13 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, is a young and dynamic city, home to natural, historic, and religious attractions, along with nearby skiing and mountain-based adventures. While Salt Lake City has long been known primarily for being the religious center of the Mormons (Latter Day Saints), and many of the city's top attractions do focus on this aspect, hosting the Olympic Winter Games added a new dynamic and put the city on the map for international travelers. Today, you can find great dining, shopping, and a variety of things to do here in summer or winter.
Some of the top sites in Salt Lake City can be found in the downtown area, including Temple Square and the Mormon Temple. In the city center, many of the attractions are in close proximity to one another, making sightseeing easy. Many travelers also use the city as a base and day trip to the nearby ski resorts, or simply to enjoy an outing to the nearby mountains and towns, like Park City and Deer Valley, less than an hour away.
Discover the best things to see and do with our list of top tourist attractions in Salt Lake City
See also: Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
1. Visit Temple Square
Although Temple Square is one of the top highlights of Salt Lake City, it's in the midst of a massive six-year restoration project, and many areas will be closed until 2024. Buildings are being upgraded, and in some cases completely replaced, and a new tunnel is being installed to improve access and pedestrian flow.
It is expected that the North Visitor's Center, Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, and the Joseph Hall Memorial Building will remain open. The Temple building will be closed. Before your visit, check to see the latest updates on the temple website.
Temple Square is the holy place of the Mormons. Spread out over 35 acres, you'll find beautiful flowering trees; colorful flowerbeds; fountains; and four key Mormon buildings: The Mormon Temple, the Mormon Tabernacle, the Temple Annex, and the Assembly Hall. In addition to these spectacular buildings, you'll come across several historical monuments highlighting important people and events in the faith.
For a more in-depth understanding of the Church of Latter-day Saints, visit one of the two information centers at the entrances to the square. They supply information, and staff are more than happy to answer questions about the doctrines and the history of the Mormon faith and the area.
This is a peaceful place to simply wander around, particularly in spring and summer when the flowers and trees are in bloom. Several well-regarded restaurants in this area make good lunch stops.
Official site: http://www.templesquare.com/
2. Mormon Temple
One of the most iconic Salt Lake City landmarks is the Mormon Temple. Designed and built in the unique Mormon style, this stunning building was constructed between 1853 and 1893. At each end of this huge granite structure are three towers, the highest of which, at the east end, bears a 13-foot-high gilded figure of the angel Moroni.
The temple may be entered only by Mormons, but very detailed models of the spectacular interior are on display at the North visitors' centers that are open to all.
Address: 50 West North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah
3. Natural History Museum of Utah
The Natural History Museum of Utah is a wonderful family activity or something to do on a cold or rainy day in Salt Lake City. Housed in a spectacular copper-clad concrete building with soaring spaces, the museum has more than 40,000 square feet of displays and educational facilities with 1.6 million objects in its collection.
Approximately 5,000 items are on display at any given time, and some of the highlights include the digital globe, dinosaur fossils, and a three-story indoor canyon. There are seven permanent collections including Paleontology, Anthropology, Entomology, Vertebrate Zoology, Mineralogy, Botany, and Malacology (the study of mollusks).
The views from the observation deck out across the city and valley are spectacular.
Next to the Natural History Museum is Red Butte Garden, a very popular attraction with locals. It's worth a stop if you are visiting in spring. The garden is known for its spring blooms.
Address: 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, Utah
Official site: https://nhmu.utah.edu/
4. Ski at nearby Ski Resorts
If you love to ski, Salt Lake City is a destination that should be on your list of places to visit. Within easy reach of the city are the ski resorts of Park City, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude, Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and Sundance.
Just up Interstate 80, you'll find the resorts of Park City and Deer Valley. If you prefer smaller resorts, Alta and Snowbird are up the Little Cottonwood Valley via highway 210. Both drives are twisty and scenic, as they take you into the heart of the jagged Wasatch Range. Solitude and Brighton are north over the ridge over in Big Cottonwood Valley, only a few miles away as the crow flies, but over an hour by road.
If you head north of Salt Lake City for about an hour, you'll find two lesser known but still amazing resorts: Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. Snowbasin is an ideal destination if you love skiing but hate crowds. It's rarely too busy, and the lift infrastructure is excellent, as it was one of the host mountains of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Powder Mountain has the largest skiable terrain of all the resorts in the United States and limits the number of skiers on the mountain at 1,000. For those who prefer a smaller and historic ski resort, head an hour south of Salt Lake City to Sundance, started in 1969 and made famous by actor Robert Redford.
