Salt Lake City isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a tourist destination and people’s pre-conceived notions of the city really don’t help.When I remarked on Facebook that I was in town, a friend commented, “I’m so sorry,” only the latest in a bit of flack I got surrounding my recent trip there. However, I’m happy to report that, in addition to the outdoor wonderland that waits nearby, there are plenty of interesting free things to do in town. Here are some of the highlights:
Tour Temple Square
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church is incredibly significant in this town, especially considering that the city was founded after Brigham Young uttered those words so oft repeated, “This is the right place.” It’s from those timeless words that a 40 year construction project began to create the grandiose Mormon Temple. Non-Mormons are not allowed to enter the enormous Temple, but can glimpse inside through interactive exhibits in the Southern Visitors Center where female missionaries will be more than happy to tell you anything you wanted to know about the site (or Mormonism).
Visitors can also explore the grounds, with the smaller Assembly Hall and the egg-shaped Mormon Tabernacle being open to the public. Daily recitals of the Tabernacle’s organ occur at noon and are free, open to the public, and rather exciting. And if you’re around on a Thursday, you can even come hear the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse!
Across N Temple Street from Temple Square lies the mammoth LDS Conference Center, an architecturally interesting building that boasts a (beautiful) whopping 21,000 seat theater. Volunteer hosts will be more than happy to give you a tour of the impressive site.
Explore the Bizarre Gilgal Sculpture Garden
Created by a Mormon business man, the bizarre Gilgal Sculpture Garden is one of those things that make you say, “Only in Salt Lake…” As soon as you enter and see the large sculpture of the Sphinx bearing the face of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, you know that this will be an odd place, with its sculptures depicting elements of the Book of Mormon and stones (most of which were covered with snow during my visit) blurting out verses from the aforementioned book.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is one of those hidden local gems that are so weird that it’s definitely worth a visit!
Visit the Public Library & City Hall
In 2003, Salt Lake City opened a brand new Public Library which makes quite an architectural statement! Designed by the Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, this impressive structure is the perfect place to relax and check out the local culture. If you’re lucky, as I was, there might be some events going on in its impressive atrium (pictured below). I was able to witness a little holiday fair, complete with characters from Alice in Wonderland and a local high school choir singing holiday songs! Wander up its various levels enjoying the striking architecture or head all the way up to check out their rooftop garden!
And while you’re there, check out the grandiose City Hall right next door. According to my CouchSurfing host, this structure was built by secular citizens to rival the Mormon Temple, and they definitely succeeded! While it doesn’t match in size, it certainly makes up for in its impressive exterior décor!
Check Out Cathedral of the Madeleine
One of the oldeest cathedrals in town, this Catholic Church, established in 1909, serves as the Diocese of Salt Lake City. The interior is brilliantly decorated with murals depicting Biblical scenes, some of which even integrate the structural columns of the building!
Wander the Trendy Neighborhoods
Though Salt Lake’s neighborhoods aren’t nearly as unique from one another as those in New York City, there are some true charms to be found, be it through picturesque houses or charming areas with local businesses. One of my favorites was the area known as 9th & 9th (centered around the intersection of 900 E & 900 S). In addition to some charming shops, there’s even a movie theater screening an assortment of art house flicks.
Also interesting is downtown’s Gallivan Plaza, lined with interesting shops and the truly superb Beehive Tea House, who serve a truly divine Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte!
See the Olympic Cauldron
The 2002 Winter Olympics put Salt Lake City on the map and evidence of the games is hard to miss. Banners from the games can be found all over downtown and even all the downtown street signs feature the Salt Lake games’ emblem. Though the vast majority of events took place in nearby Park City, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies occurred at the University of Utah’s stadium. The Olympic Cauldron as well as the arch where medal ceremonies were performed remain and are now part of Olympic Cauldron Park. A free museum is attached featuring photo and video highlights of the games.
Have you been to (or do you live in) Salt Lake City? Do you have anything to add? Let me know below!