A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Wedding Day and Weekend Timeline

Plus, five sample schedules you can steal.
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Associate Editor
  • Sarah is an Associate Digital Editor for The Knot, with special focuses on features, pop culture and wedding trends.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated Sep 30, 2020

Planning a robust wedding day timeline may be the most important thing you can do to minimize stress throughout the weekend. A clear wedding timeline will eliminate confusion and scheduling conflicts, and it'll keep everyone on the same page, from your bridesmaids to your glam team to your caterers. Breaking down every moment will keep everything in check—from the start time for getting ready to the wedding party introduction at the reception—and will also be helpful when planning vendor deliveries, as well as setup and breakdown times. You can even use a timeline to make a wedding itinerary for your guests to put in their welcome bags. Finalize your wedding day timeline about a month before the date. This will give you enough time to share the details with your pros—then, confirm the timing again about a week out from your wedding day.

Whether you're working with a planner, a day-of coordinator or you're having a loved one act as a point person for the big day, first familiarize yourself with how long each wedding activity generally takes. To help, we've outlined wedding day timeline blocks to help you get started. Then, you'll be ready to create a wedding itinerary fit to your needs. For even more guidance, we share five sample wedding day timelines from planners that you can use for your event. Take each schedule as is, or use it as a template to create your wedding day timeline.

In this article:

Sample Wedding Day Timeline Blocks

Before you create your wedding day timeline, familiarize yourself with the general time it takes for each activity. Here, we break down approximately how much time you'll need to allot for everything from the first look photos to the parent dances. Keep in mind that each time block can be altered to fit your wedding plans—this will simply help you figure out how long everything should take.

Two hours: Wedding party gets ready.

Start off your wedding day by giving yourself plenty of time to get ready with your wedding party. Throw on your custom robes, blast a getting ready playlist, and enjoy the glam process. A larger group means you'll want to block off more time to prep.

15 minutes: Bride gets dressed.

If you're wearing a traditional wedding dress, you'll want to give yourself enough time to get dressed and accessorize. The last thing you want is to feel rushed while slipping into your wedding outfit.

45 minutes: Solo portraits.

Now's the time for your photographer to capture you in your wedding day look. More time with your pro means plenty of chances to get every single glam shot you want.

30 minutes: Photos with your wedding party.

Gather your crew for wedding party photos. Don't forget to include your parents, your partner's parents and kids in the wedding party for this portion too.

30 minutes: First look and photos with the couple.

Believe it or not, the first look doesn't take very long to photograph, so you only need a few minutes. The rest of the time can be allotted for wedding party photos if you want to capture some before the ceremony. "It's actually shocking how quick a first look happens," says wedding planner Lottie Fowler. "The entire process takes 15 minutes at most. The remaining time is to capture the entire wedding party together. This also helps calm the nerves for the couple."

30 minutes: Wedding party travels from getting ready location to ceremony venue.

If you're getting ready at your ceremony venue, this isn't a necessary time block. If you will be travelling to the ceremony space, though, give yourself ample time to avoid travel mishaps.

30 minutes: Prelude music begins as guests start to arrive.

Having music play as guests arrive will set the mood, and it'll alleviate any awkward pauses or confusing moments.

1 hour: Ceremony.

This time block will vary most among couples. A secular wedding ceremony can take just 15-20 minutes, while a religious ceremony will take closer to an hour (if not more).

50 minutes: Family photos.

When it comes to family portraits, it's best to prepare a generous amount of time. "Give your photographer and planner a rundown of family dynamics before the wedding," Fowler advises. Doing so will help everyone stay focused during this time. With only a short block to capture a variety of groups together, it's necessary to remain on task and move quickly. "Keep this photo time no longer than 45 minutes to one hour. If you don't catch the 'perfect' photo at this time, don't stress. You have the rest of the evening for more organic photos to take place."

1 hour: Cocktail hour.

