Best things to do in Las Vegas
With one foot in the past and one in the future, the 50-year-old Caesars Palace remains an icon of Sin City decadence. Caesars is one of the last old-school properties remaining, and few Las Vegas casinos can match it in 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 glimpses into Vegas’ vintage past.
Changing entertainment trends mean that, today, the Strip is populated with less production shows and more resident headliners—A-list musicians and bands that set up shop in casino showrooms for extended runs that translate all the production value of a massive tour into a far more intimate experience. Whenever you visit, somebody will be putting on a show, so check the calendar then book your tickets to see Celine Dion, Elton John, J. Lo, Cher, Bruno Mars, Backstreet Boys or Reba, Brooks & Dunn in concert.
Check out our guide to the best Las Vegas shows
Many of the more preposterously themed hotels in Vegas pay homage to notable locales around the world that would seem tacky anywhere else. 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 an erupting replica of Italy’s Lake Como. The Big Apple? New York-New York has a Statue of Liberty so convincing it once ended up on a stamp by mistake. Even Detroit gets a themed casino, courtesy of Fremont Street’s the D, where you can grab a hot dog at American Coney Island or coffee from Michigan landmark Zingerman’s. Such is the magic of Las Vegas.
Hiding in plain sight beneath the Rio is one of the Strip’s best kept secrets: The Rio Wine Cellar and Tasting Room, home to a $10 million treasure trove of grape juice that includes a vertical collection of Chateau d'Yquem and a bottle of Madeira from Thomas Jefferson’s personal stash. You can’t pop that cork, but there are plenty of options to buy and try for wine novices and serious oenophiles alike.
When Life Is Beautiful Festival launched in Downtown Las Vegas in 2013, it brought with it a team of international street artists and muralists who blanketed the city’s walls with colorful, evocative paintings. That program has continued each year, with new works added and old pieces refreshed or replaced. The result? Exploring Downtown feels like wandering through an epic art gallery scaled for giants.
Whether you want to counteract the previous night’s excesses or put your best face forward, almost every hotel has a luxurious sanctuary to help you unwind and shine. Sahra Spa & Hammam at the Cosmopolitan is among the most original, with towering sandstone walls that give way to treatment rooms where guests can opt for services ranging from hot stone massages to clay body treatments and Fire & Ice facials. At the Mandarin Oriental, you can visit the Chinese foot spa or partake in a blissful couples treatment, while at the Linq guests can book a break in the Himalayan salt cave. Whatever your need, the best spas in Las Vegas have got you covered.
If you haven’t been to the Peppermill, you haven’t really been to Las Vegas. Drowned in blacklight, staffed by servers in floor-length dresses and packed with fake foliage and mirrors, the Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge is a glorious throwback to the days when disco ruled the dance floor. Gather around a cozy fire pit and order a plate of nachos and the famous 64oz Scorpion Bowl.
The Hoover Dam looms large in Las Vegas history as in physical form, and the 726-foot-high curving cement facade makes for a striking view, whether you take a guided tour, walk onto the bridge or view it from a boat on Lake Mead. It took five years and 21,000 men to build the mighty dam on the Colorado River, and it’s worth stopping by to see the fruits of their labor.
Vegas visitors are often shocked to find that the Strip isn’t four miles of glitz plopped down in the midst of open desert. Rather, the city is ringed by mountains and canyons, which offer wonderful hiking year-round. During the winter, hit Red Rock National Conservation Area, where ruddy rock walls are dotted with climbers on world class routes and trails that lead into lovely gullies. In the summer, push north to Mt. Charleston, where almost 12,000 feet of elevation mean cooler temperatures, forests of bristlecone pine and expansive views of the valley below.
Within the safe confines of Downtown’s Mob Museum, of course. Set in a former courthouse that hosted part of the Kefauver Hearings, this brilliant museum chronicles organized crime around the globe and in Las Vegas—where the Mob really used to run the joint—as well as law enforcement’s efforts to combat it. Exhibits include a vintage electric chair and a piece of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall. A multimillion-dollar renovation will add a hands-on crime lab and firearm training experience in 2018.
