The Legend of Zelda series is known for a lot of groundbreaking things: Being the benchmark on which all other adventure games are judged. Offering up some ridiculously hard challenges to returning players. An argument over a canonized timeline that to this day won’t stop.
But if the Zelda series should be judged on one thing and one thing alone, that thing would be its dungeons. At the end of the day, these often dark, sometimes spooky hiding places of keys, rupees and boss battles stick with us long after the game has ended.
With that in mind, it’s time we get totally subjective as a lifelong Zelda fan ranks the top 20 dungeons from The Legend of Zelda, starting with…
#20: Temple of Droplets (Minish Cap)
Located within a block of ice on Lake Hylia, the Temple of Droplets was a sort of fusion of an ice temple and a water temple.
One of the more notable moments that made this dungeon stand out was finding the boss key in a block of ice and having to thaw it out. That, and the boss battle against a regular-sized octorock while Link is minish-sized.
#19: Vah Ruta (Breath Of The Wild)
This one has more to do with the event leading up to the dungeon than the actual dungeon itself, but Vah Ruta was an all around enjoyable trek through a water dungeon. The entire dungeon is fundamentally controlled by a spinning water wheel, which you can change the direction of using Vah Ruta’s trunk.
And did we mention that assault on the divine beast pre-dungeon? Riding around on a zora, getting flung high in the air and shooting arrows at its limbs? Yes please! Not to mention the fact that the Waterblight battle felt like a callback to the Ocarina of Time water temple boss with its four pillars in a flooded room.
#18: Turtle Rock (A Link Between Worlds)
Turtle Rock has been featured in a few Zelda titles, but the one in A Link Between Worlds was particularly memorable.
The dungeon utilized cooling lava to progress, and warp points to make use of the tight space of the dungeon. While relatively small, the dungeon was compact, and getting through it required exploring every nook and cranny.
#17: Lorule Castle (A Link Between Worlds)
Lorule Castle was a sprawling dungeon, a twisted dark world version of Hyrule Castle. The puzzles were harder, the enemies were tougher, and reaching the end meant replaying old boss battles and using every item at your disposal.
But really, what puts this one on the list is that theme music. It’s sooooooo good. Really, just listen:
#16: Ghost Ship (Phantom Hourglass)
Here’s where the dungeons start getting creative – The Ghost Ship was just plain awesome. Appearing at the very beginning of the game, but not accessible until much later, it tasks you with rescuing for innocent little girls, the Cubus sisters, who have been trapped on board.
The only problem? They’re not so innocent, and they’re not little girls – they’re spooky scary ghost sisters! In order yto beat them, you have to engage in the time-honored Zelda tradition of Dead Man’s Volley.
The only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is because every trick in this dungeon was done earlier or better by another game. But it was still the most memorable dungeon in Phantom Hourglass, and for good reason.
#15: Jabu Jabu’s Belly (Ocarina Of Time)
One of those dungeons you love to hate, Jabu Jabu’s belly seems like a nightmare. You have to carry Princess Ruto around with you the entire time, there are confusing fake-out drop points that force you to backtrack, and the tentacles. Sooooo many tentacles.
But strip away all the annoyance with a good 20 years of memorization, and what you’re left with is a really unique dungeon. You’re literally inside the belly of the beast, and when you slash at the walls of this dungeon, they react. How cool is that?
You also get to pal around with Princess Ruto, and there’s a golden fakeout moment halfway through where you think you’re not going to get the spiritual stone after all… There’s a lot of little details to love in this one, despite the annoyances.
#14: Sky Keep (Skyward Sword)
Speaking of annoyances… This dungeon will try your patience. It’s only 9 rooms big, but you actually have to arrange the rooms by playing a puzzle mini-game at key points to connect them together and progress. That’s equal parts amazing and frustruating, as being bad at puzzles can mean hours of blind guess work. Still, it’s such an interesting and altogether unique mechanic.
