Editor’s Note: Viator recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. For 60 days, these teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to read more about their Las Vegas adventures!
Sin City. The Marriage Capital of the World. Lost Wages.
Whatever it may be called, Las Vegas has always had a reputation for being a bit over the top compared to other cities. In its early years, Las Vegas was a mecca for mobsters, attracting the likes of Frank Rosenthal, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Organized crime was rampant, but Las Vegas began to grow into the spectacle it is today because of the investments into large-scale developments that many of these shady characters made. Before long, feathers and rhinestones enveloped showgirls, the Rat Pack was selling out shows and Las Vegas as we know it now—with its huge casino resorts, flashy lights and world-renown entertainment—was starting to define itself.
If you visit Las Vegas today, you enter a neon paradise that constantly pushes itself to be bigger, brighter and better than ever before. New resorts continue to be built while older hotels try to keep pace with renovations. Fresh shows arrive in town and push out those that have overstayed their welcome (and, after a of couple years, they, too, might move on). Celebrity chefs open innovative restaurants, and high profile nightclubs from NYC and LA try to carve out a space in Sin City.
That said, the tried and true continues to thrive in Las Vegas. There are some resorts that have been around for decades, and committed customers return year after year to hedge their bets on the same poker table time and again. Some of the best shows in Las Vegas have stood the test of time, and many of the most popular tourist attractions continue to pull in audiences as if they’ve just opened. Whether you’re planning your first visit to Las Vegas or you’ve been several times, there’s always something new to find, see and do in this surprising city found in the middle of the desert in southern Nevada.
The vast majority of people who visit Las Vegas stay on the Strip, the four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that runs from Mandalay Bay in the south to the Stratosphere in the north. Along the Strip, there are dozens of hotel resorts, many of which resemble small cities in and of themselves with on-site entertainment, restaurants and shopping. Some of the largest hotels in the world are found on Las Vegas Boulevard, including The Venetian and The Palazzo, MGM Grand, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur and ARIA, all of which have more than 4,000 suites.
Downtown Las Vegas also has a number of hotels. Though many of these are a older than those on the Strip, recent renovations have made the lodging experience a bit better while often maintaining a lower price tag. El Cortez, The Plaza, D Hotel and Golden Gate are a few that have undergone facelifts in recent months.
What to Do
Las Vegas teems with things to do. Shows, dining, attractions, gambling—if you name it, you can probably do it. In addition to these typical Las Vegas attractions, however, there are a few under-the-radar activities that might pique your interest.
One of the things many people think Las Vegas lacks is history, which is justified given the fact that, in the past, buildings have simply been imploded to make way for something new. There is a place to view a piece of this lost history, though. The Neon Boneyard, hidden on the outskirts of downtown, is where old Vegas goes to die with its aged signs, broken light bulbs and rusty wiring. The Pinball Hall of Fame is a fun place to spend an afternoon, as are the Atomic Testing Museum and The Mob Museum. Head downtown to Fremont Street and stop in at the Las Vegas Toy Shack for a trip back to yesteryear. Keep your eyes open for the “toy guy” from the reality show Pawn Stars; he owns the store.
Sometimes the best things in Las Vegas are actually beyond its borders. For an escape from the city, take a day trip south to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where you can rent a boat and spend an afternoon on the water. In nearby Bootleg Canyon, go zip lining over the desert landscape. If you enjoy hiking, seek out Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire for a day on the trails. And if you visit Las Vegas in the winter, consider making the trip up to Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. That’s right—you can ski just 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas!
Eating and Drinking
One of the most popular things to do in Las Vegas is indulge in the dining experience. Celebrity chefs from around the world have descended upon Vegas, and most of the major hotel casinos have restaurants that feature their menus. Wolfgang Puck, Kerry Simon, Julian Serrano and others have made their mark on Las Vegas, and, as a result, every night of a Las Vegas vacation can feature some of the best food in the world. Keep in mind that these restaurants tend to be a bit on the pricey side and you’ll likely need to make reservations on the weekends and over holidays, but the experience is worth it.
It used to be that “buffet” was the word of the day when it came to dining in Las Vegas, but that heyday has pretty much passed. That’s not to say that buffets don’t still exist, and, in fact, you can find them in every hotel. Some are better than others (Rio, The M Resort and Paris Las Vegas all get high marks), but discerning palates have, for the most part, taken their business elsewhere.
Just as dining is a part of the Las Vegas experience, so is drinking. You can buy overpriced bottles of liquor in the nightclubs, but to truly appreciate the innovation behind the alcohol, seek out the signature cocktails offered at most properties. There are a number of talented mixologists employed in Las Vegas, many of whom have received international accolades for their creative cocktails. The Venetian and The Palazzo offer a number of flavorful drinks, and their mixologists can create something on the spot based on what you’re in the mood for and what liquors you prefer. The Chandelier at The Cosmopolitan is a three-story bar in—you guessed it—a massive chandelier. Each of the three floors has a distinctive vibe and a specialty drink.
The best free thing to do in Las Vegas is also one of the most popular: Checking out the Fountains of Bellagio as they dance to a variety of music several times each day. This timeless attraction never fails to entertain. Once you’ve caught a few shows, slip inside the resort and visit the conservatory and botanical gardens, which change five times each year. Las Vegas is also a prime place for people watching. Take a seat in Fashion Show Mall or St. Mark’s Square at The Venetian and let the curious characters of Sin City pass you by.
If you only have one day in Las Vegas, make a plan for what you want to see and do. Attractions are spread all along the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hit it all. If necessary, use cabs to get from place to place so you don’t waste a lot of time walking. That said, if you don’t have a plan, wander in and out of the resorts as you wish. There is plenty to gawk at, regardless of where you go. If there’s a specific show you’d like to see, buy tickets in advance, otherwise stop at one of the Tix4Tonight booths to see if any of the half-priced shows interest you.
The best thing to eat in Las Vegas is a matter of opinion. There is no one signature Las Vegas dish but rather innovative twists on all the classic favorites. A few places that stand out for locals include FIREFLY, which serves a wide selection of tapas (the bacon-wrapped dates are a favorite), and Simon’s Sunday brunch, which has a wide selection of fresh and creative breakfast dishes as well as a whimsical dessert tray that follows the meal.