Originally settled by Mormons, the city of Las Vegas transformed quickly with the legalization of gambling. Names like Bugsy Siegel, the Rat Pack, and Howard Hughes came here to seek their fortunes, opening hotels, performing and perhaps partaking in less-than-legal activities. The city went through its Golden Age before the rise of the modern casinos in the 1990s. Long gone are the kitschy mainstays and now have come the sleek, contemporary resorts with well-known celebrity chef restaurants. There’s something for everyone, including thrill seekers, gamblers, foodies, shopaholics, cultural travelers and outdoors lovers. You just have to know where to look! It’s a popular stop for those visiting America for the first time as well as weekend bachelor and bachelorette parties. You can find cheap flights on budget carriers to save money.
Most visitors assume that all there is is The Strip, the name given to the modern casinos all bunched together on Las Vegas Boulevard. But there’s so much more to the city than that, as locals will readily tell you. You might just be surprised how many unique neighborhoods there are.
The Strip must be mentioned for visitors because this is where the majority of the tourist activities take place. But keep in mind that this isn’t where locals live, so everything is developed for the sake of tourists. But admire the Bellagio fountains, take in a Cirque de Soleil show, or dine out at a celebrity chef restaurant here. You’ll also find T-Mobile Arena, a large venue that hosts music festivals, here.
Fremont Street is home to old Las Vegas, so you’ll still see the large-scale neon installations over the covered street as well as a light show on the roof. Go zip lining down the street, enjoy cheap steaks and slots, or see what street performers are up to, day or night. Countless movies have been set here over the years.
Fremont East is a recently developed area next to the Fremont Street area. It’s where you’ll find revitalized casinos like Gold Strike, the Downtown Container Park, and countless street art alongside galleries like Emergency Arts. Rehabilitated neon signs now line the street.
Las Vegas also has an Arts District called 18B, located north of the Strip. Here you’ll find vintage clothing stores, art galleries, and restaurants. A short bike ride from Fremont Street, the 18-block neighborhood has weekly art walks and other events that bring together the community.
Restaurants and Cafes
While Las Vegas used to be a place where you could get a New York Strip for $5 and 99 cent margaritas, the new trend in the city dining scene is upscale. Since Wolfgang Puck opened Spago, every celebrity chef has at least one eatery, while others have many. You’ll find the large majority in casinos and hotels, but there are also restaurants worth trying beyond the Strip.
China Poblano– Where the far east meets south of the border, you’ll find this Jose Andres restaurant. Share small plates with your dining companions, including tacos and dumplings, noodles and chilaquiles. The highlight is the salt foam margarita.
Giada– In her first restaurant, television chef Giada de Laurentiis brings together her most beloved Italian recipes from her childhood. Lemon spaghetti and chicken meatballs are paired with an extensive wine and cocktail list as her grandfather’s films play in the background. They’re also open for brunch.
Lago– For the best view on the Strip, go to Lago for dinner and grab a table over the Bellagio fountains. Julian Serrano’s Italian restaurant has a brunch menu and dinner of shared plates, including pizette, crudo, and pasta. Pair it with an offbeat cocktail.
Herringbone Las Vegas– Coastal California cuisine is the draw at Aria’s restaurant, run by Chef Brian Malarkey of Top Chef fame. With sister locations in La Jolla and Santa Monica, Herringbone serves “fish-meats-field” as well as wine, beer, and cocktails.
Yusho– If you’re craving a heaping bowl of ramen, look no further than Yusho in the Monte Carlo. They bring together the best of Asian street food, including offbeat flavors of ramen, steamed buns, and dumplings, along with Asian favorites like fries and wings.
Eggslut– While I didn’t make it there during my trip, I’ve heard great things about this egg-centric breakfast joint. Their breakfast sandwiches are the stuff of legends and, even at their location at The Cosmopolitan, you should expect to wait in line.
Jean-Philippe Patisserie– With locations at both Aria and the Bellagio, your sweet tooth will be satisfied here, whether it’s an almond croissant with your morning cappuccino or a late night dessert as you admire the chocolate fountain.
ARIA Cafe– I wasn’t sure what to think about this 24-hour restaurant in my hotel but found that it’s one of the few places that does breakfast all day and night, the perfect remedy for your hangover or red eye flight. I recommend the chicken and waffles, pictured above.
Le Thai– I tried to dine at this recommended Thai restaurant in Fremont East, but the wait even for the bar was an hour. I’ll be sure to try again next time, as I’ve heard about curries, noodle soups, and salads. Their beer garden is another highlight.
VegeNation– For vegetarians or the fussy diets like mine, there’s this vegetarian spot that came recommended by my friend Diana. The menu features globally inspired dishes are fresh, including dumplings, tamales, and salads. Cocktails, smoothies, and desserts are also available.
Bars and Nightlife
The city is known for its over-the-top nightlife, from all-day pool parties to all-night clubs. It can be a bit overwhelming, but there’s a venue for just about everyone.
