There's more to Las Vegas than gambling. Beyond the neon lights you'll find acclaimed musicians and shows, shopping, dining and bars. Without risking a dime, you can be sure to hit the jackpot
A trip to Las Vegas doesn't have to focus on gambling. There's more than enough to do away from the famous casinos.
The Strip is several miles long so walking it in the heat of the desert is not ideal. The monorails are the best, and cheapest, way to get around – but are time consuming. So choose your hotel with care. The Mandalay Bay is luxurious by anyone's standards - and boasts a beach and wave machine to boot - but it's at the bottom of the Strip, next to the Luxor (where I stayed). At the northern end, you’ll find Circus Circus and the Stratosphere – famous for its thrill rides atop its 350m tower. This part of the strip is cheaper but it's in desperate need of a revamp - you'll definitely see the seedier side of Sin City here.
Your best bet is to aim for the middle of the Strip, so you're never too far from the action. Planet Hollywood is one of the funkier younger hotels, but the Venetian has the best atmosphere. With its singing gondoliers and great shopping, there’s definitely a buzz about this hotel.
There's such a wide selection of internationally-acclaimed shows in Vegas, but you can't lose with Cirque du Soleil. The troupe usually has around six different shows on the Strip at once, including the Beatles-themed Love at the Mirage, and the classic Mystère at Treasure Island.
There are, of course, topless shows aplenty - for men and women - and no visit to Vegas would be complete without seeing one. The Luxor has Fantasy, a tongue-in-cheek girlie show mixed with comedy, while Excalibur has the Thunder from Down Under, Australia's hottest hunks. Vegas is also home to a variety of top-performing musical acts, including stars such as Elton John, Cher and the Pussycat Dolls.
One thing you can't fault in the States is the food. These days you'll find celebrity chef restaurants alongside buffets and themed cafes. Do try the hotel weekend champagne buffets, which run from 7am to 3pm. At around $19, it's slightly pricier than the usual weekday breakfast buffet, but you'll be amazed at the range of food on offer. Pizza and Chinese stir-fry sit next to bacon, eggs and waffles. Make friends with your waitress and she'll make sure your champagne glass is never empty. Fill up for the day and you won't need to eat again until the evening.
Celebrity chefs in Vegas include Nobu Matsuhisa at the Hard Rock Hotel, and Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand. But there are plenty of fine food establishments that won't bankrupt you. Treasure Island’s Isla Mexican Kitchen serves tasty Mexican dishes – and fabulous raspberry mojitos.
Joe's, located in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace, specialises in seafood, prime steak and their legendary stone crab. If you're in the mood for tacky surroundings and good burgers, try the Nascar Cafe at the Sahara. Do remember that US portions are huge; one main meal and a side order is usually enough for two people.
Nightlife in Vegas can quickly become morning-and-afternoon-life if you're not careful. But getting into nightclubs can be expensive. Look out for guys handing out fliers for free entry on the Strip and in the casinos. Otherwise, try the hotel lounges which are usually free to get in. Mandalay Bay's Eyecandy lounge, situated in the middle of the casino floor, has a DJ, a dance floor, and is open until 4am. Drinks cost around $10, but if you're sneaky enough you can still get complimentary drinks from the casino floor waitresses.
If you're looking for something wild, the Coyote Ugly bar in New York, New York is the place to be. As in the film, the bar girls dance provocatively to rock music on the bar and drag female customers up to join them. There are also the obligatory water hoses to cool everyone down.
For something a bit more refined, try the Mix Lounge on the 64th floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. As well as sumptuous surroundings, it offers staggering views of the whole of the Strip. But expect to pay through the nose for the privilege. Venture downtown to Fremont St and you'll find drinks are considerably cheaper. Beer can cost as little as a dollar - compared to around $7 on the Strip.
Away from Vegas, you can visit the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam, go on a cowboy ride – and even go skiing at certain times of the year. While gambling is how Vegas makes its money, it’s definitely not the be-all and end-all.