Las Vegas is a city like no other, with opulent hotels, lavish entertainment, non-stop fun – and a host of free attractions. In this guide, I hope to help first-timers get the most out of Sin City
Elvis Aaron Presley once wrote: "Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire". He wasn't wrong. Las Vegas is a truly awesome experience and a complete assault on the senses, whatever your vice – be it shopping, partying, gambling or just lounging around working on your tan. Rest assured, there is a venue in Las Vegas that caters to your every whim and desire.
With so much to see and do, it can be a little overwhelming – so in this guide, I hope to be able to give you a little bit of a helping hand in getting the best out of Sin City.
Getting your bearings
The beating heart of the city is Las Vegas Boulevard South – more commonly known as The Strip, a stretch of road roughly four miles long that is home to the lavish hotels and casinos that have made Vegas so famous. The Mandalay Bay is considered the last hotel on the strip at the south end, and the Stratosphere the last at the north end, heading towards the downtown area where you will find some of the older casinos such as Binions and the Golden Nugget.
The Strip is quietly deceiving. Everything is so big, you are fooled into thinking that a walk between two points is shorter than it is – problematic in the heat of summer, when you find yourself making a beeline for the nearest casino and the instant relief of an air-conditioned room. Other than walking, their are other ways to get around without shelling out for a taxi ride. The first is the monorail that operates between the MGM and the north end of The Strip, with stations at several casinos in-between. It is free between the Mandalay Bay and the MGM. Fast and clean, it is quite expensive for a single journey – so buying a day pass is advisable. The best option for those on a budget is a 24-hour bus service called The Deuce. This operates up and down The Strip from several pick-up points; a day pass costs $7, but buses get busy during peak hours.
Where to stay
To say you are spoilt for choice when choosing a hotel room in Vegas is an understatement. There were more than 65,000 rooms on The Strip alone at the last count.
The Bellagio Home to the world-famous Bellagio fountains, to which tens of thousands of visitors flock daily to witness the spectacular show, the Bellagio is a five-star resort. While certainly not the cheapest choice, the quality of the hotel and casino makes for a special stay. The Bellagio is also in a great location, roughly halfway down The Strip.
MGM Grand Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer size of the MGM, a true behemoth of a hotel. Once you have adjusted to the scale of place, you will realise it is one of the most complete resorts in terms of activities and facilities on offer. One outstanding feature for me was the pool area – at 27,000 square feet, one of the largest in Vegas, complete with a 1,000ft lazy river that is bliss on a sweltering Nevada afternoon.
When it comes to hitting the town for a few drinks, Vegas again excels itself with the choices on offer. Whether your aim is a rip-roaring karaoke singalong or to get past the velvet rope and party with the beautiful people, there is a club or bar to cater for your tastes. Most clubs will have special guests appearing at weekends, so don’t be surprised to see P-Diddy or Paris Hilton living it up in the VIP.
Minus 5 Based in the Mandalay Bay, this is without doubt the coolest bar in Vegas…. literally. Minus 5 is sculpted out of ice and the temperature is maintained at a chilly (yes, you’ve guessed it) minus 5 degrees to make sure the bar doesn’t melt. A fee of $30 gets you warm clothing and a free cocktail – not the cheapest place to go for a drink – but where else are you going to get to sip down a cocktail with an sculpture of Elvis made entirely out of ice?
The Bar At Times Square Based in the New York New York hotel, this bar is very busy every night of the week – thanks to its excellent duelling pianos show. Classic singalong tunes are belted out all night, and the crowd is encouraged to join in. Everyone I know who has been to Vegas only has good things to say about this place. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Vegas may not be the cheapest place to take a break, but you can still get good-quality entertainment without paying a single dollar. Several free shows are well worth watching.
The Bellagio Fountains This is a spectacular show set to music, in which the fountains shoot water hundreds of feet in the air, creating some stunning views and amazing photo opportunities. The show runs every half hour from 3pm, and every 15 minutes from 8pm, until about midnight.
Sirens Of TI Think Christmas pantomime on steroids, with pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure. This is a completely daft, cheesy, swashbuckling pirate romp that draws in big crowds – so it is advisable to try and get there at least 30 minutes before the start of the show, if you want to get a half-decent view. The shows are at 7pm, 8.30pm and 10pm.
Lion Habitat MGM Grand From about 11am daily, you can visit the lion enclosure within the MGM and watch the lions go about their daily business in the large perspex enclosure. The MGM keepers show the lions on a rotation basis, so you will see different animals most days. Feeding time offers some pretty cool photo opportunities.
Mirage Volcano Designed by the same company that is responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio, the Mirage Volcano recently underwwent a $25 million revamp – and the results are plain to see. The show combines water, lights and fire to create some great effects. The Volcano errupts on the hour, from 8pm until midnight
There are many other free shows and street performers up and down The Strip, so enjoy their shows but remember to tip them a couple of bucks.