The Chandelier– Located in The Cosmopolitan, this lounge is surrounded by thousands of strands of crystals, giving the appearance that you’re actually inside a chandelier. Three levels allow each to provide a separate atmosphere and each has their own bar.
Tenaya Creek Brewery– Craft beer in Vegas? Tenaya Creek has been brewing since 1999 and makes European-inspired beers like hefeweizens and pilsners. In addition to the brewery, you can come by for food trucks and pint nights every week.
Downtown Cocktail Room– The intimate speakeasy in Fremont East features seasonal menus and hand-crafted cocktails. You can find classics like French 75 and Palomas or the DCR’s signature creations. They even carry absinthe and host DJs nightly.
Banger Brewing– Another brewery is this Fremont Street outpost that offers two nightly happy hours for $5 drafts. They offer high gravity and unique beers as well as free tours of the facility. If you get hungry, they have a kitchen serving tacos and more.
Vanguard Lounge– Named the best cocktail bar in the city, Vanguard offers craft beer and signature creations. DJs perform throughout the night on nearly every night of the week. There’s plenty of lounge space to cozy up in or grab a drink at the bar.
Therapy– Cocktails, frozen drinks, and sangria make this Fremont Street establishment a favorite. Stop by for dinner as well, where you can get shared plates, sandwiches, and hearty entrees.
The Laundry Room– Another speakeasy is located within Commonwealth, another Fremont bar. You need a reservation to go there and can’t take photos inside. There’s a two-hour maximum stay and craft cocktails will set you back at least $15.
Mandarin Cocktail Bar– Perhaps the best bar views of the Strip, the Mandarin offers chic decor, live music, and, of course, top-notch drinks. Their signature martini, The Golden Leaf, features gin, Aperol, and fresh squeezed fruit juices.
Makers & Finders Coffee– For a much-needed jolt, head to this “urban coffee bar” downtown. In addition to single-origin bean coffee and a hip atmosphere, you’ll find Latin dishes, Sunday brunch, and even art installations and DJ sets.
Pressed Juicery– Detox from your nights out with fresh pressed juices from this shop in Aria. They offer different mixtures of juices as well as quick shots to make you feel better fast.
When it comes to nightclubs, I don’t have much experience. All of the major hotels have a nightclub, but the most well-known are Drai’s Beach Club, Nightclub, XS Nightclub, Marquee Nightclub, and TAO Las Vegas. You’ll find promoters all over town selling VIP and group packages, including on social media. Reach out and see what you can arrange if you’re interested. Websites like Vimbly, Viator, and Groupon also sell services like limousine transportation and entry into clubs.
Things to Do
You’ll never run out of things to do in Las Vegas, which is why this category is by far the largest in the guide. It’s been divided into free attractions, shows, and trips near the city.
Free and Cheap Activities
Each casino has something worth checking out. For example, there are the Chihuly sculpture and fountain shows at the Bellagio Hotel, the sirens show at Treasure Island, The Mirage volcano and the show at Fremont Street Experience, all of which are completely free. For creature lovers, there’s the Flamingo Las Vegas habitat for its namesake bird. Ethel M Chocolate Factory & Cactus Garden offer free chocolate samples! Check out First Friday art walks and the Las Vegas Farmer’s Market for something different. See even more free experiences on this post from Local Adventurer.
You’ll have to pay to see the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas, take advantage of rides at New York New York Hotel & Casino, and navigate the canals at The Venetian. There’s also a fee to see Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, which has lions, tigers, and dolphins, as well as the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Also remember that passes like the Las Vegas Pass allow entry into multiple attractions for one price.
Museums and Other Experiences
High Roller– The world’s largest observation wheel towers over the Strip, but in true Vegas fashion, you can drink while on board! Whether you take a spin day or night, you’re sure to get stunning views of the surrounding mountains and casinos. Book online or with a third party like Viator for the best rates.
Neon Museum– If you only book one thing in advance before your trip, make it the Neon Museum, which is only available to guided tours. It’s here that retired neon signs come to be restored or live out their days. Iconic casino signs from Stardust, Frontier, Binions, and Sahara all can be seen here. Tours are available during day and night, but it’s nice to see them lit up.
Maverick Helicopters– This company, which offers tours of the nearby Grand Canyon, also offers day and night tours of the Strip. They pick you up from your hotel and offer you champagne before you hop aboard your flight, which lasts less than 10 minutes.
Topgolf– Brand new to the Strip, this is far from your average driving range. Grab friends and shoot a few rounds, where the objective is to land your ball in different colored circles, each offering levels of points. Their food and drinks aren’t bad either.
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art– The hotel’s gallery hosts a regularly changing display of notable artists’ work, including paintings, sculpture, and photography. Past exhibits have included Warhol, Picasso, and Lichtenstein.
The Mob Museum– Learn about the gangsters and criminals who developed Las Vegas into what it is today. The museum follows members of organized crime and different movements around the country through interactive exhibits.
Shows and Entertainment
Performers like Wayne Newton and Liberace turned Las Vegas into an entertainment town where residencies have become common for artists like Britney Spears and Celine Dion. Even DJs set up shop for months, like Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Steve Aoki. But, of course, there’s also the Cirque de Soleil performances throughout the city, including O, Zumanity, and The Beatles’ Love. Comedians also make their claim on the city, along with cabaret performers and plays.
