Wedding planning can be stressful, but you shouldn’t have to feel that stress on the big day itself. That’s why we’ve created this helpful guide to create your wedding day timeline. Use this wedding day itinerary to help you plan so you and everyone else will be on the same page about the events of the day. This can be a resource for you, the bridal party, and all your wedding vendors. It’s also a helpful reminder of how your guests will expect the wedding day to proceed so you will know where it’s important to communicate any significant changes to the day-of wedding timeline.
This is a common wedding day format, which means you can personalize it however you like. Use it as an outline to guide your planning, but don’t feel pressure to follow this exact format. We want to help you make your day memorable and stress free!
Simple Wedding Day Timeline to Help Plan Your Big Day
Wedding Day Timeline: Morning-Of
Having a morning-of wedding day itinerary will help the rest of the day proceed smoothly. You don’t want to start the day rushed, so here’s what you should plan for when creating a timeline:
- Breakfast with your bridesmaids: One thing a lot of brides forget to do on their wedding day is eat. It’s a long day and you’ll need your energy, so schedule in a time to have an informal brunch with your ‘maids. Starting your wedding day itinerary with a relaxed meal will put you in the right mindset to enjoy the rest of the day stress-free!
- Hair and makeup: Whether you’re heading to the salon for your updo or the hairdresser is coming to you, hair and makeup should be one of the first items on your morning-of to-do list. You’ll want your hair and face primped and ready before you get dressed. Plan for each of these things to take up to an hour. Your bridesmaids’ hair and makeup should take about 30-60 minutes per person, so plan out enough time for this, too. Consider who is getting their hair and makeup done by someone else and how many people you’ll have on hand to help with that.
- Getting-ready festivities: Typically the photographer will arrive to take “getting ready” photos at the tail-end of your hair and makeup session. This is also when they’ll snap portraits of the dress, rings, and shoes on their own. Then all eyes (and lenses!) will be on you when it’s time to put on the dress, the shoes, and the veil—have some tissues on hand for any weepy family members or friends!
- First look photos: If you’re planning to do “first look” photos with your spouse-to-be before the ceremony, plan for a 15-30 minute session, depending on whether you’ll be exchanging gifts.
- Wedding photos: Talk with your photographer about what kind of photos you want and your desired shot list, if you have one. Each posed shot typically takes 2-3 minutes, so you’ll want to consider this when planning out your wedding day timeline. It’s also common to do bridal party photos before the ceremony and family photos after, or to do all photos following the ceremony. Discuss the pros and cons with your photographer to choose the best plan for your wedding day itinerary.
Wedding Day Timeline: The Ceremony
The ceremony is the main event of the day, but it typically only lasts about thirty minutes. The events and script will vary couple to couple based on your beliefs and traditions, but here’s the basic wedding ceremony format:
- Procession: In a typical procession, the groomsmen and groom enter from the side. Then the bridesmaids enter one at a time, followed by the ringbearer and flower girl (either one at a time or together), and then the bride escorted by her father.
- Opening remarks: The wedding officiant welcomes the bride and groom’s friends and family, then addresses the couple. They may also share a short sermon or message to the couple about love and marriage, depending on the couple’s religious tradition.
- Reading #1: If you’re having special readings or music during the ceremony, this is a common slot for the first one.
- Exchange of vows: The vows come next, whether you’re repeating “for better or worse” or you’ve opted to write your own.
- Unity candle or other symbolic element: If you plan to light a unity candle (or perform some other symbolic element, religious or otherwise), this typically happens right after the vows. If you are lighting a unity candle, typically a parent will light the individual candles before the processional.
- Reading #2: This is another natural break for a second reading, prayer, or song.
- Ring exchange: At this time, the officiant or groom will retrieve the rings from the ringbearer, but if he’s a little too young to be trusted with these, then it’s also common for the best man to hold on to them until this moment.
- Pronouncement of marriage: You liked it and you put a ring on it, so now it’s official! The officiant will pronounce you husband and wife, and then:
- The kiss: Time for your first kiss as a married couple!
