While its arguable whether money makes the world go around, there’s certainly no question that it built Las Vegas in the USA.
How else do you transform a piece of sandy desert into a high-rolling hive of activity, surrounded by lush green golf courses, sprawling pools and dancing fountains?
On face value, the immense scale of Vegas suggests nothing but glitz, glamour and good times. However, beneath the surface, as gambling revenues fall, you’ll find a beating heart searching for new blood as the city looks to cement its future as a tourist mecca and business hub.
Enjoy this Las Vegas travel guide.
Las Vegas for history lovers
Established with the coming of the railroad to the wild west, Las Vegas’ fortunes have risen and fallen over the years.
From humble beginnings on Fremont Street under the patronage of gangsters and mobsters, the city we know today gradually emerged. Downtown Las Vegas (DTLV) — home to the Golden Nugget casino and other iconic landmarks of the 1940s and 50s — now hosts the Fremont Street Experience, where the world’s largest LED screen puts on a dazzling light show. Get your adrenaline fix as the SlotZilla Zip Line flies you through the lights at over 60 kilometres per hour.
The Strip (a section of Las Vegas Boulevard just south of the city-proper) houses most of the world’s largest hotels, all competing to fill their share of 62,000 rooms. The lighting along here is truly mind-blowing, and you can take a fascinating (and well lit) step back in time at The Neon Museum — a boneyard for retired signs. Entry is by appointment only and spots fill quickly. The ultra famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada’ sign lives on and is located on the southern approach to The Strip. It dates back to 1959.
Another option for tapping into the city’s past is to visit The Mob Museum. It will guide you through Vegas’ bad old days.
Top cultural experiences in Las Vegas
While Vegas might not spring to mind as a cultural destination, the array of entertainment options on offer in this city is truly staggering.
Everyone who is anyone in entertainment has performed here. Some pop in for ‘one night only’, while others take up semi-permanent residence. Britney Spears, Elton John, and Donny and Marie have all called Las Vegas home.
Then there’s the pure spectacle of big brand productions like Cirque du Soleil. No less than seven different shows transport audiences to a magical world of spectacular acrobatics, stunning sets and beautiful music. ‘O’ at the Bellagio, where performers breathe air from divers submerged under a stage made of water, will take your breath away.
If you love watching a rabbit being pulled out of a hat, you’re in good company in Vegas. See MGM-resident David Copperfield for the grand scale, and Penn & Teller at Rio for a hilarious blend of illusion and comedy.
Check the Las Vegas Entertainment Guide for a complete rundown of what’s on during your stay.
The club scene in Vegas is also huge — huge spaces, huge crowds and huge prices. Iconic DJ’s Calvin Harris and Tiesto will set the scene as you kick off the evening around midnight and party into the early hours. XS and Hakkasan are definitely the places to be seen, while Omnia is nipping at their heels. Book a table with friends, pop your bottle of Grey Goose in the middle and enjoy.
The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art partners with museums and foundations around the world and as they say, is where great art goes on vacation.
Great places to eat in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is renowned as the USA’s ‘all you can eat buffet’ capital.
However, the choice of incredible restaurants headed by renowned chefs will certainly entice you away from the food halls.
Breakfast may not be on the list for many, but brunch is another thing. The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan serves one of the best on the strip with free flowing Bloody Marys and champagne to kick-start the day.
Mon Ami Gabi on the terrace at Paris offers alfresco dining as the fountains at the Bellagio entertain and you enjoy steak frites under the cooling mist.
Michelin-starred eateries are well represented and tasting menus are an ideal opportunity to splurge. Five courses plus little extra bites at Picasso at the Bellagio is exceptional value as you dine surrounded by $20 million worth of art.
Cocktails and other alcoholic beverages are a staple of the Las Vegas diet for many, evidenced by the multitude of giant plastic Eiffel Towers, Pyramids and other hotel replica drink containers wandering the streets in the hands of revellers. The theory is that generous pouring will encourage you to stay around and try your luck at the tables and slots. Drink and gamble responsibly. Have a winning target or a losing limit and be prepared to walk away (famous last words!).
Where to shop in Las Vegas
If you’re lucky enough to win big, you’ll need something to spend it on.
The Fashion Show Mall has over 250 stores, while the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace guide you along Romanesque streets under painted skies. Luxury reigns supreme at The Shops at Crystals, which offers shopping, dining and nightlife. Louis Vuitton and Gucci lead the pack in stunning showrooms.
If you’re after a bargain, head out to the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets. Note: The food hall is average, so just shop and get out.
If souvenir t-shirts, fridge magnets and other assorted kitsch are on your holiday shopping list, you’ll trip over shops as you wander along the Strip.
Ways to relax in Las Vegas
With so many hotels vying for attention, huge money has been invested into recreation spaces within their grounds.
Simply meander from one to the next and enjoy the spectacle. From a carefully recreated Venetian Grand Canal (complete with crooning gondoliers), to a rooftop roller coaster that flies around the landmarks of New York City, and the famous dancing fountains at the Bellagio, there’s plenty to keep you well and truly entertained.
Vegas’ myriad pool parties attract big crowds looking to party with resident DJs. Encore Beach Club hosts the likes of David Guetta, while Marquee at the Cosmopolitan pumps out the tunes day and night. One of the coolest spaces on the Strip is Drai’s Beach Club — the rooftop pool at the Cromwell. This is Vegas, so the more ladies in your group the better. Don’t even think of turning up with a group of ten blokes expecting to get in.
There are also, of course, pools where more conventional relaxing is the order of the day. Some hotels welcome non-guests and the Tropicana will allow you to swim and chill on lounges and grassy banks for $10 (at time of printing) — a bargain by Las Vegas standards.
Golf courses are lush and green — if you hit the fairways. Miss them and you’ll be searching for your ball amongst the cacti. Badlands will challenge without destroying you. Drinks delivered by passing carts, and clubs cleaned afterwards, add to the allure.
Do you have any tips to add to our Las Vegas travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.