Despite Breath of the Wild’s notable lack of traditional dungeons, dungeons are a key staple of The Legend of Zelda’s inherent design. No game is complete without Link trekking through at least four dungeons to get special artifacts that will ultimately help him in his quest. In the post-A Link to the Past world, dungeons have their own unique themes, key items, and bosses to help give them unique identities. As a result, it’s not unusual for fans to flock away from and towards certain titles specifically because of their dungeon design.
With dozens upon dozens of dungeons to choose from, how do they all compare to one another? The Legend of Zelda has changed quite a lot over the past three decades. Nintendo’s design philosophy has shifted. Where the series was once freeform, it became linear only to embrace freedom all over again. There is no one set way to design a Zelda dungeon. Some games prioritize uniformity while others go specifically for theming. Some games are mediocre with great dungeons whereas others are great with mediocre ones. What makes a good dungeon though? Puzzles? Combat? Atmosphere? It all depends on the context of the dungeon itself when it comes down to it. Where does your favorite fall?
30 BEST: Snowhead Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Snowhead Temple is not a popular dungeon within the fandom by any means. The layout is absolutely massive, the stray fairies require you to go out of your way to find them, and it’s fairly easy to lose focus and wind up lost. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad dungeon, however. Rather, Snowhead Temple is actually one of the strongest dungeons in the entire series.
It likely isn’t anybody’s favorite dungeon, but it’s so intricate that you can’t help but appreciate what it’s trying to do when you stop yourself in your tracks to examine your surroundings. Link is actively changing the landscape of the dungeon from start to finish, opening up new paths and triggering new puzzles. It’s dynamic which is what a Zelda dungeon should be.
29 WORST: Forsaken Fortress I (The Wind Waker)
While people rag on Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword for having slow starts, neither of those games begin with their worst dungeon. Link’s first visit to Forsaken Fortress is easily one of the worst introductions in the entire series. Stripped of his sword, Link has to stealth through the dungeon while systematically avoiding confrontation.
Conceptually, it’s fine enough, but it takes all the worst elements from the stealth sections in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and elongates them. It’s perhaps fine enough on a first playthrough, but it feels too gimmicky and doesn’t allow players to adjust to the core gameplay until Dragon Roost.
28 BEST: Ganon’s Tower (A Link To The Past)
Ganon’s Tower is the quintessential final dungeon as far as 2D Zelda goes. While it may not be the strongest final dungeon in the series, it was the first to truly test everything the player had learned up to that point, offering a reliable mix of engaging puzzles and combat scenarios. For its time, it was the peak of the series.
Every game should end on a note as high as this.
Even now, Ganon’s Tower stands out as a high point for the series. It took years before another game in the franchise managed to craft a better final dungeon and even that could be debated. A Link to the Past is an excellent game all around and it ending so strong is a big reason why so many consider it their favorite.
27 WORST: Ice Palace (A Link To The Past)
As good as A Link to the Past is, though, it is by no means perfect. One simply has to look at the Ice Palace to understand just how lackluster A Link to the Past can be. Granted, it never lowers the game’s quality so substantially where it’s in any way less than a masterpiece, but the Ice Palace is a genuine mess.
Link slips and slides everywhere; the layout is confusing for all the wrong reasons, and its boss fight is hardly anything to write home about. People remember this dungeon fondly because it’s where Link gets his Blue Armor, but the dungeon itself is incredibly weak with no real puzzles or exciting fights to mask its many flaws.
26 BEST: Ancient Cistern (Skyward Sword)
A dungeon based heavily on Hindu mythology complete with mythological depictions of Heaven and Hell, the Ancient Cistern sees Link essentially recreating The Spider’s Thread, a short story in the Buddha’s personal canon. The imagery here is genuinely quite striking, straying away from the series’ more Abrahamic mythological roots in favor of something truly unique.
Easily one of the most creative dungeons in the series.
It certainly helps that the Ancient Cistern gives Link the whip, one of Skyward Sword’s best items, naturally leading into some great puzzles and combat scenarios. The boss himself is easily the highlight of the entire experience and might actually be the best boss in the entire series. It’s hard not to love the Ancient Cistern.
