t The Bellagio and Paris Las Vegas amid the glitzy fantasyland of the Strip
The heart of Las Vegas lies along Las Vegas Boulevard, a sparkling vista of neon known simply as “the Strip.” Running for over 4 miles (7 km) south of downtown, it is home to a cluster of vast, lavishly themed hotels, including Caesar’s Palace, New York New York, and the Bellagio, all buzzing with restaurants, shops, and casinos. This is the Vegas you’ve come to see, especially at night, when the lights come on and these mega-resorts become a fantasyland of riotous extravaganza. Strolling the Strip, soaking up the gaudy, giddy ambience, is thoroughly entertaining. In spite of the crowds, it can be faster to walk than sit in snail-like traffic. Distances between casinos can be farther than they seem, so take advantage of the free monorail that connects several of the resorts here. Change is constant along the Strip, where hotels get ever larger, acclaimed chefs open new restaurants, and long-running shows close to make room for the latest stars. The first casino resort to open on Las Vegas’s Strip in 1941 was the El Rancho Vegas Hotel-Casino, which was located in the northern section, on the corner of Sahara Avenue. A building boom followed in the 1950s, resulting in a swathe of resorts that turned the Strip into a high-rise adult theme park. Most are now gone or utterly transformed. Today, resorts such as the Venetian and Mirage have established the Strip’s reputation for upscale quality, and almost nothing remains of the spit-and-sawdust atmosphere the city once had.
The Mandalay Bay resort aims to re-create the tropics of the late 19th century. Located at the south end of the Strip, it has over 3,000 rooms. Tropical plants and stunning white stucco architectural features such as arches and decorative cornices evoke a colonial atmosphere. Even the vast 135,000-sq-ft (12,550-sq- m) casino manages to suggest elegant 1890s Singapore. One highlight is the enormous lagoon-style swimming pool with its sandy beach and wave machine, plus a water ride that travels around the pool. More restrained than other Strip resorts, the Mandalay Bay includes over 20 restaurants and nightclubs, and the House of Blues Music Hall, which features live performances of many musical genres. It was also the first resort on the Strip to feature a non-gaming hotel, the Four Seasons, which is located on the Mandalay’s top four floors.
Experience Las Vegas
A Las Vegas wedding comes second only to the lure of gaming. The kitsch style of a range of ceremonies – from a drive-in chapel to themed medieval receptions or an Elvis Presley special – persuades more than 100,000 couples to tie the knot here each year. One brave couple said their vows on a high platform in front of Circus Circus before performing a spectacular bungee jump. A host of celebrities have married here, including Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and pop star Britney Spears to Jason Alexander. Packages start at $100. Both parties must also first appear in person to obtain a $77 marriage license at the County of Clark Marriage Bureau (201 E Clark Ave; open 8am–midnight daily; www.clarkcountynv.gov).
The inspiration of the medieval world of King Arthur is obvious at the first sight of this castle-like, family-friendly theme resort, with its white towers, turrets, moat, and drawbridge. Grand suits of armor line the main entrance to the casino where even the one-armed bandits have themed sign-posts such as “Medieval Slot Fantasy.”
The second floor houses the Medieval Village, where quaint alleyways are lined with shops and restaurants, such as Dick’s Last Resort, Buffet at Excalibur, and Steakhouse at Camelot. The shops and kiosks on Castle Walk offer merchandise and souvenirs based on the hotel’s medieval theme.
Fun Dungeon, the in-house games arcade offering more than 200 exciting games, is a good option for families. There is a huge selection of arcade machines, redemption games, and sports challenges, such as the Mega Stacker, Big Bass, and Key Master.
This hotel’s re-creation of the Manhattan skyline dominates the Tropicana Avenue corner of the Strip. One of Las Vegas’s most appealing sights, New York New York is fronted by a replica of the Statue of Liberty, behind which are some of Manhattan’s most famous landmark buildings, including the Empire State, the Chrysler, and the Seagram. Every detail reflects a part of New York City, including Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Roaring around the complex is a Coney Island-style roller coaster that twists and dives at speeds of 67 mph (108 km/h) around and through the casino.
