Things to do
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Take a helicopter ride over the Strip and surrounding area
McCarran Airport is close to Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) so it's easy to access the companies offering helicopter rides over the resorts. The sights are particularly spectacular after dark when the colourful neon signs are switched on.
Maverick Helicopters offers a “Vegas Nights” tour, flying over all of the mega resorts on the Strip.
Maverick Helicopters also offers exciting flights over Lake Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and Fortification Hill, an extinct volcano. You can even add on trips to the Grand Canyon's West Rim, Glitter Gulch, or the red rock formations of the Bowl of Fire. Tickets can be booked through WestJet Vacations.
Explore the path less traveled with Pink Jeep Tours
Beyond the Strip, off-road adventures abound in all directions. To the west of Las Vegas, Death Valley stands as the largest national park in the contiguous United States, and is also the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. To the south, the Mojave Desert offers stunning petrified sand dunes and petroglyphs. To the east, the Grand Canyon's South Rim is accessible via historic Route 66 (now integrated into the I-40).
For an adventure closer to the city, nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a good pick. Contact WestJet Vacations for tickets.
Visit Hoover Dam
One of Las Vegas's most popular attractions is the Hoover Dam, about a 45-minute drive from the Strip. Built during the Great Depression, Hoover Dam not only provided much-needed jobs, but it also tamed the wild Colorado River.
You can walk across this concrete landmark – crossing from Nevada into Arizona in the process – or take a hard-hat tour deep inside. There, you'll see the giant turbines that generate electricity for Las Vegas and much of southern California. Leave time to watch the 10-minute film describing the innovative technology used to build the dam.
Pink Jeep Tours offers a unique view of Hoover Dam – with a guided river raft float tour, you can experience up-close views of Hoover Dam's power plants, diversion tunnels, as well as the colorful rocks and sheer cliffs of Black Canyon. Tickets are available through WestJet Vacations.
Go to the top of the Stratosphere Tower
The Stratosphere tower is a must-see in Las Vegas. At a whopping 350 metres tall, the tower is the tallest freestanding structure west of the Mississippi River. In just a few seconds, double-decker elevators whisk you to the observation decks, where you'll be able to spot hotels and the magnificent Red Rock Canyon. It also features a revolving restaurant where the views are especially beautiful after dark. Thrill-seekers can even bungee jump off the top of the tower or ride its roller-coaster.
Admire the fountains at Bellagio
The giant, graceful fountains, made famous through appearances on TV and in Hollywood movies, rise from the man-made lake off Las Vegas Boulevard. Every 15 to 30 minutes (depending on time and day), hundreds of jets shoot skyward, playfully swaying to music ranging from classical pieces to Elvis's Viva Las Vegas.
Take pictures of the Eiffel Tower
This half-size replica of the iconic Parisian landmark is the focal point of the Paris Las Vegas resort. Near the casino, an elevator takes you on a 50-storey climb to the outdoor observation deck – a perfect place to take pictures of some of the Strip's most famous hotels. It also offers a clear, bird's-eye view of the Bellagio fountains just across the street. You'll also find the Eiffel Tower Restaurant on the 11th floor.
Indulge in the Fremont Street Experience
Years before the first hotel was built on the Strip, downtown Las Vegas was the centre of the action. Today, it's still a hive of activity, thanks in part to the Fremont Street Experience. This area has now been converted into a pedestrian mall covered by a canopy the length of five football fields.
Each evening, the canopy's 12.5 million LEDs flash in time to music, creating a spectacular, free sound and light show. Along the street, you'll also find some historic sights, including Binion's casino and the Golden Gate, the city's first hotel. It's also a popular venue for free concerts.
Visit the Mob Museum
With the city's reputation as a world-class destination, it's hard to believe that less than 30 years ago hotels in Vegas were still run by the mob. The scenes depicted in the Martin Scorsese film "Casino," weren't just good film writing. That was Vegas. Visitors can learn all about the city's sordid past at the Mob Museum located in the heart of downtown Vegas on Stewart Avenue and Third Street (right by Main Street Station).