25 WORST: Lanayru Mining Facility (Skyward Sword)
The Lanayru Mining Facility is a different story altogether. Another one of Skyward Sword’s dungeons, this one doesn’t fare nearly as well as the Ancient Cistern. While it isn’t offensively bad, it’s quite long and tedious to actually traverse. In a game with otherwise great dungeons, the Lanayru Mining Facility brings the game to a screeching halt offering little in the way of thoughtful level design. Were it not for this dungeon, Skyward Sword could actually move rather smoothly in spite of its other flaws.
24 BEST: City In The Sky (Twilight Princess)
Twilight Princess’ last dungeon before the back to back finale against Zant and Ganondorf, the City in the Sky makes for a very climactic, and appropriate, end to Link’s adventure. He’s traveled across Hyrule, swam to Hylia’s depths, climbed the highest peak, voyaged through time, and now sees himself launched to the heavens.
There's nothing like scaling an entire ancient city to fight off a dragon.
The City in the Sky is one of the largest dungeons in the series, truly labyrinthine in nature. This is a real society and Link is taking advantage of its verticality with his new dual clawshots. The City in the Sky is just genuinely exciting with great puzzles and battles in a fun set piece. Everything about it feels conclusive, naturally transitioning into the finale.
23 WORST: Jabu-Jabu’s Belly (Oracle Of Ages)
In theory, Oracle of Ages’ interpretation of Jabu-Jabu’s Belly is not inherently bad. It requires genuine thought, has plenty of engaging puzzles, and offers a challenge at a point where challenge makes sense. The problem is its core mechanic: swimming. Swimming in Oracle of Ages is a legitimate pain.
Swimming is bad enough in small doses, but Jabu-Jabu’s Belly is basically all swimming. Link will spend the majority of the dungeon swimming which means the player will spend most of their time mashing the “A” button. It isn’t enough that this dungeon is mentally draining. Oh no, it has to be physically exhausting too.
22 BEST: Woodfall Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Woodfall Temple, like Snowhead Temple, doesn’t get the love it deserves. As the first dungeon in Majora’s Mask, many fans find it rather easy to dismiss it, but they shouldn’t. Woodfall Temple is a genuinely well-crafted dungeon with a great aesthetic that makes fantastic use of Termina’s lore and unique setting.
Opening dungeons can be great too.
The puzzles themselves are simple, as this is the first dungeon, but Woodfall feels more at home during Adult Link’s portion of Ocarina of Time than Child Link’s. There are multiple ways to tackle Odwalla; the stray fairies are all placed appropriately, Deku Link plays a very interesting role in how Link can traverse the dungeon. It makes for a genuinely great start to MM.
21 WORST: Bottom Of The Well (Ocarina Of Time)
Did you know you can leave the Bottom of the Well mere minutes after entering it? Honestly, that sounds like a flaw, but it’s actually the mini-dungeon’s biggest strength. The Bottom of the Well, as appropriately creepy as it is, just isn’t all that well designed. It’s a tight space with minimal puzzles that actively work against the player.
It’s all in benefit to the aesthetic of the dungeon so it does work in that regard, but exploring it thoroughly offers nothing of real value. Once you get the Lens of Truth, just rush out of there and be done with it. Its only value is giving kids nightmares with its truly horrific atmosphere and mini-boss.
20 BEST: Spirit Temple (Ocarina Of Time)
A dungeon that tests both Child Link and Adult Link, the Spirit Temple is the apex of Ocarina of Time’s level design. Almost every single gameplay aspect the player has learned up to this point is tested in some regard. It isn’t particularly difficult by any means, but it feels like a nice victory lap for the whole game.
The best dungeons always make use of the game's core gimmicks and mechanics.
It also has the distinction of taking place in Ganondorf’s homeland, giving the dungeon added weight. On top of that, its Arabic aesthetic goes a long way in creating a unique identity for the entire dungeon. It feels like Link is genuinely walking on sacred, Abrahamic ground. Dark Nuts are also probably the best enemies in the entire series.
