You’ll spot it from far away, if you were clever enough to ask for a window seat on the plane. It’s Sin City – an oasis of glittering lights in the desert, home of the Strip and the drive-in wedding chapel, playground of the Mob, and a visual spectacle complete with its own Eiffel Tower, Egyptian pyramids, and Venetian canals.
Welcome to Las Vegas. It’s a place that’s defined as much by vintage camp as by futuristic innovation, where the classic steakhouses and 24-hour casinos exist alongside world-class dining, sleek hotels, and thrilling entertainment from the acrobatic stylings of Cirque du Soleil to the High Roller, a massive observation wheel. Sin City nightlife is legendary, whether you’re moving to the rhythm of DJ-spun beats on a dance floor lined with gold or standing on an open-air terrace, drink in hand, taking in the sweeping views of neon-lit resorts and casinos below. This is Vegas, baby.
For further Las Vegas inspiration, see our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, things to do and things to do for free. If travelling further afield, find our ultimate guide to the Grand Canon National Park here.
Just arrived in Sin City? There’s no better place to start than with a photo op beside a retro landmark: the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign. If you’re taking a taxi into town from the airport, you’ll spot it as you enter the southern end of the Strip, just south of Mandalay Bay. You’ll know where to pull over, there’s always a crowd of cars and a constant flash of cameras.
Then continue north along the Strip and enjoy the replicas of famous buildings from the car window: the Empire State Building and the Luxor pyramid on your left, and the faux Eiffel Tower on your right. Say goodbye to your taxi driver at the Bellagio and head straight for the jaw-dropping floral displays at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden. The exhibition changes four times a year – in spring, summer, fall, and winter – with themes such as Under the Sea and Japanese Spring. Find more of the best things to do in Las Vegas in our guide.
If you’re in the mood for an elegant lunch, head to the Venetian for a Parisian-style meal at Bouchon, where specialties include steamed mussels, freshly baked baguettes and oysters. Afterwards, go for a gondola ride along the resort’s man-made canals. Whether you choose an indoor or outdoor ride, your gondolier will play his part, serenading you as you float under bridges and past canalside cafés.
If you’d rather shop, grab a quick lunch at one of the casual eateries inside The Shops at Crystals, the futuristic shopping mall at CityCenter. This eco-friendly space is as famous for its water installations and lush indoor foliage as for its high-end boutiques. Or hit up the hipster-friendly Cosmopolitan for gourmet tacos, great coffee places, and shops catering to stylish millennials. Find more of the best restaurants in Las Vegas in our guide.
Ready for your first drink in Vegas? Make it a classy one: the Chandelier Bar, which ‘hangs’ in the centre of the Cosmopolitan, is the perfect spot to make a toast.
At sunset, you’ll want to be onboard the High Roller observation wheel – it’s taller than the London Eye, and the 30-minute ride offers unbeatable views over the glittering Strip and the desert beyond. Afterwards, enjoy a quick viewing of the famous fountain show outside the Bellagio from the sidewalk, or from the vantage point of the Mayfair Supper Club inside the resort. Find more of the best bars in Las Vegas in our guide.
Then have dinner at Sage, the modern farm-to-table restaurant at Aria, before catching a Cirque du Soleil show at one of the Strip’s many specialised theatres. Opt for a classic show such as Mystère (at Treasure Island), or splash out on an aquatic show such as the legendary O (at the Bellagio).
Finish the night at one of Vegas’ classic superclubs, such as posh XS at Encore, where the walls are lined with real gold, or the cool rooftop club Marquee, located at the Cosmopolitan.
Today’s the day to enjoy the vintage charm of downtown Las Vegas. Start with a stroll down the neon-lit Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian-only promenade that’s a 24/7 spectacle complete with a zip line, live entertainment, and vendors selling supersized cocktails. If you’d like to learn the basics of blackjack, now’s a good time to stop into one of the neighbourhood’s classic casinos for a free lesson. Find more of the best free things to do in Las Vegas in our guide.
Otherwise, spend a couple of hours at the mafia-themed Mob Museum. Housed in a restored former courthouse that dates from 1933, it offers a fascinating overview of the city’s history of organized crime, and of the mafia’s role in developing casino-resorts as we know them today.
Have lunch at Pizza Rock, where the co-founder, Tony Gemignani, is a 12-time World Pizza Champion. Pizza purists should go for the Burratina di Margherita, a Sicilian-style pizza with Burrata cheese, cherry tomatoes, basil and balsamic reduction, or opt for something a little more avant garde such as the Cal Italia, with asiago, prosciutto, mozzarella, gorgonzola, fig preserve and balsamic reduction.
Then shop for mid-century Vegas décor and accessories at Retro Vegas before heading over to the Golden Nugget hotel and casino to check out the shark tank, a 200,000-gallon, three-storey-tall aquarium filled with silvery swimming sharks. A one-of-a-kind tube waterslide cuts right through the tank – you have to be a hotel guest to try it, but buying a day pass is also an option.
As the sun goes down, stroll along the outdoor sections of the Neon Museum around Fremont Street, where retro signs – including vintage motel relics and a larger-than-life glittering martini glass – add a neon glow to the evening.