Outside of the dungeon design, the lore behind this one is super interesting. You’re the first Link (or one of the first, at least), and you’re literally collecting all three pieces of the triforce as you explore the dungeon. Link is collecting the triforce for the very first time, by hand. It’s a pretty amazing moment for the Zelda nerds amoung us.
#13: Forest Temple (Ocarina Of Time)
Continuing the trend of frustrating but still kind of cool, the Forest Temple provides a little bit of everything. There’s a great outdoor area coupled with a really interesting mansion interior, hunting down the Poe Sisters was a blast, and that final battle with Phantom Ganon was crazy fun.
As far as 64-bit dungeons go, this one had a lot of detail put into it. It deserves to be recognized for that, as it could still fit in well in a more modern game, with a little spit polish.
#12: Earth Temple (Wind Waker)
The earth temple is one of those dungeons that’s remembered less for how it was designed and more for what you do in it. For one thing, controlling Medli was a blast (much more enjoyable than Makar). The callback to Ocarina Of Time by reflecting light with your shield to advance was also top-knotch.
As far as final bosses go, Jalhalla was alright, but nothing amazing. However, setting the spirit of Medli’s zora ancestor free so she could take up the helm was a really beautiful moment.
#11: Lakebed Temple (Twilight Princess)
On the flip-side, this is a dungeon that’s making the list almost entirely for its design. The Lakebed Temple was breathtaking.
Activating water flows down massive spiral chutes, moving staircases to change the flow of that water, and beautiful, dank caves made this temple really stand out visually. And sometimes that’s enough. Also, props to Twilight Princess for having the first fully-underwater boss fight in a water dungeon (even if the weak-point was just another giant eyeball…)
#10: Thieves Town (A Link To The Past)
There are tales about a man named Blind the Thief… A ruthless leader of a group of thieves in Kakariko. They say he hated the light…
Well, they’re totally right – Blind really hates light. So much so, in fact, that he disguises himself as the maiden you’re trying to save and tricks you into the deepest parts of his dungeon.
Fortunately, that whole light thing is still an issue, so he’s defeated easily enough. But man, as far as fake outs go, this was a great one, especially during your first play-through.
#9: Ganon’s Castle (Ocarina Of Time)
What’s not to love about this dungeon? In the 7 years since Ganondorf took over, he’s turned Hyrule Castle into a dark, twisted spire in the middle of a giant pool of lava. The only thing better than that would be if Link gets to cross the lava moat with a bridge made of rainbows. OH WAIT YOU TOTALLY GET TO DO THAT.
Once inside, you begin your slow ascent to the top of the castle, as the foreboding organ music gets louder and louder until you finally have your showdown with the evil king.
But wait! It’s not over yet, because after that fight, you get to go BACK through the dungeon as it collapses and falls to the ground. Then, the true final battle can begin, amidst the ruins of the dungeon you were just inside.
#8: Woodfall Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Woodfall Temple is the first and most interesting of the four dungeons in Majora’s Mask. Situated under the swamp, it rises up in dramatic fashion before you dive inside.
This dungeon’s just interesting all around – the design is tribal and unlike anything you’ve seen in other Zelda titles, and the incorporation of the various flowers make for some interesting puzzles. There’s also a room of pure darkness that’s rather terrifying.
And speaking of terrifying, the dungeon’s boss, Odolwa, is amazing. A giant humanoid swordsman who summons killer moths and flames and chants in Mayan… What’s not to love, right?
#7: Forsaken Fortress (Wind Waker)
The Forsaken Fortress earns extra points for how powerful it makes you feel the second time you do it, but there’s a lot to love in either run of this dungeon. It’s the point of your initial encounter with Ganondorf, the place where you defeat your first big foe, the the Helmaroc King, and where you rescue your sister and the others.
It’s also the area where you lose your sword and are forced to sneak through the area without being detected, which could be either fun or infuriating, depending on how good you are at sneaking.