While you take family portraits, guests will fill their time with cocktails, light bites and music. This is one of the most important time blocks to focus on, so be sure to touch base with all relevant vendors to create a seamless transition between the ceremony and reception. "Set the mood," says Fowler. "There is nothing more awkward than bartenders not ready to serve and music not playing upon even the earliest of guest arrival." Ask your planner or day-of point person to greet guests, usher gifts and direct them to the bar, guest book and seating arrangement display.

15 minutes: Reception begins. Newlywed introduction and first dance.

Once guests find their seats, it's time to make your grand newlywed entrance. After your wedding party enters, you'll be announced as a married couple. This will lead directly into your first dance.

20 minutes: Guests invited to dance floor.

Guests often like to join the newlyweds on the dance floor after the first song. Work with your DJ or band or arrange a few hits to start off the evening.

40 minutes: Guests return to seats. First course is served.

After a few songs, guests are encouraged to take their seats as the first course is served.

15 minutes: Welcome toast.

The hosts traditionally give a welcome speech as the first course is served. Parents can speak during this time, or you can thank your guests for attending. Do what feels right for your wedding.

40 minutes: Main course is served.

Once the first course is cleared, move to the second.

15 minutes: Wedding party speeches.

This moment is likely the last time all guests will be seated, making it an opportune moment to arrange wedding party speeches. The best man is traditionally the first to speak, followed by the maid of honor. This order, though, is completely up to you. Follow tradition if that's what you want, or create an entirely personal lineup of speakers. What matters most, though, is that each speech is approximately two to three minutes.

10 minutes: Parent dances.

Once dinner wraps up, it's time for parent dances. Though they'll be brief, both are emotional (and special) moments for parents to enjoy with their kids.

10 minutes: Cake cutting ceremony. Dessert served.

Once the parent dances conclude, it's time to celebrate on the dance floor. Break up the fun by setting aside a few moments to cut your wedding cake. (Not only is this prime photo op time, it's also a great chance to play a funny cake cutting song if that's your vibe.) Guests can return to their seats to eat cake, or continue dancing until the night comes to an end.

15 minutes: Wedding exit.

Cue your wedding exit song and leave your reception with a grand departure. Give your guests sparklers to wave, arrange a fireworks display or deck out your getaway car with extravagant decorations. This is your time to enjoy every last moment of your wedding day.

A Traditional Wedding Weekend Timeline: Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding and Brunch

A Friday evening rehearsal dinner, a Saturday evening wedding with an early evening start time, and a morning-after Sunday brunch is one of the most common timelines for a wedding. The specifics of this schedule are up to you—swap Sunday brunch for a Friday night happy hour welcome, or plan an after party following the reception for those who want to keep the fun going. Your team of pros can help you with the specifics, but this sample wedding day timeline will help you get started.

Wedding Planner: Xochitl Gonzalez, founder of AaB Creates

Thursday: Check-in and setup

  • 1:00 p.m. Check-in

Friday: Rehearsal dinner

  • 5:00 p.m. Rehearsal begins
  • 7:00 p.m. Rehearsal dinner begins
  • 10:00 p.m. Rehearsal dinner ends

Saturday: Wedding

  • 9:00 a.m Hair and makeup arrive on-site
  • 12:00 p.m. Hair and makeup prep begins
  • 1:00 p.m. Photographer arrives on-site
  • 1:45 p.m. Videographer arrives on-site
  • 2:15 p.m. Wedding party gets dressed
  • 2:40 p.m. Couple first look and photos
  • 3:30 p.m. Wedding party and family shots
  • 3:30 p.m. Shuttles from hotels begin
  • 4:30 p.m. Wedding party arrives on-site
  • 4:30 p.m. Ceremony musicians arrive and begin to play
  • 5:00 p.m. Wedding invitation start time/DJ or reception band to arrive on-site
  • 6:00 p.m. Ceremony ends/cocktails begin
  • 7:00 p.m. Cocktails ends and guests are ushered into the reception
  • 7:20 p.m. Introduction and first dance—guests asked to join after
  • 7:45 p.m. Guests take their seats and first course is served
  • 8:00 p.m. Welcome speech from parents
  • 8:10 p.m. First course cleared and main course set
  • 8:45 p.m. Toasts from maid of honor and best man
  • 9:00 p.m. Parent dances
  • 10:30 p.m. Cake cutting
  • 10:30 p.m. First shuttle leaves for hotels
  • 11:30 p.m. Second shuttle leaves for hotels