19 WORST: Level 9 (The Legend Of Zelda)
Level 9 is everything wrong with the original Legend of Zelda rolled up into one miserable finale of a dungeon. Enemies are thrown at Link with no remorse; bombable walls block his path with little to no concern for the player’s inventory, and paths branch off into seemingly meaningless directions.
As a finale to an NES game, it makes sense why it would be so hard, and said difficulty does make for a satisfying conclusion, but the content of Level 9 and the sheer frustration of its design bog it down considerably. If nothing else, Level 9 makes for an unforgettable dungeon. Just for all the wrong reasons.
18 BEST: Hyrule Castle (Breath Of The Wild)
In a game with generally mediocre dungeons, Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule Castle is a master class in pure freedom. While most of it can be simply ignored thanks to Link’s climbing ability and Revavli’s Gale, the mere fact you can skip so much is amazing. Fast players can force their way through how they please whereas more adventurous players can explore.
The only dungeon in BotW that lets you experiment to your heart's content.
Exploring pays off in a big way, too. Hyrule Castle is home to the coolest puzzles in the game, making use of every single one of Link’s physics-based abilities. The loot found within the castle are likewise great. Want the Hylian Shield? Better plunder it from the castle’s depths! The dungeon itself also offers added context on both Zelda and Link, fleshing out their characters considerably.
17 WORST: Misery Mire (A Link To The Past)
When it comes down to it, Misery Mine is simply not a fun dungeon. It has an ugly layout, unengaging puzzles, and comes right after the Ice Palace, A Link to the Past’s other weakest dungeon. As far as pacing goes, Misery Mire just makes a slow portion of the game go by even slower. Players are so close to the end that they will likely just power through the dungeon itself, but this chunk feels like a serious step down from what comes before and what will be coming soon after. Misery Mire is misery personified.
16 BEST: Hyrule Castle (Twilight Princess)
Twilight Princess’ depiction of Hyrule Castle is easily the single strongest final dungeon in the entire franchise. With a nice mix of linearity and non-linearity, plus a genuinely jaw-dropping set piece, Hyrule Castle ties up all the game’s loose ends while also throwing enemies at puzzles at Link with no remorse.
A finale unlike any other.
This is to say nothing of the four-part final boss fight against Ganondorf, ending Twilight Princess on an absolute high. Needing to enter and exit the castle itself, all while slowly making up to Ganon’s lair, makes for an exciting race to the finish. This dungeon also has optional side content tied to hidden keys, a rarity in the franchise.
15 WORST: Forsaken Fortress II (The Wind Waker)
If it wasn’t bad enough that players had to go through the Forsaken Fortress once, The Wind Waker makes Link return after the halfway point so he can finally rescue his sister. While the narrative events that play out here are some of the best in the game, the dungeon itself is incredibly bland.
As Link has already cleared the Forsaken Fortress, there are no puzzles left to solve and this retrek amounts to one long backtrack to Aryll. Even the Helmaroc King, who should make for a climactic showdown, is taken out rather easily, robbing the dungeon of its catharsis. Forsaken Fortress is so bad it got be on the Worst list twice.
14 BEST: Sandship (Skyward Sword)
The Sandship is basically the defining dungeon of Skyward Sword. The game’s fifth dungeon, the Sandship sees Link traversing across the Sand Sea in an attempt to shift between past and present in order to uncover the secrets of the Sandship. While Skyward Sword gets a lot of flak, the Sandship is proven it could have been an outstanding game.
If only the whole game were this good.
The puzzles here are some of the very best in the series, requiring players to legitimately think critically of the space around them. The Sandship breaks free from the straightforward puzzles the series had fallen into while continuing the stellar theming found in Twilight Princess. The Sandship isn’t just a high point for Skyward Sword, it’s one for the whole series.
13 WORST: Great Bay Temple (Majora’s Mask 3D)
Were it not for Majora’s Mask 3D, it’s very likely that every single dungeon in the base game would have wound up on the “BEST” side of this list. Unfortunately, MM 3D makes some unsavory changes to the core mechanics that ultimately come back to haunt Great Bay Temple specifically.
