Hilary Billings is a travel blogger and professional adventure. She is a Las Vegas local and world traveler. When she’s not at home working on productions or taming lions, you can find her boarding down volcanoes and living in villages.
Las Vegas is one of those few iconic cities in the world, forever ingrained into the public’s mind as being a haven for gamblers, gangsters, and good times. Most people come here to party and drunkenly pace their way up-and-down The Strip while sipping their 3 feet-tall margaritas. And trust me, us local Las Vegans fully support your inner party animal! There’s plenty to keep you entertained during your weekend getaway. Plus with all the free entertainment provided by casinos and street performers, you’re bound to get a story without having to spend a dime. But since our city only survives if you spend and want to come back, I’m happy to lend my support and give you my top picks. Consider this guide straight from the horse’s (er, showgirl’s) mouth.
What are the Highlights of Things to Do in Las Vegas?
The beautiful thing about Las Vegas is that there is really something for everyone (with valid ID, of course). Want to go see a Cirque show and have your mind contorted along with that dancer’s body? Go for it. You want to eat a turkey leg and watch men in Renaissance costumes joust? Tournament of Kings is your show. Want to jump of the Stratosphere? Yeah, you can now bungee-jump off the 1100 feet tall tower. You can get spa treatments, five-star meals, go to concerts, watch the UFC fights, and even get married (your choice of chapel, hotel, or drive-through window). Then of course, there’s the less original but ever timeless dance or strip club scene you can dabble in. You could spend your life here (like myself) and still not do everything.
So how do you choose? My motto when I travel is always pick things you can’t do anywhere else. So here are some Vegas highlights I recommend:
1. Start by taking in some of the free entertainment and art providing by the hotels on the strip.
Go to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. They are redesigned every few months to showcase the upcoming season and its flora. Watch the Bellagio fountains do their choreographed dance every quarter hour (it never gets old). Check out the Sirens of TI pirate show. Watch the volcano erupt outside The Mirage or go down to The Fremont Street Experience to see their light show. You’ll also find plenty of characters walking around down there (literally). On any given night you can get your picture with Elvis, Batman, or the band members from Kiss. Just seeing the sights will give you enough of a laugh.
2. Indulge in some Vegas history.
We recently unveiled the Mafia Museum for your enjoyment (complimentary stuffing into your trunk included—okay not really, but I know a guy if you’re interested. Take a tour through The Neon Boneyard, home to many old Vegas signs and the location for the music video All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers.
3. Get your reality TV on.
If you’re a fan of the show Pawn Stars, feel free to hop in that line that curves around the block to wait for a chance to get in and browse their famous shop. Bring water and a hat. It’s hot out there.
4. Cirque de Soleil show.
This is a definite must-do when you are in Las Vegas. It may be a little expensive but you won’t be disappointed that you spent the money.
Here’s the breakdown of my favourite Cirque de Soleil Shows:
LOVE: The Cirque tribute to The Beatle’s. If you are a Beatle’s fanatic (like myself), fan, or just a hobbyist when it comes to listening to their music, you will enjoy this show. In my opinion there is none better on the strip.
Zumanity: This is one hot ticket. But be wary, they’re going to get you hot and bothered so if you don’t have someone to go home with at the end of the night you may want to skip it.
O: Are you a fan of water? Like whimsical journeys? This is the show for you. This Cirque show takes you on a mesmerizing journey done in-and-around water. Make sure to keep an eye out for the scuba divers in the water who provide oxygen to the performers so they don’t drown. Brings a whole new meaning to the term die-hard artists.
Where is the best place to stay in Las Vegas?
This is a tricky answer, mostly because it varies depending on the time of year and the day of the week. If you can visit during the week in an off-season (after summer but before New Year’s) you will have a much different price point than if you came during the height of the summer. If you take a trip during the middle of the week versus a weekend you will find that most hotels drop their room rates exponentially (i.e. you will pay $40 a night instead of $120).
If all else fails, I always recommend the Riviera. Their rooms are moderately priced (approx $40/night) and it splits the difference between downtown Vegas and The Strip. While the hotel itself isn’t much to look at, all the rooms are suite style and were remodeled a few years ago.
