Whether you’re a guest or a soon-to-be-wed, you’ve likely wondered: “How long do weddings last? What time should a wedding ceremony start, and how long is a wedding ceremony typically? How long is a wedding reception, and what should take place during it?” 

It’s absolutely normal to have these questions (and many others!) when planning a wedding. At the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center, we understand the importance of having a well-structured wedding timeline to help guide your day and ensure it runs smoothly. We’ve hosted hundreds of weddings at our historic venue over our decades in the industry, so you might say we’re experts! 

In this comprehensive wedding timeline guide, we’ll walk you through a typical wedding day timeline for a 4 PM ceremony, helping you plan each moment and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Wedding ceremony at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center.

Typical Wedding Timeline For A 4 PM Ceremony

Having a clear wedding schedule is critical to keeping your big day organized and enjoyable for everyone involved. A typical wedding itinerary includes various stages, including preparation, ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. Let’s delve into each of these sections of your wedding day itinerary to understand what they entail — and how to make the most of them.


Mother helping her daughter get ready for her wedding at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center.

Before Ceremony

The hours before your wedding are undoubtedly filled with excitement, anticipation, and a flurry of activity! To ensure a seamless, stress-free experience for you, your wedding party and your various vendors and service providers (like your photographer, videographer, florist, etc.,) it’s essential that you and your partner make decisions in advance regarding pre-wedding itinerary items.

In the pre-ceremony stage, you’ll likely want to consider the time and location of wedding party photos, your arrival time at the venue, and whether to have a first look before the ceremony. In our wedding itinerary example for a 4 PM ceremony, we suggest the following timeline:

10:00 A.M. Venue Preparation

Before you and your spouse-to-be begin your wedding day prep, your venue will get ready, too! For a 4 PM ceremony start time, we recommend venue preparation begin around 10 AM. This is the time your wedding planner or venue coordinator will be on-site to help your wedding vendors set up. You’ll want to connect with your planner or coordinator well in advance to ensure clear lines of communication and expectations are established with the venue and your florist, decor and rental provider, DJ or band, caterer, and other vendors.

11:30 A.M. Bridal Party Prep

Because the bride and her bridesmaids often have more in-depth preparation to complete before the ceremony, they should begin the getting-ready process earlier than the groomsmen. It’s during this time that the bride and her attendants will have their hair and makeup sessions, don their bridal attire, and take getting-ready photos with your photographer.

1:30 P.M. Groomsmen Prep

Though perhaps less involved than the bride and her bridesmaids, the groom and his groomsmen still have preparations to attend to! About 90 minutes before the ceremony is set to begin, the groom and his side of the wedding party will be getting dressed, taking pre-ceremony photos, and relaxing before the big event.

3:00 P.M. First Look

If you and your partner decide to have a first look prior to your ceremony, make sure to leave at least half an hour after you’re both dressed but before you travel to the venue for your first look photos. Discuss the plan with your photographer in advance, including the location of your first look, how each of you will get to the location without seeing each other, and the plan for the first look itself. Be sure to cover any specific shots you want the photographer to capture during this time.

3:30 P.M. Final Touches At Ceremony Venue

As you and your wedding party travel to your ceremony venue, your team will be putting the final touches on your ceremony space. This can include any last-minute decorations, checking of audio equipment, and generally making sure everything is perfect for your wedding ceremony. You’ll want to work with your planner or coordinator to ensure any ceremony programs or thoughtful guest comfort items, like fans or blankets for an outdoor ceremony, are placed well in advance.

wedding ceremony at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center.

4:00 P.M. Ceremony

The moment is finally here! A wedding ceremony typically includes a processional, in which the officiant, couple’s parents, wedding party, and couple walk down the aisle, the exchanging of vows and rings, a first kiss as a married pair, and a recessional to exit the ceremony. Many couples choose to also include unique traditions or rituals, such as a unity candle, sand ceremony, or other memorable ceremony additions.

How Long Is A Wedding Ceremony?

In a typical wedding timeline, the average wedding length can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Of course, there is no universal answer to the question of “How long are weddings?”; the length may vary depending on the traditions included as well as whether the ceremony is religious or secular. Religious ceremonies tend to last longer than non-religious ceremonies simply because of the readings, rituals and other elements usually present.

