Free Things to Do in Salt Lake City

10 Best's Top Freebies in Salt Lake City: Highly Recommended, Regardless of Budget Size

Salt Lake City is the perfect destination for the active person. Surrounded by the peaks of the enormous Wasatch Mountain Range, and filled with attractions of every variety, Salt Lake Valley offers something for everyone. Whether you’re into history, religion or outdoor activities, you’ll find yourself faced with a lifetime’s worth of exploration in Salt Lake. And surprisingly, a good many of these attractions cost absolutely nothing to enjoy.

One of the most unique features of Salt Lake City is its pivotal place in the Mormon religion. Considered the world headquarters of this young religion, Salt Lake City is the home of the world-famous Temple Square, and numerous related points of interest. Among the best of these are the totally free Family History Library and Tabernacle. The Family History Library, which holds the world’s largest collection of genealogical records, can be used by anyone of any faith. The Tabernacle, home of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, holds practices and concerts year-round. And guess what? They’re free to attend; you must simply reserve a ticket online.

Outdoors fanatics and history buffs have a lengthy list of free attractions to consider, as well. Take a jog on the expansive Bonneville Shoreline Trail System, hike to the Fifth Water Hot Springs, or visit the Fort Douglas Military Museum.

If these top 10 attractions don’t totally pack your itinerary, consider a trip to any of these free attractions: Governor’s Mansion, Liberty Park, Church History Museum, Memory Grove Park or Bonneville Salt Flats.


Joseph Smith Memorial Building

A $45-million renovation transformed this building from a spectacular hotel into office space for the Mormon Church. Visitors may take guided tours to learn about the building and its uses over the past 70 years. Beyond its history, the building will dazzle you with its spectacular architecture and opulent decor. The Family Search Center in the lobby can help genealogists find information about family roots. Guests are encouraged to attend a popular film about the history of the early Mormons - but it's best to call ahead for reservations. Afterward, grab a bite to eat at one of the three on-site restaurants.

Local Expert tip: Restaurants located within the building are The Garden, The Roof, and The Nauvoo Cafe.

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Though the Mormon Church is undeniably the historically and culturally dominant religion in Utah, it certainly isn't the only. This dramatic Roman Catholic cathedral, completed in 1909, was built to mimic Romanesque style on the outside and Gothic style on the inside. The structure features gargoyles, vibrant murals, finely executed wood carvings, and magnificent stained-glass windows. Chapels, shrines, bells, screens, and other decorative and functional elements add to the cathedral's majesty. Stop by the office between 9am-5pm to pick up a self-guided tour booklet, and remember to treat the working sanctuary and worshipers with respect when you visit and marvel.

Local Expert tip: The Cathedral is located within a few blocks of Temple Square; if you're interested in religious sites, it would be a shame to miss this one.

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Mormons were the first permanent settlers to arrive in Utah, founding Salt Lake City in 1847. Attracted by the utter lack of other people, this religious group intended to found a nation of their own. However, the U.S. Federal Government denied their repeated petitions for independence. In the uneasy years leading up to the American Civil War, the government began fearing that the Mormons would side with the Confederate States - and fight against the Northern states - in order to be granted independence. After the war finally broke out, President Lincoln sent soldiers to Utah to monitor the activities of the Mormons. This fort was constructed by those soldiers in 1862, and served as a home to the US Army troops until 1991. The museum today illustrates Fort Douglas' long and rich history as a military center.

Local Expert tip: Combine this visit with a trip to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts or Natural History Museum of Utah, also on the University of Utah Campus.

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Utah State Capitol Building
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

This awe-inspiring building proudly sits high on Capitol Hill overlooking the city. A stately Corinthian, neoclassical revival-style building, the Utah State Capitol Building was constructed mostly of native granite, quarried in the surrounding area. Built between 1912-1916, this structure today houses the offices of the Utah Governor, as well as the Utah State Legislature. Inside, visitors may wander from room to room or take a guided tour to learn the significance of seagulls painted on the 165-foot domed ceiling - or to find the historical meaning behind the painted murals. Additional points of interest within the building include a Hall of Governors, an impressive 6000-pound chandelier, and a gift shop.

Local Expert tip: After a massive renovation, this building is now fully open again.

