As the capital of Utah, you can rest assured that there are plenty of things to do in Salt Lake City. Founded by Mormon settlers in the 1840s, the city is a conglomerate of temples as well as natural beauty and wildlife of the American West.
If you’re wondering what to do in Salt Lake City, keep reading because this guide will reveal the top 15 things to do in SLC. From skiing and hiking to temple and museum tours, you’ll find something to suit any interest.
Despite being in a traditionally conservative state, SLC has a diverse culture, not to mention plenty of recreational opportunities. Check out these attractions in Salt Lake City and our map at the end of the article to plan your trip.
I also recommend reading our guide on the 25 best things to do in Utah, because guess what- the best of the beehive state is far from its capital.
1. Temple Square, the most popular attraction in Salt Lake City
Temple Square is, by far, the most popular attraction in Salt Lake City. It’s owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and sits in the center of downtown.
As the city’s Mormon headquarters, the Temple Square complex includes the Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake Tabernacle, Salt Lake Assembly Hall, and Seagull Monument. You’ll know you’re in the square because you’ll see the towering 15-foot spires of the Temple, which I’ll talk about next.
I also recommend walking through the Gardens at Temple Square, which spans 35 acres and includes Japanese maples, English oaks, and perennials like tulips and daisies. The gardens surround the Beehive House and Lion House, which I’ll also talk about later, too.
If you visit during the Christmas season, be sure to check out the Christmas lighting in the gardens. It’s one of the best free things to do in Salt Lake City!
2. Salt Lake Temple, a calm place to go in Salt Lake City
Salt Lake Temple is the highlight of Temple Square and a must-see in Salt Lake City.
It’s the largest Mormon temple in the world and took 40 years to complete, which isn’t surprising given its grandiose dimensions. As the centerpiece of Temple Square, Salt Lake Temple serves as the headquarters for the LDS Church. Members consider it sacred, so public tours aren’t permitted inside the temple. That said, the temple grounds are accessible and are one of the main attractions in Salt Lake City.
Due to its immense religious importance, the temple includes several symbolic elements. For example, the center of the temple depicts the All-Seeing Eye of God, while an Angel Moroni statue reflects the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6. Other motifs include clouds, Saturns, hands in prayer, and the Big Dipper.
3. Salt Lake Tabernacle, a free thing to do in Salt Lake City
Also known as the Mormon Tabernacle, this domed religious building in Temple Square was completed in 1875. It originally served as a meetinghouse for the LDS Church and occasionally hosts LDS conferences today. The Tabernacle originally had a 7,000-person capacity before its renovation in 2007, but it still holds 3,500 people, which is quite impressive.
The centerpiece of the interior is the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ, a must-see in Salt Lake City. Consisting of 11,623 pipes, it’s one of the largest pipe organs on Earth, and its tallest pipes are 32 feet high. The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square uses the organ for regular practices and performances. You can catch daily organ recitals year-round at noon (2:00 pm on Sundays).
It’s one of the primary landmarks in Salt Lake City, so be sure to stop by while you’re at Temple Square.
4. Utah State Capitol
The Utah State Capitol is another impressive place to see in Salt Lake City. Built in the Corinthian and Neoclassical Revival styles, the building consists of five stories full of paintings, murals, and sculptures as well as exhibits, a cyclorama, and the offices of the Utah State Legislature.
Tours of the capitol building are open to the public, so it’s a free thing to do in Salt Lake City if the weather’s bad. Inside, you’ll find portraits of former State Representatives and Congress members, as well as temporary exhibits spanning art, history, and politics.
The capitol grounds include a Vietnam War Memorial, Utah Law Enforcement Memorial, and a monument to the Mormon Battalion. You can follow the .7-mile walkway around the plaza, from which you can catch views of downtown Salt Lake City attractions. You’ll also pass by a reflecting pool, sculptures, and small gardens.
5. Visit Great Salt Lake, a unique thing to do in Salt Lake City
This wouldn’t be a guide to Salt Lake City without mentioning the Great Salt Lake. As the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, it’s one of the most famous places in Salt Lake City.
You might have heard it called by the name “America’s Dead Sea” due to its high saline content, but the lake is still home to waterfowl, shorebirds, and brine shrimp. The salty, marshy water provides migratory habitats for birds like the red-necked phalarope, black-necked stilt, American avocet, snowy plover, tundra swan, American white pelican, white-faced ibis, eared grebe, peregrine falcon, and bald eagle.
You can stop at one of the wildlife sanctuaries that surround the Great Salt Lake, including Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, to learn more about these aviary species.
Moreover, there are several islands in the lake, although the fluctuating water level makes it hard to determine just how many islands there are. A few of the recognized islands are Stansbury Island, Gunnison Island, Fremont Island, Carrington Island, and Antelope Island, which is open year-round for recreation and wildlife viewing.