Check out the CityCenter Fine Art Program
You may have heard of CityCenter, the US$8-billion resort and shopping complex opened in 2010, but you may not know about its surprisingly impressive art collection. It's designed to complement the development's urban feel. See works such as Maya Lin's silver casting of the Colorado River, Henry Moore's sculpture of a mother embracing her child and the whimsical, larger-than-life Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The pieces are located throughout the complex, so pick up a map to help guide you through.
Visit the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign
Just like you wouldn't take a vacation to New York without seeing the Statue of Liberty, a trip to Las Vegas wouldn't be complete without a visit to this iconic sign, located just a few blocks south of the Mandalay Bay resort on Las Vegas Boulevard. Bring your camera and get a photo or two in front of the sign. You may even bump into newlyweds or an Elvis look-alike. In 2008, a small parking lot was added to accommodate visitors.
Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip)
Besides the iconic resorts, you’ll find three Cartier, four Dior and five Chanel stores here. The Strip’s collection of high-end retailers puts the street in the same league as the Champs Elysses in Paris or New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Given Las Vegas’s reputation as the Entertainment Capital of the World, it’s only fitting some shopping centres offer much more than a random sprinkling of boutiques. You can easily spend a couple of hours just browsing.
Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and The Palazzo
Embrace the feel of Venice, right down to the gondolas with singing gondoliers travelling slowly down a canal winding through this shopping district. Hop aboard for a short ride past the various retailers. Then, retrace your steps on land where Italian-inspired street entertainers greet visitors on the sidewalks.
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
“In Vegas, there’s no place like Rome” is the catchphrase for these 160 stores. Don’t miss the replicas of the Trevi and Triton fountains. And, for a unique view of the reflecting pool, hop aboard the spiral escalator – an attraction in its own right. When you need a break, pause to watch the free Fall of Atlantis fountain show where animatronics tell the story of King Atlas’s struggle to determine which of his children will succeed him. The show runs at the top of every hour, but spaces fill up quickly.
Crystals at CityCentre Las Vegas
It’s not uncommon to see items like a diamond and emerald necklace priced at more than US$700,000 at this luxurious shopping spot. Here, upscale retailer Louis Vuitton has a large outlet built on three levels, which ranks among the five biggest Vuitton stores in the world.
Bonanza Gift Shop
Located on the Strip a couple of blocks south of the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, this store bills itself as The World’s Largest Gift Shop. Here you’ll find Las Vegas-themed coffee mugs, key chains, pens and pencils, trivets, dice clocks and probably just about anything else you can imagine. You’ll also find better prices here than at the hotel shops.
ENVY (Renaissance Hotel) (Brunch, $)
Sunday Champagne brunches are popular in Las Vegas and this steak house just east of the Strip in the Renaissance Hotel offers not only a tasty buffet-style meal, but also some of the finest entertainment in town.
Indulge in freshly baked pastries, shrimp and crab while enjoying music by Wes Winters, a self-taught pianist whose repertoire includes a tribute to Liberace!
You might want to catch a taxi to and from this restaurant since Sunday brunch here includes unlimited sparkling wine, mimosas and “build your own” bloody mary cocktails.
Golden Steer (Steak House, $$$)
At this steak house a block off the Strip, you can dine on fine food while soaking up the atmosphere of 1960s Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin – the ringleaders of the group known as the Rat Pack – used to be regulars here. Back in the day, the restaurant also hosted such legends as Natalie Wood, Elvis Presley and Joe DiMaggio.
The ambiance remains rather unchanged today and the food is still delicious. Try a melt-in-your-mouth filet fit for royalty or one of the many seafood or Italian options.
Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) (French, $$$$)
Generally considered the creme de la creme of Las Vegas cuisine, Joel Robuchon features the fine French creations of its namesake founder. At this elegant Michelin three-star restaurant, you can order from the a la carte or prix fixe menus. The 16-course tasting menu changes seasonally, but it may include such mouth-watering delicacies as Oscetra caviar, black truffles, frog legs, scallops and calf’s liver.