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Daughters of Utah Pioneer Memorial Museum
Photo courtesy of tracie7779

The Daughters of Utah Pioneers is an international organization committed to preserving the history of Utah's early settlers. This museum contains four stories, each dedicated to illustrating different aspects of the human history that shaped Utah and Salt Lake City. The main floor focuses on Mormon leaders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Doll exhibits can be found on the second floor, and the basement contains military memorabilia and artifacts. Additional displays can be found in a separate building called the Carriage House. The historical artifacts contained within the collection span roughly two decades, from the 1840's - the time the first Mormon settlers entered the Salt Lake Valley - to the date the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869.

Local Expert tip: This museum is dedicated to the pioneers who trekked more than 2,000 miles to reach Utah.

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Located south of Salt Lake City (and east of Spanish Fork), Fifth Water Hot Springs is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Utah. Requiring a hike to reach, these naturally heated pools serve as a soothing reward for tired legs. If making the trip in winter, get quite an early start; winter road closures extend the hike by about 4 miles (in each direction). To get there, take Exit 257 from I-15, and head east on US 6. After 11 miles, turn left (north) onto Diamond Fork Road. Continue along until you see the clearly marked trail head. The hike from this parking area to the springs is 2.5 miles. Bring plenty of water, as soaking in hot springs is quite dehydrating.

Local Expert tip: Regardless of the season of your visit, bring a headlamp; doing so will eliminate the need to stumble out in the dark.

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In the Mormon faith, family is one of the absolute most important and sacred concept; Mormon doctrine asserts that families are forever connected through the church's sacred ceremonies. In an effort to maintain and document these connections, the LDS operates a library with a wealth of genealogical information dating from 1550 to 1910. Yet, not all names in the library belong to Mormons; far from it! This enormous collection contains registers from all continents on earth. Friendly assistants, modern technology, and volumes of books all help visitors discover their roots and elucidate their heritages. A short video explaining how to trace a family history is available to help guests begin their search. Open to LDS members and non-members alike.

Local Expert tip: Though this library is operated by the Mormon Church, it is open to all.

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Constructed over the course of four years and completed in 1867, the Tabernacle is home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Its 11,623-pipe organ looms 30-plus feet over the congregation, and a curved ceiling enhances the building's acoustics. The sacred structure is open to the public primarily for concerts and meetings, but visitors are encouraged to attend a weekly choir rehearsal or a Sunday broadcast. In addition, year-round Tabernacle tours leave from the north or south gates every 15 minutes and last about a half-hour. If you're interested in seeing the world-famous Tabernacle Choir, check out the concert and rehearsal schedule online, and be sure to arrive early.

Local Expert tip: All concerts and rehearsals at the Tabernacle are free; however, some require reservations.

Read more about Tabernacle on Temple Square →

Bonneville Shoreline Trail
Photo courtesy of Ted Percival

If standing in Salt Lake City, look at the foothills towering above town, to your north and east. It is there that the Bonneville Shoreline Trail crisscrosses above the city, covering roughly 100 total miles. This trail has no map, but instead is a broad and rich network of interconnected trails with many access points. More than 10,000 years ago, the Salt Lake Valley (and much of northwestern Utah) was filled with a massive body of water called Lake Bonneville. Caused by natural, earthen dams and wet climactic conditions, that enormous lake would have submerged modern Salt Lake City underneath hundreds of feet of water. When one of the natural dams eventually burst, the lake drained once and for all, leaving behind the visually obvious ancient shorelines of this once massive lake. For more information on accessing the trail, visit the trail's website.

Local Expert tip: This large and complex trail system has no map, but is easy to navigate due to low-lying vegetation.

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Salt Lake City has been the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since their arrival to the Great Basin in July 1847. Temple Square itself is the spiritual and symbolic center of this unique religion. Covering 10 acres, the square contains the Mormon Temple, the Tabernacle (in which the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses, performs, and creates broadcasts), Assembly Hall, vast amounts of gardens, the Seagull Monument, and dozens of other significant structures and artworks. Temple Square is open to the public (with the exception of the Temple itself) during daylight hours, and costs nothing to enter. Outside of Temple Square you'll find many other related buildings and attractions like the Family History Library, Church History Library, and LDS Conference Center.

Local Expert tip: Don't be afraid to approach a missionary for a tour; these are free and informative.

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Meet Christine Balaz

Christine Balaz began her unexpected writing career in Salt Lake City with her first book on Wasatch Skiing and Travel in 2006. On the subject of Utah, Christine has written numerous...  More About Christine