How Long Do Weddings Last? The Best Timeline Guide For Your Party

Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. It’s also one of the longest, with all the planning and preparation that goes into it. So, it’s only natural that you want to know how long do weddings last. 

What does the average wedding night look like? What should you consider for your wedding timeline? How long should you hit the dance floor? When should your first dance be? How about the average wedding reception?

The quick answer is a wedding typically lasts 4-6 hours (or longer), but we’ll go into more detail below about what to expect at your wedding venue and what your wedding day timeline MIGHT look like:

Pre-Wedding

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Before the Actual Wedding Ceremony and Reception

Wedding planning is tough. Before we talk about how long weddings last, let’s discuss the timeline BEFORE the big day!

It will take eight months to a year to plan (sometimes longer).

  • Wedding invitation- 30 days to 4 months
  • Wedding dress – 1 year to 18 months
  • Venue – 6 months to 1 year
  • Wedding Caterer – 6 months to 1 year
  • Wedding Photographer – 4-6 weeks for engagement photos, 4-6 months for wedding photos
  • Wedding Flowers – 3-8 weeks before the wedding, depending on what you’re ordering (e.g. bouquets/boutonnieres) and where you’re getting them from (e.g. local florist vs. online)
  • Wedding Cake – typically at least a few months before the wedding date

Okay, now let’s discuss how long the actual wedding celebration will take!

How Long Do Weddings Last On Average

The length of your wedding will depend on the type of ceremony and reception you have planned and what time of year it is. Generally speaking, an average wedding can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours (or longer).

If you’re considering getting married in spring or summer, prepare for warmer temperatures and potentially a shorter ceremony and wedding reception.

The ceremony itself typically lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. The rest of the time is spent on wedding photos and dancing! It’s important to remember that this is just an average; some weddings last longer (6+ hours), while others are shorter (2+ hours).

Reasons For a Shorter Wedding Timeline

We’ve seen a lot of different reasons why your wedding might be shorter than four or five hours:

  • You took your wedding vows at noon instead of in the evening.
  • Your venue had limited space for guests, so you only invited 50 people instead of 100+.
  • Your reception didn’t include a band or DJ — instead, there was just live music at dinner and everyone got up to dance themselves!

If you’re planning a long day full of events with many guests attending them all, your guests may get tired after a few hours — and so might you! If you choose to go on for several hours, consider including breaks between each part, so all wedding attendees have time to eat and rest before moving on to the next event.

Shorter Wedding Reception Timeline Are Becoming Increasingly Popular

Traditional weddings are often long and drawn out, but it’s important to consider how long you want your wedding reception. The average Catholic wedding ceremony is about an hour long, while most wedding receptions are at least two hours long.

Couples often extend their parties with after-parties and other activities afterward, adding another two hours or more to their event.

The length of your wedding will also depend on where you hold it and how many guests you invite. If you’re having a large ceremony in a church or venue that requires formal attire for guests, then there’s no getting around the fact that your day will be longer than others.

More Detail About How Long a Wedding Last

  • The average length of a wedding reception is 4-6 hours.
  • The average length of a cocktail hour is 1 hour. The shortest we’ve seen was 30 minutes, and the longest was 3 hours.
  • The average dinner is 2 hours, but it ranges from 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of food and number of guests. If you’re serving heavy hors d’oeuvres (like barbecue or hot dogs), plan on keeping your guests stuffed for just over an hour before they start getting hungry again! If you’re serving something delicious but light (like sushi), remember that people will be ready for dessert sooner than later.
  • A ceremony should last no longer than 45 minutes — any longer than that, and it might seem like too much time has passed before guests can finally sit down at their tables and begin eating!

Planning an American Style Wedding?

If you’re going to take a year to plan your wedding, the least you can expect on your day is for things to go smoothly. If an American wedding is right up your alley, then here is a deep dive into the flow of events to help you schedule your activities better.

The Wedding Ceremony

This is undeniably the main event of the day and while you want to take in every moment, you also don’t want to keep your guests sitting too long. This part of the wedding usually takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on whether you are having a religious wedding. Nonetheless, 45 minutes should be enough to have your procession, vows, and a few readings.

Wedding Party Cocktail Hour And Dinner Length

The cocktail hour comes after the ceremony and can begin immediately or after 20-30 minutes depending on whether you have your reception venue at the same place as the ceremony or there’s a travel delay. The cocktail hour is an opportunity to keep your guests engaged while you and your wedding party enjoy a small photo session. After all, you want to capture the best of your day.

The wedding party cocktail hour is the time between when guests arrive and when they’re seated for dinner. The length of a wedding reception cocktail hour is usually an hour. This means that you should make sure to have enough food, drinks and entertainment planned for your guests during this period. It’s also important to ensure that your server paces themselves so they don’t run out of food or drinks during this time!