Stop into Carson Kitchen, an industrial-chic gastropub that’s popular with locals, for dinner and drinks. Many plates are meant for sharing. Try the crispy chicken skins or barbecue burnt ends to start, then have a short rib grilled cheese on sourdough. Afterwards, stop for 1930s-inspired cocktails at Commonwealth, a Prohibition-style bar with a speakeasy section that’s only available via text message reservation – check the website for details.
Finish with a nightcap alongside locals at Lucky Day, a tequila bar with seating beneath a striking canopy of 15,000 LED lights. Sip rare mezcal and take in the bar’s collection of quirky Vegas memorabilia while DJ-spun Latin house music enlivens the colorful space. Find more of the best nightlife and clubs in Las Vegas in our guide.
Downtown Las Vegas – which is rapidly being revitalised – is the go-to neighbourhood for farm-to-table cuisine, vintage shopping, and craft cocktails with a local crowd. Start at Fremont Street and explore the area from there. Highlights include the Downtown Cocktail Room, Oak & Ivy, and Therapy.
On the High Roller, stake out a corner spot by the window (on your right as you enter the car) for the best views of Sin City.
Hop on the Deuce, a handy (and inexpensive) bus that runs 24/7 along the Strip and into downtown. A two-hour pass costs $6 (£5).
You can buy a day pass to access luxurious resort spas such as the sleek Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace from $90 (£72). After a dip in the warm pools, cool down in the Arctic Ice Room. Artificial snow falls inside – it’s billed as the only venue of its kind in the world.
Did you know?
It’s true that drinks are free if you’re gambling in a Vegas casino. Just be sure to tip the server accordingly.
On the heels of a sold-out five-month residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Adele announced an extended string of performances at the same venue. ‘Weekends with Adele’ will run on Friday and Saturday nights from June through November 2023, with June shows recorded for an upcoming concert film.
Bringing new competition to Sin City’s slate of Cirque du Soleil shows is the futuristic and fanciful ‘Awakening’ at the Wynn Las Vegas. Staged in a custom 360-degree theatre and featuring narration by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, it’s a spectacle for the senses.
Where to stay
As a guest at the Bellagio, you’re not only located mid way along the Strip, you’re also set back a tasteful distance from the tourist crowds. As well as the huge casino and array of shops, the hotel boasts perhaps the best selection of pools in the city, with indulgent cabana and day bed options aplenty. For entertainment and nightlife, the Cirque du Soleil show ‘O’ is based in the hotel’s theatre and for an even higher brow experience, there’s a wonderful gallery of fine art.
This is one of the glitziest of the Las Vegas hotels. The Cosmopolitan‘s cutting-edge interior design details stretch throughout the hotel, and each corner reveals another striking, illuminated staircase or interactive sculpture. Beyond the gaming floor, the upper floors of restaurants and shops also enjoy creative, whimsical layouts, with themed seating areas (such as Alice in Wonderland) and a litany of artistic visual distractions to discover.
Doubles from $142 (£114).
‘Iconic’ is an often-misused word but in the case of this sparkling, glittering throwback to the glory days of Las Vegas, it’s entirely appropriate. From the name – Golden Nugget – blazed in a golden arch, to the (revamped but still) vintage interiors, there’s much to love and cherish about the place. The most renowned amenities here is the pool – or pools – which boast a water slide through a shark tank aquarium.
What to bring home
Pick up a quality deck of cards, dice, chips, a money wheel, or any kind of home gaming equipment at Gamblers General Store, a classic shop geared to serious players.
Cigars are hand-rolled every day at Las Vegas Cigar Company, a shop and cigar lounge where the house special is made with Cuban-seed tobacco imported from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
When to go
Las Vegas is an anytime destination. Casino doors never shut, not even for Christmas. Spring and autumn are the most temperate times to visit. In summer, the heat and humidity can be oppressive, although it’s also when Vegas’ sexy pool season peaks. Winter weather is cold and rainy, but snow is rare except in the mountains outside the city. New Year’s Eve is by far the biggest annual event, when room rates skyrocket and every hotel for miles around is booked out.
Know before you go
British Consulate-General, Los Angeles: 00 1 310 789 0031
Emergency services (ambulance, fire, police): Dial 911
Police (non-emergencies): Dial 311
Las Vegas Visitor Information Center: 3150 Paradise Rd, Las Vegas. 00 1 702 892 7575, 00 1 877 847 4858; lasvegas.com.
Currency: US dollar
Telephone code: +1/00 1 (702)
Time difference: - 8
Flight times: London to Las Vegas is less than 11 hours
Local laws and etiquette
The legal age for drinking alcohol and gambling is 21. Carry photo ID with you as proof of age when visiting bars, nightclubs, liquor stores, etc. Anyone under 21 is not allowed inside casinos, although you won’t likely be stopped just walking through.
You must be at least 18 years old to smoke or purchase tobacco. Smoking is prohibited at cinemas, shopping malls, indoor restaurants and some bars that serve food. Look for an ashtray before lighting up, or ask first if smoking is allowed.
Prostitution is illegal in Clark County, which includes the city of Las Vegas. Nevada’s legal brothels are located in rural areas far outside the city.
Bridget Gleeson has been in and out of Vegas many times, but it was when she rented a condo just off the Strip that she really got to know the city. She’s particularly fond of Vegas for its vintage neon, classic cocktails and lazy rivers.