- Closing remarks: Typically these final words include an introduction of the married couple. If the bride is taking her husband’s name, they’ll be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. (name), but if she isn’t, be sure to discuss with your officiant how you’d like to be introduced. A common alternative is simply, “I now present the newly-married couple, (name) and (name).”
- Recession: The bride and groom stride out, hand in hand, followed by their bridal party, ‘maids each paired with a groomsman.
- Receiving line: Not every couple will opt to do a receiving line for their guests after the ceremony, but if you do, plan for 12-15 minutes for 100 guests and 20 minutes for 150 guests. If you have more guests than this, it might make more sense to skip the receiving line and plan to visit each table during the reception.
Wedding Day Timeline: The Reception
The happy couple are officially newlyweds, now it’s time to dance the night away! The reception is an important part of the basic wedding day timeline, though—no one wants a good party to be cut off too soon or run too long. Follow this format to plan for your reception timeline.
- Cocktail hour: Send your guests to the reception hall for drinks and hors d’oeuvres before the official reception starts. This helps get your guests in the party mood, and gives you a chance to take a few more wedding portraits.
- Wedding photos: If you didn’t take wedding photos before the ceremony, now is the time to do it. Many couples will use the time during the cocktail hour for an intimate photo session with just the two of them. Others will use it to take all of their wedding photos with family and the bridal party. Discuss your options with the photographer to plan what works best for you. Remember: each shot will likely take 2-3 minutes, so the number of shots you want could be the difference between a 1-3 hour break between the ceremony and reception. You don’t want to have a long break between the wedding and ceremony if you have lots of out-of-town guests who have nowhere to go in-between the events.
- Introduction of the wedding party and newlyweds: The emcee for the evening will announce the bridal party in pairs as they make their entrance into the reception hall and take their seats at the head table. Then the emcee introduces the newlyweds, who make their way to the dance floor.
- Couple’s first dance: All eyes are on you for the first dance! It’s also common to opt to save the first dance for after the meal and toasts—do what feels right for you.
- Meal: Now that everyone has arrived and settled down, it’s time to dig in! Generally, the head table is served first, followed by the guests.
- Toasts and speeches: Once your guests are seated with their plates, take a moment for speeches: maid of honor, best man, father-of-the-bride, mother-of-the-groom, your uncle who’s a wannabe stand-up comedian, etc. Take advantage of your guests being seated and eating to let the sentimentality flow.
- Father-daughter and mother-son dances: Whether you’re dancing to “Butterfly Kisses” or “Video Killed the Radio Star,” keep the sentimental moments rolling after the toasts with these emotional parent-child dances.
- Dancing: Open up the dance floor and get the party started!
- Bouquet and garter toss: Take a break after about 30-45 minutes of dancing for the bouquet and garter toss, if you plan to have them. Your DJ may also have other ideas for special dances to break up the evening and keep the dance floor full throughout the night.
- Cake cutting: Typically the cake cutting signals to your guests that the reception is winding down, so don’t have this event too early in the evening.
- Farewells: As the party starts to wind down, your guests may begin heading out. Take this time to say your farewells, dance a bit more, and greet anyone you may have missed amidst your hectic wedding day itinerary.
- The getaway: Your wedding is the one party you host that you’re allowed to leave early. You want to make your grand exit while most of your guests are still around so you can include them in your getaway photos. Enjoy a grand send-off to your honeymoon surrounded by guests blowing bubbles or holding sparklers!
The (Free!) Ultimate Wedding Day Checklist
Planning your wedding day timeline is just one of the many things you’ll need to do as you prepare for the big day. Lucky for you, the Wedding Shoppe offers a free download of the ultimate wedding day checklist! This DIY wedding planning binder helps make sure you check all the boxes from your engagement to the wedding day. Stay stress-free with this helpful wedding planning timeline and calendar. This binder can also serve as an important reference for everyone involved in wedding planning. Rather than ask you stressful questions about the wedding day format or wedding vendors, they can just reference the binder.
This is a basic wedding day format, but ultimately every part of the day is up to you. We wrote a whole guide to wedding traditions it’s okay to break! Make the day special and unique by deciding which elements are important for you to add, swap out, or rearrange. What are your tips for planning a wedding day timeline?