If you want to see one of the top name acts, your best bet is booking early in advance. If you are more flexible, however, it is possible to score last-minute tickets to performances. Tix 4 Tonight is the city’s answer to TKTS in New York City. Simply show up at one of their booths and choose a heavily discounted performance. It might be Blue Man Group or David Copperfield or it might be a one-man show or a troupe of tribute artists. Vimbly and Viator are two sources to try as well.
Since Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, you may want to venture out to see natural beauty. Hoover Dam is one of the easier day trips, but for a full experience, rent a houseboat on Lake Mead. Road trip out to Laughlin, another casino town, or go hiking in Red Rock Canyon. Goldstrike Canyon features hot springs while Valley of Fire State Park is the largest and oldest in the state. The Grand Canyon is further away in Arizona, but still a popular trip for those visiting Las Vegas, as is Death Valley in California.
Skip the designer stores you’ll find at The Shops at Crystals and other shopping centers within casinos in favor of uniquely Vegas finds. And even if you didn’t bring anything good to wear, you might just find something to buy!
Downtown Container Park– This unique shopping center is made up of former shipping containers. There are shops, restaurants, and even live entertainment. Be sure to catch the praying mantis, a former Burning Man sculpture, breathe fire.
Rent the Runway– Fans of this designer borrowing website will love this Cosmopolitan outpost, allowing you to find an entire outfit to wear that you can return shortly after. They carry clothing, shoes, and accessories for renting and for purchase.
Buffalo Exchange– Looking for a vintage purse or some funky boots? This chain of new and recycled fashion is the perfect place to find them, especially in the city’s Arts District. They’ll even buy your clothes if you have something to sell.
Las Vegas North Premium Outlets– Sometimes you need a deal and that’s what the outlets, located near downtown, are for. Bargain hunt at stores like American Apparel, J.Crew, Lululemon, and more, including luxury brands.
Bonanza Gifts– Advertised as the world’s largest gift shop, you’re sure to find offbeat souvenirs and kitsch at its finest. The 36,000 square foot shop includes t-shirts, mugs, jewelry, and even liquor.
11th Street Records– Serving as Las Vegas’ independent record store, 11th Street is a hub for music geeks and vinyl collectors. They host live performances and promote the purchase of vinyl records as well as host musicians in their record studio.
The Writer’s Block– This independent bookseller also publishes writers’ work. Featured genres include classics, contemporary fiction, art and design, and children’s literature. The store also sells gifts like stationery, games, and plants.
Where to Stay
No matter your budget, you can feel like a high roller in Las Vegas if you play your cards right. Mid-range hotels and casinos are easy to find, especially if you’re willing to stay off The Strip.
Aria– On this trip, I stayed at this hotel and casino, paid for by my boss. I was pleased with the modern design and views of the city. But it wasn’t too loud or smoky. Amenities included multiple restaurants, a pool, and easy access to other properties via pedestrian walkways and trams.
The LINQ Resort & Casino– Newer to the scene is the Linq, a smaller casino and boutique property. Rooms are modern and chic but budget friendly at $39 per night and include options like bunk beds. Take advantage of the restaurants and pool with views of the High Roller.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas– A trip through the Cosmopolitan is almost unavoidable as the property has so much to offer. It includes dozens of restaurants, a performance space with top-name acts, pools with dive-in movies, and a full-service spa.
The Cromwell Las Vegas Hotel & Casino– Another small property is the standalone hotel property, separate from the casino. Rooms feature eclectic furnishings and start at $99 per night. Amenities include restaurant Giada, nightclub Drai’s, and Bound cocktail bar.
Gold Spike– For a local hangout, seek out this downtown establishment. You can stay at Oasis at Gold Spike, their hotel property, from $20 per night and take advantage of the bar and entertainment facility featuring games, dance floors, and more.
Hostels– You’ll find a number of hostels around Las Vegas, but some are not very close to the action. Be sure to check the location beforehand. Most offer pub crawls, free WiFi and discounted tours.
Camping–If you’re seeing the country by RV or campervan, book a stay at one of the nearby campgrounds. Circus Circus has its own RV park and so does the KOA at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall. Nearby state parks have sites as well.
AirBnB– Feel like home at a local property, which might be a high-rise apartment overlooking the strip or a comfortable house in a nearby suburb with all the amenities.
Getting around Las Vegas is easier than you might think, especially if you skip renting a car. Unless you’re driving cross-country, hold off on renting a car until the day you need it so that you can avoid paying for parking at your hotel and sitting in traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard.
While the distance between casinos may not seem far on a map, it’s much greater of a distance, especially in the desert heat. Most casinos connect with free trams or walkways, so take advantage of them. Public transportation also services the area with monorails and buses.
When it comes to hitching a ride, avoid taxis at all costs. They overcharge, especially for those you pick up outside of your hotel or the airport. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are much easier and cost-effective.