Las Vegas is the gambling capital of the world, but for me it is so much more than that. It is a wonder how a city that is located in the middle of the desert could grow so big, so fancy and so attractive for tourists.

Although, the history of Las Vegas (“the meadows” in Spanish) dates back to 19th century, the city was officially established in 1905. Back in the days it was a railway station with an attraction infrastructure growing around it. Las Vegas had its numerous ups and downs, but in my opinion there are two most significant historical events that influenced the development of Las Vegas and defined the city in a way we know it today.

The first event was the construction of the Hoover Dam between 1931 and 1936, which attracted numerous workers and tourists to the area. The second event was the construction of Flagimno hotel and casino in 1947 by the famous mobster Bugsy Siegel. He had a vision and he knew that Las Vegas is going to be the “next big thing”. Not much people believed him and he screwed up with the financials when building his giant and luxury hotel, so the “investors” had to shoot him dead. If only he knew how precise his vision was back then. I bet he would not be surprised at all to see Las Vegas as it is today. He saw it in his mind back in his days.

Flamingo Hotel in the 1950s. Image by 1950sUnlimited / CC2.0

Flamingo Hotel in the 1950s. Image by 1950sUnlimited / CC2.0

Apart from its attractions, Las Vegas is also great for the West coast travelers. Its central location allows easily reaching such attractions as Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park and many other National Parks. For me it has always been a hub between several attractions where I can relax for couple of days.

Main Las Vegas attractions are located on the Las Vegas Boulevard or simply called the Strip. Most of the attractions are tied to hotels each having its own theme and its own attractions including pools, shops, restaurants, shows, aquariums, and of course casinos.

Las Vegas Strip at Night. Image by Alexandre Ferro/ CC2.0

Las Vegas Strip at Night. Image by Alexandre Ferro/ CC2.0

In my first visit to Vegas I stayed only for one night and didn’t get to see the entire city. I bet that 2-3 nights would be enough to chill in Vegas, to feel the city and to see the most of it unless you are a hardcore gambler.

The Strip Attractions

I like heading from south to north and I usually start somewhere near New York New York hotel. It is of course up to you where to start, but it would be easier for me to list all the attractions in this order.

New York New York is a New York themed hotel with the small Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. There are also New York themed clubs and bars inside. But what I like the most is the rollercoaster. It’s the real thrill ride that costs $14 for a ride and it’s a must do if you are looking for some adrenalin rush. I rode the rollercoaster twice: by day and by night and the both times were amazing. You don’t get to catch the views that much due to the speed of the rollercoaster, but you will definitely feel thrilled!

New York New York Hotel and Roller Coaster. Image by woofiegrrl / CC2.0

New York New York Hotel and Roller Coaster. Image by woofiegrrl / CC2.0

With the shaking hands and feet after the rollercoaster I usually cross the street for the M&M’s shop. On the second floor you can find a giant M&M’s wall, which looks like a rainbow. But it is also an edible rainbow since you can taste and purchase some M&M’s directly from the wall.

M&M's Wall. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

M&M’s Wall. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

Next I head towards Cosmopolitan hotel to get inside and look at the luxury interior and fancy shops, but also for one of the best burgers in town in Holstein’s restaurant. It’s not cheap but its Gold Standard burger and huge (and I mean it) shakes won’t disappoint you.

Further I follow the strip and end up in Bellagio overlooking its butterfly garden reception and exploring beautiful flower collections inside. Bellagio is also very well known for its musical fountains, which I prefer observing from the Bellagio side (rather than from the Strip) because I can also see Paris’ Eiffel Tower on the background. You can check the schedule for the fountains here.

Bellagio Fountains and Eiffel Tower. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

Bellagio Fountains and Eiffel Tower. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

I also visit Caesar’s palace mainly because so many movies and series were shot in this hotel (especially Friends series “The one in Vegas”). There is also a live water and fire show called Moving Statues inside the Caesar’s (near the Cheesecake factory) that runs every hour from 10am to 11pm.

