The barrier of a balcony could by built in many forms like these

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Should we call it "balcony railings" or "balcony fence"?


4 Answers 4


Railing tends to refer to the fence-style barrier, made of metal or wood, and with nothing filling the gaps between posts. Technically the "rail" is the top surface, the horizontal piece at the top, but collectively the posts that support it is the railing. The top rail may be called a "handrail" if it is meant to be held, or a "guardrail" if it is there for safety.

A balustrade is like a railing, but the handrail is supported by fixed posts or pillars. The pillars may be made of different material to the rail and perhaps be part of the stone balcony.

The final photo example of a stone wall on top of a structure would be either a parapet, or just a wall (possibly guard wall). In old castles, the guard wall may also be referred to as the ramparts, but that may also include the rest of the structure too, not just the wall.

Anything else is really a barrier.

  • 3
    Just to add a note on frequency/formality: wall and railing(s) are probably the most common in colloquial use, and parapet is not uncommon, though slightly more associated with grand or historical buildings (e.g. church towers, castles). Balustrade and guard wall are rather more formal and technical; ramparts is distinctly historical.
    – PLL
    Dec 10, 2019 at 14:56
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    @PLL Agreed. OP included photos of historical buildings and the historical names would apply.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 10, 2019 at 14:57
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    Astralbee: Absolutely; my comment wasn’t a criticism of your answer, just some additional information which I think is helpful for someone who hasn’t met these words before.
    – PLL
    Dec 10, 2019 at 15:00
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    For what it’s worth, I associate “parapet” with castles, too, possibly even more than “ramparts.” Also, “crenelation” is yet-another term for those short walls on top of castle roofs or walls, giving defenders cover and so on.
    – KRyan
    Dec 10, 2019 at 16:30

I would call the top one a railing. The next two are railings with glass panels or glass-paneled railings. The last I would call a wall or parapet (this Wikipedia link features your photo).


The word parapet (as mentioned in TypeIA's abswer) describes a wall-like structure that surrounds a balcony or roof. Another related term is Balustrade which refers to a series of pillars or poles supporting a handrail. Other related terms are guard rail and ledge.


The Decemberists - Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect (Lyrics) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy0NySwzDzY)

And I am nothing of a builder But here I dreamt I was an architect And I built this balustrade To keep you home, to keep you safe From the outside world But the angles and the corners Even though my work is unparalleled They never seemed to meet This structure fell about our feet And we were free to go

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