Top tips for Las Vegas first-timers
- Recommended for:
- Activity, Food and Drink, Mid-range
If you've never been to Sin City before, the sheer choice of things to see and do can be overwhelming. To make it easier on yourself, check out my guide to getting the best out of Las Vegas
People generally either love Vegas or hate it - which, if you haven't before, can make it tough trying to decide how long to go for. Three weeks can be a little too long and one week just isn’t enough. The place can be overwhelming, intimidating and very confusing (particularly when you’re trying to find the way out of a huge casino floor) so it can sometimes take a first-time visitor a whole week to get their bearings. We concluded that a fortnight is just about right.
Where to stay
The price difference between the Bellagio and the Gold Coast sums up the choice available in Sin City - eight nights in the former cost us $1,500, while seven nights at the latter came to just over $300. There’s everything from one extreme to the other, with a hundred options in between. If you do decide to stay off the Strip (which will be cheaper), then make sure the hotel has a regular courtesy shuttle to it or you’ll waste your savings in cab fares.
If you decide to stay on the Strip itself, then check the position of your hotel, as you may find yourself stranded at one end or the other. Mandalay Bay, Luxor, the Stratosphere, Circus Circus and the Riviera generally fall into this category. The Bellagio and Caesars Palace are pretty central - if you can’t afford to stay in either of these, look for somewhere near them, such as the Flamingo, Harrah's, Paris or Bally's.
If you're thinking of staying in the downtown area, then it’s best to be warned that the area is quite small and a little downmarket, so you may feel you’ve missed out on the Strip when you pay it a visit. Of the downtown hotels, the Golden Nugget might be the best choice (though we’ve only ever been in there for a drink).
Where to eat
The portions in all restaurants are so huge that you've no need to ever order a starter. Here are some of my favourites.
Mon Ami Gabi (Paris) - book a table, but make sure to ask for one outside on the terrace so you can see the Bellagio fountains, and wait as long as it takes.
The Voodoo Lounge (Rio) - this is a five-minute taxi-ride off the Strip. Find the lift and ask to go up to the lounge. You'll be charged $10 each just to go up but you get this knocked off your food bill if you eat up there. The view is 100 per cent worth it.
The Boa (Forum Shops at Caesars Palace) - wonderful (though fairly pricey) food. Make sure you get a table out on the balcony for a really romantic experience.
Brazilian BBQ (Mirage) - make sure you're hungry and order their full BBQ, which is about $35 each. The food just keeps coming, and it's brilliant - seafood, steak, chicken, pork, and they'll feed you until you explode.
Hard Rock Cafe - again, this is a five-minute taxi-ride from the Strip but it has the best burgers in the world and is a Hard Rock with some genuine atmosphere.
Tony Roma’s (Four Queens) - a great, cheap place to go when you make the trip to the downtown area.
Cheesecake Factory (Caesars Palace) - had probably the biggest menu we’d ever seen.
Trevi (Caesars Palace) - terrific Italian with wonderful lasagne.
Maggiano’s (Fashion Show Mall) – another fantastic Italian.
Where to drink
Casinos seem to have a glass-sharing policy, so if you want to wander to the next place or go outside in the old town to see the light show while you're sipping on your vodka martini, then don't hesitate. For a cheap mini pub crawl, start off in Bill's, then wander up the Strip through the Flamingo and get a top up in O'Shea's, where again it's not too expensive. Keep going and pop into Margharitaville for a cocktail. Then off you go again, and you'll hit Casino Royale, where it was $3 in total for a big vodka and cranberry and a bottle of Bud. Other good places include the Seahorse Lounge in Caesars, which has a beautiful tall aquarium with real seahorses swimming around in it, and the Fontana Lounge at the Bellagio (there's no better place to see the fountains, so ask for a table outside on the terrace). And check out the Peppermill - on the Strip, past Wynn Las Vegas, just before you get to the Riviera, it's a 1970s cocktail bar with booths encircling flaming ornamental pools.
Things to do
There’s so much more to do than gamble. The Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam are close by and well worth a look, so ask your hotel front desk for a recommended trip. The volcano outside the Mirage and the pirate show outside Treasure Island are great free evening shows, as are the Mardi Gras show at the Rio (from 4pm every day) and the light show in the old town, which starts at 7(ish) each night.
• Always have picture ID with you, as you're liable to be asked for it when paying with a credit card or when you want to buy a drink.
• Get a map of the Strip so you know where you are.
• Try to pre-book as many restaurants as you can.
• Drinks are free whilst you're gambling (even when you're only on the five-cent slots). Don't gamble on an empty table as the spins happen quicker. All table limits go up at the weekend so if you're going to have a flutter, do it midweek.
• The airport is just a couple of miles away, so a cab from here to the Strip will only cost around $20.
• Lastly, be wary of accepting leaflets thrust into your face by strange Mexicans as you walk along the Strip - they’re handing out quite explicit ads for local prostitutes and strippers.