KGB (Harrah's) (American, $)
The initials KGB stand for Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers. Celebrity chef Kerry Simon believes in making food fun, so come prepared for large portions and shakes with a twist.
Start with an order of waffle fry nachos – a combination of waffle fries, cheddar cheese, sloppy joe meat and jalapenos that easily serves two or three people. Then dive into one of KGB’s unique burgers, whether it’s the BBQ bacon burger topped with smoked Gouda and crispy onions or the Thanksgiving turkey burger complete with stuffing and cranberry sauce! Leave room for a Captain Crunch shake as well.
miX (Mandalay Bay) (Fusion/Eclectic, $$$)
This restaurant features contemporary and classic French and American dishes, but what truly sets it apart is the jaw-dropping view. Perched atop Mandalay Bay, the restaurant has tables with unsurpassed views of the Strip, especially amazing and romantic after dark. Even the washrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with great views of the city.
Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Las Vegas) (Fusion/Eclectic, $$)
The food at Mon Ami Gabi is delightful, but many people come for the great people-watching from the eatery’s outdoor tables. They sit adjacent to the sidewalk along Las Vegas Boulevard, elevated a few feet to provide a better view. The outdoor seating area gives you great views of the fountains at Bellagio directly across the street. You can’t reserve an outdoor table, but they’re worth the wait.
RM Seafood (Mandalay Bay) (Seafood, $$-$$$)
There are a few beef and chicken entrees on the menu at RM Seafood but celebrity chef Rick Moonen is heavy into fresh, never-frozen fish and seafood. If it’s on the menu when you visit, try his combination of king crab and lobster, served over an appropriately small serving of pasta. The downstairs level provides casual and more affordable menu choices, while the upstairs is more refined. There, you’ll find a five-course, fixed price menu with exotic offerings such as marinated octopus and smoked sturgeon.
Studio B Buffet (M Resort) (Buffet, $)
Las Vegas used to be known for its bargain-priced buffets and while the prices have gone up over the years, virtually every hotel still offers one. Studio B Buffet has floor-to-ceiling windows with great views of the Strip in the distance. It also has huge video monitors broadcasting cooking demonstrations live. And don’t leave without a visit to the gelato bar. The homemade frozen delights that might set you back an extra US$15 elsewhere in town are included here with your meal.
The Steak House (Circus Circus) (Steak House, $$)
The Steak House has been serving up what many locals say are the best steaks in town since 1982. As you wait to be seated, take a peek into the giant, glass-walled fridge that houses some of biggest steaks and lobsters you’ll ever see. As you’re guided to your seat, you can’t miss the aroma coming from the hickory flame grill. Here, knowledgeable servers expertly explain the difference between the types of steak cuts, so you know exactly what to expect.
Las Vegas is often considered a playground best reserved for adults. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home. There are plenty of activities to delight the entire family, particularly during the day, here in Vegas.
Take a bus tour around Las Vegas (all ages)
Open-top, double-decker buses are a good way to get yourself oriented in Las Vegas and there are a number of companies offering these tours. Ask your hotel concierge for recommendations (they’ll be able to explain the key features of each tour). One operator provides a hop on/hop off service at a single price over any 48-hour period. Depending on time of day, you may see pirates battling outside the Treasure Island resort or a volcano erupting at The Mirage – all from the comfort of your seat.
Ride the Las Vegas Monorail (all ages)
This futuristic way to navigate the surprisingly large distances between the hotels on the Strip is a blast for adults and children. Given its uniqueness, it is quite a thrilling ride. The 6.4-km route runs east of most of the big hotels and it’s a fun way to hopscotch from the Las Vegas Hilton at one end of the line to the MGM Grand at the other. Both single-ride tickets and unlimited ride day passes are available.
Sweeten up at M&M’s World (all ages)
The kids may never forgive you if a stop here isn’t on your itinerary. This four-storey monument pays homage to the chocolate that’s known for melting in your mouth, not in your hand. Here, you can even mix and match a selection of the famous candies in colours not available anywhere else. Kids of all ages will also enjoy the free 3D movie, I Lost My ‘M’ in Vegas, starring well-known mascots Red and Yellow.