If you see a person drifting down to earth from the top of the Stratosphere, don’t freak out. That’s just the SkyJump, a controlled free-fall that sends brave visitors hurtling toward solid ground from 829 feet up. Even if you don’t fancy throwing yourself off a perfectly good building, you can still sign on for some thrills. Follow the shrieks to the top of the Strat, the tallest building in Nevada, where rides like Big Shot, X-Scream and Insanity: the Ride are just as terrifying as they sound.
Today, most people have heard of kobe beef, but, despite what your local bistro would you have believe, few people have tasted it. That’s because only a handful restaurants in the entire U.S. are permitted to sell the good stuff, and three of them are in Vegas. You can find certified, melt-in-your-mouth Japanese kobe at José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat at SLS, SWS Steakhouse at the Wynn and Jean Georges Steakhouse at Aria. If you’re an aficionado of fine meat, the best steakhouses in Las Vegas will surely rock your world.
Las Vegas has a habit of blowing things up when they get old, musty or simply unprofitable. But while the city’s vintage architecture has often been reduced to rubble, many of its iconic neon signs have been saved from that fate and set aside at the acclaimed Neon Museum. Book a tour to wander among the relics, hearing tales of eccentric billionaires, long-gone landmarks and the characters that helped make Vegas, Vegas.
The centerpiece of Cosmopolitan’s casino floor is a massive, three-story chandelier strung with thousands of crystals and housing three separate bars. Hit floor 1.5 for wildly inventive drinks by mad booze genius Mariena Mercer (not to mention killer selfie potential).
Aerialists and acrobats and strongmen, oh my! Las Vegas has long been the stateside home of Cirque du Soleil with seven resident shows filling theaters along the Boulevard. For the most definitive display of Cirque’s charms, book O at the Bellagio, a marvelous spectacle based around a stage that transforms into a pool in the blink of an eye and is stocked with astonishing acts, inventive engineering and the company’s classic clowns. For a naughtier take on the Vegas circus, wander into Absinthe’s Spiegeltent outside Caesars Palace and let the raunchy Gazillionaire and his motley crew of entertainers wow you with their abilities between blush-inducing banter not for the prude or proper.
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. Wet ’n’ Wild is the waterpark that kids yearn for, while whole families will find something to love among Mandalay Beach's sandy shoreline, rolling wave pool and lazy river. For a more thumping pool experience, join the throngs at Encore Beach Club, where party people spend the afternoon drinking, dancing and splashing to soundtracks by chart-topping DJs.
Ever thought about taking the trope “birds-eye view” literally? That’s the idea at Bootleg Canyon Flightlinez near Boulder City, where a trip to the top of Red Mountain kicks off a 1.5-mile descent over four different zip lines that can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. If that sounds too intense, consider the aptly named Slotzilla, an oversized slot machine on one end of the Fremont Street Experience that shoots riders under the canopy either hanging or Superman-style.
Aficionados of old-school arcade games should make a beeline for the peculiarly beautiful Pinball Hall of Fame, a nondescript warehouse where you can admire—and play—more than 150 operational pinball machines, from throwback games to modern wonders. Bring your quarters.
Las Vegas has long been the classic destination for lightning-quick, starry nuptials, as well as other less than traditionally inclined services—including themed weddings and celebrity ceremonies. Do it Frank’s way and tie the knot at the Little White Wedding Chapel, where Sinatra married Mia Farrow, or book 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, licensed wedding chapels and drive-through I-dos. Getting hitched in Vegas is easy; the hard part comes after.
Some of the most eye-catching attractions at the Bellagio—a supersize, all-American Italian villa—are 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 the resort and right on the Strip. Set to music, they erupt every half-hour in the afternoon and every 15 minutes throughout the evening until midnight. Not just free, the aquatic spectacle immortalized in Ocean’s Eleven is truly priceless.
What to do in Vegas this weekend
Spending your weekend at the best Las Vegas casinos or watching the best Las Vegas shows are great ways to wind down from a hard work week—but don’t you want more? From top concerts and events to culinary happenings at some of the best restaurants in Las Vegas, here are the best things to do in Las Vegas this weekend.