Dinner Invitation

This part simply means inviting the guests to their seats in the main dining hall. It can take anywhere from 5- 15 minutes. You can hurry this part along by drafting up a seating chart to help guests find their places quicker.

The Grand Entrance

Once the guests are seated, the couple makes an entrance into the main hall accompanied by the wedding party, and a little introduction is done in case you can’t already tell who the bride is.

The First Dance

While the crowd is still lively, the couple has their first dance which may simply be a slow dance to a slow song or a choreographed number. Just remember there’s no pressure to break into a whole concert performance. Dancing to ‘your’ song works too. While you’re still on your feet, you and your spouse can take the moment to appreciate your guests and welcome them to the next part of your wedding.

Dinner Length

The dinner hour is the duration between the end of the ceremony and when people start leaving. The average length of an American wedding reception’s dinner hour is two hours, but it can vary depending on where you live in America (the West Coast tends to be on its feet much faster than the East Coast!).

This part of the wedding is highly dependent on the meal course you serve and can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. There’s no pressure to rush through the dinner as it doesn’t hinder your schedule from running as planned. Not to mention that the food and drinks are the best part of a wedding…at least for the guests!

Toasts

While your guests are enjoying their different courses, the parents, best man, and maid of honor can give their speeches. As usual, we recommend asking everyone to stay brief.

Parent’s Dance ( Father-Daughter, Mother-Son)

This is one of the most anticipated dances and can be done right before opening the dance floor to more high-tempo music and inviting your guests to dance into the night.

Tossing the bouquet

If your girls still believe in the age-old superstition, it doesn’t hurt to indulge in this little wedding tradition. After all, it only takes a few minutes.

Cake Cutting

It’s always great to cut your cake when you still have the guest’s attention however you are at liberty to decide when you would like to do it. Just leave out the smearing cake on each other. We can all agree it’s outdated.

The Last Song

Once you’ve done all your wedding activities, you can wrap up by opening back the dance floor for the last song

The Grand Exit

If you’re extra, you can schedule your exit in style right before your guests leave. Some traditions are worth keeping.

When To Cut the Cake

The cake-cutting ceremony is a very important part of the wedding, so it should be done at an appropriate time. If you want to cut your cake during your reception and have this moment be part of the first dance, make sure you do it before your guests leave their dinners. This way, you get all their attention during this special moment with your new spouse!

When we say “first dance,” we mean that this is often used as an opportunity to do a slow dance or even some sort of choreographed number with family members or friends assembled in a circle around you.

The bride and groom may choose an upbeat song; however, many couples prefer something that isn’t too fast-paced because they’re not trying to rush through anything here. Instead, they want their guests’ full attention focused on them without worrying about anyone else stepping on toes.

From Start to Finish — How Long Do Most Weddings Last?

A Rough Estimate 

From start to finish, a wedding usually lasts about four hours. The ceremony is generally about 45 minutes to an hour long, and the cocktail hour and dinner service can last anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours. (Dinner service also depends on WHAT and HOW you serve the food).

The reception typically begins at 6 pm with a seated dinner and dancing on the dance floor until everyone has had their fill of cake (usually around 10 pm). Things like a father-daughter dance, a mother-son dance and parent dances can lengthen the timeframe.

Some individuals might leave before the end of the night, but make sure you always set a time up for your first dance and the last dance!

What To Do After Your Wedding Party is Over

Yes, There is More

After your wedding, it’s time to move on. You have a long honeymoon ahead of you, and there are a few things you’ll need to do before hitting the road. If you haven’t packed before the wedding, now’s the time!

How Long Should Your Honeymoon Be?

It depends on you!

You’ve spent the past few years planning your dream wedding, and now it’s finally time for the big day. Afterwards, you’ll be stepping off the dance floor and onto an airplane! But before you can jump on a plane for that honeymoon getaway, there’s one question you should have answered: how long will your honeymoon be?

The average length of an American honeymoon is somewhere between 7 and 10 days, but there are plenty of options in between. If this is your first trip as Mr. & Mrs., then seven days might be right up your alley — you’ll have enough time to feel relaxed but not so much time that things can start to feel stale or monotonous.

However, if this isn’t the only trip you’re going on and if you’d like some more freedom when making arrangements later on down the line (especially if those trips include accommodations with children), consider opting for an eight-day stay instead of seven. Eight days gives everyone enough space from normal life back home without feeling like they haven’t had enough alone time together.

It’s important to make every minute count while on your honeymoon!

The Choice is YOURS.

Ultimately, how long your wedding should take is entirely up to you. After all, this is YOUR big day. Remember that while everyone you invite is thrilled to be part of your celebration, some individuals may get tired, have kids at home or need to get up early the next day. It is best to plan for some wedding guests to leave earlier than others and be understanding when that time comes around!

Conclusion

So, there you have it — the average wedding length is between 2 and 5 hours. The ceremony usually lasts 45 minutes or less, but the reception can go on much longer. This is why it’s so important to plan ahead and stick to a schedule! 

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