Meet the creatures at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat (all ages)
Education and entertainment go hand-in-hand at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, located outdoors at The Mirage. Come face-to-face with the legendary magicians’ white tigers, along with panthers, lions and leopards.
Amuse the kids at the Adventuredome (Young children through teens)
This indoor amusement park is enclosed in a casing of reddish-pink glass at Circus Circus. It’s located indoors to keep you cool even during the heat at the height of summer. It features 25 rides for both little kids and bigger ones too. Ride the Canyon Blaster, a double loop, double corkscrew roller coaster – the only indoor ride of its kind. “The wetter the better” is the motto of the Rim Runner ride and the wee ones will love the antics of SpongeBob SquarePants in the 4D theatre.
Play games at the Carnival Midway (Young children through teens)
Inside Circus Circus, trapeze artists and other acrobats perform daily at 11 a.m. Best of all, the circus acts are free. But don’t be surprised if the kids beg to play a game of chance in an effort to win big, cuddly toys.
Learn more at the Discovery Children’s Museum (Young children to tweens)
Located downtown, the Discovery Children’s Museum is an inexpensive place to spend a couple of hours with the youngsters.
Take a picture of your own shadow, watch your family on TV or play 100 musical instruments with the mere swipe of a hand. The kids will even have an opportunity to don costumes and perform plays on stage. The various exhibits and programs encourage interaction that allows children to share in the many joys of discovery.
Haze (Aria Hotel and Casino, CityCentre) (Nightclub, $$$)
At Haze, located inside Aria at CityCenter, guests descend into the adult funhouse under a red canopy through an entryway of rusted steel walls, designed to look like a house of cards. Inside the club, the feeling you get is of a euphoric “haze” (hence the name). The high energy music is pumped from a high-tech sound system, while moving walls and uneven surfaces deliberately challenge your perception of reality.
Jubilee! at Bally’s (Music Venue, $$)
Jubilee! is a classic show that has been headlining at Bally’s since 1981 – and it still remains a hot ticket. This show combines talented singers and dancers wearing a variety of colourful, ornate costumes with lavish production. The 90-minute spectacle consists of seven acts. Some popular and original acts include the tales of Samson and Delilah and the sinking of the Titanic.
The elaborate sets change seamlessly as the story unfolds musically, beginning with farewell waves on the pier in Southampton before moving inside to a wood-paneled ballroom and ultimately to the “sinking” of a large model of the doomed ship. It’s an unforgettable show that many come to see again and again.
Louie Anderson Theatre (Palace Station) (Comedy Clubs, $$)
The Louie Anderson LOL show features one of the biggest comedians around. Performing in a theatre named for him at Palace Station (just west of the Strip), the comic doesn’t mind poking fun at himself or his family. Anderson consistently offers plenty of laughs – something not always guaranteed at other comedy clubs around town. And, despite the fact it’s an evening show, Anderson won’t have you blushing from risque jokes. In fact, he’s proud of the fact he doesn’t resort to foul language to make you chuckle.
Petrossian Lounge (Bellagio) (Piano Bar, $)
This is one of those places where folks head in search of a low-key nightclub experience. Sit back and enjoy a drink while listening to live piano music played on a Steinway grand. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, try one of the many specialty drinks on the menu. Bartenders Eron Smith and Suzanne Streeper created the Beleza, a concoction of Leblon Cachaca, Bacardi Limon, fresh basil and cracked black pepper. There’s no cover charge here.
Golf and spa
Canyon Ranch SpaClub (The Venetian) ($$)
Canyon Ranch is a popular upscale chain of spas but its luxurious Vegas SpaClub is one of the best. At a sprawling 5,500 square metres, Canyon Ranch SpaClub boasts all the traditional spa treatments you desire, plus added amenities like a fitness centre and a 12-metre climbing wall.
Take in a Pilates class, yoga class or Aquavana – a series of state-of-the-art therapies that alternate hot and cold, multi-sensory experiences. Then, indulge in one of the spa’s signature treatments such as the Mango Sugar Glo, a body scrub derived from natural sugars, jojoba and beta carotene.
