Best free things to do in Las Vegas
Many of the city’s seemingly tacky themed hotels actually pay homage to some of the world’s most visited destinations. Feel like you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas or opt for a gondola ride and a walk through St. Mark’s Square at the Venetian. Head to Bellagio for a replica of Italy’s Lake Como while New York-New York offers its own version of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park and much, much more. Such is the magic of Las Vegas.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Aidan Wakely-Mulroney
Las Vegas has long been a favorite filming location for Hollywood movies and television shows, from Casino to Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 andThe Real World: Las Vegas. Retrace the steps of your favorite characters and snap a selfie or two in front of the Bellagio fountains (Ocean’s 11), at Piero’s Restaurant (Casino), poolside at Garden of the Gods (The Big Short) or inside the Caesars lobby (The Hangover). Just try not to lose your friends and marry a stripper in the process.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/melfoody
Head to the city’s refreshing pools to beat the summer heat. Have fun at the Hard Rock’s pool or opt for Mandalay Bay’s outdoor playground, which features a lazy river, a wave pool and a sandy beach. The Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan overlooks the Strip from four stories and, Downtown at the Golden Nugget, the Tank boasts a waterslide and an actual tank filled with sharks that couldn’t care less about cards. Most hotels grant hotel guests free access to the pool, so choose your accommodation wisely–and don’t forget the sunscreen.
East Fremont Street 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. Take a stroll through the neighborhood and stop by the Downtown Container Park. Guarded by a giant, flame-throwing mantis, the shopping and entertainment center features an elaborate tree-house playground for the kids and often hosts free concerts in the evening. If you’re lucky enough to be Downtown on the first Friday of any month, head to the Arts District and join the festivities of First Friday, when the city’s galleries stay open late and the area is transformed into a lively street fair.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kevin Baird
Vegas might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about art, but there’s actually plenty to see without stepping having to step foot inside a museum or a gallery. Check out Maya Lin’s “Silver River” sculpture, modeled after the Colorado River, behind the Aria front desk and Nancy Rubins’ installation of rowboats and canoes perched over the Vdara driveway. Then pop over to the Cosmopolitan, where digital works play on the lobby’s columns and even the parking structure includes paintings from folks like Shepard Fairey and Retna. Want more? Jeff Koons’ glistening Popeye sculpture (which Steve Wynn bought for $28 million) salutes the power of spinach inside the Wynn Esplanade. Downtown, massive murals from international graffiti artists grace the walls thanks to Life Is Beautiful festival’s street art program (admission is free). As the fest enters its fourth year, the whole neighborhood has become an open-air art gallery.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Victor Hernandez
Escaping the Strip and suburban sprawl is easy in Las Vegas. Drive for a little while in almost any direction and soon the stucco and pavement give way to scrub, empty desert and trails worth exploring. Check out Calico Basin for the wonder of Red Rock Canyon or head north to Mount Charleston and escape the heat in favor of an alpine adventure among the bristlecone pines. When the weather’s cool, make your way to Goldstrike Canyon, where a challenging trail awaits with ropes to help you on tricky descents and natural hot springs for a soak along the way. Should you make it to the bottom, reward yourself with a dip in the Colorado River.
Betty Willis’ Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is more than 50 years old, but the landmark attraction, which sits on the Las Vegas Boulevard median south of Mandalay Bay, is still a tourist favorite. Join the throngs and snap a photo. It’s a Vegas rite of passage.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Koukoullis
The strange parade of humanity is at its most entertaining in Las Vegas where characters from all over the planet come to let loose. Although the entire city is a stage, we’re partial to the Cosmopolitan’s third-floor restaurant row area, Bellagio’s Chihuly-topped lobby or any major casino lounge where things heat up on a busy weekend night.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Don McCullough
Trying to explain the Fremont Street Experience can be tricky. It’s a Downtown pedestrian mall, lined with casinos and full of street performers, booths of knick-knacks and drunks. Expect cover bands to entertain you with free concerts across all stages but pay particular attention to the real attraction: the wonderfully bizarre Viva Vision Light Show, which plays across a 1,500-foot canopy, 90 feet above the crowd below. Set to the music of Bon Jovi, The Who and other classic artists, the six-minute shows run every hour from dusk to midnight and give the whole space a surreal, Fear and Loathing-esque vibe.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/www.GlynLowe.com
The Strip is no longer all slot machines and overpriced buffets. This spring, MGM Resorts debuted the Park, an open-air space between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Landscaped with desert-friendly plants, mature trees, water features and shade structures, the Park offers a bit of calm amid the Vegas chaos. Still expect a unique only-on-the-Strip wow factor: “Bliss Dance” by Marco Cochrane, a 40-foot sculpture of a dancing woman that debuted at Burning Man.
Will anything sound as exciting as “free wine” does? We think not. Local wine and event producers Rock ’n Roll Wine hold traveling tastings every Thursday night, when they pour samples of their in-house label and, at times, some guest bottles–all completely gratis. Hit the website to sign up for the mailing list and find the next location, then enjoy a glass of their Rhapsody White or Grotto Red blends on the house.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Lyn Gateley
The Bellagio’s conservatory and botanical garden is a Strip highlight, a 14,000-square-foot canvas that the horticulture team transforms into a floral wonderland with seasonal displays made of stunning flowers and ornate sculptures. Every installation is unique and magical, but we’re partial to the holiday season and Chinese New Year, when the conservatory really goes all out.
The circus is always in town at Circus Circus, where acrobats and jugglers perform miniature shows every half hour. Seats are few, but even if you don’t snag one, you can still find a standing spot to check out the wonder of the World’s Largest Permanent Circus. Or just wait 29 minutes until the next show.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s ties to music run deep, as proven by the collection of rock photographs and memorabilia on display throughout the resort. Wandering through the costumes, instruments and other artifacts once used by artists like Madonna, Elvis and OK Go is a bit like visiting a museum dedicated to popular music. Just be sure to look up from the exhibits every now and then: You never know who will be walking past.
Just a few steps from the blackjack tables and slots, birds of a decidedly pink feather hang out inside the Flamingo’s Wildlife Habitat. While the vibrant Chilean flamingos are the main attraction, they’re hardly lonely inside the verdant landscape. You can also spot swans, ducks, turtles and sacred ibis birds. Stop by at 8:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. daily to catch a pelican feeding.