Cemetery Etiquette: 10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery

In this article, we are going to cover 10 things not to do in a cemetery.

If you’re planning on visiting a cemetery – whether to pay respects to a loved one or because you’re simply drawn to graveyards – there is some basic cemetery etiquette you should follow.

Let’s get right to it.

Proper Cemetery Etiquette

  • Be respectful. Honor the dead, show courtesy to those who mourn, and be considerate to those who work there.
  • Read the rules. Observe cemetery rules and visit during posted hours.
  • Mind your vehicle. Don’t drive fast; also, think about where you park.
  • Consider others. Keep a respectful distance away from burial services or other mourners.
  • Watch your kiddos. Don’t act like a child, and don’t let your children run wild.
  • Look out for headstones. Don’t walk on the graves or sit on the headstones.
  • Don’t leave a mess. Clean up after yourself (and your pets).
  • Don’t leave breakables. Be careful with what you leave at the grave (see cemetery rules for details).
  • Take it all in. Enjoy the beauty of the cemetery reverently.
  • Plan to come back. Visit regularly!

10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery

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1. Don’t go after hours

Cemeteries have hours posted for a reason. They’ll typically close the gates when hours are over. Be respectful to the deceased and also to the employees, and schedule your visit within posted hours.

2. Don’t speed through the cemetery driveways

This is just common sense. If you’re driving into a cemetery (and some are huuuge), drive carefully. Sometimes there is a posted speed limit; often not. Go about 10 miles per hour, and even slower if you see a funeral service, funeral procession, or gathering nearby.

Ask yourself: how would do want other people to behave – and drive – during a service for your loved one?

3. Don’t let your kids run wild

Talk to your children ahead of time. Teach them manners and common courtesy. Visiting a cemetery is a great way to also teach younger family members about respect for the dead and those who are mourning.

If your kids can be respectful, then, by all means, bring them along. It’s important for them to get a grasp of history, and they’ll ask all sorts of questions that will help them understand the reality of death, but without fear.

Perhaps encourage them to bring a stuffed animal, fresh flowers, or another funerary item to place on the grave. If you’ll be visiting a veteran’s grave or military memorial parks, small flags may also be appropriate for children to place.

4. Don’t walk on top of the graves

When you’re at the cemetery, it’s important to be respectful of the remains of the deceased.

Cemeteries, after all, are sacred grounds, and the final resting place of so many loved ones. It’s one of the ways we remain civilized – by showing proper care and respect for the dead.

One common ritual is to avoid walking on top of the graves where people are actually buried. You can get close, especially when trying to read a headstone. But avoid simply walking, willy-nilly, all over the graves, especially if the family has memorialized their loved one with a grave blanket.

Again, just ask yourself, would I want others to treat my loved one’s grave like this?

5. Don’t sit or lean on the headstones, grave markers, or other memorials

Of course, in moments of grief, it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable to hug, grasp, or lean on a loved one’s headstone. But otherwise, in general, it’s not very respectful to lean against, or even touch, headstones of people you don’t know. Especially very old headstones, in older cemeteries, for obvious reasons.

That said, if you’re planning on being at the cemetery for a long time and anticipate getting tired, consider bringing a little travel chair.

6. Don’t talk to other cemetery visitors – even to say hello

You can nod and smile, and if it’s clear that the other person is friendly and wants to talk, then, by all means, say hi and have a discussion.

But have your default etiquette in place ahead of time. The people you see in the cemetery will often be grieving.

Try your best to avoid breaking their reverie, alone time, or ritual of talking to their loved one, or prayers, or whatever they are doing.

Plan on avoiding contact and conversation, but be ready to be friendly if they appear to be ready and willing to engage. And also keep common cell phone etiquette in mind, as well. Playing music or talking on your phone within earshot of others is rude and disrespectful anywhere, but especially at cemeteries. Just think about it…being forced to listen to loud music or loud noise of any kind while grieving over a loved one, especially during a graveside service, would be understandably upsetting.

Again, it’s common sense but also try to avoid snapping photos, recording videos, playing games, or otherwise idly surfing the web while visiting a cemetery. Put your phone on silent, and keep it in your pocket, purse, or car as a sign of respect.

7. Don’t leave glass, ceramic, or other breakable items on the grave

They will break. Maybe not right away, if you are careful in setting it up, but they will break eventually. And someone (cough, cough… a grounds crew employee… cough…) will have to clean it up.

If they don’t spot the broken item right away, kids might pick it up and cut themselves, or it could harm animals or someone stumbling. Just don’t do it.

8. Don’t put up solar lights and those little plastic fences and….

It’s not usually against the cemetery rules or anything.

