The Legend of Zelda games have one of the most confusing timelines in video game history - if they even have one at all. Nintendo haven't given us one, and the best they've given us Miyamoto saying that Ocarina of Time is at the very beginning of it all. Besides that, there's not a whole lot to go on. Some games are definately sequels to others - Majora's Mask is a sqeuel to Ocarina, for example, or Phantom Hourglass comes right after Wind Waker. Coupled together with some theories from Zelda Legends, I came up with my own timeline. Even if it's completely different from what you think, it's an interesting read.
Note that this was written before Phantom Hourglass came out, so there's no mention of it, Twilight Princess or the forthcoming (at time of writing) Spirit Tracks. Placing them into the timeline isn't too difficult though - PH goes right after WW, Spirit Tracks can (temporarily) go after PH, and TP can fit in several places, but I'm gonna go with between the Minish Cap and Wind Waker.
Remember - this is merely my personal opinion, and is in no way conclusive. If Nintendo decide to give out a timeline and it's totally different then mine, I'll concede to their wisdom (it is their franchise, after all), but until they do, this is the order I'll play the games in if (or, indeed, when) I decide to do so again.
The Hylia, the chosen people of the goddesses, settle in various parts of the world, passing on their knowledge and magical lore to many people. 1000 years after the goddesses visit, the kingdom of Hyrule is founded in the small land south of Death Mountain. The Triforce is possibly used by these ancient people.
Over time, great sages, including Rauru, the Sage of Light, realize that the Triforce poses a hazard if it falls into the wrong hands. They hide the Triforce in the Golden Land, and seal the entrance. The Triforce now rests in the Temple of Light in the middle of the Sacred Realm, and the entrance to the Sacred Realm is sealed by the Master Sword, which rests in the Temple of Time in the kingdom of Hyrule. After this has been done, the sages begin compiling the Book of Mudora, which chronicles all the legends and myths in Hyrule. It is finally completed almost 1000 years later.
By this time, after being so preoccupied with the Book of Mundora, not even the Sages know where the Triforce is hidden. Lust for the Triforce's power is strong, and the people of Hyrule, suspicious that one group or another is hiding the Triforce, attack each other. Hyrule is engulfed by a fierce civil war.
The very first Link and Zelda are born in Hyrule. To escape the fires of the war, Link's mother takes him to the forbidden forest, where she dies from injuries sustained while fleeing. Following her dying wish, the Great Deku Tree takes him in, and he is raised a Kokiri.
After many years, the King of Hyrule manages to cease the fighting, and a time of peace takes effect as the King attempts to unite Hyrule. Ganondorf, the King of the Gerudo thieves, secretly continues to search for the Triforce.
Events of Ocarina of Time - Link, now a young boy, leaves the Kokiri Forest on a quest to stop Ganondorf's plot to enter the Sacred Realm. Link opens the entrance to the Sacred Realm by drawing the Master Sword, but his spirit is sealed away for seven years until he is old enough to be the Hero of Time. Meanwhile, Ganondorf and his band of thieves enter the Sacred Realm. Ganondorf gains the Triforce of Power, and uses it to become Mandrag Ganon, King of the Enchanted Thieves. The Triforce of Wisdom goes to Princess Zelda, and the Triforce of Courage goes to Link. As Ganon builds his power, Hyrule is consumed by a great darkness.
While Link sleeps, Ganon takes the opportunity to conquer Hyrule and set himself up as the Evil King of Hyrule. Upon awakening seven years later, Link claims his birthright as the Hero of Time. Freeing the Sages, he defeats Ganondorf. Ganondorf transforms into Ganon, but Link holds Ganon off long enough for the Sages to seal him in the Sacred Realm. Zelda sends Link back in time, hoping to alter the timeline and prevent Ganondorf's rule.
Having travelled back to the point where he first meets Zelda, Link warns her of Ganon's intentions and successfully prevents him from entering the Sacred Realm and gaining the Triforce. Having saved Hyrule, Link departs to find his beloved friend Navi, taking the Triforce of Courage with him and leaving the Triforce of Wisdom with Zelda. When he leaves Hyrule however, the Triforce of Courage splits apart and is scattered all over Hyrule. It is hidden carefully away in numerous treasure chests.
Events of Majora's Mask - In the midst of his journey, Link encounters a skull-mask wearing child, and after losing his Ocarina to the child, chases him into the parallel world of Termina. He discovers that the moon is going to crash into the world in three days time, but after recovering the Ocarina of Time, Link finds that he can jump back to the point of time when he first appeared in Termina. Using this ability, he saves Termina from the moon and from the power of Majora's Mask, the entity that the child who stole his Ocarina was wearing. After this, Link continues on his search for Navi.
While Link is away, the King of Hyrule orders the tainted Golden Land sealed, but Ganon's army attacks the castle. As the Knights defend the Sages from Ganon's monsters, the Seven Sages seal Ganon inside the Golden Land. This battle comes to be known as the Imprisoning War in later centuries.
