Truth be told, Vegas was never really on my radar. Like many other ultra-touristy destinations, I feared chaotic crowds, rude and entitled people, hugely inflated prices, and endless streets filled with chain restaurants and shops. Alright, so some of that actually happened. But after camping my way around the western United States (I had some epic adventures in Utah), I figured I might as well spend some time in Sin City while I was at it.
It was one of the best, most fun weeks of my life. I’ll probably return to Las Vegas every year for the rest of my life.
But like all first-time visits, there are some things I’d do differently. And some things I’d totally do all over again. Are you making the journey to Sin City? Here are some pointers for making the most out of a trip to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is one of those places you don’t really want to be overly budget-minded about. Doing so kind of puts a damper on the trip. Vegas is all about letting go, having fun, relaxing, and escaping the real world. And Vegas does it REALLY well; I’ve never experienced better service or treatment in my life, not even when I showed up at a fancy hotel wearing a backpack and reeking of campfire smoke. There are zero judgments in Vegas. Relish it.
Believe it or not, fabulous accommodations aren’t too pricey. One of my favourite hotels in the world only ended up costing about $110USD/night. I stayed at an excellent place downtown near Fremont Street for just $50USD/night. Pretty much every hotel has a fantastic outdoor swimming pool. So where did all the money go? Drinks at clubs, show tickets, and meals. Pubs and bars weren’t too pricey, but I once paid $55 for two drinks and a bottle of water at a nightclub. Seriously.
Tickets for shows can range anywhere between $50-$200. It depends on your seats or on the show. The more popular shows obviously tend to be more expensive, but several venues around the city sell off same-day tickets for cheaper prices so that the theatres or auditoriums get filled. When it comes to food, there are plenty of cheap fast-food options, but Vegas has some of the best restaurants in the world. Do you really want to deny yourself the pleasures of fine dining because you didn’t have enough money saved? Start saving well in advance. Like, a year.
Like I said before, the dining in Las Vegas is to die for. I had one of the best meals of my life at Bardot Brasserie, a French restaurant at Aria. The dining experience took three hours, and the service was exceptional. I mean, every time I got up from the table to use the restroom, a server would come along, fold my napkin on the chair, and push the chair into the table. Seriously.
Other favourite restaurants on The Strip included Della’s Kitchen, and Lago at Bellagio. At Lago, my friend and I sat at an outdoor table overlooking the Bellagio fountains as its show went off every 15 minutes. It was seriously magical.
For cheaper options, downtown Las Vegas is the place to be. Order steak at Triple George Grill, or try the vegetarian options at Vegnation. Also try Pizza Rock, which has a legendary margarita that has won awards all over Italy.
I hadn’t intended on staying in downtown Las Vegas, but I accidentally booked a hotel there for my first three nights thinking “downtown” meant The Strip. I’m so glad I made that mistake.
People seem to have this misconception that downtown is a sketchy, weird place where criminals hang out. Maybe that’s true of the past, but a lot has been done in recent years by the city to ensure that downtown Vegas is a place where locals and tourists alike will want to hang out. Businessman Tony Hsieh has invested over $350-million into revitalizating the scene. Hipster pubs meet biker bars and quirky hangouts, like Insert Coins – an adult arcade with a bar and dance floor. One of my favourite spots was Beauty Bar, a former beauty salon turned into a popular night venue with an outdoor dance floor where DJs often play. Be sure to visit Container Park – a park made up of shipping containers – to see the fire-breathing praying mantis. (Only in Vegas, right?)
Plus Fremont Street is one of the most entertaining streets in the world. The Viva Vision screen covers over 1500-feet of the ceiling, and every hour it puts off a spectacular light show. Visitors can hitch a ride across its full length via the SlotZilla zip line. There are regular free concerts in the street, and there’s no shortage of entertainment from buskers and locals. Contortionists, talented musicians, and scantily clad performers all make regular appearances. Hide your children.
People laughed when I said I would be spending seven days in Vegas. “You’re going to die!” they said. “Nobody can handle seven days!” Instead, I found myself wishing for MORE time. My friends and I had SO many things we wanted to do, we found ourselves never having a moment’s rest (except that day we sat by the pool with cocktails for six hours).
In a high-energy place like Vegas, it’s absolutely VITAL to get yourself some downtime. Hang out at the hotel and watch some TV. Relax by the pool with a good book. Splurge on a massage. Oh, how badly do you want to go RIGHT now?
Las Vegas might be the only place in the world where when people hand you flyers in the street advertising free shows or bar specials, they’re not actually scamming you. It’s one of the wonders of vacationing in a place that runs a really competitive entertainment scene. Venue and event promoters can make big cash off enticing visitors to see their show or club, and so people will often approach you with flyers advertising free drinks or admission. Usually all you have to do is show up and give the promoter’s name to the bouncers.
(Fair warning: the clubs and venues lure people inside so that you’ll buy their insanely expensive drinks. But if you’re smart about it and can practice a little self-control, it can be quite cheap.)
Also, if you’re a social media user, tag your posts with #Vegas. You’ll be surprised how many people will start following along with your journey, and throwing out helpful suggestions about what to do and what to see. Plus it’s a good way to learn what’s going on in the city.
Las Vegas is kind of in a weird location. It’s just sitting in the middle of the desert, all alone and adrift. But drive for just an hour or more beyond the city, and suddenly there are fantastic landscapes everywhere you turn.
One of the best-known day-trips from Vegas is to the Valley of Fire, located in the beautiful Mojave Desert. It’s the perfect little break from The Strip – you can opt for some hiking, or even hop on an ATV tour to do some off-roading. Lake Mead and the impressive Hoover Dam is a quick drive as well. Did you know that the base of the dam is the width of two football fields end to end? It’s a fascinating stop, and a must-do if you’re in the area. You can even try some stand-up paddling on Lake Mead, and kayaking. Other companies offer more intense hiking trekking experiences in Las Vegas, for the extreme traveller…it’s a nice way to burn off all those calories you’ll consume at dinner.
If you want to take things a little further, you can reach the Grand Canyon on a day trip as well (but it’ll cost you your whole day). It helps to have a guide who can help you make the most of your time there. If you plan on doing some day tripping, though, pack a sweater in your suitcase. It can get surprisingly cold out there.