A quick guide to temple etiquette for the major world religions

An important aspect of ethical travel is having sensitivity towards other cultures and an awareness of the correct etiquette when visiting religious establishments.

This is a list of the most popular world religions by the number of worshippers and ones that I’ve come into contact with regularly on my travels.

There are, of course, many other beliefs including a wide variety of indigenous religions but backpackers are less likely to come into these ones on the traveller circuit.

Photography regulations vary from place to place so always ask before you take a picture. As a general rule, avoid smoking, illegal drugs, drinking and skimpy clothes in all temples around the world.

Pictures of Buddha, George Town, Malaysia
Pictures of Buddha, George Town, Malaysia

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This is my quick guide to temple etiquette for the major world religions:


  • Take off your shoes
  • No bare knees, shoulders or chest
  • Head can be uncovered
  • Enter on the right side to show respect
  • No pointing
  • Keep head lowered in deference
  • You can bow to Buddha
  • Don’t turn your back on Buddha
  • Speak quietly
  • A woman cannot touch monks
  • Accepts donations and incense offerings


  • No hats
  • Wear more formal clothing
  • Speak quietly
  • Accepts donations and lit candles

Chinese religions

  • No hats
  • No bare thighs, chest or shoulders
  • Speak quietly
  • No shoes
  • Enter with the left foot, leave with right foot
  • Accepts donations and offerings


  • Wash before entry or ensure you’re clean – especially feet!
  • No bare shoulders, upper arms, chest or legs
  • No animal skin or meat
  • No shoes
  • Some areas are Hindu-only
  • Don’t touch shrines or statues
  • Accepts donations and offerings


  • No shoes
  • No touching of the opposite sex
  • No walking in front of someone who is praying
  • No talking during prayer
  • Sometimes non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque during prayer time do check before you go.
  • Some areas may be off-limits to non-Muslims.
  • Islam has the most conservative dress code – no hair, no shoulders, no arms, no legs, no chest.
  • Men and women worship separately.


  • When the Torah is open, people stand in the synagogue as a mark of respect
  • Sometimes women are required to cover their hair, always ask
  • Sometimes men are required to wear a kippah
  • Observe the rules of Shabbat if you’re visiting from Friday evening to Saturday.
  • Dress formally


  • Avoid pointing your feet or turning your back to the Guru Granth Sahib
  • Walk around the Gurdwara in a clockwise direction
  • Cover head
  • No shoes
  • Clean hands and feet before entry
  • You can bow to the Guru Granth Sahib if you wish

Do you have any advice about temple etiquette? Share your stories in the comments below!

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A quick guide to temple etiquette for the major world religions
A quick guide to temple etiquette for the major world religions
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