Qua Baths and Spa (Caesars Palace) ($$)
You’re bound to feel like a Roman goddess (or god) following a visit to this luxurious retreat with its inviting warm woods and soothing waterfalls. The spa’s signature treatment is called Roman Rituals. It puts a modern spin on the glorious baths of ancient times. Don’t miss the Laconium room, a super-heated gathering spot; the Arctic ice room, where snow falls from above; and the serene tea room, where a tea sommelier pairs beverages with treatments.
Spa & Salon Vdara (CityCenter) ($$$$)
This spa offers “holistic health supported by the healing power of nature.” High-quality, natural ingredients are used in treatments here, such as the lemon verbena body polish and the French lavender soothing massage. Moving beyond the traditional spa setting, Vdara also offers six poolside spa cabanas.
Las Vegas golf
Bear’s Best Las Vegas
Bear’s Best Las Vegas is a compilation of holes from nearly a dozen Jack Nicklaus courses. This course gives players the chance to peek inside the gates of some top private and public facilities, without ever having to travel between several states and Mexico. Some of the replica holes include holes from Desert Mountain, Palmilla and PGA West. Of particular note are the black slag bunkers replicated from Old Works in Montana. This course is demanding yet fun and offers great views of Las Vegas. As of May 2011, green fees here ranged from US$69 to US$239.
The Chase at Coyote Springs
For the very best golf spots, you’ll need to head a little outside of Vegas. The Chase (2008) is one of the best recent-vintage courses around, located just 40 minutes north of the city by car. Blind shots, split fairways, constant movement, false-fronted greens and ones with drop-off rears – you’ll find them all here. Designer Jack Nicklaus ensures those with shorter drives are also rewarded, with a variety of tee placements that are as relevant as those all the way back. As of May 2011, green fees ranged from US$80 to US$175.
Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort
This out-of-town golf resort has 54 holes of Pete Dye’s own brand of fun. Paiute’s Snow Mountain course rewards those willing to take risks. Sun Mountain is perfect for the plotting, deep thinking player. The third, Wolf, is simple brawn and keeps with Dye’s trademark visual artifice, although there is one island green. This is “core” golf without any condos, hotel towers or roadways to obstruct the flow and endless vistas. As of May 2011, green fees ranged from US$63 to US$159.
TPC Las Vegas
This course is part of the network of PGA Tour clubs, many of which host or have hosted tour events. Bobby Weed and Ray Floyd’s TPC is pure desert golf on both sides of (and often within) a rocky, cactus-strewn creek. It’s a fair, stern test with Grade-A service and a pro shop to match. As of May 2011, green fees ranged from US$69 to US$229.
Many people visit Las Vegas without ever straying from the Strip or downtown’s popular Fremont Street. But, the surrounding desert offers plenty of delightful surprises. Many hotels operate tour buses to the desert areas and surrounding towns. You can even book airplane and helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon, about 440 km to the east. Your hotel concierge or WestJet Vacations sales centre representative will be able to provide you with specific information on the options available.
If you want to drive yourself, rental cars are available at the airport and at many resorts. As an added perk, most Vegas hotels offer free self-parking (generally covered) and free valet.
Walk the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
The granddaddy of all the out-of-town adventures in Las Vegas is the Grand Canyon. The popular South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park is about a four-and-a-half drive away in northwest Arizona.
Though not quite as showy, the West Rim is a little closer. Operated by the Hualapai Indian tribe, the main attraction is a glass walkway that takes you out over the canyon. The South Rim draws far more visitors with its dramatic scenery and awe-inspiring vistas of sheer rock walls in hues of coral, red and purple that plunge down to the Colorado River.
WestJet Vacations offers a variety of tours in and around the South Rim, catering to differing levels of physical exertion. If you prefer do-it-yourself options, you can also get ideas from the National Geographic Visitor Center (adjacent to the South Rim’s park entrance) for suggested hiking trails. Just remember to bring plenty of water!