I also like visiting Paris. You can check out the Eiffel Tower observation deck and you have to enter the hotel itself. Skip through the gambling hall to get to the shops. It looks like the real Paris street with a blue sky. I almost forgot that I was still in Vegas. For breakfast head to Mon Ami Gabi restaurant in Paris hotel and ask for an outside table to enjoy the view of Bellagio, Caesar’s and Cosmopolitan.

On the way further you can stop by Mirage to see spectacular Polynesian themed show with volcano eruption and fireballs. It runs from 6:00 p.m. and runs every half hour until 11:00 p.m.

Mirage Volcano Eruption. Image by nan palmero / CC2.0

Mirage Volcano Eruption. Image by nan palmero / CC2.0

Next I head to Venetian. This luxury hotel actually has channels and gondolas and the best part is that you can ride them. Venetian also features a great poker room for both beginner and professional poker players. If I gamble, I prefer to play poker with other players rather than with casino. In Venetian you can play texas hold’em poker for a minimum bet of $1/$2 with a minimal buy-in of $100. Grand Luxe Cafe in Venetian offers great ribs for dinner.

Venetian Gondola. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

Venetian Gondola. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

I have to make a remark that most of the Las Vegas hotels seem luxury, all of the attractions try to make you believe in their specific themes, however sometimes it feels like all those replicated attractions are too artificial. The Eiffel Tower, Venetian gondolas, all look like they are made of carton and would fall in the strong wind or look like the child toys. On the other hand, they feel like the expensive and qualitative replicas so sometimes you get carried away by those attractions. It’s what Vegas is all about and I believe, there is a special charm in it.

I do go further up the Strip and stop by the Riviera Hotel. It’s the classics. The hotel is 55 years old (can you imagine it?). Unfortunately this piece of history is going to be run down soon as Convention Centre acquired it for its further development. Riviera similarly to Circus Circus Hotel which is located right across the street have their rich history, however today they are already quite old comparing to luxury and gorgeous hotels on the strip.

On your way north you will see a huge unfinished glass building. It’s the incomplete project of Fontainebleau hotel which turned out to be disaster when the financial turmoil when the year 2009 came around.

When walking up the Strip, consider taking a bus as it might be a hot day (which is almost always in Vegas :) Estimate your physical abilities and if necessary take a shuttle bus. The bus costs $6 for two hour ticket or $8 for 24 hour ticket. There are two shuttle busses – Deuce and Strip & Downtown Express.

By the end of the Strip there is a Stratosphere Hotel, which is the tallest tower in Las Vegas. When you get to the Stratosphere, you have three options: go up to the observation deck, go up to the observation deck and treat yourself with some scary thrill rides on the top of the observation deck or just do the SkyJump.

Stratosphere Hotel Tower. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

Stratosphere Hotel Tower. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

I did it all! And I can’t wait to share it with you.

Stratosphere and the SkyJump

You can see the whole Las Vegas from the observation deck. Not only the Strip but also the old part of Vegas, the suburbs, the mountains and the desert that surrounds the fabulous Las Vegas. When looking at the Strip, it is amazing how in the middle of the desert there is such a small but significant piece of civilization. However, having done my research beforehand, I have also found out that there are actually dangerous and criminal districts of Las Vegas (e.g. to the north of Stratosphere) and it was amazing to observe how luxury and poverty live together side by side. But we all know why we are in Vegas, so let’s try to concentrate on the luxury and the good things. It is also amazing to observe the shiny Vegas at night so it’s up to you when you want to visit the Stratosphere.

