What's the Ideal Ceremony Start Time for a Summer Wedding?

Here's how to schedule your wedding day when the sun sets later.

bride and groom standing outdoor wedding ceremony
Photo: Gianluca Adovasio

Warm breezes, colorful flowers, and those amazingly long days that seem to never end are just a few of the reasons to love summertime. With sunsets as late as 8:30 p.m. and twilight lasting until 9:00 p.m., there can be plenty of confusion as you try to set a timeline for your summer wedding. If you're not sure how to make the calculations, or what to take into consideration, here are some basic questions to get you started planning your wedding-day timeline.

What's the end time designated by your venue?

Sometimes the easiest way to start planning a timeline is working backwards from the end, as many venues will have an absolute cut-off time. For example, let's assume your wedding venue has a 10:00 p.m. end time. In this case, the basic framework for your timeline would look like this:

  • 4 p.m.: Ceremony begins
  • 5 p.m.: Cocktail hour begins
  • 6 p.m.: Dinner begins (two to three courses plus speeches)
  • 8 p.m.: Dancing begins
  • 8:30 p.m.: Sunset
  • 10 p.m.: End

While it may seem odd to start dancing while the sun is still out, you may not have much choice given the restrictions of your venue's end time. The upside of this is that if you're dancing outside, the photos will be beautiful at this hour. You may be able to condense this timeline further by reducing dinner and dancing, if you'd prefer a shorter event.

Where do you want your guests to be during sunset?

If your wedding will largely take place outdoors and guests will be able to see the sunset the ceremony, cocktail hour, or dinner, you may want to base your timeline around that. For example, let's say your wedding venue has an end time of 12 a.m. and the sunset is at 8 p.m. We'll assume guests are dining outdoors with a beautiful view of mountains that reflect the sunset. In this case, the ideal is that guests are seated for dinner just before sunset, and the basic framework for your timeline would look like this:

  • 6 p.m.: Ceremony begins
  • 6:30 p.m.: Cocktail hour begins
  • 7:30 p.m.: Dinner begins (two to three courses plus speeches)
  • 8 p.m.: Sunset
  • 9:30 p.m.: Dancing begins
  • 12 a.m.: End

Keep in mind that if your wedding has multiple locations, the timeline will need to include time to travel from one place to the next.

How much of your event will be outdoors?

Depending on the weather where your wedding will take place, you may want to limit the time spent outdoors. Maybe this means you'll have an indoor ceremony and reception, with just cocktail hour outside to minimize time spent in the hot summer sun. Or, if your entire wedding will be outdoors, you might consider starting the event later-at 5 or 6 p.m.-to avoid the mid-afternoon heat. In this case, you'll still want to take the end time and sunset into consideration.

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