In order to investigate molecular recognition on surfaces, an azide- functionalized monolayer was deposited on gold. The monolayer was characterized by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and angle-resolved near-edge X-ray absorption fine structure (NEXAFS) experiments and the decomposition of the azide upon irradiation with X-ray beams was investigated. Subsequently, various alkyne-functionalized host and guest molecules were attached to the azide by 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition. These modified surfaces and their host–guest chemistry were analysed by XPS and angle-resolved NEXAFS. The reversibility of guest binding was shown for one example as a proof of principle.