Las Vegas View From Stratosphere. Image by L. Richard Martin, Jr. / CC2.0

Las Vegas View From Stratosphere. Image by L. Richard Martin, Jr. / CC2.0

At this point I was already amazed, but there is still more to come – the thrill rides on the roof of the stratosphere. There are three thrill rides out of which my personal favorite is the BigShot. It shoots you up holds you for a couple of seconds to enjoy the view before it drops you down for a couple of times. My friends and I did the Big Shot for like 5-6 times and I would definitely do it again. The other rides are cool to do once, but I would not do them again, therefore my 100% vote goes to BigShot. My advice is simple – DO IT! See the view, get some adrenalin, brag to your friends that you have been on the highest Big Shot thrill ride in the world and you will definitely have something to remember.

But for me it wasn’t enough of adrenalin. So I decided to do the SkyJump. You jump from the roof of the Stratosphere and get the experience of a free fall. At the bottom you get a controlled slowdown so you can get back to earth safely. How cool is that? I was so sure that I have to do the jump so that there was no doubt at the counter when I paid for the jump. After waiting for 10 minutes they called my name for the special preparations. They measure your weight, give you a special costume and require that you don’t wear any loose items. The also attach an underwear-like mounts to you, which will later be used for tying you to the whole mechanism. Those mounts are actually so tight I was afraid they will literally squish my balls, but don’t be afraid! Everything went out well :)

Then they take you to the elevator when I started to feel just a tiny tiny bit scared. “Any last advice?” – I asked the guy who took the elevator with us. “Just step there and jump. Don’t wait for too long”. That was the only advice. And I actually suggest to stick to it. The longer you wait, the scarier it gets and the more difficult it is to jump. Also think about people behind you in line. They want to jump too, so don’t waste their time too much – just do it.

So we are up there making all the preparations. They tied me to the mechanism and led to the platform where they took the last measures of precaution. All those measures might be annoying but for me they felt like a necessary and made me feel that I’m safe doing the jump.

While at the platform you can actually get as close to the jump as you can. The wind blows into your face, you see the Strip, you get to look how high above the ground you are. So that is the moment of the truth. It’s just you and the jump. You will be so proud of yourself afterwards and you have to do it right now. Just clear your mind and enjoy the fall and the view despite how scary it might be. Try to tell yourself “right here, right now” while in the fall. You will remember this moment! Don’t concentrate on your fear though because the fall will soon be over and all you would remember that you were scared instead of remembering that feeling of free fall and that view of Vegas.

SkyJump. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

SkyJump. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

So you’ve done the Skyjump or the thrill rides or just visited the observation deck – I bet you deserve some good reward for that. I can give you a hint of amazing ribs in Las Vegas – Rollin Smoke Barbeque. This a restaurant is located off the strip so the prices are affordable and the quality is great. I loved the taste of the ribs and definitely advise you to check this place out!

Alternatively to Stratosphere you can do the Linq High Roller, which is an observation wheel right in the heart of Las Vegas Strip. The cost by day is $24.95 and by night $34.95. To be honest, I have never done that, but I bet that thrill rides and the Sky Jump on top of the Stratosphere would beat the Linq High Roller. ;)

Shows

For more on-Strip attractions I would suggest visiting a show in one of the hotels. There are many Cirque Du Soleil themed performances e.g. water shows, specific artists or bands related shows, erotic shows etc. I went to see Love by Beatles in Mirage. To be honest I’m not the biggest fan of Beatles, and this is the reason why I was not amazed by the show. It was a good performance, and perhaps, if you are Beatles fan, you will love it. But for me it was just a regular Cirque du Soleil performance with some nice tricks. I wanted to see One by Michael Jackson or the Bee Gees show, however there were blackout dates when I was visiting Las Vegas and didn’t manage to see them. So try to find the type of show you would like and grab those tickets.

But I’m still happy I went to the Beatles and there is one more reason apart from the show itself – near the theater in Mirage there is a restaurant called Carnegie Deli. They serve HUGE portions of meat sandwiches and really juicy and tasty pickles. Definitely a must-do if you are in Vegas.

