What Does It Mean to Have a Key to the City?

Discover the significance of having a key to the city, its history, and notable examples of individuals who have received this prestigious honor.


Having a key to the city is a symbolic gesture that signifies honor, trust, and recognition from a city’s authorities. In this article, we will explore the significance of receiving a key to the city, the history behind this tradition, and some notable examples of individuals who have been bestowed with this honor.

What is a Key to the City?

A key to the city is a ceremonial key that is presented to an individual or organization as a sign of respect and gratitude. While the key itself may not actually open any doors, its symbolic value is immense. It is a way for a city to recognize and honor someone for their contributions to the community.

History of Key to the City Tradition

The tradition of giving a key to the city dates back to medieval times when cities were often enclosed by walls and gates. The key was a literal symbol of trust and authority, given to a trusted individual as a sign of their ability to enter and exit the city freely. Over time, this tradition evolved into a symbolic gesture of welcoming and honoring distinguished guests.

Significance of Receiving a Key to the City

Receiving a key to the city is a rare and prestigious honor. It is a way for a city to express gratitude and admiration for someone who has made a significant impact on the community. It can be given to individuals for various reasons, such as philanthropy, public service, or artistic achievements.

Notable Examples

One famous example of someone who has received a key to the city is Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela was honored with keys to several cities around the world, including New York City and Paris. Another notable recipient is Oprah Winfrey, who has been given keys to multiple cities in recognition of her philanthropic work and influence.


Having a key to the city is more than just a symbolic gesture. It represents a deep sense of appreciation and respect from a city’s leaders and residents. It is a way for a community to show gratitude to those who have made a positive impact and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *