You can’t come to Salt Lake and not visit Temple Square. It’s like getting a cheesesteak in Philly, except that Temple Square fills you with joy and peace instead of cheese whiz and regret.
How much would1 you pay to hear one of America’s oldest, largest, most decorated choirs perform in a 150-year-old structure Frank Lloyd Wright called “one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world”? It’s a trick question. Even if you said, “Nothing,” we’ve still got you because The Tabernacle Choir performs weekly shows for free in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. (But we’d be willing to guess you didn’t say “nothing.”) The Tabernacle, alternately described as “a prodigious tortoise that lost its way” by someone whose architectural opinion we value less, is home to a litany of other cultural events as well.
Temple Square offers one of the most spectacular Christmas lights displays in America. From the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day millions (billions? trillions?) of colorful bulbs light up the trees and grounds. It’s like a reverent version of Laser Floyd punctuated by musical performances and a live nativity. Oh and it’s all free. Right downtown next to City Creek Shopping Center, it makes a nice little diversion from racking up enormous amounts of credit card debt for presents that no one is really going to like anyway.
In the warmer months, flowers and foliage create the same eye-popping effect. Temple Square’s 35 acres have 250 flower beds with 165,000 bedding plants and over 700 varieties of flora from all over the world. If you come back every few months you’ll see new designs replanted by hundreds of Mormon volunteers. But unlike your Mormon neighbor down the street, you probably shouldn’t ask these folks to help you get the pool table out of your basement.
In addition to the Tabernacle, there’s also the Assembly Hall, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (formerly Hotel Utah), and of course, the Salt Lake Temple. You can peruse these buildings on your own or as part of a guided tour. Photo ops abound, but here’s a pro tip, don’t try to take a selfie with the buildings in the background. Too hard to fit it all. There are plenty of people around that can better capture your duck face in front of century-and-a-half-old Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
Ever wonder why you can’t get that cowlick to lay down? Or why you love borscht but none of your friends do? At Temple Square, you can take a family history tour to discover your ancestors and their stories. They’re free (are you sensing a pattern?) and can explain a lot. Who knows… you might be 1/32nd Utahn.
All of this culture-inhaling, ancestor-discovering, and flower-gazing is bound to make you hungry. There are four on-site restaurants ranging from quick, casual (yet delicious) fare at Nauvoo Cafe or the Lion House Pantry, a sit-down experience at The Garden Restaurant, or fine dining with a view at The Roof.
In the North Visitor Center, spend some time appreciating Thorvaldsen’s Christus, a magnificent 11-foot statue of Jesus Christ. There’s also a scale model of ancient Jerusalem and other exhibits. In the South Visitor Center, see a model that shows the interior of the Salt Lake Temple and other exhibits that portray Mormon beliefs, particularly those pertaining to families.
Important Note - Temple Square is currently under construction. Construction - including new visitor centers - is expected to be completed in 2026. Visitors are still welcomed daily.