Vegas is crazy. If you’ve been, you’ll already know this. If not, then you probably know it by reputation anyway.
I’m talking, of course, about downtown Vegas. More commonly known as The Strip. The tourist trap jam packed with hotels and bars and clubs and casinos. From what I understand, the real Vegas is just like any other city in the US – at least in terms of its atmosphere. In terms of its geography, it’s still kinda crazy: a big city in the middle of the hostile arid Nevada desert.
Vegas actually owes some of its historic popularity as a tourist site to the nearby nuclear weapons testing facilities during the 50s. Tourists flocked to the city to watch the mushroom clouds of explosions taking place in the desert, staying in luxury, gambling through the day, and watching the lights from a ‘safe’ distance.
Thankfully, its attractions no longer include the atom bomb – though as a place it’s still pretty explosive.
If you haven’t been, then you really should go. It’s a one-of-a-kind brand of crazy, and totally worth experiencing. Honestly, I’ve never seen or felt anything like it. Think Disneyland for adults.
Here are my top 5 things to do:
1 // WANDER UP AND DOWN THE STRIP
Vegas is all about getting you to part with your money, but this is my favourite part of Vegas and it’s totally free.
The Strip is the main road of tourist Vegas. It’s about 3.5 miles long, though in the Vegas heat every step of that can feel like an endurance test. Fortunately, because this is Vegas, you can walk along a lot of that inside the hotels, which are more like palaces. Or temples – temples to the crazy 24-hour consumer machine.
We explored about a quarter of the Strip – and walked over 10 miles. That should give you some indication of how vast the hotels are. Like warrens or little cities. With fake skies and shops and restaurants and streets and fountains inside them – and even one with a fake thunderstorm.
It’s bizarre and excessive, but it’s also just great fun. I could spend days exploring all the different themed hotels, and all without paying a cent. I think my favourites have to be the Roman-themed Caesar’s Palace, with its cobbled streets and extravagant fountains, the Egyptian-style Luxor, and the Venetian with its indoor Grand Canal.
And no trip to Vegas is complete without watching the splendid fountain show outside the Bellagio. This takes place every 30 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes at night, and, because it’s outside, it’s completely and utterly free.
2 // TAKE A LIMO
Enter Vegas in style. It’s all about excess – where anyone can feel like a celebrity for a night for just a few hundred dollars. Why not start as you mean to go on, with a limo ride from the airport?
Unlike the regular taxis, limos have a fixed rate of about $70 (not including tip), regardless of where on the Strip they’re taking you. At first we thought this was a bit unfair, especially as our hotel was only about a 5 minute drive from the airport. But then we realised: $70 is the hourly rate, and the minimum charge is for one hour.
In other words, if you’re going to take a limo for 5 minutes, you might as well take it for a whole hour.
Just ask nicely and your driver will take you on a tour up and down the Strip – though as the windows are dark, it’s more about the experience of being in the limo than about what you can see out of the window. We basically had our own mini rave in the back of ours.
Our driver even stopped off at the fountains outside Crystal’s Retail District so that he could take photos for us: with the limo and against the fountain backdrop. And if you want any tips on where to eat, your driver is probably a great person to ask. We definitely made use of the recommendations from ours.
3 // SPEND SEVERAL HOURS AT AN ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT BUFFET
Remember what I said? Vegas is all about excess.
Thanks to our limo driver’s recommendation, we plumped for the lunchtime buffet at Planet Hollywood. Good choice, as it turned out. Especially as, thanks to vouchers from our hotel, we each got $5 off, meaning all we could eat cost us each just over $18. Or around £14. For EVERYTHING WE COULD EAT. And believe me, we ate a lot.
There was a mix of different cultural cuisines, with different stands for different areas of the world: an Asian stand, an American stand, a Mexican stand, a European stand… Oh, and an enormous desserts stand.
We stayed there for 3 hours. I think we went back to the dessert stand at least 3 times.
There are a ton of all-you-can-eat buffets to choose from. Some are themed around a particular culture’s cuisine. Some are more extravagant than others. Some include alcohol. We picked this one because it seemed like good value for money, and because of our vouchers / recommendations. If you have another favourite, please do let me know!
4 // BEAT THE HOUSE
I’m not a gambler.
I occasionally play the lottery. If there’s a coffee morning in the village, I’ll buy a raffle ticket. If my dad and I disagree over a fact, we’ll sometimes bet £1 on who’s right.
But that’s it, really. I’m certainly not one to sit up all night playing poker (mainly because I always forget the rules), and when I was little I remember asking my dad why people playing roulette didn’t put half on red and half on black. Do I guess gambling isn’t my forte.
But when in Vegas…
There are hundreds of ways to gamble in Vegas. Different fruit machines, one-armed-bandits, slot machines, poker, roulette, blackjack, racing… If you’re into gambling, then Vegas is the place to lose money big time.
I set myself a budget. I asked myself how much I wouldn’t mind losing – or in other words, how much was I prepared to pay just for the experience of gambling in Vegas. I decided on a measly $5.
And guess what? I got back $13.75! Yay!
Maybe not big bucks, but how many people can say they beat the house in Vegas? (In case you’re wondering, I spent my winnings on cake.)
5 // GET OUT OF VEGAS
Vegas is great, but Vegas is also crazy. We spent about 36 hours there, and it was enough. By the time we left, we were ready for natural landscapes, big skies & rocks that weren’t made of plastic.
The Hoover Dam is a beautiful miracle of engineering, and just a short trip out of the city – as is Lake Mead, the beautiful blue body of water that the dam holds back. And just a couple of hours drive beyond that is the Grand Canyon, one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever visited.
In the other direction, it’s only a few hours to the Californian coast and the rolling waters of the Pacific.
So once you’re done with the whirlwind madness, try exploring somewhere a little more… authentic.