During this new period of peace, another great evil by the name of Vaati besieged the land of Hyrule. Vaati could bend the wind to his will and used this to kidnap any beautiful girls who caught his fancy. Many knights from the castle and other brave men set out to subdue the sorcerer and rescue the girls, but each one fell in turn to Vaati's awesome power. Just when all hope was lost, a lone young boy, travelling with little but a sword at his side, given to him by the mystical race called the Picori, appeared and mystically trapped the evil sorcerer inside the blade of his sword. The people were so grateful to the young boy and the Picori who empowered him that they began to hold a great festival in their honour once a year. However, as time passed, the Picori soon became nothing more then a legend.
Events of Four Swords Adventures - Hundereds of years later, the current Princess Zelda of Hyrule, along with her great companion Link, were out playing in the woods when they stumbled upon a holy shrine. Inside they found the sword which contained Vaati and, not knowing the danger of their actions, released him. Vaati, enraged at being caged for so long, kidnapped the Princess and sealed Link inside the shrine. A mysterious voice appeared and prompted Link to take hold of the sword. Upon doing so, his body shattered into four pieces, each forming a complete copy of him. With this, the four Links reopened the shrine and rescued Princess Zelda, defeating Vaati once again. Once the task was completed, the four Links returned to one, and he replaced the sword in the shrine.
Events of The Minish Cap - Several years passed, and the time came for the yearly celebration of the Picori. This year, however, was different, for it was rumored that 'just once in every one hundred years, a secret door opens and the Picori come to visit', and this was the hundred year celebration. To commemorate the occasion, a sword-fighting tournament was held, and the champion was a man who used the name of Vaati, believing it to empower him after Zelda's ordeal. Although he defeats his challengers with ease, not a single person knows the shadowy figure. As Link races to deliver Vaati with with his prize - a sword - Vaati casts a vast spell upon the castle and turns everyone within to stone.
Somehow, Link avoids sharing this fate, and vows to restore Princess Zelda and the others to normal. Revisiting the shrine to reclaim the mysterious sword, he also meets a talking hat by the name of Ezlo. Ezlo grants Link the power to shrink in size, which allows Link to meet the Picori, where he discovers that Vaati is in fact a wayward Picori. Using this knowledge, Link is able to defeat Vaati and restore the castle to normal.
Hundreds of years pass, and Ganon's power is returned to him. He kills the descendants of the seven sages, allowing him to escape from the Dark World back into Hyrule. He covers Hyrule with darkness, and kills the sages who were giving the Master Sword its power. Ganon builds a tower and an army in preparation to take over Hyrule. The people wait for the Hero of Time to return, but he never does.
Ganon's army attacks Hyrule Castle. In their last desperate hour, the people of Hyrule pray to the gods. The gods decide to bury Hyrule under torrential rains. The people of Hyrule are ordered to take refuge on mountaintops. The Master Sword forms a seal freezing Hyrule in time, and keeping Ganon's power sealed away. Hyrule, along with the doorway to the Picori, is buried at the bottom of the ocean, and life begins anew on islands formed from Hyrule's mountaintops. A piece of the Triforce of Wisdom is given to the descendants of the Royal Family, and they are charged with guarding it. The King remains below, waiting for a day when Hyrule can be revived, charged with finding a hero in case Ganon is revived.
On Outset Island, Link, a boy unrelated to the Hero of Time is born. A girl is also born to a great female pirate captain, and is named Tetra. 10 years later, Ganon is revived once again, and is able to make a portal leading to the surface world. Taking over the Forsaken Fortress, he sends his servants over the ocean in search of the missing pieces of the Triforce.
Events of The Wind Waker - Link celebrates his coming-of-age, but his younger sister Aryll is kidnapped by one of Ganondorf's servants, confusing her for Tetra. Asking for help from Tetra's pirates, Link tries to invade the Forsaken Fortress, but is thrown from the tower. A mysterious boat rescues him, and leads him on a quest to get the Master Sword, the only blade that can defeat Ganon. After collecting three pearls, and passing the test of the gods, a portal appears, leading to the frozen world of Hyrule beneath the waves. Link takes the Master Sword from Hyrule Castle, but this releases the seal, unfreezing Hyrule and releasing Ganon's full power. Link saves his sister with the help of the pirates, but the Master Sword has no effect on Ganondorf. Tetra, the young female captain of the pirates, and Link are rescued and taken to Hyrule. There, the King of Hyrule reveals that Tetra is actually Princess Zelda, and gives her the rest of the Triforce of Wisdom. The King was the guiding force behind the boat. He leads Link on a quest to return the power of evil's bane to the Master Sword, and to find the hidden Triforce of Courage shards.
Armed with these weapons, Link arrives back in Hyrule to discover that Zelda has been kidnapped. Breaking Ganon's barrier around Hyrule Castle, he climbs Ganon's Tower. At the top, Ganondorf is able to steal the other two pieces of the Triforce from Link and Zelda. But before he can touch the united Triforce, the King touches it and wishes for Hyrule to be buried under the waves for good. Link and Zelda defeat Ganondorf, turning him to stone when Link sticks the Master Sword in his head. But Hyrule is buried under water, and Link and Tetra must now find a new land to call Hyrule.