While it’s too salty and stinky to support most wildlife, Great Salt Lake remains a top attraction in Salt Lake City. When you visit, stop by the Great Salt Lake State Park for a picnic or boat ride. Of course, like most large bodies of water, there’s an urban legend of a “North Shore Monster” in the lake, but I think you’ll be fine!
6. Antelope Island, the best place to hike in Salt Lake City
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in Salt Lake City. It becomes a peninsula when the water level is low enough.
The island is a gorgeous area, and its natural beauty is protected by the Antelope Island State Park. Here, you can see bighorn sheep, American bison, coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, pronghorn, and hundreds of species of waterfowl. The Antelope Island bison herd was introduced to the land in the 1890s and is one of the largest and oldest publicly-owned herds in the US.
The state park is a family-friendly location with a marina, beach, campground, and backcountry trails for hiking and mountain biking. Make your way to Buffalo Point and White Rock Bay, which have overlooks where you can see the lake and nearby islands.
The park is also a popular birdwatching spot and one of the most scenic places in Salt Lake City for stargazing. Just be aware that there is a small entrance fee.
7. Liberty Park, something you can’t miss in Salt Lake City
If you’re wondering what to do in downtown Salt Lake City, check out Liberty Park. This public urban park has a pond with two islands, several recreational activities, and historic landmarks, such as the Isaac Chase Mill.
Another cool place in the park is the Tracy Aviary, which houses over 400 birds representing over 130 species. There, you’ll find exhibits such as the Owl Forest and Pelican Pond, and it’s a fun thing to do in Salt Lake City with kids.
I also recommend checking out the Chase Home of Utah Folk Arts for something free to do in Salt Lake City. The museum shares native and traditional art forms, including crafts, music, and dance.
Within the park, there are plenty of recreational opportunities for picnicking, horseshoeing, and swimming. There are also basketball, volleyball, tennis, and bocce courts, and a 1.5-mile jogging path.
Depending on when you go, there might be seasonal amusements like paddleboats and festivals. The park is a popular spot for watching the Pioneer Day fireworks (July 24), and on Sundays, it’s common to see and hear drum circle performances.
8. Park City and other ski resorts
Skiing is one of the top activities in Salt Lake City, and there are several great resorts to check out.
Among the most popular is Park City Mountain Resort, which is just 32 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City. It has slalom training runs for the U.S. Ski Team, and the resort hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics snowboarding events. Plus, Park City attracts skiers from all over the country, so you can bet that you’ll get some great runs here.
Deer Valley is another Salt Lake City hotspot for skiing. A more luxurious option that also hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, Deer Valley is known as one of the top ski resorts in the U.S. A visit here is a nice thing for couples to do in Salt Lake City, as the resort offers a state-licensed daycare and ski valets that can carry your gear.
Snowbird is open year-round and, along with Alta Ski Area, occupies the Little Cottonwood Canyon. The two resorts offer a joint day pass so you can access all the trails on both mountains.
You might also want to check out Solitude Mountain Resort or Brighton Ski Resort in the Big Cottonwood Canyon. As you can see, you won’t run out of options if you’re into snow sports!
9. Red Butte Garden, a lovely place to visit in Salt Lake City
Strolling through Red Butte Garden and Arboretum is one of the most romantic things to do in Salt Lake City. Nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Range, the 21-acre garden is the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West.
It also shares a state arboretum with the University of Utah and is open year-round. The gardens are community-funded, so there is an admission fee, but I think it’s worth it to see all the lovely flowers and plants.
There are several themed areas, including an Herb Garden, Floral Walk, Water Pavilion Garden, Rose Garden, and Wildflower Meadow. The arboretum has an extensive daffodil, lilac, and conifer collection and hosts community events throughout the year. The outdoor summer concert series is a popular activity for families, but you can find art exhibits and tours at any time of year.
With over 500,000 springtime blossoms and the pretty Red Butte Creek running through it, the arboretum is one of the best attractions in Salt Lake City for all ages.
10. Natural History Museum of Utah
Not sure what to do in Salt Lake City when it rains? Then, check out the Natural History Museum of Utah, which is a cool place to go anytime.
The museum’s exhibitions focus on the natural history of Utah and the Intermountain West. A visit here will make you think about the impacts of human civilization on the natural environment.
As part of the University of Utah, the museum has over 1.6 million objects and artifacts. Each of the collections and displays offer a chance to learn about the culture and geology of the area. There are exhibits focused on anthropology, paleontology, vertebrate zoology, mineralogy, and more.
The museum is one of those unique things to do in Salt Lake City because you can learn more about the immediate natural environment. Discover more about the First Peoples of the area, local gems and minerals, and the ecology of the Great Salt Lake and Range Creek.
