LAS VEGAS SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
Las Vegas Icons
Vegas is crammed full of absurd sights – many of them tacky as hell, and many of them are free to gawp at. The Dancing Fountains outside the Bellagio are probably the most graceful of the stunty showpieces – they go off every 15 minutes to a different piece of music after 8pm. The exploding volcano at the Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South) is far better than it sounds too. Somewhat cheesier, but still fun are the Eiffel Tower at Paris (3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South) and rather fearsome rollercoaster that blitzes through New York New York (3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South).
Las Vegas cultural attractions
The shows are the biggest non-gambling draw card, and those by Cirque du Soleil are the hottest tickets. General consensus has Ká at the MGM Grand being their best production, but the aquatic acrobatics of O at the Bellagio are mesmerising too. For other shows, visit one of the Tix4Tonight stands – they often have significant discounts available. Some casinos also have high quality museums inside – and Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition (00 1 702 262 4400) inside the Luxor (3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South) is outstanding. For a look at the local arts scene, head try the collection of galleries and studios that make up the Arts Factory (107 East Charleston Boulevard, 00 1 702 383 3133).
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
Las Vegas walks
There’s hours of fun to be had just wandering through the casinos and engaging in slack-jawed gawping. If you had to pick one route, then the South Side of the strip has a mazy path through Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, the ultra-cheesy Excalibur and New York New York, before crossing over the walkway to the MGM Grand. Downtown, the pedestrianised Fremont Street Experience offers a taste of old time cowboy Vegas with restored classic neon and overhead zipliners guiding the way. For something more peaceful, the Springs Preserve (333 South Valley View Boulevard, 00 1 702 822 7700) offers safe desert walking trails.
Las Vegas tours
The Ultimate 4-in-1 Helicopter Tour sold by Viator (from US$540) sees you fly into the Grand Canyon, go for a boat ride along the Colorado River, and go to two top lookouts before choppering it back over The Strip. Go for the early option before the tour bus crowds arrive. The Hoover Dam is just a short drive away from Vegas too, and the tours (00 1 702 494 2517, US$30) that go inside it are excellent. For a slice of Las Vegas neon history, book in for a guided walk around the Neon Boneyard (00 1 702 387 6366). It’s where classic old neon signs are kept as they’re being restored.
LAS VEGAS HOTELS
Budget accommodation in Las Vegas
The cheapest digs are usually found Downtown, and the Golden Nugget (129 East Fremont Street, 00 1 702 385 7111, from $47) is the best of the bunch. The rooms aren’t swish, but they’re by no means shabby. In the centre of the Las Vegas Boulevard ‘Strip’, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon (3595 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 737 2100) feels like it belongs with the hoedowning Downtown properties. But the surprisingly decent-if-motellish rooms are an absolute steal. Just off the Strip, the Desert Rose Hotel (5051 Duke Ellington Way, 00 1 702 739 7000, www.shellhospitality.com, from $59) is a family-friendly timeshare operation, but spare rooms are sold to the public – they’re spacious and kitchen-equipped.
Mid-range hotels in Las Vegas
If you’re after a good all-round resort at a reasonable price but stand-out splashing, Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Boulevard, 00 1 702 632 7777, from $89) has the best pool in Vegas. The recent revamp at the Tropicana (3801 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 739 2222, from $78) has worked wonders too – and the bright, beachy vibe makes the rooms distinctive. Top value for money comes at the Signature at MGM Grand (145 East Harmon Avenue, 00 1 702 797 6000), however, where junior suites can be snapped up for around $150 a night. They’re stylish, and most have balconies to go with the jetted bathtubs, kitchenettes and in-bathroom TVs .
Luxury hotels in Las Vegas
Vdara (2600 West Harmon Avenue, 00 1 702 590 2111, from $157) gets it right as a couply retreat in a prime central location. It’s still a giant hotel, but there’s a quieter air, the spa is impressive and the beds are extraordinarily comfortable. THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 632 7777, from $192) has lovely suite-like standard rooms, plus the warm feel of a luxury city hotel rather than a mass-herd resort. If you’re prepared to stray a couple of blocks off-Strip, Platinum (211 East Flamingo Road, 00 1 702 250 0393, from $154) is a great bet. Full kitchens, spa baths, personable service (a rarity in Vegas) and a genuinely residential feel elevate it above the competition.
The MGM Skylofts (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 891 1111, from $1,014) are really quite something. Just about everything can be controlled electronically, butlers are on hand to perform your every (legal and ethical) request, while the 2 bedroom suites have pool tables.
The Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 693 7111) has a genuine air of class and the floral displays in the public areas are astonishing. The $190-plus standard rooms are great but true high rollers go for the $7,000-a-night two bedroom suites with butler service, cigar-tasting classes, yoga instruction and in-room waterfalls. Amongst the other big resorts, only Wynn (3121 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 00 1 702 770 8000, from $224) really compares.
LAS VEGAS RESTAURANTS
Las Vegas cafés
The Sugar Factory (00 1 702 565 4767) in Paris specialises in deserts, but it also does pretty darned good pizzas. Its main advantage, however, is that it has a prime spot for watching the Bellagio’s dancing fountains across the road.
As for the notorious gut-busting buffets, the Bellagio, Paris and Wynn are generally regarded as having the best, while the Rio offers arguably the best value for money. The Wynn’s Terrace Pointe Café is also a lovely spot, overlooking the pool and hitting that right blend of classy informality for breakfast and lunch.
