USA Utah

6 Great Free Things to See in Salt Lake City

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).

Mormon Temple
The Mormon Temple

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!

Mormon Tabernacle
The Mormon Tabernacle

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.

LDS Conference Center
LDS Conference Center

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.

Joseph Smith Sphinx
Joseph Smith Sphinx

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!

Salt Lake City Library
The Salt Lake City Main Library Branch

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!

Salt Lake City Hall
Salt Lake City Hall

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!

Cathedral of the Madeleine
Interior of the Cathedral of the Madeleine

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.

Salt Lake City House
A pretty neigborhood house

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.

Salt Lake City Olympic Torch
Olympic Cauldron Park

Have you been to (or do you live in) Salt Lake City? Do you have anything to add? Let me know below!

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By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

4 replies on “6 Great Free Things to See in Salt Lake City”

Cool post! Must say I’m surprised by all the great things to do in Salt Lake City. I had no idea. It looks really interesting and if I ever go, I’ll refer back to your list–for sure!

Thank you. I was wondering if Salt Lake would be a good day layover on Amtrak’s zephyr and if I could see the Morman tabernacle and organ. You gave me my answers and I will stop and try to see it all!

Glad you found this to be helpful! I think Salt Lake is a great place to spend a day or two and most of the sights are really centrally located. Enjoy!

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