20 essential things to do in Las Vegas
If you’re new to Vegas, there’s more to life than sticking, twisting and getting hitched. Don’t leave Las Vegas without checking off these definitive LV experiences—the best restaraunts and bars, sights, attractions and fabulous things to do in Las Vegas, Nevada
Place a bet at a world famous casino
Caesars Palace remains an icon of classic Sin City decadence—few casinos can match it for atmosphere—but before you hit the baccarat pit mug up on the subject. The Gamblers General Store in Downtown has a library of “how to” gaming books, as well as gifts.
Apart from Caesars, some of the best poker games can be found at the legendary Golden Nugget in Downtown, whose residents can actually shed their shirts in a pool area where waterslides run though a central shark tank. Casino Royale provides the cheapest fun you can have round the roulette wheel. Killers fans who like a spot of the Old West with their 20x-odds craps should make for Sam's Town.
See a different country without leaving the city
Many of the more preposterously themed resorts in Vegas pay tacky homage to other world cities. You want Paris, and the Eiffel Tower? Try Paris Las Vegas. Venice? There are gondolas and a St. Mark’s Square at the Venetian. The Big Apple? New York New York has the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park and much, much more. Only in Vegas (or Legoland).
Pull up a stool at one of Sin City’s brilliant bars
The most impressive difference between watering holes in the rest of the world and those on the Strip is the sheer number of bottles. Single malt enthusiasts can boggle at the vast scotch collection at Craftsteak. Cognacs to knock your socks off reside at chef André Rochat's restaurants—André's and Alizé.
Connoisseurs must visit the Downtown Cocktail Room, where specialty drinks are rated on a level of 1 (“very approachable”) to 5 (“advanced palate”). Wine drinkers should set their sights on Aureole, where the bottles are housed in a four-story wine tower that requires harnessed “wine angels” to retrieve them.
Mooch around a museum
The Atomic Testing Museum, a one-of-a-kind, often terrifying, insight into the Nevada Test Site, once the country’s principal weapons testing facility, pulls back the curtain on the state’s history as nuclear guinea pig. Downtown, organized-crime buffs will flip for the Mob Museum, which details the mob’s involvement with Las Vegas’s rise.
Admire the Steve Wynn’s man-made wonder
Maverick mogul Steve Wynn designed his Wynn Las Vegas resort from the inside out, which means you have to remain cocooned inside his casino to appreciate its signature attraction. From outside, the visitor can see a small hill covered with huge trees, but to get the full effect, you have to go in, then take the spiral staircase down to the terraces at the SW Steakhouse or Lakeside Seafood. The faux mountain fuses light, water, horticulture and architecture into a diverting multimedia experience.
See the sights of the Strip for less than $10
How the Deuce do you do that? By riding one of the city’s fleet of pimped-out double-decker buses that troll the Strip and all the way to Downtown. Known as the Deuce, these buses come cheap at $6 for a two-hour ride or $8 to hop on and off all day.
Jump on a rollercoaster atop the Stratosphere Tower
There are two reasons to follow Las Vegas Boulevard South as far as Sahara Avenue. One is Bonanza Gifts, which claims to be the “world's largest gift store,” and offers a pleasantly kitschy ride back in time to the Route 66 era. A very different ride is in store if you go north along the Boulevard to the tower where the shrieks are coming from.
Stratosphere, the tallest building in Nevada, has at its summit a quartet of thrill rides: Big Shot, X-Scream, Insanity: the Ride and SkyJump all as white-knuckle as they sound.
Nourish yourself with American cuisine
What better way to cheer the soul than soul food—chicken, short ribs, yams—at M&M's Soul Food, or burgers as big as your head at Hash House a-Go Go. For steaks, try the best barbecue in Vegas at Big Mama's Rib Shack. For a generous slice of Old Vegas, try Du-Par’s, housed in a historic casino (Golden Gate), where no-nonsense waitresses like you see in the movies serve basic food for 20 hours a day.
See a spectacular water-based show
The most eye-catching attraction at the Bellagio, a supersized, all-American Italian villa, is the signature jumping fountain. It’s a fine, free appetizer for a rather more expensive attraction here. Cirque du Soleil's most sophisticated show, O, comprises more than 70 swimmers, divers, aerialists, contortionists and clowns performing acrobatic feats around a pool/stage containing 1.5 million gallons of water. If you see only one show, make it O.
Guzzle a beer in strange surroundings
There’s no shortage of deeply odd places to raise a glass in Las Vegas. The Mermaid Bar & Lounge at Silverton is the most extraordinary. Slog back your drinks in the company of silver-finned fish-women, before advancing to other oddities in the city of lights. Take a tipple here before seeking (relative) peace of Ghostbar at Palms—55 stories up and quiet before 11pm. When you’re ready for more fun, join in the sing-alongs to dueling pianos at the Bar at Times Square at New York New York or doodle electronically in the Beatles-themed Revolution at the Mirage.
Try your luck on a slot machine
Quarters burning a hole in your pocket? You have options. Play the slots at Palms, Gold Coast or Circus Circus, where you’ll get free drinks and great people-watching opportunities, or test your flipping skills at the peculiarly beautiful Pinball Hall of Fame, a museum of more than 100 operational pinball machines.
Go on a shopping spree in Caesars Palace
Take your credit card for a spin around the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, where, if the faux Roman vibe doesn’t defeat you, the legions of medium- and high-end designer outlets will. You have until midnight to make your choices at weekends. If you’re thin and rich enough, shop at the Fashion Show Mall, whose one billion dollar Cloud, an amazing image projection screen hovering over the center, provides entertainment enough when the credit runs out.
Take a break from the Strip
Suffering from sensory overload? Rancho Drive, northwest of town, offers a different taste of old Vegas. Take the bus as far as the US 95 to the historic Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a huge site given over to botanical gardens, nature trails and museum exhibits. It takes a while to adjust the eyes to the unwonted green.
Plunge into a swimming pool
The Hard Rock’s pool gives you the very best fun you can have with your cossie on. It’s always buzzing, with its sandy beaches, waterfalls and swim-up blackjack. On summer Sunday evenings pop into your sequined swimsuit for the raucous pool parties.
Hang out with a trendy crowd
Fremont Street, east of the Boulevard, is where the hipsters preen. The melancholy air of discarded Vegas evoked by restored vintage neon signs around Neonopolis and the nearby open-air Neon Museum lighting up the shabby environs of old Downtown makes a nice counterpoint to the trendy center. At its heart is the Beauty Bar, sister to the New York “martinis and manicures” backdrop for those Sex and the City girls.
Nearby the pubbie, indie-rocking joint Griffin pulls in the young and cool, as does the recently reopened Atomic Liquors. Check out these bars for after-parties on First Fridays, when the city’s galleries stay open late and everyone parties artily.
Enjoy a feast for the belly and eyes
At Nove, the seafood spaghetti is exemplary, at the Mix, the signature French/American dishes is ambitious, at The Top of the World, the cultured mix of American and European favorites are surprisingly good. In all three, however, the menu is secondary to the stupendous views. High-end dining indeed.
Explore Egypt at the Luxor
The Venetian, which recreates the city of canals in the desert, may be the world’s largest hotel, but the Egyptian vibe evoked by the glass pyramid of the Luxor is more suited to the topography, and it’s enjoyably silly. The high-intensity lights that shoot from its top at night can be seen from space and attracts bats during warmer months.