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How to Create the Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

creating a wedding day timeline

A thorough wedding day timeline is the one thing that will ensure you have a seamless, stress-free wedding whether you're a DIY bride or hiring a pro!

So much effort is put into planning all the details of your wedding day. From selecting who to invite to finding the perfect invitations, to choosing your colors, flowers, and of course, your dress! But it's not just about the visual details of the day. Hosting a wedding is full of many decisions, including everything from setting your budget to picking out the linens. But the execution and logistics involved in making it all actually happen on the big day are crucial and of major importance, especially for DIY couples. That's why putting together a thorough wedding day timeline and task list is essential to making your event come together and run smoothly.

What is a Wedding Day Timeline?

A wedding day timeline is the outline of events, logistics, vendors, VIPS, deliveries, and details that are relevant to pulling your event together.

Having a detailed timeline of the wedding day's events and details is absolutely critical to ensuring your event runs smoothly and according to what you've envisioned and planned for.

Below are the important details that you should include in your wedding day timeline in order to make it as thorough and helpful as possible.

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, “Timing is everything.” When it comes to executing an organized event, it couldn't be more true!

More than likely, you've never planned an event with so many moving parts. With so many different pieces at play, one small issue could cause a domino effect of problems in your wedding day timeline, so it's important to be prepared. This post outlines absolutely everything you need to know to put together a professional wedding day timeline for your big day!

wedding timeline printable etsy
via Sunshine Wedding Party on Etsy

What to Include in Your Wedding Day Timeline

A good wedding day timeline will completely answer the following questions when it comes to the elements of your wedding:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • How

Read on to learn more about these different elements.

Who: Your Vendors, Wedding Party & VIPs

You should include an entire list of all the people involved in your big day who play key roles, including notes and contact info for each person.

This list should include each of your wedding vendor contacts, every member of your wedding party, and any key family members who need to be kept in the loop.

What/Where: Addresses, Roles, & Deliveries Expected

List the major details that are important to note, such as the addresses of the ceremony, reception, and your wedding night accommodations.

It's also important to have a list of deliveries expected to be made that day.

Wedding Day Timeline Signage

When/How: Schedule of Events

Your finished product should aim to outline the schedule of events from start to finish. You'll likely want to craft your outline in such close detail that you have line items listed in 15-minute intervals throughout the key moments of your day. The most detailed timelines tend to be the most helpful, so don't hold back.

In the section below, you'll learn step-by-step, how to create your own wedding day timeline to outline your big day!


How to Make Your Own Wedding Day Timeline

When you’re considering your wedding timeline, how to create your schedule is likely your top question! By checking in with your wedding professionals, asking for copies of their timeline, referencing your contracts and deciding on key details, you can create a timeline similar to one an event planner would design in simple steps. Let’s dive in!

Arrival and Departure Times

Email your team and ask them to provide arrival and departure times. This information is key for the framework of your timeline, and it’s also important to double check the information they provide with the details listed in their contracts. Make sure both match! If they don’t, now is the time to say something.

If you’re working with hair and makeup professionals, ask for a copy of their schedules. This will clue you in on timing for your day, and it will also offer insight into when your bridesmaids and family members have appointments. Send a copy of the hair and makeup schedule to those having their hair and makeup done to keep everyone in the know and on time. 

Ask your photographer for a copy of their timeline! Most photographers build timelines at least 2-4 weeks in advance of your wedding. Their information will also offer great insight and a more distinct framework as you add in further details.

How will you create your timeline?

Decide what program you would like to use to build your timeline. A simple Word document or Google Doc would work perfectly, but you could also turn to a program like Timeline Genius

You could also use an editable template creator such as Canva to create your wedding timeline.

Start building your timeline by reviewing the details you've gathered thus far. 

First, document when each team will arrive. Then, add when they will depart. 

Next, focus on your wedding morning. Thanks to their schedule, your hair and makeup team will guide the timing during the morning. 

Your photographer will likely be next to arrive. Add the timing details they have provided to your document. Now is also the time to talk with your photographer about whether or not you would like to do a first look and also when will work best to capture portraits with your wedding party and family.  Also note when your officiant should arrive as well as your florist, caterer, and more.

Your timeline likely has a solid framework at this point! 

Continue building your timeline by filling in reception details. 

Your caterer is the key team to guide timing during your reception. They know when and how they like to serve dinner (think: courses, family style, or buffet), and they know how much time to allow. 

Once you know your caterer’s plans, loop your photographer and DJ (or band!) into the mix so all three groups stay on the same page. 

Now, it’s time to work on the middle of your timeline. When we mention the “middle” of your timeline, we’re referencing the time in between when hair and makeup are complete through your ceremony. 

When building this section of your timeline, start with your ceremony. The most common ceremony start times we see are 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., but you can choose any time that feels right for your wedding. Unless your ceremony is a full Catholic mass, which typically is a full hour, most ceremonies are 30-45 minutes long. Plan for guests to start to arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of your ceremony, so you, your partner, and your wedding party will want to be tucked away 15-30 minutes prior to guests’ arrival. 

Use map apps to your advantage! If you are not having your wedding at a dual-purpose venue, you'll likely need to factor in travel time between ceremony and reception locations. It’s key to know how long it will take for you to travel from the location where you’re getting ready to your ceremony location and then to your reception. Always plan to add in time to account for traffic. 

