Cemetery Etiquette: Tips for Visiting a Cemetery

People visit cemeteries for all kinds of reasons. Visiting the graves of loved ones who have passed is the most common, of course. Cemeteries are also venues for exploring family history, conducting genealogical research or delving into the historical significance of the cemetery itself. For some, cemeteries are akin to peaceful parks, offering an ideal setting for leisurely strolls, meditation and escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.


No matter why you visit a cemetery, it’s important to be respectful. Basic cemetery etiquette will help you do that.

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Rules and tips for visiting a cemetery

Prepare to visit a cemetery before you even leave home by following these tips:

  • Check the cemetery’s website in advance to plan your trip. A cemetery’s website can provide helpful information, including hours and rules and regulations. Most cemeteries are open year-round, though their offices may be closed on holidays. Many gated cemeteries open early in the morning and close around sunset. Check the hours before you go, and call the office if you have questions.
  • Prepare your children ahead of time. Before visiting a cemetery, let your kids know what to expect. Ask them to stay close to you at all times, and remind them to use a quiet voice and be respectful of property.
  • Leave pets at home. Many cemeteries allow only service animals. This helps keep the cemetery clean and avoids offending those who may not appreciate a canine presence. If you want to take your pet to a cemetery, call the cemetery office in advance to confirm the pet policy.
  • Be respectful of gravesites. Follow walking paths and roadways. When you need to go off the path or road, try to walk between headstones and not across cemetery burial plots. This might be difficult in cemeteries with lots of burials, so just do your best.
  • Drive cautiously and don’t park on the grass. Cemetery speed limits are usually 10 miles per hour or less. Go slowly and watch for other visitors who may be distracted. When you're ready to park, find a designated parking area or park on the side of the road.
  • Keep noise to a minimum. Cemeteries are peaceful places. Avoid shouting, yelling or screaming. Help children understand why loud or boisterous play is not appropriate in a cemetery. Additionally, refrain from playing loud music from your vehicle.
  • Avoid touching gravestones. Out of respect for others, it's best not to touch grave markers. Older markers may be fragile, and some cultures or religions consider touching a gravestone inappropriate. Though some people, especially those interested in genealogy, like to make grave rubbings, the practice can damage grave markers. Some cemeteries even forbid the practice.
  • Leave remembrance items where they are. Don't touch the flowers, toys, coins or other objects left on graves by others. They are meaningful to those who left them and may be part of important traditions.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Once you arrive at the cemetery, check with the office if you need help finding a loved one's grave. A staff member may be able to search a map for you or personally direct you to the site.

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Frequently asked questions about cemetery visits

Some people visit cemeteries often. Others may visit only a few times in their whole lives. Either way, as a cemetery visitor, you may have questions.

What’s the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery?

A graveyard and a cemetery are both burial grounds, but a graveyard usually refers to a burial site associated with a church. Cemeteries are also called memorial parks.

What’s OK to leave at a cemetery?

Each cemetery has different rules and regulations. Cemeteries aim to allow visitors the opportunity to remember loved ones while also maintaining orderly, safe grounds. Visitors often leave flowers, stones (common in the Jewish faith) and coins (sometimes left for veterans) at loved ones' graves. Check with the cemetery office if you're unsure about what's allowed.

Can I plan a cemetery visit with a larger group, like with family members?

If you’re planning a special visit with a larger group, reach out to the cemetery office to let them know. They’ll make sure your visit happens when your group can have time, space and quiet.

How long are items left at headstones, markers and monuments?

Cemeteries usually keep a regular schedule for removing items left by visitors. There may be signs about cleanup times posted on the property, or that information may be available on the cemetery website. You can also check with the cemetery office.

What time do cemeteries close?

It’s best to check with the cemetery office about opening and closing times. Hours may be posted at the entrance to the property or on the cemetery's website. If you don't find them online, you may want to call before you go.

What do I do if I get locked in a cemetery at night?

Gated cemeteries generally do checks before locking up at the end of the day, but occasionally a visitor may be missed. If you find yourself locked in a cemetery at night, call the cemetery’s phone number. They’ll hopefully answer and send someone to unlock the gate. You can also call 911.

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Things to do when visiting a cemetery

Visiting a loved one’s burial place is the reason most people find themselves at a cemetery. A cemetery visit offers quiet time to remember and reflect. You may also want to:

  • Pray
  • Meditate
  • Journal
  • Have a picnic
  • Take a walk
  • Tidy up

Send flowers even if you can’t visit

If you can’t visit your loved one's grave in person, Cemetery Flowers allows you to have a silk-blend flower arrangement placed at the grave for you. You can choose your flowers, schedule in advance and get a confirmation email after the arrangement is placed. If you’d prefer to send fresh flowers, ask the cemetery staff for guidance. An associate may be able to accept a delivery and place them for you.