Sunday: Brunch

  • 11:00 a.m. Brunch starts
  • 1:00 p.m. Brunch ends

An Early Afternoon Wedding Weekend Timeline: Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding and Brunch

If your ceremony starts in the early afternoon, you'll need to prepare for a fast-paced morning-of timeline. To enjoy the process (and avoid feeling rushed), consider getting a few details (like your nails) out of the way the day before Below, find a sample wedding day timeline for a ceremony that starts at 2:00 p.m.

Wedding Planner: Heather Allen, Table 6 Productions

Friday: Rehearsal

  • 10:00 a.m. Mani-pedi/beauty appointments
  • 5:00 p.m. Rehearsal begins
  • 6:00 p.m. Rehearsal ends
  • 5:45 p.m. Shuttle pick-up for rehearsal dinner guests
  • 6:30 p.m. Rehearsal dinner
  • 9:30 p.m. Shuttle drop off at hotel for rehearsal dinner guests

Saturday: Wedding

  • 7:15 a.m. Hair and makeup artists arrive
  • 8:00 a.m. Hair and makeup appointment begin
  • 9:00 a.m. Food and drinks delivered to wedding party
  • 10:00 a.m. Wedding dress steam and prepped/photographer arrives for getting-ready photos
  • 11:15 a.m. Wedding party finishes getting ready
  • 11:45 a.m. Bride puts on dress
  • 12:00 p.m. First look with parents
  • 12:15 p.m. Wedding party portraits
  • 12:30 p.m. Ceremony setup
  • 1:30 p.m. Preceremony music begins
  • 1:15 p.m. Family photos
  • 1:30 p.m. Wedding party departs for ceremony
  • 1:35 p.m. Guests arrive at the ceremony
  • 1:50 p.m. Couple arrives with parents at the ceremony
  • 2:00 p.m. Ceremony begins
  • 3:00 p.m. Ceremony ends
  • 3:10 p.m. Transportation for guests from the ceremony to reception
  • 3:30 p.m. Couple photos at the ceremony location
  • 4:00 p.m. Cocktail hour begins
  • 5:30 p.m. Reception begins
  • 6:00 p.m. Couple introduction and first dance
  • 6:25 p.m. Parent speech
  • 6:30 p.m. Dinner first course served
  • 6:50 p.m. Best man and maid of honor speeches
  • 7:25 p.m. Dinner second course served
  • 7:45 p.m. Parent dances
  • 8:00 p.m. Dancing begins
  • 8:30 p.m. Dessert course served
  • 9:30 p.m. Cake cutting
  • 11:30 p.m. Reception ends

Sunday: Brunch

  • 10:00 a.m. Brunch

A Friday Wedding Timeline: Rehearsal Dinner and Wedding

If you're starting off the weekend with your wedding, you'll need to move up the timeline a day ahead. One important thing to consider when putting together a timeline for your Friday wedding is the start time. You may want the ceremony to begin in the evening so guests have time to get off work or travel in for your wedding day.

