Salt Lake City has long been the equivalent of Vatican city for the Mormon Church, but it's also gained cache with outdoor enthusiasts in recent years who have flocked to SLC for easy access to the nearby Wasatch Mountains. The result is a unique city unlike anywhere else on earth, full of religious institutions and tradition, but also a youthful, adventurous vibe. 

Best of all, you can get a taste of what makes Salt Lake so special on the kind of budget befitting both families and dirtbag public lands devotees – free. From the classical downtown originally designed for ox-drawn wagons to quirky sculpture gardens, public hiking trails, and even vast genealogical resources, there's a little something for everyone here that doesn't cost a penny.

These are the fourteen best free things to do in Salt Lake City.

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Beehive House a Mormon Historic Residence in Salt Lake City
The Beehive House was constructed in 1854, and was named for a sculpture of a beehive atop of the roof – a symbol of cooperative work found throughout Mormon culture © Alamy Stock Photo

1. Beehive House

Brigham Young lived with one of his wives and families in the Beehive House during much of his tenure as governor and church president in Utah. The required tours vary; some offer historic house details over religious education, depending on the LDS docent. The attached 1855 Lion House, which was home to a number of Young's other wives, has a self-service restaurant in the basement. Feel free to look around the dining rooms during mealtimes.

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA - May 2, 2018: Pink Leather Chair inside Salt Lake City Public Library, Utah.
Pink Leather Chair inside Salt Lake City Public Library, Utah. Alamy Stock Photo

2. Salt Lake City Main Library

You can do more than read a book at this library. Meander past dramatic glass-walled architecture, stroll through the roof garden or stop by the ground-floor shops (covering gardening to comic-book publishing). Many activities for kids are offered here, too.

Governor's mansion, Salt Lake City, Utah
Originally built in 1902 by US Senator Thomas Kearns, the Utah Governor's Mansion has survived not only over a century of use, but a major fire in 1993 © Alamy Stock Photo

3. Preservation Utah Tours

Preservation Utah offers (mostly) free tours of SLC's historic landmarks like the Utah Governor's Mansion, Salt Lake City and County Building, McCune Mansion, Meditation Chapel in Memory Grove Park, or the Marmalade District on Capitol Hill. They also distribute self-guided walking-tour brochures if you want to go your own way without a docent. After suspending tours during the COVID-19 pandemic, Preservation Utah is planning for tours to restart in late spring of 2021. Check their website for more information. 

shutterstockRF_1183651411.jpg
Exterior of the Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square. ©Allison J. Hahn/Shutterstock

4. Temple Square

The city's most famous sight occupies a 10-acre block surrounded by 15ft-high walls. LDS docents give free, 30-minute tours continually, leaving from the visitor center at the entrance on North Temple St. Sisters, brothers and elders are stationed every 20ft or so to answer questions. (Don't worry, no one is going to try to convert you – unless you express interest.) The temple is closed for renovation from 2020 to 2024 but Temple Square's other sights remain open.

Salt Lake City, Utah - Genealogical research at the Mormon church's Family History Library.
Genealogical research at the Mormon church's Family History Library. Alamy Stock Photo

5. Family History Library

Thousands of people come to Salt Lake City every year to research their family history here, the largest genealogical resource on earth. Because the LDS believes you must pray on your ancestors' behalf to help them along their celestial path, it has acquired a mind-boggling amount of genealogical information to help identify relatives. Volunteers scour the globe microfilming records in the tiniest of villages and then make them freely available here, as well as through libraries across the country.

Monument to the Priesthood, by Thomas Child, dedicated to the Church of Latter Day Saints, in the Gilgal garden, Salt Lake City
Monument to the Priesthood, by Thomas Child, dedicated to the Church of Latter Day Saints, in the Gilgal garden, Salt Lake City Alamy Stock Photo

6. Gilgal Sculpture Garden

Talk about obscure: Gilgal Garden is a quirky little green space hidden in a residential neighborhood. Most notably, this tiny sculpture garden contains a giant stone sphinx wearing Mormon founder Joseph Smith's face.

