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Etiquette for Visiting Places of Worship

St. Peter's Basilica. Rome, Italy

[phant] / [iStock] / Thinkstock

Some of the world’s most amazing structures also happen to be churches, mosques, and synagogues. Whether you’re religious or not, there are a few things you probably want to keep in mind while visiting sites that are considered sacred. If covering up in a mosque or standing up when a Buddhist monk enters the room makes you uncomfortable then try not to think about it too much in terms of religion and just put it under the umbrella of respecting local practices and traditions. When in Rome, do as the Romans and the Romans don’t wear tank tops in church.

Dress Code
Whether you’re in a church, a mosque, temple, or synagogue, chances are there is a dress code you should be abiding by. In some cases it’s an unspoken rule that should simply be followed as an act of courtesy. In other instances, it’s an obligation and you won’t be admitted in unless you have the proper attire. To be on the safe side, if you’re planning on visiting any sort of religious institution or especially sacred site (such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem), wear a shirt that covers your shoulders and long pants or, for the ladies, skirts. If you’re not up for wearing a t-shirt or a long-sleeved shirt on a hot day then wear a tank-top, but throw a scarf or another shirt into your purse or travel bag that you can throw over your shoulders or over your tank top before you enter. In some spots they will have scarves or coverings available for you to use, but it’s not a bad idea just to throw one in your bag.

Please, please, please turn your flash off. Also be sure to check that photography is even allowed. In some areas, it is considered exceptionally disrespectful to take photos within the building. Use your best judgment. I tend to refrain from taking photos within religious structures simply because I don’t want to offend anyone. Although there’s no need to take it to that extreme, do have a look around before busting your camera out and don’t forget to turn the flash off. If you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to ask for permission. And, believe me, as someone who is devoted to taking hilarious photos with statues, I understand the temptation, but definitely refrain from that when visiting holy sites.

Check Service Times
Although these structures are and contain major pieces of art, they’re also places of extreme religious significance to many people and they still serve as places of worship. Check the service times before scheduling a visit to make sure that you won’t be showing up in the middle of a service. Unless you want to attend the service, in which case, you should be most welcome, but do check beforehand to make sure.

For mosques and Buddhist temples, always remove your shoes.

Inside Voices
Presumably this should all go without saying, but just in case, don’t forget to turn off mobile phones, remove headphones, and lower your voice. You might want to avoid inappropriate conversations as well. A mosque is probably not the best place to rehash a night of drunken escapades, no matter how awesome they were.

Religious Holidays
When traveling be mindful of local or national religious holidays, such as Ramadan, that include fasting. You definitely don’t want to be that person chowing down on a sandwich in front of someone who hasn’t eaten all day. Not cool, man, not cool.

By Nikki Hodgson


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