Adding to the Manhattan flavor are many popular New York-style eateries. Set among Greenwich Village brownstones is a wide variety of cafés, bars, and restaurants offering a choice of live music from swing and jazz to Motown and rock.
t Sphinx surrounded by palm trees outside the 30-story pyramid of the Luxor hotel
The Luxor’s famous 30-story bronze pyramid opened in 1993 and quickly became a Las Vegas icon. Despite the fact that the resort is named after the Egyptian city of Luxor, which has no pyramid, there is impressive attention to detail in the Ancient Egyptian architectural features. Painted pillars adorn the casino, and a reproduction Cleopatra’s Needle graces the entrance. Visitors enter the pyramid through the legs of a sphinx to find themselves inside the casino, where ringing slot machines are surrounded by walls decorated with copies of paintings and hieroglyphs from the original Karnak temple in Luxor.
As a tribute to the ancient religions of Egypt, the Luxor Sky Beam, the strongest beam of light in the world, is projected from the pyramid’s apex nightly. It is so powerful that it can be seen from planes cruising above Los Angeles 250 miles (400 km) away.
Among the attractions, a free ride in the guest elevators (named “inclinators”) ranks high; they travel along the inclines of the pyramid at an angle of 39 degrees.
Bodies: The Exhibition showcases whole bodies and hundreds of organs that have been preserved through an innovative process in which bodily liquids are replaced with a polymer mixture. The resulting specimens provide a unique, 3D view of the human form and its skeletal, muscular, and circulatory systems. Also on display are organs that have been damaged by over-eating and lack of exercise.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition tells the story of the Titanic, an ocean liner that sank on a calm night in 1912 when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Actual artifacts recovered from the ship are on show, including luggage, the ship’s whistles, and an unopened bottle of champagne from 1900. Visitors can walk through re-created first- and third-class rooms.
⌂ Luxor # 10am–10pm daily
⌂ Luxor # 10am–10pm daily
t Beaded curtains of light at the Chandelier bar in the Cosmopolitan
Situated within two high-rise towers on the Strip, the Cosmopolitan offers a huge casino, an oasis-inspired spa, and three pools. There are 2,995 hotel rooms, most with marble bathrooms and sliding glass doors that open onto a large terrace. Some suites even have their own kitchenettes. Guests will find a wide variety of cuisines among the two-dozen restaurants here, including Chinese-Mexican fusion at China Poblana and Spanish tapas at Jaleo, both from chef José Andrés, as well as New American options at Beauty & Essex. The Chandelier, one of several bars, spans three levels, while Vesper is particularly classy in silver and white, and the Marquee combines clubbing with great poolside entertainment with its infinity pools and a cabana.
The Vesper Bar in the Cosmopolitan is named after James Bond’s favorite cocktail, the Vesper.
The emerald-green MGM Grand building is fronted by the famous Leo, a 45-ft- (14-m-) tall bronze lion that serves as the symbol of the MGM film studio in Hollywood. The original MGM hotel was built in the 1970s farther down the strip, where Bally’s now stands, and was named for the 1920s film, Grand Hotel, starring Greta Garbo. In 1980 the worst fire in Las Vegas history destroyed the building. The MGM Grand reopened in 1993 at its current location at the corner of the Strip and Tropicana Avenue, themed on The Wizard of Oz. Subsequent refurbishments have gradually removed most of its associations with MGM movies.
The 5,000 or so rooms that originally made the Grand the world’s largest hotel have been supplemented by a further 1,728 suites in its three Signature towers, not to mention 51 ultra-luxurious Sky Lofts. It also features a 171,500-sq-ft (16,000-sq-m) casino, and an array of big-name restaurants that include the Morimoto, with indoor and outdoor seating, and the Joël Robuchon Restaurant.
MGM is also home to nightspots such as Wet Republic, held in the hotel’s huge pool complex. In the daytime, the major attraction is CSI: The Experience, in which participants investigate a fictional murder scene.
Above all, though, the MGM Grand is known for its enter-tainment. The Grand Garden Arena is famous for hosting big-name acts such as Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli, and Kanye West. It also hosts major sports events and world championship boxing, most memorably the 1997 fight in which Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. The intimate David Copperfield Theater attracts many top entertainers, such as comedians Drew Carey and Lewis Black.
⌂ MGM Grand # 9am–9pm daily ∑ csitheexperience.org
One of the few 1950s boom hotels still on the Strip, the Tropicana was built in 1957. Las Vegas’s famous illusionist double act Siegfried & Roy first appeared here at the Folies Bergères in 1973. In 2009 the resort was restyled with lush tropical gardens and a fine South Beach facade. One of the most delightful attractions is the water park, featuring waterfalls and exotic flowers and foliage. The huge main pool has a bar alongside and offers an unusual casino experience with “swim-up” blackjack tables, which have waterproof surfaces.