For skiers and boarders watching their pennies, Salt Lake City is a great base, with a good assortment of cheap and mid-range hotels and a wide variety of restaurants. This makes SLC a good alternative to staying at the resorts, where you'll pay tourist prices versus local prices in town.
One often overlooked advantage of staying in Salt Lake City is the lower elevation, which will limit the effects of the altitude.
- Read More: Best Ski Resorts in Utah
5. Tour the State Capitol
Set 300 feet above the city at the north end of State Street, on Capitol Hill, is the Utah State Capitol. This towering, neoclassical, domed building houses the House of Representatives, Senate, and Supreme Court of Utah.
The interior is known for its marble rotunda, the Golden Room (the Governor's reception room), and a small gallery with changing exhibits. Along the main hallways are wall panels showing the development and history of Utah through the ages.
You can walk the building on your own or make a booking for a guided tour. Be sure to look up to the paintings on the ceiling, and don't miss the view out over the city to the snow-capped mountains from the top of the main exterior staircase.
Capitol Hill is located an easy stroll northeast of Temple Square at the end of State Street. Many of the city's attractions are located here, including the historic Marmalade District.
Address: 350 North State Street, 120 State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah
Official site: https://utahstatecapitol.utah.gov/
6. Mormon Tabernacle
The tabernacle is a massive oval building with a dome perched on 44 sandstone piers. The sober interior, with seating for over 6,500 people, is noted for its fine acoustics. Free tours are offered throughout the day, and an interesting example of the acoustics is performed. If you are lucky, you may also be able to attend a free performance or recital, which take place on a regular basis.
At the west end is the gallery for the celebrated Tabernacle Choir, and above it is the great organ with an astounding 11,623 pipes.
Address: Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
7. This is the Place Heritage Park
When, after the Mormons' 1,300-mile-long trek, Brigham Young emerged from Emigration Canyon and saw the valley of his visions, he exclaimed "This is the place!" This park makes an ideal family outing and is just 15 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.
The park traces the history of the early pioneers and settlers to Utah in the mid-19th-century, but some of the fun things to do here include pony rides, train rides, and a splash pad called the Irrigation Station. You can even dig for gold at the Treasure House.
One of the main features at the park is This Is The Place Monument, a huge sculpture created in 1947 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mormons' arrival in Salt Lake Valley. The park also includes the Old Deseret Village, a living history museum built to resemble a typical mid-19th-century Mormon community.
Address: 2601 East Sunnyside Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah
Official site: http://www.thisistheplace.org/
8. Joseph Smith Memorial Building
One of the main buildings in Temple Square is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Constructed in 1911 and originally known as the Hotel Utah, it was later renamed in honor of the first president of the Mormon Church.
The building is 10 stories high and is made with glazed terra-cotta bricks, which shine in the strong Utah sun. It's well worth stepping inside to see features like the marble columns, art glass, and the grand staircase.
On site are the Legacy Theater, conference rooms, the FamilySearch Center, and three restaurants, including one on the 10th floor called Rooftop, which offers exceptional views over Temple Square and the city.
Address: 52 North Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah
9. Liberty Park
Spread out over more than 80 acres, Liberty Park is Salt Lake City's largest public park and home to a variety of recreational activities. This green space is a lovely nature retreat with mature trees, and many residents come here in summer to picnic or relax under the shady canopy of leaves.
Ideal for a family outing, the park has numerous things to do, including tennis courts, bocce ball courts, basketball courts, and a public swimming pool. Fitness buffs can take advantage of the two jogging paths-one paved, and one covered by woodchips. The park is also home to Tracy Aviary.
The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is Chase Mill, on the edge of Tracy Aviary. Built in 1852, Chase Mill is the oldest commercial building in the state.
Sunday is a popular day at Liberty Park, when large drum circles take place. You can see people from all ages and walks of life drumming and singing along.
Address: 600 E 900 S, Salt Lake City, Utah
10. See the Birds at Tracy Aviary
On the south side of Liberty Park is the Tracy Aviary, with a large variety of birds from North America and other parts of the world. One of the world's oldest aviaries, it was established in 1938 by a local resident.
Perfect for families, the Tracy Aviary has 19 indoor and outdoor exhibits, spread across a wide area. Be sure to see Andy the Andean Condor, one of the aviary's highlights. This huge bird has a wingspan of nearly 11 feet.
Every hour there is a "Nose to Beak" animal show led by naturalists, and these range from hawks soaring above your head to hand-feeding a pelican. There is a small fee to participate in these sessions. Longer and more intensive sessions are available for a higher fee.
Address: 589 E 1300 S, Salt Lake City, Utah
Official site: http://tracyaviary.org/
11. Learn about Brigham Young at the Beehive House
The Beehive House, built in 1845, was Brigham Young's residence as Governor of Utah and leader of the Mormons. He and his large family of 19 wives and 56 children lived here for many years.
Free tours led by church members take visitors through the mansion, which is furnished with many original period pieces. Some of the highlights are the intricate woodwork on the bannisters and original woodworking tools used by Brigham Young.
Of architectural note is the beehive on the turret of the house. This is the symbol of the industriousness of the Mormons, which also appears in the state's coat of arms.
Address: 67 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah
Official site: https://www.lds.org/locations/historic-beehive-house
12. Hogle Zoo
The Hogle Zoo is a wonderful family-friendly destination in Salt Lake City. Located on the eastern fringes of the city, it is easily accessible from downtown. Spread out over 42 acres, the zoo has over 800 animals from around the world.
Seven major exhibits are available, including Elephant Encounter, World of Flight, Great Apes, Primate Forest, Rocky Shores, African Savanna, Asian Highlands, and lastly the Small Animal Building.
For a small fee, kids can ride a miniature train that goes right past the lion cages, take a spin on a historical carousel, or have fun in the Lighthouse Point Splash zone on hot summer days.
Official site: www.hoglezoo.org
13. Shop at City Creek Center
City Creek Center is Salt Lake City's premier shopping destination, not only for the shops, but for the atmosphere. Part of an urban renewal project, the mall is light and airy and contains over 100 of the top retailers in fashion, home décor, footwear, and electronics, among many others.
City Creek is unique in the fact that it actually has a creek, complete with fish, running through the center of it, and a retractable roof that is open on warm days. Be sure to check out the fascinating water fountain, complete with dancing flames set to accompanying music.
A large indoor play area for children by the food court has a dinosaur theme and is a hit with moms, who can enjoy a coffee while the kids burn off some energy in the playground.
Official website: https://www.shopcitycreekcenter.com/
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City for Sightseeing
Most of Salt Lake City's tourist attractions are in the downtown core, including Temple Square, the Mormon Temple, and the State Capitol. The trendy west downtown area is where many of the city's best restaurants are located. If you are in the city for sightseeing, entertainment, and nightlife, this is the best place to stay. If your main purpose is to hit the nearby ski hills, access to the Interstate is very easy, and the trip to most resorts takes less than 45 minutes. Below is a list of highly rated hotels in good locations:
- The towering Grand America Hotel, with elegantly furnished rooms with balconies, occupies a prime spot in downtown Salt Lake City, just a short walk from Temple Square and local eateries.
- Ideal for event or trade show attendees, the nearby Kimpton Hotel Monaco features well-appointed rooms and is pet-friendly.
- The Salt Lake City Marriott City Center is a luxury option just steps away from the lively City Center Mall with its many shopping and dining options.
- In the center of the action and near several popular restaurants is the recently renovated Hilton Garden Inn, with large rooms, a 24-hour pool, and a free airport shuttle.
- A couple of miles to the east of downtown and near the Museum of Natural History is the University Guest House, with comfortable rooms and a free shuttle to area attractions.
- Fifteen minutes to the east and convenient for those heading to the ski hills is the new Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel. This hotel features rooms with good views of the city along with a saltwater pool and hot tub.
- The following hotels are within walking distance of Temple Square and a variety of good restaurants. At the top end of the budget category, the Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites, with an indoor pool, is one of the most popular budget hotels.
- The Metropolitan Inn, with a seasonal outdoor pool, is known for exceptional rates.
- A good middle ground is the recently renovated Comfort Inn Downtown, with spacious rooms and an outdoor hot tub with a fireplace. All of these hotels are pet friendly and provide a complimentary breakfast.
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