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The 20 best things to do in Las Vegas

The best things to do in Las Vegas, from world-famous casinos and shows to restaurants from the world’s best chefs

Photograph: Shutterstock/blvdone
Bellagio Fountains

Looking for things to do in Las Vegas? Whether you’re here for a shotgun wedding, a wild weekend or a family trip, we’ve got you covered. From major Las Vegas attractions to the best Las Vegas shows and the best restaurants to eat when you need to refuel, Sin City is full of amazing make-your-mouth-drop happenings. Go on and explore the Strip and well beyond and never be stuck for things to do in Las Vegas.

Best things to do in Las Vegas

1

Place a bet at a world-famous casino

With one foot in the past and one in the future, the nearly 50-year-old Caesars Palace remains an icon of classic Sin City decadence. Caesars is one of the last old-school properties remaining, and few Las Vegas casinos can match it for atmosphere. But before you hit the table games, poker room or baccarat pit, mug up on the subject. The Gamblers General Store in Downtown Vegas has a library of “how to” gaming books, as well as gifts. If poker’s your game, head to the Bellagio, where you might see some of the world’s top players in action, or Downtown’s legendary Golden Nugget where you can match your skills with anonymous, grizzled veterans who look like they haven’t left their seat at the table in decades. If you’d rather stick to slots or video poker, head to the Palms, where the payouts are above average, or the off-Strip Gold Coast or Circus Circus, both of which offer great people-watching opportunities and glimpses of Vegas’ vintage past.

2

See the world without leaving Vegas

Many of the more preposterously themed hotels in Vegas pay homage to notable locales around the world that would seem tacky anywhere else than here. You want Paris and the Eiffel Tower? Try Paris Las Vegas. Venice? There are gondolas and a St. Mark’s Square at the Venetian. Head to Bellagio for a replica of Italy’s Lake Como. The Big Apple? New York New York has the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park and much, much more. Such is the magic of Las Vegas.

3

Get into the spirits (and wines) of Sin City

The most striking thing that sets the Strip’s bars apart from most watering holes elsewhere is the sheer number of bottles. Cocktail connoisseurs should head to 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. Speaking of angels, if you like to imbibe while taking in a view from the heavens, visit the Level 107 Lounge on the 107th floor of the Stratosphere, with a fine smattering of signature cocktails, top-shelf liquors, and beer and wine. On the other end of the heaven-hell spectrum (and conveniently located just a few blocks down the Strip) is the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, with its cozy fire pit and world-famous 64oz libation, the Scorpion. One sting can fell a man for a week.

4

Check out an offbeat museum

The one-of-a-kind, often terrifying Atomic Testing Museum pulls back the curtain on the Nevada Test Site and the state’s history as nuclear-weapons guinea pig. Downtown, organized-crime buffs will flip for the Mob Museum, which details the mafia’s involvement with Sin City’s rise. If you want a visual tour through Vegas history, head to the Neon Museum on the north end of the Strip, where signs, lights and other Sin City architectural artifacts are preserved. Aficionados of old-school arcade games should visit the peculiarly beautiful Pinball Hall of Fame, where you can admire—and play—more than 150 operational pinball machines.

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5

Dine mountainside on the Strip at Steve Wynn’s man-made wonder

From the outside, the Wynn Lake of Dreams looks like a small, tree-covered hill, but inside the resort, maverick mogul Steve Wynn has created an Alpine-like getaway, complete with a 150-ft mountain, 40-ft waterfall and old foliage repurposed from the site’s original Desert Inn golf course. Enjoy an evening meal on the terraces at SW Steakhouse or Lakeside, or a cocktail at Parasol Down, and watch as the lake comes alive in brilliant hues, with the aid of more than four thousand lights, holographic images, and music for a diverting multimedia experience.

6

Tour the Strip for less than $10

How the Deuce can you do that? By riding one of the city’s fleet of pimped-out double-decker buses that troll the Strip all the way to Downtown and back. Known as the Deuce, these buses come cheap at $6 for a two-hour ride or $8 to hop on and off all day. Twenty bucks will get you a three-day pass, and your fellow passengers will undoubtedly be a form of entertainment in their own right.

7

Rise above the Stratosphere

There are two reasons to follow Las Vegas Boulevard as far north 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 head north along the Boulevard to the tower where all 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 terrifying as they sound.