For starters, the swim controls have changed for the worse. Not only does Zora Link control terribly, swimming fast now uses magic, making movement difficult in a dungeon that’s 70% swimming. On top of that, Gyorg has been changed making a mediocre boss absolutely terrible. MM 3D ruined an otherwise great dungeon with pointless “fixes.”
12 BEST: Tower Of The Gods (The Wind Waker)
On a whole, The Wind Waker doesn’t have a lot of strong dungeons. Perhaps it’s because of how much content was ultimately cut from it, but most are just “okay” at best. Fortunately, Tower of the Gods is not part of that “most.” Taking place at the exact middle of the game, Tower of the Gods is the burst of energy The Wind Waker needed.
Quite possibly The Wind Waker's only good dungeon.
Making equal use of the King of Red Lions and Link’s regular abilities, Tower of the Gods is the perfect blend of TWW’s core mechanics. It’s also home to the game’s best setting. The Tower of the Gods is truly alien in both design and aesthetic, giving it a very divine feel. Cap it off with one of the most memorable bosses in the series and TotG comes out close to the top.
11 WORST: Water Temple (Ocarina Of Time)
Because of course the Water Temple is going to be on a list discussing the worst dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. While its puzzles aren’t bad (we’ll touch on that later,) the dungeon itself moves at an absolute crawl thanks to hardware limitations and a massive design oversight on Nintendo’s part: the Iron Boots.
Rather than being an item, the Iron Boots are a piece of equipment, requiring Link toggle through the menu to take them on and off, something he’ll have to do often over the course of the dungeon. On top of that, OoT runs rather slow in general on the N64 with a low frame rate and a bit of slowdown.
10 BEST: Water Temple (Ocarina Of Time 3D)
Yes, I know, we just established that the Water Temple is one of the worst dungeons in the entire series, but now you need to accept the fact that it’s also one of the best. How is this possible? Simple, the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time has a smoother frame rate and the boots are actual items.
It's amazing how much fun this dungeon is when you aren't stopping every ten seconds.
This alone allows the dungeon itself to actually breathe and move at a natural pace. The puzzles are arguably the best in the entire game, offering complex challenges at every turn, and the nautical atmosphere has a very ominous, yet divine, feel to it. It feels almost impossible, but OoT 3D’s Water Temple is a legitimate masterpiece.
9 WORST: Vah Naboris (Breath Of The Wild)
In general, Breath of the Wild has a dungeon problem. Vah Medoh and Vah Ruta are slightly above average, using their gimmick well, but here’s the thing: each dungeon has the exact same gimmick. The uniformity of it all is a nice experiment, but Link having to change the layout in some capacity every dungeon gets exhausting.
Vah Naboris has Link effectively spin cylinders to make new platforms and, while this is an interesting idea, it’s genuinely quite boring and thoughtless. Vah Medoh is at least exciting whereas Vah Ruta is thought-provoking, but Vah Naboris is neither. At least Thunderblight Ganon is fun.
8 BEST: Arbiter’s Grounds (Twilight Princess)
The first dungeon after players get the Master Sword in Twilight Princess, Arbiter’s Grounds is actually quite important in the context of the entire game. Not only does it move the story forward by offering the game’s biggest twist at the end, Arbiter’s Grounds also makes use of both Link’s human and wolf forms for puzzle solving.
Where light and darkness intertwine.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it allows the dungeon to feel much larger in scope. Link has to hunt down ghosts and defeat them ala OoT’s Forest Temple. You’d think things would end there, but the second half gives Link the spinner which allows him to basically grind off of walls, adding a new element of verticality to the dungeon. In terms of pure creativity, this one may have the others beat.
7 WORST: Vah Rudania (Breath Of The Wild)
Vah Rudania has the exact same problem as Vah Naboris: it’s more of the same. Where Vah Medoh and Vah Ruta manage to at least do something interesting with the derivative concept, Vah Rudania comes off even worse than Vah Naboris. At least Naboris has Thunderblight Ganon to offer players a real challenge. Vah Rudania drags in circles and ends in a mediocre boss fight. It certainly doesn’t help that the build-up to the dungeon is easily the worst in the entire game.