By your second trip to the fortress, though, you’ve got plenty of firepower to decimate all of those enemies that kept locking you up, and those rats that gave your position away EVERY SINGLE TIME you tried to sneak by that moblin in a barrel. You know the one I’m talking about.
#6: Hyrule Castle (Twilight Princess)
By far the best incarnation of Hyrule Castle, this version has you traverse the outer garden before eventually working your way inside. There, a number of powerful enemies wait to stop you from reaching the top floor.
The music is the iconic hyrule castle theme, which begins to morph into Ganondorf’s theme as you climb higher up. The weather also worsens, going from a light rain to a dark storm.
There’s also an amazing little scene that has Link’s allies show up to lend a helping hand – Something you never really see in these games that adds some depth to the entire experience. You really get the sense you aren’t in this alone, and everything’s on the line.
#5: Vah Medoh (Breath Of The Wild)
While I still prefer Vah Ruta, there’s no denying that Vah Medoh is one of the most unique dungeons in the Zelda series.
A giant mechanical bird, you spend your time in this dungeon high in the air, controlling the angle of the beast to change where you go reach.
It’s a blast, as is the preceding battle to enter Vah Medoh. The boss battle is nothing to write home about, but your time spent inside the bird is pretty incredible. You can even see noticeable landmarks below.
#4: Ancient Cistern (Skyward Sword)
Inspired by eastern designs, the Ancient Cistern is an amazing experience. Beautiful golden structures, lotus flowers and a boss that’s simultaneous creepy and beautiful, the Ancient Cistern is so unique, it barely even feels like a Zelda dungeon, yet it manages to be one of the most brilliant ones in the series.
There’s also a dark underbelly to the dungeon, filled with zombified monsters, and a fun scene where you have to climb to freedom or get pulled down to the depths.
And if I didn’t mention it before, Koloktos. Jeeeez, that boss is amazing. It’s terrifying, and its face actually deforms into a joyful smile as it takes damage. You have to pull swords out of its six arms and use the weapons against it to strike its mechanical heart. Oh, and when its finally defeated, it lets out a distorted childish laugh. Because why not.
#3: Water Temple (Ocarina Of Time)
Controversial opinion time: The Water Temple is amazing. Let’s start with the fact that to this day, it’s the most famous dungeon in the series. In fact, it’s so infamous, it’s tainted the entire water dungeon experience for people across multiple games.
Frustrating water levels aside, this is a beautiful dungeon. There are areas with natural designs that are simply beautiful, and the man-made architecture is equally breathtaking. And the way they merge together in most spots, an ancient temple built into the rock really makes this level pop.
This was also the site of the most well-known Dark link battle, one of the most memorable moments in the Zelda series by far. See? The Water Temple is iconic. Hellish, but iconic.
#2: Snowpeak Ruins (Twilight Princess)
This is one of the most amazing dungeons in the Zelda series – It all takes place inside a giant mansion inhabited by a married yeti couple.
The actual mission of the dungeon is to find the Twilight Mirror Shard the yetis have, but you end up going to a number of rooms to collect ingedients for soup by mistake.
The beauty of this dungeon comes from how organic it feels. You never really feel like you’re in a traditional dungeon. Rather, you’re just having an experience with real people in a real location. There’s very little about this one that’s artificial, and that’s why it takes the number two spot on the list.
#1: Sandship (Skyward Sword)
There is, however, one dungeon that takes the crown on this list. The Sandship is an incredibly well thought out experience. Just like Snowpeak, this one feels remarkably organic. You explore every inch of the ship as you shoot arrows through nooks and crannies to alter the fabric of time, changing how the ship functions.
What’s more, after you reach the boss room, the ship starts to sink as its ripped apart, piece by piece by massive tentacles. You reach the top of the ship just in time for it to be torn into driftwood amidst a massive storm – and then the battle begins.
This dungeon is a work of art from start to finish, and it manages to be both challenging and immensely enjoyable.
What did you think of the list? What’s your favourite dungeon, and did it get a mention? Let us know in the comments below!