The Visitor Center also offers IMAX screenings of Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets, a feature film that explores the wonders of one of the world’s most extraordinary natural attractions.
Explore the laid-back town of Laughlin
Whether you visit for a day or for several, a trip to the small town of Laughlin, Nevada, (about 117 km from Las Vegas) is a great option. Named after its founder Don Laughlin, the town could be called “Las Vegas Lite” – due to its laid back atmosphere and modest prices on everything from cocktails to T-shirts.
While casinos are a big draw out here, there are also outdoor activities that centre on the Colorado River. A mix of watercraft, from kayaks and Jet Skis to speedboats, are available for rental from various vendors. It’s also a great way to cool off in the summertime when temperatures sometimes push past 49 C.
Guided boat tours are also offered, including a narrated, 90-minute trip to local sights and multi-hour journeys to Lake Havasu City. In the cooler months, be sure to check out the native petroglyphs in nearby Grapevine Canyon. They’re less than a 10-minute walk from the parking lot, along a gravel road and they’re pretty neat.
If you are driving, consider travelling the extra 45 minutes beyond Laughlin to the former gold-mining town of Oatman, Arizona. Located along Historic Route 66, Oatman thrives on travellers who come to see the daily gunfights, feed the wild burros (donkeys) and tour the former gold mine.
Discover Primm’s outlet shops and resorts
For great shopping, head about 65 km from Las Vegas to Primm, Nevada – a gambling, entertainment and shopping destination straddling the Nevada-California state line. Primm is best known for the sprawling, upscale Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, featuring such big names as Ann Taylor, Coach and Neiman Marcus. The resorts here also offer several thrill rides for visitors of all ages. The Desperado is often ranked among the best roller coasters in the United States.
Choose your own outdoor adventure in Red Rock Canyon
Just about a half an hour drive west of the Strip is one of southern Nevada’s true gems: Red Rock Canyon. This national conservation area is a smaller version of a national park. It features an educational visitor centre and a 20-km driving path through the spectacular scenery. For more adventurous visitors, backcountry trails, horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing also await.
While drinking water is available here, do bring plenty of containers, regardless of what time of year you visit. Since there are no restaurants, you’ll also want to take your own food to eat at one of the picnic areas.
Calendar of events
NASCAR Sprint Cup Weekend (March)
For three days in early March, Las Vegas rumbles with racecars as NASCAR comes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Many of auto racing’s biggest names compete here, including hometown favourites Kurt and Kyle Busch. If you’re planning to attend this huge event, don’t plan on driving to the Speedway. Avoid the traffic and take a shuttle bus instead.
Laughlin River Run (April)
Each April, after the winter chill is gone, the streets of Laughlin amp up as 60,000 motorcyclists ride into town for the largest Harley-Davidson rally in the Western U.S. One of the highlights is a thunderous ride along Historic Route 66.
Vegas Uncork’d (May)
Some of the finest French chefs in the world hold their annual reunion in Las Vegas at this gastronomic extravaganza, held in May over the Mother’s Day weekend. More than 50 celebrated chefs (most of whom have restaurants here) host gala dinners and food and wine tastings.
Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (December)
Each December, cowboy hats and boots appear to become mandatory dress code across the Las Vegas Valley. Of course, it’s all part of getting into the western spirit of the National Finals Rodeo. For over two weeks, Las Vegas embraces western culture with plenty of activities and attractions. Don’t leave without shopping for presents at the huge Cowboy Christmas Gift Show and catching at least one of the performances by country music’s biggest stars.
Christmas at the Bellagio Conservatory (December)
If you plan to be in Vegas during the holiday season, this is a great (and completely free) attraction. The Bellagio’s botanical gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland with a spectacular tree and poinsettias galore. Think of it as the resort’s holiday gift to young and old alike.
For decades, Las Vegas has been a place where people have travelled to see headliners perform. The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford) put Vegas on the map as the Entertainment Capital of the World back in the 1960s. And, of course, you can’t think about Las Vegas without names like Liberace, Wayne Newton and Elvis coming to mind.
Visit LasVegas.com for more information on current shows in Las Vegas.