Utah State Capitol Building and the mountains of the Wasatch Range beyond, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Utah State Capitol Building and the mountains of the Wasatch Range beyond, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA Alamy Stock Photo

7. The Utah State Capital

The city's most famous sight occupies a 10-acre block surrounded by 15ft-high walls. LDS docents give free, 30-minute tours continually, leaving from the visitor center at the entrance on North Temple St. Sisters, brothers and elders are stationed every 20ft or so to answer questions. (Don't worry, no one is going to try to convert you – unless you express interest.) The temple is closed for renovation from 2020 to 2024 but Temple Square's other sights remain open.

View of Salt Lake City from Grandeur Peak, Utah, USA
View of Salt Lake City from Grandeur Peak, Utah, USA Alamy Stock Photo

8. Church Fork Trail

Looking for the nearest workout with big views? Hike the 6-mile round-trip, pet-friendly trail up to Grandeur Peak (8299ft). Mill Creek Canyon is 13.5 miles southwest of downtown.

Mormon Tabernacle and buildings of Salt Lake City with the Wasatch Mountains beyond, Utah USA. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown.
Mormon Tabernacle and buildings of Salt Lake City with the Wasatch Mountains beyond, Utah USA. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown. Alamy Stock Photo

9. Tabernacle

The domed, 1867 auditorium – with a massive 11,000-pipe organ – has incredible acoustics. A pin dropped in the front can be heard in the back, almost 200ft away. Free daily organ recitals are held at noon Monday through Saturday, and at 2pm Sunday.

Pioneer Memorial Museum at headquarters of International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers (ISDUP, DUP), Salt Lake, City, USA,
Pioneer Memorial Museum at headquarters of International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers (ISDUP, DUP), Salt Lake, City, USA, Alamy Stock Photo

10. Pioneer Memorial Museum

You'll find relics from the early days at Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) museums throughout Utah, but the Pioneer Memorial Museum is by far the biggest. The vast, four-story treasure trove is like Utah's attic, with a taxidermied two-headed lamb and human-hair artwork in addition to more predictable artifacts.

Olympic Cauldron
The Olympic Cauldron before the Closing Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mandatory Credit: Allsport/ Getty Images Getty Images

11. Olympic Cauldron Park

The University of Utah, or 'U of U,' was the site of the Olympic Village in 2002. This small, on-site park has giant panels detailing the games and also contains the 72ft glass torch. A 10-minute, dramatic but heartfelt film booms with artificial fog and sound effects.

View of Wasatch Mountains from Wheeler Farm, Murray, Utah
View of Wasatch Mountains from Wheeler Farm, Murray, Utah Alamy Stock Photo

12. Wheeler Historic Farm

This free site gives a glimpse of what farm life was like for the early pioneers who settled here. Kids can help farmhands milk cows and there are also tractor-drawn wagon rides ($3) into the wooded back acres at this historic 1898 farm. Tours of the farm house, which contains many artifacts, are by reservation only and cost $4 for adults and $2 for children.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Temple Sq. in Salt Lake City.
Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Temple Sq. in Salt Lake City. Alamy Stock Photo

13. Joseph Smith Memorial Building

East of the Brigham Young Monument, this building was the elegant Hotel Utah from 1911 until 1987. Inside, there's a large-screen theater with daily screenings of several films about Mormon beliefs, including a 65-minute showing of Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration.

Church History Museum in Salt Lake City Utah USA. Image shot 05/2009. Exact date unknown.
Church History Museum in Salt Lake City Utah USA. Image shot 05/2009. Exact date unknown. Alamy Stock Photo

14. Church History Museum

Adjoining Temple Square, this interactive museum has impressive exhibits of pioneer history and fine art.

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