Las Vegas snacks
The Jean Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio is something of a sweet tooth’s pilgrimage site. It is home to the world’s largest chocolate fountain, as well as some truly tremendous crepes and little cakelets that look like works of art. Inside New York New York’s faux Greenwich Village area, make a beeline for Greenberg’s deli – the enormous sandwiches are almost a three course meal in themselves and they’re barnstormingly tasty. For burger lovers, BLT Burger at the Mirage offers gourmet efforts that tower above the humble Maccy D’s with quality ingredients and inventive combinations.
Las Vegas fine dining
Joel Robuchon has more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world, and his eponymous restaurant at the MGM Grand (00 1 702 891 7925) is generally seen as the high roller foodie benchmark in Vegas. Picasso at the Bellagio (00 1 702 693 7223) is a relative stalwart, but the original Picasso paintings on the wall, dancing fountain views and Julian Serrano’s miracles on the menu make it special. For a taste of new Vegas, try the dark-lit and sexy Sage at Aria (00 1 877 230 2742). Shawn McClain’s signature menu with wine or beer pairing should have you purring contentedly for days.
LAS VEGAS NIGHTLIFE AND ENTERTAINMENT
Las Vegas bars
New York New York arguably is the best casino resort for a drink – the Bar at Times Square has a rowdy singalong vibe once the duelling pianos get going, whilst the Nine Five Irishmen pub opposite has a more relaxed vibe and an excellent beer and whisky menu. For drinks with a view, Mix at THEhotel is perfect – you can take in the whole Strip from the highest point at the southern end. Of course, if you’re wanting cheap drinks, then as long as you’re gambling, cocktail waitresses will bring them round for free in all the casinos. Just tip a dollar each time.
Live music in Las Vegas
Big name performers such as Human Nature, Barry Manilow and Donny and Marie have residencies at various casinos – a full list, with tickets buyable online, can be found at www.vegas.com. For touring acts ranging from Tony Bennett and Deep Purple to Bruno Mars, the Pearl Concert Theater (4321 West Flamingo Road, 00 1 702 942 7777) at Palms tends to have a consistently good calendar. If you’re looking for somewhere that you can hear local bands – remember that The Killers came from the Vegas scene – then the Bunkhouse (124 South 11th Street, 00 1 702 384 4536) is the best spot to head to.
Las Vegas nightclubs
Marquee (00 1 702 333 9000) at the Cosmopolitan (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South), meanwhile, is the latest hot joint in town. Expect long queues, a mazy interior and a heaving dancefloor where the visual displays compliment the DJ sets. XS (00 1 702 770 0097) at Encore (3131 Las Vegas Boulevard South) is probably the most decadent, sexy joint in town, although only the truly good-looking tend to get away with jumping into the in-club pools. Thoroughly unexpected inside the old Vegas Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, Drai’s (00 1 702 737 0555) is a dark-lit place where people clearly love the music and there’s far less of the bouncer-dictated face policy that usually curses Vegas clubs.
LAS VEGAS SHOPPING
Las Vegas markets and malls
Vegas really doesn’t do markets – this is a city where malls defiantly rule the roost. For those who have won big, Crystals in the CityCenter complex (3720 Las Vegas Boulevard South) offers the likes of Mikimoto, Kiki De Montparnasse, Prada, Gucci and Tiffany. Bargain hunters should try the Las Vegas Premium Outlets (875 South Grand Central Parkway), where big names sell old stock on the cheap. If you insist on a market, the Hawaiian Marketplace (3743 Las Vegas Boulevard South) is as close as you’ll get, but it’s mostly about tacky shirts, temporary tattoos and cheap watches.
Las Vegas shops
The Gambler’s General Store (800 South Main Street, 00 1 702 382 9903) is great for both serious casino-junkies and souvenir hunters. You can buy personalised chips, strategy books and automated card shufflers, plus more dubious items such as loaded dice and marked cards. Nearby is the Rainbow Feather Company (1036 South Main Street, 00 1 702 598 0988), which can cater for a lifetime of feather boa needs. Of course, if the hordes of Elvis impersonators have got you in the food for a bit of King memorabilia, then the Viva Elvis Official Store at Aria (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South) is spilling over with one-off items in numerous themed sections.
LAS VEGAS TRAVEL INFORMATION
Las Vegas travel tip
People come to Las Vegas for a variety of reasons – gambling, raucous partying, fine dining and world class entertainment are just some of them. The important thing is to pick the side of it that fits what you want best. The casino resorts attract very different crowds – the pools at peaceful Vdara and pumping Encore have polarised vibes, for example – and you can end up miserable at the wrong one. Advance booking is highly advised for bargain room rates, and impractical shoes are a no-no. What looks like a five minute walk can often take half an hour, such is the scale of the supersized buildings and the pedestrian-unfriendliness of the cross-Strip walkways.
Calling Las Vegas: The US country code is +1, and the Las Vegas city code is 702. If calling any seven digit number listed here from, add to the front. Any non-Las Vegas numbers are listed in full.
Further information: Visit Las Vegas
Disclosure:stayed at Aria, Mandalay Bay and Vdara as a guest of MGM Resorts. Information correct as of May 2011 when this guide was researched.