The fact that Las Vegas is smack in the middle of the desert—and perpetually illuminated—might lead you to believe the holidays are no big deal. But Sin City goes all out (Santas run riot downtown, cacti transform into Christmas trees). While there’s no shortage of essential things to do and the best Las Vegas shows can be seen all year-round, celebrate the season with festive spectacles, ice-skating and other fun Christmas events, then get a little merry at some of the best Las Vegas bars and lounges.
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Best Christmas events in Las Vegas
For the fifth consecutive year, the Cosmopolitan is transforming its fourth-floor outdoor pool into a skating rink for the holidays, with help from an ice-making machine that turns out 4,200 square feet of frosty skating surface. The wintery spectacle is enhanced by regular snow flurries, Monday date-skate with holiday movie double headers, a menu of seasonal cocktails and snacks, and s’mores kits for roasting over open fire pits. Don’t even try to resist the holiday spirit. 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S at W Harmon Ave. Nov 19–Jan 1, Mon–Fri, 2pm–midnight; Sat–Sun, noon–midnight; Dec 19–Jan 1, noon–midnight daily; $20 skating, $10 locals & hotel guests, admission for non-skaters free.
Christmas trees are so overrated—especially when you’re in the desert. For a Southwest take on the holidays, head to the festive cactus garden at Ethel M Chocolates Factory, which features some three acres and 300 species of cacti festooned with half a million lights. Santa visits on weekend evenings when local choirs also perform. While you’re there, pop into the newly renovated factory store and tasting room to pick up some stocking stuffers for the sweet tooth in your life. 2 Cactus Garden Dr at Sunset Way, Henderson. Through Jan 1, 5–10pm (Santa Claus visits, Fri–Sun, 5pm–9pm until Christmas; performances by local choirs, Fri–Sun, 6pm–8pm); free.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Roxanne Ready
Home for the Holidays with Rita Moreno
Emmy-, Grammy-, Oscar- and Tony-winning (yes, that’s a full EGOT) actress Rita Moreno joins the Las Vegas Philharmonic to narrate classic Christmas tale Peter and the Wolf at this holiday show, which also includes selections from The Nutcracker and a family-friendly sing-along of holiday favorites backed by the orchestra. It’s like caroling upgraded. Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave between S City Pkwy and Promenade Pl. Dec 3, 2pm & 7:30pm; Dec 4, 2pm.; $30-$109.
Nothing says “Christmas is coming” in Vegas like the National Finals Rodeo. The 10-day event, which has been running for more than 30 years, is the annual crown jewel for rodeo fans and reminds visitors that Las Vegas is an Old West town at heart. If you’re not properly outfitted for the event or want to put some Western flavor under your Christmas tree, head to Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where more than 300 vendors are eager to supply all your cowboy—and -girl—gear. 3150 Paradise Rd at Convention Center Dr. Dec 1–10, 9am–5pm; free
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Ryan Taylor
If you prefer your holiday music light on the reindeer games and roasting chestnuts, this annual rockfest sponsored by local radio station X107.5 is the perfect way to welcome the Christmas season. This year the party moves to the Pearl at the Palms where 10 bands will play over two nights, including Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World and Pierce the Veil on December 8, and Weezer and Grouplove on December 9. 4321 W Flamingo Rd, between S Valley View Blvd and Arville St. Dec 8-9, 6pm; $70–$140.
Some traditions really are worth keeping—like The Nutcracker, performed by the Nevada Ballet Theatre at the stunning Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center. No matter how many times you've seen it, the full orchestra production is still magical. Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave between S City Pkwy and Promenade Pl. Dec 10–24, times and dates vary. No children under 3; $29–$179.
Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village is one the most recognized charitable organizations in the Vegas Valley and its Magical Forest is a beloved holiday tradition now in its 25th year. The popular annual attraction features trees decked with millions of lights and interactive entertainment like an enchanted carousel, avalanche slide, mini-golf, Santa mugging for photos in his workshop and the Forest Express passenger train from which to view it all. Proceeds benefit local adults with intellectual disabilities, so go ahead and spring for the unlimited ride pass. 6300 W Oakey Blvd between S Torrey Pines Dr and Community College Dr. Through Jan 1, 5:30pm nightly; $12 adults, $10 children, ride tickets $3.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ron McDonald
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
It’s time for the running of the Santas! Join more than 9,000 sprinting Santas at this annual 5k fun run and one-mile walk where registration comes with a five-piece red suit and proceeds go to local organization Opportunity Village. Vegas is still aiming to top 10,000 jogging Clauses and claim the world record, so sign up, suit up and run off those holiday cookies. Third Street Stage at Fremont Street Experience, Fremont St between S Main St and S Casino Center Blvd. Dec 3, 8am; advanced registration $15-$45, free for spectators.</em
December to Remember at the Neon Museum
You don’t have to wait for the holidays to appreciate the Neon Museum’s amazing collection of vintage Vegas signage, but everything’s brighter with some extra holiday cheer (and live caroling by the Las Vegas Academy choir). Start with ornament-making and Santa snapshots, then at 5pm head into the Boneyard for hot cocoa and an after-dark stroll past the city’s illuminated history. 770 Las Vegas Blvd N between E Bonanza Rd and E Washington Ave. Dec 17, 2–6pm; free.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Paul Gorbould
Country star LeAnn Rimes brings her vocal talents to bear on Christmas standards and her pop-country hits during back-to-back performances at the Orleans Showroom. But don’t let the name of the tour fool you: The shows are actually a full week before Christmas. 4500 W Tropicana Ave at Arville St. Dec 17 & 18, 8pm; $40-$220.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Orleans Hotel & Casino
Soothe your holiday stress the old-fashioned way at this drink-around inside Downtown’s shipping container shopping center. Your admission includes unlimited booze from the wine and cocktail stations, live entertainment from Zowie Bowie and the chance to win the undying admiration of all who know you in an ugly Christmas sweater. Tickets are $25 in advance. 707 Fremont St at S 7th St. Dec 10, 3–6pm; $25-$30.
