Dress codes for travellers

Posted Date: 03 July 2015
Dress code

Packing for a big trip is never an easy task. You might be crossing climates, travelling over extensive periods of time or be on an adventure holiday requiring lots of specialised gear. No matter where you’re headed on your next big journey, taking the right clothing is always important.

But depending on your destination, you may also need to pack some extra clothes to fit in with the local dress code. Especially if you plan to visit any temples, shrines, cathedrals, memorials, ancient sites or other sacred places, dressing appropriately is an important part of respecting local customs, standards and expectations.

Without the correct attire travellers can be refused entry to sites, experience travel delays, encounter unnecessary hostility, or gain unwanted attention from locals, so it's a small consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked. In some circumstances dressing appropriately can also increase your safety when overseas – helping you to blend in and avoid pick pockets, petty thefts or scammers.

To help you pack the right clothes, we’ve selected 20 of the most popular tourist destinations from around the world and compiled some practical dress code tips for travellers.

Potala Palace, Lhasa City, Tibet

The Tibetan Potala Palace is a sacred site with an expectation of modest dress code. Despite cooler temperatures, this still may affect visitors, as tight jeans, tops and overly flashy designs should be avoided. Instead, wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that will keep you warm inside the cool temple. Hats and beanies are to be removed.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Temple, Cambodia

Appropriate attire for visiting temples in Angkor Wat includes shirts that cover shoulders with long pants that cover the knees. Short skirts, short shorts, singlets and similar clothing items are not permitted within temple grounds and visitors are frequently turned away as a result.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

There is no official dress code for the Taj Mahal, however it is advisable to cover up out of respect, as the site is a mausoleum. Many tourists choose to wear pants, maxi-dresses or haram pants, however visitors are not policed in regards to dress code.

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

The Meiji Shrine is right next to the Harajuku station, so all manner of people wearing the craziest of garbs are often seen wandering about near the grounds. In contrast, it’s not uncommon for young women to pay their respects at the shrine in traditional costume. Tourists should dress somewhere in the middle in casual wear that isn’t too flashy. The shrine is highly respected in traditional Japanese culture so dress accordingly.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Peruvians have no specific dress code for Machu Picchu, so travellers are welcome to wear whatever is most comfortable. For many visitors this will likely be hiking attire and a good pair of boots. This type of gear is widely encouraged as standard dress for tourists, meaning you can remain warm and protected from the elements.

Siena Cathedral, Siena, Italy

As with most revered religious buildings in Italy, the Siena Cathedral requires all guests to abide by a strict dress code. Visitors must cover their shoulders, knees and midriff to gain access to the cathedral. In peak season there is usually a line for entry, which means officials will observe you as you wait.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

Visitors to Tiananmen Square are free to dress as they wish, however if you would like to enter the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao you should dress in smart casual. You will need to remove your hat when entering.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Unlike popular belief, the Alhambra is in fact an old palace and not a religious site. Therefore any dress code may be worn, which includes shorts, t-shirts and thongs. This is what most tourists will wear in the summer as temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Visitors are asked to respect this sacred place of prayer by following a detailed list of rules. Travellers not dressed appropriately on arrival will be denied entry. Requirements include: modest, conservative, loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves, long skirts and trousers. No transparent clothing, shorts, tight clothing, swimwear or beachwear are permitted, and women must wear headscarves and a traditional robe (abaya), which can be provided on site if needed.

Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Visitors to the Parthenon are welcome to wear what they please; however the site is rocky and much of the surrounds are unpaved. There is also an incline on the site with rugged steps. Out of respect to the historicity of the ancient ruins and for your own safety, avoid high heels or shoes that may degrade the surface rock and a trip to the doctor for a broken ankle.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

There are a growing number of recounts on the Internet of tourists who have had no trouble entering St. Peter’s Basilica wearing shorts and halter neck-type dresses. This is probably due to the discretion used by particular guards on duty and not a reflection of true dress code requirements. It is much better to be safer than sorry, so dress conservatively or bring a shawl and change of pants and shirt for entry.

Curch of Our Saviour On Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The beautiful grounds of the Church of Our Saviour On Spilled Blood are free to roam to the public, however guests should respect the site regarding dress. Women are advised to wear a head covering but otherwise smart casual attire is okay.

Petra World HEritage Site, Wadi Musa, Jordan

No official dress code is listed for the ancient sites at Petra, however, tourists report a modesty dress code is recommended out of respect for traditional Islamic standards. Loose fitting clothing, headscarf and covered shoulders should suffice.

Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt

In Cairo hotels catered to international guests, western standards of dress are fine, including shorts, singlets, skirts and tank tops, however outside of these bounds the locals will expect you to dress conservatively. This applies to both men and women, meaning long, loose fitting clothing and covered arms. Men should note not to wear shorts or sleeveless tops in the city, although this is more acceptable in beach areas.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam

Two uniformed guards stand at the entrance to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum year round to enforce a strict  dress code for visitors. Men are expected to wear a shirt with long pants and women should dress with modesty in mind. Inside of the Mausoleum hats must be removed, no cameras are permitted and bags of a certain size must be stored (so it is best to leave any valuables behind!). Travellers are also requested not to place their hands in their pockets.

Temple Square, Salt Lake City, USA

In the heart of North America’s Mormon community lies Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The square is open from 9 a.m. to 9p.m. daily with free admission to the public. Casual dress is expected and tourists should avoid revealing clothing including tank tops, spaghetti straps or similar designs. Ticket concerts and events require strict ‘Sunday dress’.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Despite being a secular country, as with many of the other predominately Muslim destinations on our list, a conservative dress code is expected at the Hagia Sophia. This means no shorts or exposed shoulders, however sandals and open-toed footwear are generally okay. At this particular site women will be offered a head scarf if needed, however you should pack your own for use elsewhere too.

Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA

Sundance is known throughout the world for being one of the best film festivals in the world, but don’t let your Hollywood notions of fame get to your wardrobe. It’s cold during the festival, so travellers are better off going ‘mountain chic’ than dressing for the red carpet. Ice is common on the ground in Utah at this time of year, so definitely avoid high heels.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Unlike Italian churches or cathedrals, the French are a little bit more relaxed when it comes to enforcing dress codes. Tourists are commonly seen wearing everyday clothing, including singlets and shorts during the summer months. We recommend bringing a shawl or scarf just in case.

These guidelines will ensure that you are dressed appropriately for your next visit to any of these wonderful sites. But instead of thinking of this as extra luggage or hassle, remember that dressing appropriately is a show of respect for these cultures and the locals who support these internationally renowned destinations. If you’re ever unsure, always be on the safe side and do your research before departing.

Bonus General Tips

Avoid wearing clothing with:

  • Flags
  • Military motifs or symbols
  • Offensive or inappropriate novel slogan t-shirts
  • Religious symbols or imagery

Invest in:

  • A durable shawl or headscarf if you are unsure
  • Pants with zip-off features to convert them into shorts
  • Good walking shoes with closed toes
  • A simple bag to store your shoes in at temples

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