Seeing the Temple Square Christmas lights in downtown Salt Lake City is a holiday tradition for many Utah families. The Temple Square Christmas lights are open to the public every day from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve. It's a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of Christ during this happy season.
My friend, Jason Carlton graciously shared his beautiful photos of the Temple Square Christmas lights for this post. You can find more of Jason's photography at his blog, www.carltonaut.com.
Here are our tips for visiting the Temple Square Christmas lights with your family. If you have visited the Temple Square Christmas lights, we invite you to add your own tips in the comments section below.
What to do
The lights display covers two city blocks, including Temple Square and the neighboring plaza. The trees are covered in thousands of twinkling lights. Nativity scenes and luminaries representing different parts of the world can be found throughout the plaza. Dress for the weather, since you may want to spend an hour or more strolling the grounds.
Just outside the North Visitor Center is the life-size Nativity scene. A lovely telling of the Christmas story from the Book of Luke is played with Christmas hymns over a loudspeaker every few minutes. It's short, but worth stopping for.
Indoors, visitors will find musical performances and Christmas decorations, in addition to Temple Square's usual presentations and displays. The Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Joseph Smith Memorial Building and the North Visitor Center on Temple Square often host local musicians throughout the Christmas season, so you're likely to find a free Christmas concert on any night you visit.
You can drive or use public transportation to visit Temple Square. If you drive, it's easy to find a parking space in the underground lots at the City Creek or Gateway shopping centers. The Gateway is less convenient to Temple Square, but less expensive and easier to validate. Only the anchor stores at City Creek validate parking.
Try the parking structure at the Plaza Hotel on South Temple Street. Unless you luck into a metered space, you'll have a difficult time finding more convenient parking. Last week, we paid an event rate of $5 for the entire day! There are also several uncovered pay lots in the area.
Using Frontrunner and Trax is also a good way to get to Temple Square. There are two Trax stops nearby. Kids under the age of 6 ride free and you can buy an all-day group pass for four people for $15 after 10:00 a.m. You can also ride Trax for free in the downtown Free Fare Zone. Read my tips for using the Trax and Frontrunner trains in Salt Lake City here.
Where to eat
Whether you prefer an elegant meal with a view of the Temple Square Christmas Lights or a quick and casual food court experience, there are several restaurants nearby to choose from. Throughout the Christmas season, I recommend making reservations where possible.
The most convenient restaurants to Temple Square are located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building or at City Creek Center across the street. Familiar chains like The Cheesecake Factory and McDonald's can be found at City Creek Center. The City Creek Center food court has an indoor play area for children.
The Roof and The Garden restaurants on the top floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building both offer views of the Temple Square Christmas lights. The Roof is an elegant, gourmet buffet restaurant, and is popular for special occasions. We prefer the more casual and less expensive Garden restaurant across the hall. Order the deep fried pickles and enjoy the view.
Whenever you visit the Temple Square Christmas Lights, expect crowds. Temple Square is large enough that it won't be difficult to find open spaces on even the most busy nights, but popular areas and bottle-necks may be difficult to navigate.
Saturday nights are perhaps the most crowded, though they are still our favorite time to go. We visited Temple Square on a Saturday in mid-December, on the same night as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert and a Utah Jazz basketball game nearby. Temple Square, as well as the restaurants around it were packed. Based on the crowds at nearby Trax stations, Frontrunner and Trax were probably extra-crowded too.
If you want to avoid the crowds, weeknights and evenings with less-hospitable weather will probably be less busy. You may want to avoid the weekend of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concerts in mid-December if you aren't attending. The concert is held across the street from Temple Square and will attract more than 20,000 people every night.
Spend the day
I think of the lyrics to “Silver Bells” whenever we visit downtown Salt Lake City at Christmastime. We try to spend an entire Saturday there as a family every Christmas season. We love the Christmas displays. We enjoy visiting the museums and libraries that surround Temple Square. We enjoy shopping at City Creek and The Gateway. We enjoy dining out.
In recent years, we have purchased tickets to “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, the Utah Symphony's Christmas performance for families. It's a festive matinee event held at Abravanel Hall, just across the street from Temple Square. It's a fun way to begin our day downtown.
Visiting the Temple Square Christmas lights is one of our favorite traditions. It's a fun family day, and we love the peace and joy we feel as we commemorate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ at Christmastime.