8

Make every day an adventure

If betting your life’s savings on “red” on the roulette table isn’t heart-pounding enough for you, go to where the real thrill-seekers hang. A trip to Vegas no longer automatically means an indoor vacation in smoky, windowless buildings. The desert surrounding the city offers ample opportunity to get away from the hotel-casino action and create some white-knuckle adventures of your own. Want your own Top Gun experience? Visit Sky Combat Ace where you have a chance to fly your own two-passenger plane. If actual “hands-on-the-controls” sounds a little too interactive for you, the stomach-churning drops on the zip-lines at Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon might serve you better—you only need strap yourself in and ride. Other adventures abound, whether you prefer simulated combat experience, like the sort provided at Battlefield Vegas, or tearing through the desert basin on an ATV.

9

Splash out on a water-based show

The most eye-catching attraction at the Bellagio, a supersize, all-American Italian villa, is the signature dancing fountains. The geysers—more than 1,200 in all—are nestled in the eight-and-a-half acre lake in front of Bellagio on the Strip. They erupt every half-hour beginning at 3pm and every 15 minutes from 8pm until midnight. Consider the fountains a free appetizer for Bellagio’s main (ticketed) attraction: 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 while you’re in town, make it this one.

10

Tie the knot, Vegas-style

Las Vegas has long been the classic place for lightning-quick, starry nuptials, as well as other less than traditionally inclined services—including themed weddings and celebrity ceremonies. If you want to do it Frank’s way, tie the knot at the Little White Wedding Chapel, where Sinatra married Mia Farrow. One of the kitschiest and most recognizable—and a favorite among Presley fans—is the Viva Las Vegas Chapel, where an ersatz Elvis weds the betrothed. The dinkiest is undoubtedly Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, for a Scottish Highland-meets-Nevada fling. Other options include truly romantic ceremonies, adventure weddings, and as many options for LGBT couples. Getting hitched in Vegas is easy; the hard part comes after.

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11

Get hot and steamy in a spa

Whether you want a 30-minute massage to counteract the previous night’s excesses or a three-hour spa ritual, almost every hotel has a luxurious sanctuary to help you unwind and look your best, but Sahra Spa & Hammam at the Cosmopolitan is among the most unique. Towering sandstone walls wind throughout the facility, giving way to treatment rooms where guests can opt for services ranging from 50-minute massage or facials to indulgent spa treatments like the Moroccan Journey, which uses the hammam’s 103-degree temperature for an exfoliating, detoxifying, rehydrating trip to Mecca. The huge Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace adhere to the Empire’s decadent tradition, with Roman-style baths as well as an Artic ice room, and the Spa at Red Rock features a deep menu of specialty massages, body treatments and facials.

12

Go on an offbeat bar crawl

There’s no shortage of deeply off-kilter places to raise a glass in Las Vegas, but the Mermaid Bar & Lounge at Silverton is the most extraordinary. Sip cocktails in the company of silver-finned fish-women—the Mermaid Lounge features a bar that faces an underwater tank populated by its aquatic namesake. If mermaids (and a few drinks) don’t put you in a Las Vegas state of mind, nothing says “Sin City” like a Polynesian hallucinations and a headful of rum. You’re likely to find both at Frankie’s Tiki Room toward the northern end of the Strip, a colorful, local dive that will open a whole new Vegas dimension for you. If going off-Strip is too outré for you, enjoy your weirdness in safer but endlessly fascinating watering holes like the Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan.

13

Make a show of it

You are coming to Las Vegas to have some fun and submitting to entertainment is the key to enjoying yourself while you’re here. There is no easier way to let the fun flow over you than taking in a show while in town. With eight Cirque du Soleil shows and dozens of other options around the area, hitting up one of the city’s production shows is one of the most popular activities for Vegas visitors. There are plenty of excellent choices, including Blue Man Group’s rhythmic take on alienation at the Luxor, or Penn & Teller’s magic secrets revealed at Rio. Or catch the smash-hit Four Seasons musical, Jersey Boys—one of the city’s most enduring Broadway shows—at Paris Las Vegas. And did we mention Cirque?

