After exploring the botanical gardens at Red Butte Garden and Arboretum, hiking in the Wasatch mountains, swimming in the Great Salt Lake, or spending some time on a mountain bike path, you might want to return to the more urban section of the city. Temple Square is just the place for you. This 10-acre complex, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, may sound like a religious education facility, but in fact it is the most popular tourist attraction not just Salt Lake City but in the whole state of Utah, bringing in 3-5 million visitors a year. Home to the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Temple, the Seagull Monument, two visitors’ centers, and the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, Temple Square has plenty to keep you busy.
The History of Temple Square
The history of Temple Square is fairly straightforward. In 1847, the Mormon pioneers first arrived in Salt Lake Valley, following the leader of the church, Brigham Young. At one point, he selected an area of the desert landscape and simply declared, “Here we will build a temple to our God!” And so they did. As Salt Lake City was slowly developed, the block enclosing this original block became known as Temple Square, surrounding the temple itself that was built shortly after. The original 15-foot wall that enclosed the area still stands today.
This square quickly became the headquarters of the Mormon Church. The Salt Lake Tabernacle, featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, was built twenty years after the founding of Salt Lake City in order to house the church’s general conferences. The Salt Lake Assembly Hall is another church building that sprung up to seat 2,000 people. The church’s headquarters continued to expand as the town developed, with an administration building on the east block of the square, the LDS church office building, which at 28 stories was for a long time the tallest building in Utah. Temple Square also houses the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which used to be the Hotel Utah before the church remodeled it into a series of banquet halls, film theatres, and restaurants. The Square expanded still more in 2000, where the LDS Church bought a section of Main Street and built a plaza there to connect to Temple Square on the north side.
Temple Square Activities
And that takes us to the present. So, what exactly can you do there? Don’t worry – there’s plenty of options. If you’re a history buff, even if you’re not a practicing LDS Church member yourself, you’re sure to find something that interests you. A way to start your day is by visiting one of the two visitors’ centers in the Square, with one at the north end and one at the south end. The North Visitors’ Center was the first of the two, and its main attraction is the replica of the Christus statue, located in a beautiful domed room painted with planets, stars, clouds, and other celestial artwork. Both of the visitors’ centers grounds are run by full-time sister missionaries from all over the world, who speak enough different languages to properly welcome the vast majority of visitors.
The Salt Lake Temple is the best known and the largest of all 150 known operating LDS temples. It is the sixth temple that was built by the church, and the fourth one that was built after Brigham Young began to lead his Mormon followers out of Illinois. This Temple is 210 feet tall, overlooking the square. The six-spire structure is beautiful both for its history and its gorgeous, eye-catching architecture. The inside of the church itself is not open to the public, except for members of the church attending services and religious events such as baptisms and marriages, but it is stationed on beautiful outdoor grounds, which visitors may peruse free of charge. You can also get a look at the Tabernacle, which is close by, also known for its stunning architectural design.
After the visitors’ centers and the church conference buildings and temples, you can spend some of your time at any one of the numerous museums and libraries located right in the square. The Family History Library is the largest public genealogical library in the world, with the staff well-equipped to access your family’s records. On the west block of the Square, this library is open to the public with no admission fees, holding records of over 100 countries, territories, and colonies. Even if you’re not a Utah resident, you might be surprised to learn something new about your ancestry, since this library has over 2 million rolls of microfilm and hundreds of thousands of books, all carefully-preserved over the years.
Visit the Church History Library
If you’ve had enough of family history records, fear not: the Church History Library is another major attraction of Temple Square. Located in the northeast block of the square, the historical records of the LDS Church are stored here. This library is also free to patrons, welcome to peruse the wide collection of manuscripts, photographs, books, and more. Senior missionaries provide tours of the library grounds and assistance with research.
The Church History Museum, in the block west of the Temple and adjacent to the Family History Library, this museum is features art and artifacts of the early LDS Church, with mostly permanent exhibits as well as some temporary, traveling exhibits. Paintings, sculptures, and themed historical displays abound in the Church History Museum.
Check Out Other Salt Lake City Attractions
Aside from the heart of the Square itself, Temple Square is located in the hub of Salt Lake City, with many more choices of museums, guided tours, libraries, gardens, and kid-friendly attractions everywhere you look. Truly, there are too many activities to pick a favorite, and the best suggestion is to just dive right in. Be aware of the most popular attractions, read all the online reviews carefully; and you never know, you might find a little hole-in-wall, family-owned café that really takes the cake. At the end of the day, the memories you make with your loved ones are the most valuable thing of all, no matter what activities you do together.