The resort also has several outdoor spas for the ultimate in relaxation. It’s the ideal place to escape from the bright lights and full-on action of the city and to enjoy luxurious spa treatments amid tropical greenery.
Set away from the Strip, the Aria resort and casino is a sleek monolith far removed from Las Vegas’s usual ostentatious style. It has a collection of modern and contemporary sculpture ranging from Maya Lin and Henry Moore to Jenny Holzer, and holds restaurants run by some of the top chefs in the country, such as Julian Serrano and Michael Mina, and the ultrahip Jewel nightclub. There are more than 4,000 high-tech guest rooms, each with floor-to-ceiling windows providing panoramic city views.
Several unique water features, designed by the same team that was behind the fountains at the Bellagio, grace the front of Aria. The centerpiece is Lumia, a fountain adjacent to the main entrance, where jets of “liquid light” flit about and collide in glorious patterns.
The entire complex was built with sustainability in mind, using natural lighting and reclaimed water. Even the slot machines promote conservation, as the bases serve as air-conditioning units, efficiently cooling guests from the ground up.
The Aria is the centerpiece of CityCenter, a development designed as a city within a city to exploit the vast acreage of unused land west of the Strip. Encompassing five separate hotel-casinos, CityCenter stretches between the Monte Carlo to the south and the Bellagio to the north. It includes Aria, Vdara, and the Oriental Mandarin. A free, futuristic tram, the Aria Express, runs from one end of CityCenter to the other in just under three minutes. The most striking component is the quartz-shaped Shops at Crystals, a high-end retail mall characterized by dazzling architecture, indoor gardens, sculptures, and water features, as well as upmarket boutiques including Tom Ford, Tiffany & Co., and the largest branch of Louis Vuitton in North America. The mall also houses a number of gourmet restaurants and art galleries.
The number of lights that the Bellagio Fountains use.
Dominated by a 100-ft (30-m) neon Coca-Cola bottle, the Showcase Mall entertainment and retail complex is best known as the home of M&M’s® World. This promotional exhibit, spread over four stories, offers fun chocolate-themed displays for kids and abundant opportunities to buy chocolate in a rainbow of colors.
In 2007, Planet Hollywood (then known as Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino) opened on the site formerly occupied by the Aladdin, scene of the 1967 wedding of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. The glamorous, 1930s-style lobby features eight sparkling crystal chandelier columns, and the hotel’s two pools offer alfresco poolside cocktails.
Planet Hollywood focuses firmly on entertainment. Major headliners sign up for long-term residencies and regularly appear at the property’s main theater, the Zappos, while a separate showroom hosts the burlesque show Crazy Girls.
The Miracle Mile shopping mall, so called as it snakes for a full mile convent around the casino, still features Arabian Nights touches dating back to the Aladdin era, and offers 170 shops and more than 30 bars and restaurants, as well as its own theater with an ever-changing line-up of shows.
t The Eiffel Tower of Paris Las Vegas across the Strip from the Bellagio Fountains
Be transported to Paris at this hotel and casino resembling a Hollywood film set of the real French capital. The facade is composed of replicas of Paris landmarks such as the Louvre, the Hôtel de Ville, and the Arc de Triomphe. A 50-story, half-scale Eiffel Tower dominates the complex, and visitors can ride an elevator to the observation deck at the top or dine in its gourmet restaurant 100 ft (33 m) above the Strip. The casino contains architectural details that re-create Parisian streetlife, including cast-iron street lamps, and everything is set beneath a fabulous painted sky.
Cobblestone streets wind along the edge of the casino and are filled with shops selling an array of fine French goods including clothes, wine, and chocolate. The resort also has five lounges, two wedding chapels, and 15 restaurants.
Enjoy fine French cuisine in true Parisian style at the casual Mon Ami Gabi bistro at Paris Las Vegas. Eat and drink alfresco while admiring the Strip and the Bellagio fountain display.
