Temple Square – Things To Do in Salt Lake City
This is number one on your list of things to do in Salt Lake City. Temple Square is the most popular visitor attraction in Utah, with over 5 million annual visitors. Temple Square, proper, occupies a 10-acre city block surrounded by a 15-foot wall on all sides; it includes two visitors centers, the Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake Tabernacle, Assembly Hall chapel, and impressive gardens. Adjacent to the square are other notable buildings owned and operated by the LDS Church that tourists should consider visiting, including the LDS Conference Center, Museum of Church History and Art, Family History Library, Church Office Building, Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Main Street Plaza, Lion House, and Beehive House. Visitors can easily spend all day touring Temple Square, so here are some highlights to get you oriented.
Salt Lake Temple: Completed in 1893 after 40 years of construction, this magnificent structure is made of native granite from a quarry 20 miles from Temple Square. Atop the tallest spire is the Angel Moroni, a 13-foot tall copper statue with gold leafing. This is the only building on Temple Square that tourists cannot visit. One of the purposes of a Mormon Temple are weddings, so you may see many brides around Temple Square and the gardens.
Salt Lake Tabernacle: The Tabernacle is the oldest building on Temple Square, completed in 1867 as a large auditorium. At the time of its dedication, it was the largest auditorium without central support columns in America. The building is an architectural marvel; the roof is supported not by columns, but by a system of trusses, like you would find on a bridge. Inside is one of the largest and most famous organs in the world. Recitals are held in the Tabernacle at noon most days and it is typically open for tourists to view and take photos of seven days a week, open until 9:00pm. Here the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will rehearse on Thursday evenings and perform on Sunday mornings, both are free and open to the public. The Choir will only use the Tabernacle in the slow seasons, and will move across the street to a larger auditorium in the summer and during the popular Christmas concert series. If you can attend the organ recital, it lasts 30 minutes.
Assembly Hall chapel: Built out of spare stone from the Salt Lake Temple construction, and completed a decade earlier, it is a beautiful chapel with its own organ. This building is open for tourists to view seven days a week. Special concerts are sometimes held here on weekend nights. Plan on just a few minutes to view the interior and take pictures of the exterior.
LDS Conference Center: Many tourists miss out on visiting this impressive building because they just don’t know any better. It is the largest religious auditorium of its kind in the world, with a seating capacity of 21,000 in the main auditorium, and additional seating in an adjacent theater. Including the surrounding grounds, it occupies a 10-acre city block. The LDS Conference Center is made of the same stone, from the same canyon, as the Salt Lake Temple; construction completed in 2002, the building is open seven days a week for visitors to tour. Typically there is a 2:00pm organ recital, which is free. If your time is short, take just a minute to view the auditorium and marvel at its impressive size; then take a 10-15 minute trip to the roof where you will find a 6-acre garden and an excellent elevated picture opportunity of Temple Square. During the busy summer tourist season, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will rehearse and perform here instead of the Tabernacle.
Museum of Church History and Art: Over 250,000 visitors enjoy this free museum each year. The exhibits are very well crafted and there is a bookstore inside that sells CDs of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and music of the Tabernacle’s organ (usually the lowest album prices you’ll find downtown).
Family History Library: The largest genealogical archives in the world, open to the public for free. You could spend anywhere from 45 minutes to several days in the library researching your ancestors. Your only expense will be a very small fee if you print pages out, just to cover costs. The collection is massive and volunteer genealogists are available to walk you through your research step by step. Billions of names are found within the records, and visitors are often impressed with what they find.
Church Office Building: This is the worldwide headquarters of the Church and has one very impressive attraction for visitors: the observation deck on the 26th floor of the 28-story building. Hours are typically 9:00-5:00, and it is free.
Joseph Smith Memorial Building: Formerly the Hotel Utah, built in 1911 as one of the most luxurious hotels west of the Mississippi River. Today, it is mostly office space for Church employees, but also offers a lot of space for receptions (very popular venue for wedding receptions) and holds three restaurants: The Roof is a formal dining buffet with breathtaking views ($40 per person); The Garden, informal and inexpensive dining in a garden-like atmosphere with trees and fountains; Nauvoo Cafe, known for its great carver sandwiches and soups. Aside from dining options, this is worth a visit to see the elegant lobby. Just walk through the front doors and you’ll stop in your tracks. While much of the hotel was renovated and converted, the lobby preserves the feel of the grand old Hotel Utah. Also, take a quick elevator ride up to the top floor for excellent views of the Wasatch Mountains on one side and Temple Square on the other (especially if you can’t make the visit to the Church Office Building observation deck).
Main Street Plaza: For one city block, Main Street was purchased by the Church and transformed into a garden plaza with water fountains and a giant reflective pond. This is a very popular place for taking pictures of the Salt Lake Temple–a favorite spot for bridal photography where you’ll find a nice walk through the Temple Square gardens. For photographers, Main Street Plaza is a must.
Lion House and Beehive House: The homes of Brigham Young, both open to the public. The Lion House offers reception space on the upper levels and a restaurant called the Lion House Pantry on the lower level, open for lunch and dinner. Visitors dine on home-style food priced from $5-12, in Brigham Young’s dining hall. The Beehive House offers free guided tours of the home and Brigham Young’s office, tours last 30-45 minutes throughout the day until 8:30pm.
*Note that in all of the restaurants mentioned here, owned and operated by the LDS Church, alcohol, coffee, and tea are not served.