14

Hit the shops

Take your plastic money for a spin around the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Yes, the legions of medium- and high-end retailers located in the faux Roman stores may slay your credit limit, but your retail-battlefield prowess will win out in the end. Just up the road on the Strip, the Fashion Show Mall is easily identifiable by the $1 billion Cloud, a huge aluminum disc that hovers over the mall’s main court and streams ads—and shade—for weary consumers. Across the Strip are the Grand Canal Shoppes inside the Venetian and Palazzo, with more choices (including an outpost of ultra-chic department store Barneys New York) and tons of great dining options for recharging your batteries. 

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15

Take a break from the Strip

Suffering from sensory overload? Rancho Drive, northwest of town, offers a different side 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. If you’d like to push farther into the wild, head out to Mt. Charleston, just 30 miles northwest of the city. The summer months afford brilliant hiking trails in a climate much cooler than Las Vegas’ and there are (usually) skiing options in the winter at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort.

16

Get cool in a pool

From the time summer arrives in early April until its departure in late October, Las Vegas pool parties are the place to beat the heat. The Hard Rock’s pool is the most fun you can have with your swimsuit on, and a pioneer in the pool-party action with its original daytime Rehab events. Complete with sandy beaches, waterfalls and swim-up blackjack, it’s always buzzing. The Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan overlooks the Strip from four stories above and, in the summer months, is turned into a live concert venue several nights a week.

17

Hang out with the Downtown crowd

Fremont Street, east of the Strip, is Vegas’ new and evolving hip, urbane neighborhood. What was once a blighted and dangerous stretch of road has become home to gobs of trendy bars, restaurants, shops and even independent bookstores as Downtown is reinvigorated. Swill cocktails at the Beauty Bar or the nearby indie-rock joint Griffin. The recently reopened Atomic Liquors—which used to host viewing parties on its roof for atomic-bomb test-detonations—is ground zero for where old Vegas meets new. And if you’re lucky enough to be Downtown on the first Friday of any month, join in the general bar-gallery-food festivities of First Friday, when the city’s galleries stay open late and everyone parties artily.

18

Lounge around the city

Lounge acts have been a staple of Las Vegas entertainment since the original paint was drying on the Flamingo. No doubt the pinnacle of Vegas lounges has long since passed, but there are still many “lounging” options around the city. That means you will want to edify yourself at one of these local institutions. At Harrah’s, head to the Piano Bar for Peter Vallee’s not-to-be-missed Fat Elvis impersonation, or, for the more upscale-minded among you, the vibe at Lily Bar & Lounge at Bellagio is like a low-key nightclub. The part-Elton-John-owned lounge Fizz, right off the casino floor in Caesars Palace, feels intimate but not crowded, and is an excellent spot to view some amazing artwork—displayed on every visible wall inside—while grabbing a cocktail.

19

Make a meal of it

Las Vegas’ days of cheap, uninspired buffets and shrimp cocktail are long gone. (For the most part. You can still get an excellent shrimp cocktail at Du-Par’s in the Golden Gate.) Dining options here rival the finest culinary cities on the globe, due in large part to the influx of celebrity-chef-helmed restaurants over the last two decades, beginning with Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in 1992. In the years since, Joël Robuchon, Nobu Matsuhisa, Daniel Boulud and many other top-kitchen contenders have opened one or more restaurants here, including L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Nobu, and DB Brasserie. Menus range from high-end steak-and-seafood to unparalleled Asian dishes to pitch-perfect Italian, French, or Indian offerings—and everything else besides. The rising culinary tide has lifted diners’ boats across the Vegas Valley, as the increased competition has stepped up the food game in all corners of the city, with even the lowliest strip mall housing a potentially amazing restaurant. If you want to get away from the larger, more crowded establishments, you can’t go wrong at Thai heaven Lotus of Siam or Downtown’s breakfast and lunch joint, Eat.

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20

Have a few laughs at a comedy club

From full-on production shows like Carrot Top to regular stand-up headliners, and comedy showrooms like the Improv at Harrah’s and Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club in the MGM Grand, there’s nothing like a little laughter to help you forget a rough day at the tables or a maxed-out credit card. Laugh until you cry or cry before you laugh, either way you’ll feel much better afterwards.

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Comments

2 comments
jay h
jay h

We did a great show while in Las Vegas called Alibi Las Vegas. It was really unique and fun, and we are still talking about it to this day!

Gav D
Gav D

Does anyone know the contact for this mythical Todd Peterson??