Named after the Great Salt Lake, the state capital of Utah—Salt Lake City—was founded in the 19th century by a group of Mormon pioneers. The city’s skyline is unique amongst other metropolises of the US, owing to the contrasting juxtaposition of modern architecture against the natural backdrop of the Wasatch mountains. Thus, it gives the city its distinct geography.
The heritage and culture of the city are heavily influenced by the Mormons but the advent of global industrialization and the setting up of regional trade and transport centres, brought in migrants to the city, further enhancing the cultural diversity of the city.
Tourism is one of the major factors that contribute to the economy with several historical buildings, natural parks, and ski resorts located close to the city. The hosting of the Winter Olympics in the year 2002 marked the city as an international tourist destination attracting visitors from all over the world.
Here is a list of 15 places to visit in the city to know more about its rich culture, history and lifestyle:
1. The Temple Square
Spread across an area of 35 acres, the Temple Square is the literal centre across which the city was laid, in grids. It is home to some of the most important historical buildings of the city, including the Salt Lake Temple which is a symbol of the cultural heritage of the Mormons.
A walking tour across the square is like strolling past a collage of the city’s alluring history, architecture and landscape—lined with beautiful gardens, fountains, plazas and restaurants, making it the most visited place in the city.
2. Natural History Museum of Utah
Built at the foothills of the Wasatch mountain range, the form of the building reflects the geology of its surrounding landscape. Taking inspiration from both nature and culture, the structure stands as an emblem of Utah’s unique identity which celebrates its natural history.
The museum features an illuminative exhibit program along with research facilities and labs with the sole intention of exploring, educating and inspiring.
3. State Capitol Building
One of Utah’s most eminent landmarks, the State Capitol has been home to the state government since 1916, when it opened. Being one of the largest restoration projects in the country, the building is an architectural masterpiece designed in a neo-classical revival style.
Located at the top of a hill overlooking the city, the site is spread across 40 acres of land with sculpted lawns, gardens and the main building showcasing ornate halls and grandiose interiors. Thus, standing as an emblem of the state’s glory and magnificence.
4. The Tabernacle
Primarily a home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and orchestra, the structure also hosts many concerts, lectures, meetings and public events. Given the function of the building as a performance space requiring large spans with unhindered views and lively acoustics, the design features a turtle-back roof supported by lattice timber trusses.
Constructed in 1867, the design of the building is remarkably functional and modern given the time it was constructed in.
5. Cathedral of Madeleine
Although the architecture of the city is dominated by Mormon culture, the influence of other cultures is undeniable, one of which is seen by the presence of a Roman Catholic church right in the heart of the downtown, designed in Neo-Romanesque style from the outside and Spanish gothic style from the inside.
In addition to regular religious services, the church hosts organ recitals, choirs and other cultural events and is known for its colourful and dramatic interior details.
6. City Library
The primary use of the library as merely a depository of books has been reimagined such that the building forms an active public space in the urban fabric of the city. The design of the library spreads across the site as an ‘extroverted’ space that invites the public in and encourages social interaction.
The function of a public library extends beyond and is highlighted by its curving edge which embraces a plaza that hosts several fairs and concerts, thus celebrating the spirit of the city.
7. Abravanel Hall
Situated in the heart of the downtown, the Abravanel hall is an architectural marvel which was built as a concert hall for Utah Symphony. The simplistic brick façade as against the glass curtain wall of the 4-storey lobby, gives a dynamic look to the building, especially at night when the lobby is illuminated with lights featuring the Olympic glass sculpture within.
8. Joseph Smith Memorial Building
Former Hotel Utah, this historic building was restored as an office for the Mormon church. Apart from its historical value, the building stands out for its architecture, with glazed terracotta bricks on the exterior and opulent interiors marked by the use of marble columns and art glass.
The building is open to the public and consists of several facilities like wedding banquets, restaurants, a theatre and meeting halls.
9. Willow Heights
Salt Lake City is not just famous for its built heritage but also its natural heritage. A scenic place with meadows, lakes, swamps, pine trees, and hills, it is hard to believe it is a part of the city. The picturesque trail makes one pass through several traditional-style homes and cabins, reminiscing of older times.
10. Beehive House
Named after the beehive sculpture on its turret, the residence was owned by former Mormon pioneer, Brigham Young. Constructed with adobe and sandstone, furnished with intricate woodwork and antique furniture, the house provides key insights into the local history and lifestyle.
11. City and County Building
One of the most cherished landmarks, the City and County Building is a prime example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture style. The sheer scale and precise composition of arcades, bay windows, and spires over the stone construction, emphasizes its bulk and power. The wide hallways and elegant stairways open their interior to the grounds which serve as a public park.
12. Liberty Park
Formerly a mill land and a farm, Liberty Park is the city’s oldest and second-largest public park. The park is home to some of the oldest structures of their kind like the Tracy aviary and Chase mills. With its diverse functions and natural landscape features, the park serves as one of the lifelines for the people of Salt Lake.
13. Kearn’s Mansion
A splendid representation of Utah’s elite social life, the mansion is located on one of the most glamourous avenues, South Temple. The mansion serves as the official residence of the Governor and is open to public tours featuring a beautiful ballroom, exquisite domed ceiling and a notable three-storey staircase.
14. City Creek Centre
One of the state’s largest mixed-use urban renewal projects, the City Creek centre is a shopping destination known for its vibrant atmosphere. The brick and stone structure features a fully retractable roof and a sky bridge which give the building a unique pedestrian experience.
The building is known for its water features which include a creek that runs through the centre, ponds and fountains that display dancing flames.
15. Eccles Theatre
Planned as an urban performing arts centre to uplift the arts district, the Eccles Theatre is one of the contemporary landmarks of the city. The building has two frontages: one through the Main street into the winter garden which can open up to the street; second through the casual rear end which features rehearsal rooms, loading areas, and retail shops—thus, revamping the southern end into a functional public plaza which doubles as a lively event space.