Watch the dancing waters set in time to such seasonal tunes as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “O Holy Night.” If this doesn’t make you feel all Christmas-y inside, nothing will. 3600 Las Vegas Blvd S at W Flamingo Rd. Ongoing, times vary. Free.
The indoor park at Sam’s Town is at its very best over Christmas, when the trees sparkle with lights, the fixtures get a coat of faux snow and the laser-light show is set to a familiar holiday soundtrack. This year, the nine-minute Winter Wonderland show has been refreshed with updates to the sound, lighting and water effects, and all new seasonal decorations will transport you to Santa’s workshop. The big man himself, appropriately themed as Cowboy Santa, stops by Thursday to Sunday. 5111 Boulder Highway, at E Flamingo Rd. Through Dec 23, daily; laser show hourly 5pm–10pm; Santa, Thu & Fri, 4–8:30pm; Sat & Sun, noon–8:30pm. Free.
Treat little ones to a different kind of Santa visit. Here, a shipwrecked Kris Kringle greets kids and takes orders from his stranded vessel, with help from his assistant (cue the soundtrack): dun, dun, dun, duuuun…Santa Jaws! Stop by just before close to see Santa strap on a scuba tank and spread some holiday cheer among the aquarium’s shark population. 3950 Las Vegas Blvd S at W Hacienda Ave. Dec 3–4, 10–11, 17–24, 10am–4pm; Sun–Thu 10am–8pm (last admission 7pm); Fri–Sat 10am–10pm (last admission 9pm). $20, children 4–12 $14, children under 3 free.
The sinking of the unsinkable ship takes a festive turn this December when St. Nick visits to pose for photos on the replica of the Titanic’s grand staircase. Got someone naughty at home? You can even take home an authentic artifact from the famed vessel that’s perfectly suited to the holiday season: a lump of commemorative coal. 3900 Las Vegas Blvd S at W Reno Ave. Dec 10 & 17, 1–3pm. Free with exhibit admission.
If you’re looking to inject a little levity into the season, you can’t go wrong with Jerry Seinfeld’s show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Laughter is the best medicine any time of the year, but most of us need it right about now. Happy Festivus. 3570 Las Vegas Blvd S at W Flamingo Rd. Dec 26, 27, 7:30pm. $82.50–$165.
With his blend of original country songs, classic tracks and ventriloquism, the former America’s Got Talent winner has made a successful transition from TV to the Strip. Every year he performs a seasonal show complete with holiday tunes, and this year’s Very Terry Christmas includes a duet between puppet Bing Crosby and puppet David Bowie that you probably need to hear to believe. 3400 Las Vegas Blvd S between Spring Mountain and W Flamingo Rds. Nov 28–Dec 22, 7:30pm; $60–$150.
Join the cast of Kung Fu Panda on an interactive adventure to find Mr. Claus in the North Pole at this DreamWorks DreamPlace pop-up. Along the way, you’ll play games, take a sleigh ride and meet the bearded toy trafficker (who apparently likes his dumplings as much as Po). 3200 Las Vegas Blvd S, at Spring Mountain Rd. Through Dec 24, Mon–Thu, 11am–8pm; Fri & Sat, 10am–8pm; Sun, 11am–7pm; $40–$75.
Vegas takes its Christmasification seriously, never missing an opportunity to light up an oversized tree or wrap something in garland. Of course, the Park between Monte Carlo and New-York is no exception, and it’s getting the full holiday treatment for its first year on the Strip: 60-foot fir decked with 3,000 ornaments, a skating rink with seasonal refreshments, strolling carolers, Santa photos and enough twinkle lights and fake icicles to make you actually feel a little chilly. 3784 Las Vegas Blvd S, at Park Ave. Through Jan 16, dates and times vary; $15 skating.