All does not end well, however. After a great deal of time, Ganon is revived. Since the Triforce was buried with Hyrule, Ganon finds all the pieces and claims them for himself. But he is sealed away in the Dark World when seven new sages are found. Several years after a new Link and Zelda are born, many disasters suddenly plague the new Hyrule.
Events of A Link To The Past - Agahnim appears in Hyrule, stops the disasters, and is made one of the King's top advisers. He secretly overthrows the King, and begins sending the descendants of the Sages into the Dark World, in a plot to free Ganon. Zelda contacts Link, the Legendary Hero, telepathically. Link fights Agahnim, but Agahnim is able to break the Seven Sages' Seal. Link goes on to save all of the maidens from the Dark World. He completely destroys Ganon, and claims the united Triforce. Link uses the Triforce to do much good.
Events of Link's Awakening - The people of Hyrule fear what evils may arise from Ganon's ashes. Ever diligent, Link leaves on a journey of enlightenment, that he might better protect Hyrule. After several months, Link's journey now complete, he begins sailing back to Hyrule. However, a sudden squall destroys his ship, and Link drifts to the island of Koholint. There he defeats Nightmares to gather together eight Instruments and wake the Wind Fish. Koholint Island disappears, and Link is left once again with the flotsam of his ship. He drifts back to Hyrule, and the united Triforce is placed in the Hyrule Castle. As it rests, it watches over Hyrule.
Centuries later, Twinrova masterminds a plot to revive Ganon. By sending Onox to Holodrum and Veran to Labrynna, she plans to light the three flames of Sorrow, Destruction, and Despair. This would bring Ganon's spirit back from the beyond, and then Princess Zelda's body would be used to revive Ganon.
Events of Oracle Of Sages and Oracle Of Ages - The Triforce sends the generation's Link on a mission to Holodrum. There, Link is able to defeat Onox, saving Din, the Oracle of Seasons, but nonetheless the Flame of Destruction is lit. After the Triforce sends Link to Labrynna, he prevents Veran from destroying the land, but cannot prevent the Flames of Sorrow and Despair from being lit. Princess Zelda travels alone to Labrynna to help Link. Twinrova kidnaps her, planning to use her pure body to revive Ganon. Link rescues Zelda by defeating Twinrova, but Twinrova sacrifices herself to revive the Evil King. Link defeats Ganon, but Ganon is not banished from the world. After Ganon's defeat, the King of Hyrule uses the Triforce to keep the peace and unite Hyrule.
Before he dies, he hides the Triforce of Courage, and seals it away with a complex magical key. After his death, his son inherits only part of the Triforce. An evil wizard, working with the prince, puts the prince's younger sister, named Zelda, to sleep for refusing to tell them where the rest of the Triforce is. The wizard dies casting this spell, and nobody can wake up Zelda. The prince decrees that every princess in the royal line from then on shall be named Zelda, so this tragedy would not be forgotten.
Many years pass, and Ganon's ashes wake up from their slumber. The world is thrown into an Age of Chaos. Ganon sets himself up as Prince of Darkness, and begins building an army of monsters. At this time, a new Link and Zelda are born.
Events of The Legend Of Zelda - Ganon's army invades Hyrule and steals the Triforce of Power. The current Zelda splits the Triforce of Wisdom and hides the pieces in eight Underworld labyrinths, and Ganon kidnaps her. Impa, Zelda's nursemaid, is sent to find a brave man to fight Ganon. She is almost captured by Ganon's henchmen, but Link saves the day. Link travels through eight underworld labyrinths to reunite the Triforce of Wisdom. Entering Death Mountain and finding the Silver Arrows, he defeats Ganon and takes the Triforce of Power from his ashes.
Events of The Adventure Of Link - Though Link defeated Ganon, Hyrule does not have peace. Ganon's monsters roam the land, and Ganon's ashes can be revived if Link is sacrificed, and his blood sprinkled on the ashes. Link approaches his 16th birthday, and one day the Triforce symbol appears on his hand. Concerned, he goes to see Impa, who tells him about the ancient Princess Zelda, who is still under the sleeping spell. Link recovers the Triforce of Courage from the Great Palace in the Valley of Death, and with the united Triforce awakens Zelda from her ancient sleeping spell, finally bringing peace to Hyrule.So that's Ocarina Of Time, Majora's Mask, Four Swords (All incarnations), The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess, The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, A Link To The Past, Link's Awakening, Oracle Of Sages, Oracle Of Ages, The (original) Legend Of Zelda and Link's Adventure if you want to give it a play. Have fun, and if possible play the Neverwinter Nights versions of the last two - it's a bit more fun and a LOT prettier. The Legend Of Zelda and Link's Adventure. Note that the latter is not yet finished, but probably will be by the time you finish all the others! Also, if you decide to play, you'll probably want this character, and don't forget to check out the notes at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Neverwinter Vault (not linked - it's already got three of the damn things) for those files, and trust me - they're great fun! Also, if you finish every single game and still want more, check out Zelda Classic for another remake of the original Zelda with support for hundereds of fan quests...