Isn't it terribly boring that so many ranked lists of Zelda games, whether it's "best music" or "best hairstyle for Link" or something else, end up dominated by Breath of the Wild? Well, not this one, because today we're ranking the very best dungeons in the Legend of Zelda series, and for once, BOTW doesn't have much to add (although it looks like Tears of the Kingdom might).
But rather than pointing out Breath of the Wild's dungeonlessness, let's instead celebrate the brilliant design, visuals, and music of our top 15 favourite dungeons over the past 35+ years, as well as the creative bosses, settings, and items that set those dungeons apart from all the rest.
As always, make sure to head down to the comments to leave your own dungeon opinions, too!
15. Stone Tower Temple (Majora's Mask)
Discussing Majora's Mask's temples with the NL team, we mostly landed on "they don't hold a candle to other Zelda games", and even Stone Tower Temple was a toss-up, because its central mechanic of getting flipped, turned upside down makes the whole thing very disorienting.
However, this gigantic temple is the culmination of many of Majora's Mask's story threads and mechanics, including the use of all four Link statues, as well as fire, water, and Mirror Shield-based puzzles. Sure, it's frustrating to be constantly switching forms, but it's still a masterpiece of puzzle work, and deserves to be on this list... even if it is right at the bottom.
14. Catfish's Maw (Link's Awakening)
Populated by Bloobers, Cheep-Cheeps, and Goombas, Catfish's Maw contains a lot of the trademark Link's Awakening weirdness, plus the Master Stalfos, a mini-boss that you have to defeat four separate times, and Gohma, everyone's favourite recurring bad guy.
The boss is the Slime Eel — a haunting re-imagining of a Chain Chomp — who leaves you with an unnerving message as it dies, saying that you don't even know what Koholint Island is. That's true, of course, but you don't know that yet!
13. Snowpeak Ruins (Twilight Princess)
Snowpeak Ruins takes the tried-and-tested Zelda temple formula and subverts it. Instead of an abandoned temple, it's a decrepit mansion; instead of some evil monster waiting for you at the end, it's a sick old lady who becomes corrupted by a cursed mirror. Instead of finding maps and solving puzzles, you'll be... making soup.
It's always nice to be surprised in a Zelda game, because the series' traditions and tropes are so strong by now, and Snowpeak is a great example how to break the rules properly. After all, Twilight Princess takes place in a broken, shattered world, where the normal Zelda rules don't apply, and everything is strange and different — why not have a temple that's just someone's house?
12. Dragon Roost Cavern (Wind Waker)
Fire temples in Zelda games can be annoying, lava-filled mazes, but this early-game volcano level in Wind Waker is not that. Instead, it's both a beautifully simple yet compelling introduction to a new style of Zelda games, with a banging soundtrack, a cool new item (the Grappling Hook), and the return of our old friend Gohma, whom you'll have to defeat by pulling on a dragon's tail to dislodge the ceiling above her. We love innovative Zelda boss battles, and this is one of the GOATs. Or should that be GOHMAs?
11. Misery Mire (A Link to the Past)
The Misery Mire is located in the Swamp of Evil, which is about as obvious a clue as you can get that this is not a nice place to be. However, this Link to the Past dungeon is a Zelda classic, and not as miserable as it sounds. The Dark World version of the Desert Palace, Misery Mire is a green-tinted maze with a bunch of optional content, and a number of ways to complete the dungeon, making it feel more like an adventure than a puzzle with one solution.
Oh, and the boss is a pile of eyes. Everyone knows that the weak point of a Zelda boss is the eyes! This guy is 100% weak spots!
10. Swamp Palace (A Link to the Past)
If we owned a palace, we would probably call it something cool, and not "Swamp Palace", but hey. Each to their own. At least Swamp Palace is a dungeon which you can enter from the very beginning of the game, but not progress any further, leaving little Link with a big mystery to solve. It's also apparently the first ever water-themed dungeon in the Zelda series, which harnesses the power of the wet stuff to create liquid-based puzzles and oceanic monsters that definitely want to drag you down to the deep.
This Link to the Past dungeon is also the first time you'll ever get the Hookshot, which is one of the most inventive weapons/tools in the early Zelda series, which allows Link to zip over to hitherto unreachable places. This was a literal game-changer in the early '90s!
9. Sandship (Skyward Sword)
When you reach Lanayru Sand Sea's Sandship, you've just harnessed the power of Timeshift Stones to navigate your way through a dried-up ocean, in a rather beautiful sequence featuring a lot of vibrantly-coloured coral, in order to catch a ship that's invisible.
The Sandship has been overrun by pirates, and you'll need to use more of those Timeshift Stones to explore the ship, climb the rigging, take down the pirate scum, and defeat a pirate captain robot mini-boss and a big tentacle monster who looks a lot like Celia from Monsters Inc. So much to do!
We just really love Skyward Sword's Lanayru robots, and having a boat-themed dungeon is always a welcome Zelda twist — we also saw it in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass! We think this one's the best iteration of it, though.
8. Tower of the Gods (Wind Waker)
Every now and again, a Zelda game will have a dungeon that is not a Ganon-infested maze filled with lava and skeletal mini-bosses, but a deity-built test for the hero. These dungeons are oddly serene, with a purpose that is more than just "help, our temple is full of evil bugs" — they exist to provide Link with a trial to prove himself, and you can almost feel the gods watching down on you from above, fingers crossed for your success.
Wind Waker's Tower of the Gods is one of these, and completing it feels especially poignant — a task that Link must do completely alone. Even summoning this tower is a monumental moment, as it rises from the depths after Link places three sacred pearls in three sacred statues to form a big, watery Triforce; and when the temple is complete and the boss is defeated, you get to travel down to the frozen-in-time Hyrule Castle, which is one of the best moments in the game. So cool.
7. City in the Sky (Twilight Princess)
A city? In the sky? What is this, Skyward Sword? Nope, it's Twilight Princess' Ancient-Greece-themed seventh dungeon, the home of the creepy-looking-but-friendly Oocca tribe. Link's new Double Clawshots make exploration of this dungeon a breeze (pun intended, it's a windy dungeon), and in no time at all, you'll be zipping around the place like Tarzan.
Taking place late in the game, City in the Sky feels like a culmination of a lot of the things you've learned and items you've found while playing the game, and the final boss — Argorok, a flying dragon — is sufficiently challenging to match.
6. Thieves' Hideout (A Link Between Worlds)
The Thieves' Hideout is a sort of warehouse for the Thieves' Town above, which requires a special poem password to allow Link to gain access (they're very romantic thieves). It's a dungeon that feels suitable to its setting, where all the treasure chests inside feel like thieves' plunder, and you have to secure the help of a pink-haired Thief Girl to navigate the maze-like corridors. Juggling both Link and the girl to press switches and solve puzzles adds an extra dimension to the dungeon, without ever feeling like an irritating escort mission (looking at you, Jabu Jabu's Belly).
Keep reading to find out our top five dungeons on page 2...