Then, venture out and explore the lake or the creek, which flows from the Colorado River. The land around Range Creek dates to AD 500-1350. Vast collections of ancient artifacts and ruins have been found there including arrowheads, beads, stone tools, and ceramics. To visit, you must purchase a day permit, which is available at the museum.
11. Homestead Crater Mineral Dome
One of the most unique outdoor activities in Salt Lake City is taking a soak in the Homestead Crater. Locally known as “The Crater,” this geothermal spring sits inside a 55-foot-deep limestone rock. It was formed around 10,000 years ago and today, it’s one of the top places of interest in Salt Lake City.
The crater is actually a caldera, and at 400 feet wide, it’s an impressive sight to see. While it used to be a more secluded and secret spot, today it’s a popular attraction in Salt Lake City for snorkeling and scuba diving, and the only warm-water scuba diving location in the U.S.
The water always hovers between 90° and 96°F, and the mineral deposits make it an especially therapeutic place to relax and soak. You can visit the nearby Homestead Resort, which has been operating for over 125 years and offers self-guided crater tours through a tunnel in the rock. It’s very affordable, although you can book special visitor packages or a paddleboard yoga class.
12. Timpanogos Cave National Monument & the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
Another way to explore the natural beauty of this area is to take a trip to the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Sitting atop Mount Timpanogos in the Wasatch Range, the national monument protects the Timpanogos Cave and Historic District.
It’s also one of the coolest places to visit in Salt Lake City since it features three caves (Timpanogos, Middle, and Hansen) connected by a series of manmade tunnels. Several observation platforms allow you to marvel at the colorful cave formations inside, like stalagmites, stalactites, cave popcorn, and flowstone.
You can visit the national monument during guided tours from May-September.
If you have time, drive along the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway after visiting the caves. This 20-mile drive starts at American Fork Canyon and goes through the Uinta National Forest to Provo Canyon. Along the way, you’ll pass by Timpanogos, as well as the Sundance Mountain Resort.
I recommend taking the drive in the fall so you can see the beautiful autumn foliage juxtaposed with the surrounding glaciers. If you have time, you can make a quick detour to Cascade Springs, an easy hike with waterfalls and alpine meadows. Once you get to Provo Canyon, check out the 600-foot-tall Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest waterfall in Utah.
13. Joseph Smith Memorial Building
The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is another must-see in Salt Lake City‘s Temple Square. Originally called the Utah Hotel, the building was named after Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-Day Saint movement. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and exemplifies the Mormon culture of the area.
The building includes a hotel, three restaurants, 13 banquet rooms, and administrative offices for the LDS Church. Built in the Renaissance Revival style, the structure is a luxurious addition to Temple Square and a top place to visit in Salt Lake City for gourmet dining.
The Church also uses the building for its chapel and Legacy Theater, which shows free church-produced movies. It also has a FamilySearch Center, which focuses on genealogy.
Visitors can take a free tour of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which may be an interesting thing to do. If you go, check out the webcams, which document the two peregrine falcons that nest atop the building every year.
14. Historic Lion & Beehive Houses
Two more historical places in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square are the Beehive and Lion houses. Both buildings played an integral role in the growth of the LDS Church in Utah.
The Beehive House was built in 1854 and served as Mormon leader Brigham Young’s first home. The beehive is a symbolic element in Mormonism, signifying the need for teamwork and harmony for humans to thrive. As such, there is a beehive sculpture atop the house. You can take a free tour of the house as well as the Brigham Young Historic Park, which was part of the family’s farmland.
Adjacent to the Beehive House is the Lion House. Built in 1856 for Young’s growing family, the house now serves as a venue for weddings and banquets. There are several exquisite rooms for special events, as well as an outdoor garden. Keep an eye out for the lion statue on the roof, and pop into the Lion House Pantry Restaurant for some homemade honey butter.
15. Clark Planetarium, something fun to do in Salt Lake City
Finally, a visit to the Clark Planetarium is a good activity in Salt Lake City for those cold and rainy days.
The 10,000ft² space features a full-dome IMAX theater and three floors of earth and space exhibits. Fun for kids and adults, the planetarium is a great way to learn more about the moon, space weather, the planets, and other astronomical subjects.
It’s one of the best attractions in downtown Salt Lake City, and an affordable way to spend an afternoon. The interactive exhibits allow you to explore the immensity of black holes, the velocity of meteors, and the past, present, and future of space travel.
That’s it for the best things to do in Salt Lake City! As you can see, SLC has a good balance of history, culture, and nature, so it’s a great place to visit in Utah. Be sure to check out our map of landmarks and Salt Lake City attractions to plan your perfect itinerary.
I know you’ll enjoy your time in SLC, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll be happy to help!