Wedding Planner: Heather Allen, Table 6 Productions

Thursday: Rehearsal and rehearsal dinner

  • 3:00 p.m. Wedding rehearsal
  • 6:00 p.m. Rehearsal dinner

Friday: Wedding

  • 10:00 a.m. Setup for hair appointments
  • 10:30 a.m. Hair appointments begin
  • 11:00 a.m. Food delivered to wedding party/lighting setup
  • 12:00 p.m. Makeup appointments begin/chair covers and linens arrive
  • 12:30 p.m. Food delivered to groom's room
  • 1:30 p.m. Bride gets makeup done
  • 2:00 p.m. Ceremony setup begins
  • 2:30 p.m. Photographer arrives to take getting-ready photos
  • 4:15 p.m. Officiant arrives
  • 4:20 p.m. Groomsmen arrive to start ushering guests
  • 4:30 p.m. Guests start to arrive to the ceremony
  • 4:55 p.m. Music begins
  • 5:00 p.m. Ceremony begins
  • 5:25 p.m. Ceremony ends
  • 5:30 p.m. Cocktail hour begins
  • 5:30–5:45 p.m. Couple take photos with wedding party and family
  • 5:45–6:30 p.m. Couple takes photos alone
  • 6:30 p.m. Guests are asked to take their seats in the dining room
  • 6:45 p.m. Newlyweds are announced
  • 7:00 p.m. First course of dinner is served
  • 7:20 p.m. Maid of honor toast
  • 7:50 p.m. Best man toast
  • 8:30 p.m. Dancing begins
  • 9:15 p.m. Bouquet toss
  • 12:00 a.m. Reception ends

A Weekday Wedding Timeline: Rehearsal Dinner, Ceremony and Brief Reception

Weekday weddings are great options for couples planning an elopement or a minimony. Plus, there are plenty of perks to having a weekday wedding that you might not realize. There's a better chance that you can secure your first-choice vendors since they're likely to have more availability during the week. Plus, if you have your heart set on a certain location, you're more likely to snag your preferred date if you're open to a weekday wedding. Since a weekday celebration will be more condensed than a traditional wedding, you can eliminate certain elements like cocktail hour, dinner service, speeches, and reception games. Doing so will allow you to focus on what's really important: Marrying your S.O. and celebrating with your nearest and dearest.

Wedding Planner: Lottie Fowler, founder of Grit & Gold Event Co.

  • 12:00 p.m. Wedding party arrives; Hair and makeup team arrive; Photographer arrives
  • 1:00 p.m. Family members arrive
  • 3:00 p.m. Rentals arrive, setup begins;
  • 4:00 p.m. Additional vendors arrive; Setup continues
  • 5:00 p.m. Cake is delivered
  • 5:30 p.m. Hair and makeup is complete for all; All wedding party members are dressed
  • 5:30-5:40 p.m. First look photos
  • 5:40-6:30 p.m. Wedding party and family portraits
  • 6:15 p.m. Officiant, catering team and reception entertainment arrive
  • 6:30 p.m. Couple departs to prepare for ceremony
  • 6:30 p.m. Guests arrive; Prelude music begins
  • 6:55 p.m. Planner/Coordinator prepares wedding party
  • 7:00 p.m. Ceremony begins
  • 7:30 p.m. Ceremony ends; Planners/caterers/wait staff distributes champagne and beverages as reception begins
  • 7:35 p.m. First dance followed by parent dances
  • 7:45 p.m. Cut cake and begin toasts
  • 7:50 p.m. Cake is distributed to guests, entertainment continues
  • 9:00 p.m. Reception ends

An Indian Wedding Weekend Timeline: Mehndi Party, Wedding and Brunch

When it comes to planning out a multicultural wedding timeline, consider which traditions and events you'll include and how they'll fit into the schedule. Start your wedding on a Thursday or Friday and you'll have more time to fit in traditional Indian events like the mehndi party in addition to American wedding traditions like a welcome party or rehearsal dinner. Your team of vendors are experts in the industry, so allow them to help you craft a timeline that fits your wedding vision—especially if you'll be fusing multiple cultures or religious aspects for a custom wedding.

Wedding Planner: Xochitl Gonzalez, founder of AaB Creates

Thursday: Check-in and setup

  • Morning: Distribute gift bags
  • 3:00 p.m. Guests begin to arrive
  • 7:00 p.m. Welcome cocktails
  • 9:00 p.m. Welcome cocktails end

Friday: Mehndi and welcome dinner

  • 4:00 p.m. Mehndi party
  • 6:30 p.m. Welcome dinner
  • 8:30 p.m. Welcome dinner ends

Saturday: Wedding

  • 10:30 a.m. Baraat
  • 11:00 a.m. Anand karaj
  • 12:30 p.m. Buffet lunch
  • 6:30 p.m. Cocktail hour
  • 7:30 p.m.—11:30 p.m. Reception

Sunday: Brunch

  • 9:00 a.m.—11:00 a.m. Brunch
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