Bride socializing on her wedding day at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center.

After Ceremony And Cocktail Hour

You’re married — it’s time to celebrate! Following the recessional out of the ceremony, the couple, wedding party and immediate family will likely take photos while the other guests enjoy a cocktail hour at the reception venue. 

4:50 P.M. Family Pictures

Assuming your wedding ceremony lasts 30-45 minutes, family photos will likely start around 4:50 PM according to our wedding timeline example. To ensure you capture every combination of people that you would like during this time, you’ll want to talk with your photographer well in advance to outline the shots (Think groom and his parents, bride and her parents, the couple with both sets of parents, etc.) that are must-haves. You should also provide any combinations of people you do not want photographed together, and any special requests you may have, like photos with non-immediate family members or close friends who are not in the wedding party. 

5:00 P.M. Cocktail Hour

While the wedding party is being photographed, your guests will be relaxing, mingling, and enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the reception officially begins. 

5:30 P.M. Couples’ Pictures

Be sure to set aside time with your photographer to capture intimate, romantic portraits of you and your spouse as newlyweds! This should happen after your photos with your bridal party and family, as they can then be released to enjoy the cocktail hour with the rest of your guests.

Newlywed couple kissing at their wedding reception at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center.


Once photos are done, you and your new spouse can finally party! Wedding receptions typically include speeches, dinner, cake or dessert, and dancing — though every couple will have different preferences and a unique take on their wedding reception details. 

How Long Is A Wedding Reception?

How long are wedding receptions? The answer varies greatly, but a good average is anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. The duration of a reception can be influenced by factors like the number of guests (more guests = longer reception,) the quantity and length of speeches, and how long the couple wishes to dance and celebrate with their guests. 

6:00 P.M. Wedding Party Entrance And Toasts

These days, a wedding reception often kicks off with a grand entrance from the wedding party and couple, though it isn’t required. These entrances tend to be followed by the couple’s first dance (if they don’t plan on having it kick off the evening’s dancing portion later on) and heartfelt toasts to the couple’s happy future from the maid of honor, best man, and parents. 

6:15 P.M. Dinner

During dinner, your guests will enjoy your carefully-planned menu, and you and your spouse can visit each table to thank your guests for their presence during your big day. You’ve undoubtedly heard your married friends lament not getting to taste their own wedding dinner, so circumvent this by planning to visit tables in-between courses or before dessert!

7:30 P.M. Cake Cutting And Dessert

Yay, cake! The tradition of cake cutting marks the start of the dessert course and signals that dancing is soon to begin. If you’re providing other desserts beyond wedding cake, these will be served to guests at this time, either by servers or at buffet-style stations or tables. 

7:45 P.M. Dancing

It’s time to hit the dance floor! If you did not have your first dance as a married couple at the top of your reception, your first dance will open this portion of the evening. The first dance is often followed by dances between the bride and her father as well as the groom and his mother, if the couple desires. 

After these dances occur, your DJ or emcee will invite all your guests onto the floor to dance the night away! If you are having any other specialty dances during your reception, such as a dollar dance or couples’ dance, be sure to let your DJ or emcee know so they can work it into the evening’s playlist. 

10:00 P.M. Grand Send Off

As your magical evening comes to an end, a grand send-off allows your guests to bid you farewell in a memorable fashion. Common send-offs include sparkler exits, bubbles, lantern releases, leaving the reception in a vintage car, and even a horse-drawn carriage!

Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center Outdoor Courtyard Event Space.

Have Your Minnesota Wedding At The Heritage Center Of Brooklyn Center

A well-structured wedding timeline can significantly enhance the day for both you and your guests. The expert wedding planners at the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center would love to help you plan your wedding day from start to finish! Contact us to learn more about our beautiful, historic venue and our experience creating extraordinary weddings. We can’t wait to meet you!

“We were blessed with the opportunity to work with Ali and Connor and we couldn’t have had a more perfect day. They were so flexible with us and excellent with communication, the food was amazing, and our set up was timely and efficient! We couldn’t recommend the Heritage Center more!”