6 BEST: Forest Temple (Ocarina Of Time)
The Forest Temple tends to always find its way at the top of “best dungeon” lists and for good reason: it embodies everything right in a Zelda dungeon. The Forest Temple has a unique identity of its own that has yet to be paralleled; its puzzles require legitimate thought, and it’s constantly throwing combat scenarios at Link that he could easily lose.
It's hard not to love the Forest Temple.
The Forest Temple comes off all the stronger in large part due to the fact that it comes right after Jabu-Jabu’s Belly in Ocarina of Time. The difficulty spikes so much that players can’t help but feel like the stakes have risen alongside them. It's a thematically strong dungeon that’s sure to win the hearts of any Zelda fans.
5 WORST: Hinox Mine (Tri-Force Heroes)
The second stage in Tri-Force Heroes’ resident fire dungeon, Hinox Mine is… a mess. Its puzzles are not engaging in the slightest, its layout is frustrating at best, and it takes way too long before anything remotely interesting happens. Tri-Force Heroes is, on a whole, not a good game, but Hinox Mine takes a bad situation and simply makes it worse. There is virtually nothing redeemable about Hinox Mine. It’s slightly tolerable with friends, but playing it alone is a recipe disaster along with being your likely method of traversal considering nobody plays this game anymore.
4 BEST: Snowpeak Ruins (Twilight Princess)
In so far as just its puzzles, Snowpeak Ruins is rather simplistic. Yeta opens the way for Link in place of keys; the next objective is always marked on the map; and the most complicated challenge involves pushing some blocks around. Dungeons are more than their puzzles, however, and Snowpeak thrives despite of its simplicity.
In terms of sheer atmosphere, Snowpeak Ruins cannot be beat. It’s a genuine home for Yeto and Yeta, and it manages to feel like one. As players learn the layout, they’ll begin to immerse themselves in the manor in a grand way. The snowy aesthetic makes for a nice change of pace as well and who could forget that incredible boss fight?
3 WORST: Great Palace (Zelda II)
The Adventure of Link is already a not so beloved game, but the Great Palace isn’t going to help win any detractors over. Pretty much every major flaw in Zelda II can be found in this one palace: convoluted “puzzles,” infuriating enemy placement, and an overly large layout that seems built just to confuse players.
The Not-So-Great Palace.
Zelda II’s dungeons aren’t good in general, but the Great Palace is simply too much. No one would be at fault for dropping the game at this point. Granted, it’s perhaps worth sticking around if only to say you beat The Adventure of Link, but it hardly seems worth it in the long run considering how unlikely anyone is to actually care.
2 BEST: Stone Tower Temple (Majora’s Mask)
The Legend of Zelda has so many great dungeons, but very few come close to reaching the same heights as the Stone Tower Temple in Majora’s Mask. What’s effectively the final dungeon of the game not counting the rather short Moon, the Stone Tower Temple is a long gauntlet that genuinely challenges Link’s perspective.
From its many puzzles to its reversal at the halfway point, the Stone Tower Temple is a creepy climb to the final boss mask with multiple mini-bosses, a reliance on just about every major item up to that point, and the hardest stray fairies to collect in the entire game. The Stone Tower Temple is a challenge for fans of both N64 titles, requiring players to utilize everything they’ve learned up to that point.
1 WORST: Temple Of The Ocean King (Phantom Hourglass)
The Temple of the Ocean King might possibly be the worst thing to ever happen to a Legend of Zelda game. Mind you, it’s not as if Phantom Hourglass is all that good to begin with, relying way too much on its many gimmicks to stay afloat, but the Temple of the Ocean King takes an already weak premise and makes it all the worse.
Don't design your games around backtracking.
Players will visit the Temple of the Ocean King roughly half a dozen time before the game comes to an end and it never turns into anything remotely interesting up until the very end when Link has already cleared the entire dungeon and can force his way through it. The Temple of the Ocean King is an utter disaster and Nintendo should be ashamed of it.