Most grave decorations, such as small flags, bouquets, and icons or statues are entirely appropriate and welcome. But you see, someone, at some point, eventually has to mow the grass. Be considerate and don’t create extra work for the grounds crew.

They will most likely be as respectful to you as possible, and will often remove, mow and/or weed whack, and then replace those items. But it’s a pain in the butt for them and for the cemetery managers.

9. Don’t leave food or drinks on the headstone (and then complain about ants)

Just… think about what you’re doing.

10. Don’t make out or get frisky

This, too, should be obvious. It’s disrespectful to the dead and to those who are grieving. The same thing goes for employees – no one wants to see that in their workplace.

The last thing not to do in a cemetery….

….Don’t be a stranger!

Etiquette rules in check, cemeteries are designed to be visited! And when done right, cemetery visits can be a beautiful, emotional experience.

If your loved one is buried (or interred in a mausoleum or columbarium niche) in a local cemetery, you’ll want to stop by and visit their grave site. You’ll always be welcome!

Even if you don’t know anyone who is a “permanent resident” at the cemetery, you are still welcome to visit.

Visiting a Cemetery

Here are a few things that are appropriate to do at the cemetery:

  • Look at the headstones and monuments
  • Bring the family
  • Have a picnic
  • Take a headstone rubbing (only if permitted – ask first)
  • Take photos
  • Enjoy bird watching
  • Bring your pet (on a leash, of course)
  • Walk, bicycle, or jog through (just be courteous and stick to the main paths)

And, here are a few more things to avoid when visiting a cemetery:

  • Leave trash
  • Leave pet waste
  • Blast music
  • Take the flowers or keepsakes left by mourners
  • Take photos of other people at the cemetery
  • Post photos of other people at the cemetery on social media without their consent
  • Get too close to a funeral in progress
  • Ignore the cemetery rules and regulations (you’ll see them posted somewhere conspicuous)

Do cemeteries close?

Are cemeteries open 24 hours?

Just like a public park, cemeteries often have general visiting hours. So you may be hard-pressed to find a cemetery open 24 hours. It’s best to call the cemetery office ahead of your visit, just to double-check, if you plan on visiting after daylight.

Is it bad to go to the cemetery every day?

No. Anyone is welcome to visit the cemetery on any day, rules and weather permitting. The cemetery is there for you to visit…that’s the most important thing to remember.

On days there is bad weather, or you feel that you are not emotionally ready to handle another visit, it is perfectly fine to take a break and come back another day.

Is it disrespectful to have a picnic in a cemetery?

So, can you eat at a cemetery? You’re not the first person to ask this question.

The answer is, of course, you can.

It’s not usually considered disrespectful to have a picnic at a cemetery, as long as you remember good graveyard etiquette, and clean up your mess afterward.

What happens if you go to a graveyard at night?

Nothing, really. It may be a bad idea, just because you could trip over something if the cemetery is not lit that well, or you could get in trouble if you visit after-hours.

But as far as cemetery superstitions go, bad luck and evil spirits aren’t going to follow you around just because it’s dark out.

What do you say to someone visiting a grave?

You don’t have to say anything. If eye contact is made, a brief nod or understanding smile is appropriate. Even a gentle “hello,” if you feel so inclined.

In general, it’s a good idea (and good manners) to remember that anyone visiting a grave is probably in mourning, and may not be up for chit-chat.

Is it disrespectful to take pictures of graves?

Yes, if it’s not your loved one’s grave, or if you didn’t get permission beforehand to do so. Especially if you are just using the cemetery as a backdrop for selfies or social media content – again, just don’t.

Read Next: Funeral Etiquette: A Brief Guide for What to Say & Do

Cemetery Etiquette

31 thoughts on “Cemetery Etiquette: 10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery”

  1. I appreciate you touching on how they will probably close the gates after their hours are over. My uncle wants to plan his funeral soon and he needs help with a few things. I think it’s a good idea for him to get his headstone picked out and paid for so he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.

  2. Thank you for this post. It’s very informative. I’ve seen people do some of the things you listed. I always thought it was rude for them to walk on the graves of people they didn’t know, or sit on someone’s headstone. Grieving or not, remember you wouldn’t want people to disrespect your loved ones.

  3. In Rockland, Maine around Halloween people take their children to cemeteries for a candy hunt and to climb on monuments for photos. I’m appalled that this is what parents do with their children.

  4. Someone just told me that even visiting a cemetery where you don’t know anyone is disrespectful. As is taking a photo of a grave all lit up with candles. I’ve never heard of such a thing. This is in Europe btw.

