your wedding photographer. 

You might also decide to snap some quick group photos with your bridesmaids. This is a great time to opt for more casual or silly snapshots, since you’ll take formal portraits together later. Making funny faces at the camera may help you clear up pre-ceremony jitters!

A couple and their wedding party standing before a barn house

11:00 AM: First look & more pre-wedding portraits

Some couples may opt for a first look instead of saving the moment for the wedding aisle. As your photographer captures the moment, this is also a nice time to take couple’s portraits together. This way, you can break up your photo sessions into smaller chunks throughout the day. 

11:30 AM: Guest arrival

Your guests should start arriving around 30 minutes to an hour before the start time on your wedding invitation. You can help them feel welcome and find their way with a DIY wedding sign. (It’s super easy to make with Ling’s designer flowers, too!)

A wedding sign decorated with flowers

12:00 PM: Your Wedding Ceremony

With everyone at your venue and in their seats, it’s time for your wedding ceremony to begin! Just remember: If you plan on walking down the aisle precisely at noon, make sure your guests understand that they need to arrive before the time listed on your invitation.

A bride walking down the aisle with a bouquet in hand

Photo by @keziah.renee

12:45 PM: Cocktail hour begins

After you and your partner officially exchange your vows and exit your ceremony area together, your guests can enjoy cocktail hour while you take formal portraits with your bridal party and family. Some important wedding guests, like aunts, uncles, and cousins, may step out briefly to take photos with you too.

This step can actually take under an hour, especially if you already snapped couple’s portraits during your first look. So, you can get back in time to sample some cocktails and mingle!  

1:45 PM: Your reception begins

After cocktail hour, you can officially open your reception area to your guests, allowing them to take their seats for dinner. Your bridal party will make their formal arrival, followed by you and your partner in your first official appearance as a married couple.

A couple sitting at their wedding headtable

Photo by @isaacsimphoto

2:00 PM: First course & Toasts

Next, some special family members or friends might like to toast your new union. Be prepared to blush – either from gratitude or from mortifying embarrassment. Most wedding toasts usually cause a bit of both!

If you’re planning a formal dinner, then toasts typically begin after the first course. But if you’re serving a buffet meal, then toasts can start after all your guests have filled up their plates. 

2:30 PM: Lunch

Next, it’s time to take a break and enjoy a delicious meal at your sweetheart table. This provides a chance to take a breather and enjoy your partner’s company. Savor the moment and enjoy the warm atmosphere – especially your gorgeous floral arrangements and decorations.

An orange garland placed on a wooden table

3:00 PM: Cake cutting

You may be full from dinner, but there’s always room for dessert – especially when dessert is your wedding cake. Your photographer will definitely capture the moment when you feed each other your first bites!

If you and your partner slice and hand out more cake slices to your guests, this also provides a nice opportunity to chat with each of them and thank them for coming. 

3:30 PM: Opening the dance floor

With everyone in their seats and the spotlight on you, now’s the time to enjoy your first dance. You might also choose to follow it up by dancing with your parents. 

Once you’ve finished your formal dances, next you’ll open up the dance floor, so your guests can join the fun. If you previously had the bar closed, you could also consider re-opening it to create more of a dance club atmosphere.

5:30 PM: Bouquet toss

After a few hours of dancing and celebrating, your wedding day is nearly over – but not before you can toss your bouquet to the next would-be bride. Of course, you’ll probably prefer to keep your official bridal bouquet, which is why most brides choose to have a separate toss bouquet.

We’re partial to faux flowers in all types of bouquets because they’re low-maintenance. You won’t need to worry about losing petals or damaging the blossoms at any time during the day.

A pink flower bouquet wrapped with ribbons

6:00 PM: Your grand exit

You came, you saw, you danced your heart out. Now, it’s time to ride off into the sunset with the one you love. Make sure your getaway car is on standby! 

If you’re planning on traveling for a honeymoon, this gives you plenty of time to make it to the airport before it gets too late. Otherwise, you might head to an after-party with friends and family. It all depends on how you want to end the day! 

More tips for scheduling your wedding day

As you start putting together your own wedding schedule, keep the following tips in mind to make the process smoother.

Print and hand out your itinerary

While a digital planner or spreadsheet can be a fantastic way to organize your thoughts digitally, it can also be super helpful to print out a physical copy. 

Give your printed itinerary to all key players in your ceremony and reception – including the members of your bridal party, photographer, caterer, and any other key wedding vendors. That way, everyone will be on the same page and understand their roles, like actors getting a script.

Multitask on your wedding itinerary

If you need to save time during a long day, try planning for certain wedding events to happen at the same time. One classic example is hosting your cocktail hour while you and your bridal party snap wedding photos. 

Another creative example: Instead of taking extra time out of their schedule for portraits with extended family, Ling’s Couple Emily & Allen took photos with their guests before leaving their wedding ceremony area. As each set of guests left their seats, they took a portrait with the bride and groom at the end of the aisle. It’s a fantastic way to capture plenty of family photos within a short period of time.

A couple standing before a wedding arch

Plan to run over

Ling’s couple Dylan & Maria suggest allotting more time in your schedule than you think you’ll need. For example, maybe you’ll spend an hour and a half snapping family photos instead of your planned 45 minutes.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to allow at least 10-15 more minutes for each element than you think you’ll need. That way, you won’t feel rushed if you’re running a tad late.

Include arrival and start times on your invitation

Sometimes, your wedding guests may try to cut things a bit too close for convenience. For example, if your wedding invitation simply says “Friday at noon,” they may plan to arrive precisely at noon. If your aunt and uncle are still finding their seats when you plan on walking down the aisle, that can create a hiccup in your schedule. 

So, to clear up potential confusion, try including suggested arrival times on your wedding invitation. If you’ll start the bridal procession at 5 pm, suggest that guests plan to arrive no later than 4:30 pm.

Remember to savor the moment

One last tip. We all know that planning a wedding can be stressful. But if you’re not careful, you may feel so preoccupied with making it on time, that you forget to savor moments as they happen. So, remember to slow down and breathe. After all: Today belongs to you!

A couple holding hands with a bouquet in one hand

Another thing to keep in mind: At the end of the day, it’s all right if things run a little late. Magic doesn’t always happen on a set schedule. You may even find that the most memorable wedding moments occur without any prior planning at all. 

Conclusion: How to schedule a wedding day

We hope this sample wedding day timeline will give you a helpful starting point as you plan your own schedule. And if you need gorgeous flowers that fit into your busy planning process, Ling’s Moment is here to help your wedding journey run smoothly. 

Our premade faux floral arrangements are tailor-made for brides with busy schedules. They arrive ready to use: No need to water or refrigerate them. You can order them in advance, so they’re ready to use on your schedule. Tag us on Instagram @LingsMoment if you use Ling’s flowers, so we can share your gorgeous pics! 

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