What Time Should a Wedding Ceremony Start? Planning the Whole Day

So you’ve decided on your wedding theme, bought your decorations, and put together a guest list. One question many people have when planning a wedding is: What time should a wedding ceremony start? Wedding ceremonies can take up a chunk of the day, so you want to be sure you’re planning appropriate times for yourself and your guests.

Today, the team at City Hall Wedding is here to talk about wedding ceremony times and how to pick one. Keep in mind that this article just has suggestions, and you are free to set your ceremony time whenever you want!

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Work Backward to Determine Wedding Times

One effective method of planning a wedding is figuring out the end time and working backward to plan the day. Below are some questions you can ask when considering your wedding schedule:

  • How long do you want the reception to be?
  • Do you want to have a cocktail hour or go directly to food?
  • When do you want to take photos? Before the ceremony or after?
  • Do you want a daytime or evening ceremony and reception?
  • How long will hair and makeup take?
  • What kind and how many activities do you want to plan for the day?

These questions can help you delineate a tentative wedding day timeline. You should start planning your wedding timeline as soon as possible—-preferably at least six to nine months before the date.

Be Specific with Your Timeline

So, what time should a wedding ceremony start? When thinking about a timeline, more details are better. You want to ensure that you account for each important step of the day. If you are not sure exactly how long a specific event will take, it’s better to over-schedule time. You can take things slow if you have more time than you need but rushing because of a lack of time is a bad outcome.

What to Consider When Choosing a Wedding Time

Wedding times can be flexible, but you need to make sure you plan enough time for all the caterers and entertainment to arrive and set up. You also need to schedule times, so you have enough time for guests to arrive and get settled. Consider the following things when thinking about what time your wedding ceremony should start.

Venue Rental Times

Venue rental times are critical because they define how long the reception can run. For example, many venues close and stop services at 11 PM, so you’ll need to plan to start your wedding early enough that you can complete the ceremony and have ample time for the wedding reception.


If you want to have an outdoor ceremony, make sure you search the sunset time for your wedding day so you can plan the ceremony location to have natural light. Depending on how things proceed when the day arrives, you might want to buy outdoor lights in case you run over your schedule and the sun sets before the outdoor ceremony is complete.

Reception Length

Consider how long you want the reception to be. The typical wedding reception is about four to five hours, and most people start with a cocktail hour and photos before moving on to the food. You want to have enough time so your guests can party and tire themselves out well before the venue closes for the night.

Wedding Activities

Most weddings include a ceremony and reception as the main events. If you want to plan more activities, such as games or events, you need to set aside enough time for them. Each activity should take up at least an hour on your schedule so guests can have time to enjoy them.

Prep Time

Weddings take a lot of preparation, time from setting up decorations and getting your outfit together. You need to plan your ceremony time so you can arrive early in the day and have plenty of time to prepare things. It can take up to six hours to get everything in line for a wedding ceremony.

Hypothetical Wedding Timeline

Below is a hypothetical timeline for a wedding day. You can adopt this template or modify it for your own wedding.

  • 10: 30 AM – Arrive at the venue and meet the photographers
  • 11:00 AM – Start hair, makeup, and outfits
  • 11:30 AM – Band and entertainers arrive and set up
  • 1:00 PM – Guests start to arrive
  • 2:00 – 3:00 PM – Start the wedding ceremony
  • 3:00 – 3:30 PM – Quick break before the reception
  • 3:30 – 5:00 PM – Cocktails and wine at the reception venue
  • 5:00 – 6:00 PM – Dinner time!
  • 6:00 – 6:15 PM – Newlyweds’ first dance
  • 6:15 – 9:00 PM – Dancing
  • 9:00 PM  – ? Wedding after party at a different venue

How Long Do Wedding Events Take?

You need to make sure you schedule enough time for separate events on your wedding day. Below are some common wedding party events and how long they usually take.


Wedding ceremonies typically take about 20 to 30 minutes. However, there is a lot of flexibility depending on the kind of ceremony you have. Some traditional religious wedding ceremonies might take up to an hour.


Most people schedule cocktails to last for about an hour. This gives people enough time to socialize, have a few drinks, and build up an appetite without the risk of people drinking too much before the reception.


Dinner is a bit more flexible as people can still eat while dancing is going on. Ideally, you want to schedule at least an hour of eating before the rest of the reception so people can get food in their stomachs before dancing.

Start Planning Your Wedding Today!

Now that you know the answer to “what time should a wedding ceremony start?” read our blog to learn about potential mistakes when planning a courthouse wedding. Fill out our contact form online or subscribe to our newsletter to receive wedding planning ideas and money-saving tips right to your inbox!