  5. I have a deeply connection to all cemeteries when I pass them I just feel drawn,I love cemeteries although my husband is afraid that I might pick a spirit up and bring one home with me,there fore won’t take me.i take my two teenage kids with me,my son has ADHD and doesn’t and can’t keep quiet.but my daughter respects and understands the meaning of being there.i could spend hours if I could at a cemetery.the love and respect that I have for those that are there goes deep.i feel at home in a cemetery,at ease and can connect with it some how like I welcome home feeling,i have deep admiration for those that are passed and in their last home of cemetery plots.

  6. I love ❤️ the cemetery I used to walk through it on the way to and home from school I now visit 3times a month to visit family and friends it’s so beautiful and peaceful and puts things into perspective….Darren

  7. My friend an boss passed so I go the cemetery a lot it to brings me peace. They are very beautiful I don’t know which one to choose.

  8. I love going to gravesites with my mom or with my aunties and uncles and visiting graves and learning how they died and paying respect for them and visiting my mom’s parents grave and leaving flowers for them

  9. Don’t park your car near people’s properties near the cemetery and go off the starting of engines and banging of car doors and tooting of horns causes a noise and fumes nusience to residents on a daily basis.

  10. Why visit grave of deceased? They are not there. Their spirit left their bodies as soon as they died. Their body is now dust as scripture tells us. It amazes me why people put flowers, etc. on someone’s grave. Why? They cannot see them. They are not there.

  11. My mom & dad passed before my brother. His name is on the other side of theirs. I left evergreen swags at both sites and left a circle of stone’s around them, is that proper?

  12. Sounds just fine! As long as the cemetery allows it there shouldn’t be a problem with it. Evergreen swags will always be ok, although the stones may interfere with the lawn mowers so you may need to ask about that.

  13. Thank you for answering my question. The stones I have placed around the grave site are very close or under the swags as not to be in the way of the ground keepers. Really appreciate your response. I want to be respectful of all. God bless.

  14. Now that the holidays are over, what is appropriate to leave at the grave site?Thank you for your guidance. I visit my Mom & Dad & brother, no matter the weather. It’s close by so walk there. I want it to be lovely for them. I love them all soooo much. I live upstate New York. Thank you, kindly. Mary

  15. I find cemeteries a great way to learn about the history of the area. Often there is a story or a bit of history written about historic cemeteries onsite. There’s different cultural customs that are no longer done. For example the crossroads cemetery near Wauchope, NSW. People used to walk 30 or more kilometres in one day to attend a funeral. Stay the night at the cemetery then walk back the next day. A thing that should be noted is that in Australia, many graves in cemeteries are unmarked, so please be careful and respectful wherever you walk in a cemetery.

  16. Hi, I would spend summers in the Georgia country at my Aunt Wanda’s house. She lived next to a graveyard. After dinner we would take a walk in the graveyard and she would tell me the stories about the ones laid to rest. I would “clean the dead flowers” and pull weeds for the Civil War graves! As the sun went down I would catch the lightening bugs in the graveyard into a jar then let them go! I love graveyards and my kids do too! Love the epitaphs and the peace found.

  17. There is a cemetery that I drive by regularly. Next to the cemetery is a local man who has I guess you’d say a junkyard and last year he close the front gate to the cemetery. placed a rock in front of it (it’s a chain-link fence around the cemetery) and he uses the cemetery for his chickens to wander. I called the town and spoke to someone and the town dealt with it immediately, Again this year I noticed he has his chickens back in the cemetery. It’s troubles me dearly so I called the town again this year and they try to pass me off to another agency or call the police. I have a great respect for cemeteries and feel that this man is being so disrespectful and just inconsiderate of the families who have loved ones there. What would you do if you had found this again this year? Did I do the right thing by reporting him again? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing? I hope for feedback as this is tugging at my heart strings. Thank you for the time you took to read this.

  18. Hi Sue,

    I think you’re absolutely correct in reporting him. Cemeteries are set aside for a purpose – supporting the chickens owned by a private citizen is not that purpose.

  19. My mom passed away a month ago and 3 days after her funeral I reserved the space next to her for myself. it was the last empty space in that row and I wanted to make sure I got it. I went to the cemetery today because her headstone was being delivered and when I got there I found my reserved plaque has been pulled out of the ground & moved!…I ask the people that take care of the Cemetery and they said they didn’t do it and there was no reason for it to be moved, so it had to be the family of the person buried on the other side, I assume because they want that space too. their loved one passed in 1990, so they had 32 years to reserve that lot and they didn’t. I don’t want to play move the plaque every week with these people & I’m not giving the lot up, so how should I handle this?

  20. Hi Ricky,

    You’ll definitely want to talk to the cemetery. Get a receipt for your payment with a map that marks the grave space that you have purchased, signed and dated by the cemetery management.