Make sure everyone knows what time to start getting ready, and make sure family members included in portraits know when and where to go for photos.   


wedding timeline - create a day of schedule for your wedding

Sample Wedding Day Timelines

Sample Wedding Day Timeline with Seated Dinner

Pre-Ceremony

Once you have completed the steps we mentioned above, your timeline will likely look something like this if you’re having a plated dinner: 

7:45 a.m.

Hair + Makeup Begins – Note: Most hairstylists and makeup artists ask for 30 minutes per person per session (i.e.: 30 minutes for hair, 30 minutes for makeup). 

11:30 a.m.

Groom + Groomsmen Gather to Get Ready

12:00 p.m.

Bride Puts on Wedding Dress

12:30 p.m.

First Look

1:00 p.m.

Couple’s Portraits

1:45 p.m.

Wedding Party Photos

2:15 p.m.

Family Photos

2:45 p.m.

Couple, Wedding Party, + Family Travel to Ceremony

3:15 p.m.

Couple + Wedding Party Tucked Away for Ceremony

Ceremony

3:30 p.m.

Guests Arrive for Ceremony

4:00 p.m.

Ceremony – Note: List the order of your processional and your music choices. This helps everyone to know their cues!

Reception

4:45 p.m.

All Travel to Reception

5:00 p.m.

Cocktail Hour Begins

6:00 p.m.

Cocktail Hour Ends/Guests Take Their Seats

6:20 p.m.

Introductions

6:30 p.m.

First Dance

6:35 p.m.

Dance Set – A great time to have everyone join you on the dance floor and release some of their energy!

6:50 p.m.

Everyone is Seated

6:55 p.m.

Welcome Speech + Blessing

7:05 p.m.

First Course

7:25 p.m.

Best Man + Maid/Matron of Honor Speeches – Encourage each to speak for no more than 3-5 minutes. 

7:35 p.m.

Second Course

7:55 p.m.

Father/Daughter + Mother/Son Dances

8:05 p.m.

Dance Floor is Officially Open

9:00 p.m.

Cake Cutting – You can absolutely cut your cake earlier in the night, but sometimes guests opt to leave once the cake is cut. A great general rule is to cut your cake 60-90 minutes before the end of your wedding.

9:55 p.m.

Final Dance – Sometimes couples have a specific song they would like the DJ to play as the last song. It’s a wonderful way to end your wedding on a high note! 

10:00 p.m.

Wedding Concludes – Grand Exit

Sample Wedding Day Timeline for Buffet Reception

If you’re planning a family style or buffet dinner, your timeline will likely look something like this: 

Pre-Ceremony

7:45 a.m.

Hair + Makeup Begins – Note: Most hairstylists and makeup artists ask for 30 minutes per person per session (i.e.: 30 minutes for hair, 30 minutes for makeup). 

11:30 a.m.

Groom + Groomsmen Gather to Get Ready

12:00 p.m.

Bride Puts on Wedding Dress

12:30 p.m.

First Look

1:00 p.m.

Couple’s Portraits

1:45 p.m.

Wedding Party Photos

2:15 p.m.

Family Photos

2:45 p.m.

Couple, Wedding Party, + Family Travel to Ceremony

3:15 p.m.

Couple + Wedding Party Tucked Away for Ceremony

Ceremony

3:30 p.m.

Guests Arrive for Ceremony

4:00 p.m.

Ceremony – Note: List the order of your processional and your music choices. This helps everyone to know their cues!

Reception

4:45 p.m.

All Travel to Reception

5:00 p.m.

Cocktail Hour Begins

6:00 p.m.

Cocktail Hour Ends/Guests Take Their Seats

6:20 p.m.

Introductions

6:30 p.m.

First Dance

6:35 p.m.

Dance Set – A great time to have everyone join you on the dance floor and release some of their energy!

6:50 p.m.

Everyone is Seated

6:55 p.m.

Welcome Speech + Blessing

7:05 p.m.

Buffet Opens/Family Style Meal is Served

7:35 p.m.

Best Man + Maid/Matron of Honor Speeches – Encourage each to speak for no more than 3-5 minutes. 

7:45 p.m.

Father/Daughter + Mother/Son Dances

7:55 p.m.

Dance Floor is Officially Open

9:00 p.m.

Cake Cutting – You can absolutely cut your cake earlier in the night, but sometimes guests opt to leave once the cake is cut. A great general rule is to cut your cake 60-90 minutes before the end of your wedding.

9:55 p.m.

Final Dance – Sometimes couples have a specific song they would like the DJ to play as the last song. It’s a wonderful way to end your wedding on a high note! 

10:00 p.m.

Wedding Concludes

If you’re not planning to do a first look or your event doesn’t include cocktail hour (or anything noted in the sample!), feel free to remove those details and adjust your timing accordingly. Overall, the most important thing is for your timeline to reflect the plans you have made with your team of wedding professionals. And, the goal is for you to relax on your wedding day and have fun!

See a real bride's personal wedding day timeline creation process here!

Free Printable Wedding Day Timeline Template!

free printable wedding day timeline template

Get the free printable wedding day timeline template here!

Customize this template for your own wedding day using the free design platform, Canva!

Do you have additional questions about your timeline? Leave them in the comments!

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