Las Vegas Downtown

As I already mentioned, there is more to Las Vegas than just the Strip. I have visited Mob museum in old Las Vegas and really liked it. The museum is located in the old building of Post Office and Courthouse and it tells all about the mob history in the US and Las Vegas. Online ticket costs $19.99 and there is also a paid parking lot near the museum that costs around $5. Museum is totally worth the money. You will get to know a lot about corruption, mafia and how close it lived to us, and probably lives now in another form.

The Mob Museum. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

The Mob Museum. Image by Aleksejs Kolpakovs

The museum is located in downtown area, which is a part of the older Las Vegas. You can check the Freemont Street Experience on the 460m long neon screen. Shows usually begin at dusk and run every hour till the midnight.

Freemont Street Experience. Image by tkksummers / CC2.0

Freemont Street Experience. Image by tkksummers / CC2.0

In general it very much depends of what you love to do and what you would want to do in Vegas. You can go drive a monster truck and destroy couple of barrels, go speed driving on a racetrack, go to aquarium, go shooting, go fishing, go to strip clubs, go to dance clubs, gamble, skydive. If it is related to entertainment, you can always find it in Vegas.

Day trips from Las Vegas are also very common. You can rent a car from many Las Vegas locations. Most large rental car companies have their offices in large hotels on the Strip. You can go to Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Page, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Red Rock canyon and many other places in just one day. There are also many guided tours. For example, you can take a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon.

Clubbing might get expensive in Las Vegas if you don’t get into guest list. Try to find club promoters on the street by day to get into a guest list. Otherwise be prepared to pay $30-60 entry fee to a good club. My suggestion is to visit Omnia night club in Caesar’s. It’s the best club I have been to so far. They have the perfect sound system and amazing visuals.

Hint: For breakfast head to restaurant called The Egg Works. They serve the best banana nut muffins in the entire world. I’m not kidding. They also have very good omelets.

Places to stay

I have stayed in several places and do have some recommendations for you. In general, during weekdays hotels in Las Vegas are quite cheap, but always keep in mind that on-Stip hotels charge around $20-25 resort fee per night. It might not always be clearly stated, so check thoroughly the terms and conditions. During the weekends prices can double or even triple.

Almost all hotels have their free pools that are only accessible for the guests of hotels. It is a great advantage, especially if you are visiting Vegas in a hot season. Check in advance if your hotel offers a swimming pool.

Every big hotel in Las Vegas had its free parking for both guests and visitors. So follow any hotel’s “self-park” sign and you can park your car easily and at no cost. This is why it makes sense to rent a car in Vegas. You can park at any time at any hotel, which makes it convenient to get around.

Caesar’s Palace ($$$) – is great but almost always really expensive. It is centrally located and has really good pools. But I believe there is nothing more to that.

New York New York ($$) – it is not centrally located comparing to the Caesars Palace but it is also quite good. The rooms are huge. The beds are enormous. And the atmosphere is great. The price is usually affordable.

Excalibur Hotel ($$)- this ridiculously looking hotel (because of its castle theme) is actually one of my favourite in terms of price/quality. It is quite cheap but has everything that I need. Although it is quite old, the rooms are great. They are clean and big.

Royal Resort ($)- is located just a half block off the Strip, however is a decent and affordable hotel. Royal Resort doesn’t charge the nightly service charge and is generally cheaper than the other hotels in the Strp area. It’s not luxury and it does not have a casino, but if you are on a budget, I would recommend staying there.

If you are looking for luxury hotels then you should consider staying at Aria ($$$$), Wynn ($$$$) and Venetian ($$$$).

Final words

Even if you are not a hardcore gambler it’s great to visit Las Vegas. There are so many attractions apart from casinos. Get a piece of affordable luxury in Las Vegas! A room in a luxury hotel in Las Vegas is often cheaper than a room in a mediocre hotel in New York or other large city. You definitely deserve it! ;)

If you have some nice Las Vegas tips for travelers, leave them in comments below! And stay tuned for more destinations on Trip.Center Blogs!