  21. Hello, I am wondering if you can find out the meaning (if there is one,) on this. I saw a grave stone of a person who died in 1888 whos numbers of the age of his death were inverted and upside down; an upside down 2, followed by a 3. As in 23 yrs old.. But because the 2 is upside down you immediately look at it upside down and realize that it could mean 32yrs, although when viewing upside down, the 2 is normal and 3 inverted! There are a lot of different Society groups clearly marked in this grave yard of the Masons, and Woodman of the World, a benevolent society of men from the early 1900’s. Im wondering if it is possible that the person may have been too low of rank for a symbol, so they added this little trick. What do you think?

  22. Hi Gigi,

    That is very interesting! I’m not aware of any special meaning or significance to upside down numbers on headstones. You might contact your local Masonic Lodge to see if they can provide any insight from that perspective. However my hunch is that the engraver may have accidentally had his template for that number upside down, and either no one caught the mistake or it was cost-prohibitive to replace so they just left it. But if you find out any sort of special meaning to it, please let us know!

  23. Love this article, Just tonight I learned the exact meaning of coins left on headstones. I actually learned how to drive in a cemetery, I went very slowly of course. You mentioned having a picnic in the cemetery, how and where would one do this?

  24. Hi Susan, glad that we could provide some helpful information. Most cemeteries have plenty of open grassy space, so just find a suitable location, preferably near your loved one’s resting place, spread out a blanket and enjoy a light meal. If you have any more than one or two other people, be sure to clear it with the cemetery or funeral home first.

  25. You arrive at the grave of a family member and it is a filthy mess (e.g. overgrown grass, bird droppings, mud or caked dirt). Even though Council Ground Staff maybe at the cemetery, it is not there responsibility to attend cleaning graves. Tidying grave is the responsibility of family associated with “A” grave of family.
    Never Use: Chemicals or abrasive solvents, harsh brushes, scouring pads, scourers or sand paper (any of these – NO).
    Simple and Ok: Plain water, microfibre cloth or sponge, soft-bristled dust brush and maybe a container to hold water / or watering can.
    (1) Use the brush to dust off any dirt, bird droppings or dry grass. (2) Fully saturate a cloth with plain water – squeeze it all over the (plaque or headstone). (3) If there is still dry muck left – use your ‘soft brush’ to sweep it off. (4) Drench your cloth again with plain water and squeeze it over the (plaque or headstone). (5) Lastly ring the cloth out -that was drenched with plain water- then dry wipe using your rung-out cloth (or dry cloth) to wipe off all excess water. This general clean is enough – that is it.
    Don’t overdo it -what I mean by this- is sometimes over time marble, sandstone, and granite may become (porous, weathered) with lime residue or black greasy marks embedded within it. This is where some people go wrong they use an (abrasive chemical cleaner *NO* this is so wrong) – this is where some people go wrong. Never clean a family grave site (more than is generally necessary). The (5) suggestions I have given previously above are enough.
    Now more importantly – take all the stuff away with you – that you brought with you. Kindness is next to godliness (respect is all around us).

  26. I often visit the grave of my wife and I am there for about an hour each time. I often bring a coffee and sit there having a coffee while I reflect on our lives together. I often state that I am taking my wife out for a coffee and it is my way that I respect her though she has passed now over 9 years. Life does go on and being able to visit as often as I do it helps heal the broken heart.

  27. I am a grieving mother and actually take offence to people using the cemetery as a recreational place to jog, walk their dogs and ride their bikes around and around like an exercise circuit. I visit my son’s grave at least twice a week. I hate that life goes on normally for everyone else. I just want to sit quietly at my son’s grave. It actually makes me incredibly angry to see people treating the cemetery as a place to exercise. They can go anywhere else in the world, why does it have to be a cemetery.

  28. Since my move to Georgia in the US. I’ve been volunteering for Find A Grave and recording photos of gravestones as well as cleaning them to take the picture for this website. Taking photos of gravestones is NOT bad etiquette. It not only honors the person for whom you are taking the picture, it is documenting them in a genealogical and historical capacity also forever as long as their is an internet. Furthermore, out of state relatives can “visit” the grave anytime they want.
    As far as cleaning gravestones, the approved cleaner by professionals are D2. D2 is especially helpful in high humidity areas where bacterial growth grows on gravestones. However this cleaner can be expensive to purchase depending on where you purchase it. The good news a little goes a long way and is mixed with water and sprayed on the stones and starts working in about 10 minutes and better in a week. It works on most headstones even old ones. Be sure to read the label.

  29. Hey Gail,

    Good point about the photos. There’s a difference between respectful photography and just goofing off at a cemetery. Same with photographing some other family’s committal service, no one wants strangers photographing them. But a photo of a headstone to honor and commemorate is perfectly fine.

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