If you want new and luxurious, you can’t beat any of Wynn’s hotels. Steve Wynn is an attention-to-detail maniac. He includes amenities for his guests they didn’t even know they needed. The views from Encore are unbelievable and the food is to die for (even at the buffet). All of his restaurants are vegetarian and vegan friendly. The pools are pieces of art and he strives to create a whimsical atmosphere to engulf you in. His winsome charm comes at a price, though. Average price of a room at The Wynn is $250 a night.
Deals aren’t really an issue; it’s deciding where on the strip you want to be and what matters to you.
How do you get around Las Vegas?
While our public transport isn’t stellar, we have made transporting guests to their hotels into an art form. Most (if not all) hotels offer complimentary shuttle service to-and-from the airport. There is also a downtown express bus that makes specific trips to McCarren.
For sightseeing, walking is easiest. We’ve got monorails between some of the hotels and pedestrian walkways everywhere. Wear walking shoes (you’ll hate yourself if you choose otherwise). Taking a cab should only be a last resort. On a Friday night you could sit in traffic for forty-five minutes on Las Vegas Boulevard and move a half-mile. Take one to cover some distance between The Strip and Downtown but otherwise come ready to mosey.
Best places to Eat & Drink in Las Vegas?
I love to spend my time in places that have character and backstories. The Beat on Fremont is one of my favorite coffee shops for this very reason. It’s located in the Emergency Arts building. It used to be a hospital, so surrounding the coffee shop area are all these tiny rooms that used to be exam rooms. They now serve as art galleries. The creepiness is outweighed by the cool factor and yummy coffee. They also make great sandwiches and salads if you want a quick and healthy meal.
You can find a decent meal anywhere in Vegas, but for a banging breakfast I recommend The Peppermill. It’s conveniently located next to the Riveria. This place is one of the last remaining non-chain breakfast places in Vegas. Plus its lounge was once a notorious hangout for mafia heads. The food is delicious, the plates are humongous and the ambience is kitschy. If you like Vegas history and getting the most bang for your buck you’ll like dining here.
If you’re looking for a unique upscale meal, head down Fremont Street to Oscar’s Steakhouse. The swanky bar and restaurant (owned by former mob lawyer and mayor, Oscar Goodman) are complete with glittery views of the Fremont Street Experience, broads, and a menu tipping its hat to historical figures. I personally recommend the Spilotro steak.
Where are the best places to Shop in Las Vegas?
Just like with its hotels and entertainment, Vegas was built to offer you a unique shopping experience. But because I’m a budget traveler, I’m more of a window shopper than a credit card connoisseur. For unbelievable ambience, I recommend checking out Crystals at City Center, The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, and the Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood. Even if you don’t buy anything they’ll be worth the trip. They’re as unique as the hotels that house them.
That being said, if you want to burn some dough, visit The Premium Outlet Mall downtown. They have every name-brand store and constant clearance prices that make shoppers go batty. Australians love to shop here because by the time their summer is coming around ours is ending and all of the swimsuits and boardshorts are on sale. Hit this mall if you want a good deal.
Activities or tours you shouldn’t miss in Las Vegas
Take a zip-line down Fremont Street Experience after dark. It’s a total tourist trap but worth the $20. It will be unlike any other zip-line experience you’ll have in your life. If you have kids take them to the Secret Garden, home of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers and lions.
Off-Strip activities can be just as exciting. If you want a really unique exotic animal experience, check out the Trainer 4 A Day Program offered by the Lion Habitat Ranch (home to the African lions previously seen at MGM’s Habitat). Drive a race car or go off-roading at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. If you’re an outdoor adventurer, take a day tour out to the Hoover Dam or to the Grand Canyon.
Best kept secrets
Don’t book your show tickets online. Like New York, we have half-priced ticket booths scattered around the city. Check them out the day you want to attend a show to see what’s available. Tix4Tonight has a booth at the base of the giant Coke Bottle next to Gameworks or you can go to the one at The Fashion Show Mall.
Lastly, remember that what happens in Vegas ends up all over the internet. If you don’t believe me give Prince Harry a ring. I’m sure he could provide lectures on the matter.