This $1.6 billion luxury resort opened in 1998 on the site of the former Dunes hotel, which faltered badly after a long run and was demolished in 1993. Its design is based on the northern Italian town of Bellagio, with terracotta- and ocher-colored Mediterranean buildings set back from the Strip behind a lake modeled on Italy’s Lake Como. One of the hotel’s many attractions is the sublime fountain display on the lake that springs into action at regular intervals through the day and evening. Crowds gather to watch the show – a choreographed water dance set to music, accompanied by visual effects including a rolling mist and, at night, stunning light effects.
No expense has been spared on the Bellagio’s interior either; delicate marble mosaics adorn the entrance hall floors, and the main lobby ceiling is hung with sculpted glass flowers of every color. Even the casino manages to be light and airy.
Another popular part of the Bellagio is its Conservatory, adjoining the lobby, which is planted with ever-changing displays of seasonal plants. Set farther back from the Strip, the hotel’s Gallery of Fine Art features exhibitions from big-name international artists.
⌂ Bellagio § (702) 693-7871 # 10am–8pm daily
Experience Las Vegas
Nicknamed “Bugsy”, Benjamin Siegel was a New York City gangster. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s and created the luxurious Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas. He was killed by fellow investors only six months after the casino opened in 1946, probably because other mobsters disliked his high profile. The original structure has been replaced by a modern luxury hotel and casino on the same spot.
t The bright neon plume outside the Flamingo, a famous Las Vegas icon
The brilliant pink and orange neon plume on the Flamingo hotel’s facade is, to many, the archetypal Las Vegas icon. However, nothing remains of the original 1946 casino: the last vestiges of this building, including mobster Bugsy Siegel’s private suite, were bulldozed in 1976. One of the few remaining signs of this notorious gangster’s involvement in the hotel is a small monument located near the lavishly landscaped outdoor wedding chapels, marking the spot of the original hotel.
The Flamingo has one of the most elegant pool areas in Vegas. Nestled among exquisitely landscaped gardens, the two Olympic-sized pools are veiled by tropical plants and palm trees. There is also a kids’ pool, two Jacuzzis, and a water slide leading to three more pools.
Set within the hotel’s large grounds, the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat is a lush, peaceful area with streams, waterfalls, and an island with Chilean flamingos, ringed teal ducks, pelicans, and sacred ibis, living alongside turtles and koi fish. A popular Las Vegas attraction, it is open to the public, not just to hotel guests.
Roman statues, Greek columns, and cocktail waitresses in togas could all be found at Caesars Palace when it opened in 1966. Today the decor and waitresses remain part of the ambience here, but in a less kitsch, more upscale way ever since the resort was refurbished and expanded in the mid-1990s.
This classic Vegas casino was the first themed hotel on the Strip and quickly established a reputation for attracting top artists to its 4,000-seat Colosseum, from Andy Williams in the 1960s to Celine Dion and Elton John in the 2010s. Since the 1980s Caesars has also hosted international sports events, including tennis, featuring stars such as John McEnroe and Andre Agassi, and boxing, with such names as world champions Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.
Today the hotel houses a lavish casino with race and sports betting, four lounges, a health spa, and the Garden of the Gods – an oasis with seven pools. Caesars’ elegant facade is fronted by fountains and cypress trees as well as a 20-ft (6-m) statue of Augustus Caesar near the entrance. The high ceilings and light decor in the casinos create an elegant and upbeat atmosphere.
The entrance to the highly exclusive Forum Shops shopping mall continues the ancient Greek and Roman iconography and is as impressive as the hotel and casinos. The mall’s grand portico features a modern-day trompe-l’oeil sky ceiling, which changes appearance depending on the time of day and the weather, and is adorned with further statues and relief sculpture. Replicas of the Trevi and Triton fountains in Rome adorn a sweeping plaza topped by a glass-dome ceiling. There is even a small aquarium. A majestic spiral escalator leads up to the mall itself, which has some 160 specialty stores and fine restaurants, including Italian, Asian, French, and American steakhouse cuisines.
t The opulent Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, with a glass-dome ceiling
EXPERIENCE Las Vegas
Julian Serrano’s creative menu explores French-Mediterranean flavors.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Michelin-starred Guy Savoy serves classic dishes in an emulation of his Paris restaurant.
The LINQ hotel and casino is a relative newcomer to the Strip. It originated in 1959 as the Flamingo Capri (adjacent to the Flamingo proper) and was remodeled into the Imperial Palace in 1979, which became the LINQ in 2014.
The 2,640 sleek, modern rooms with accents of color are supplemented with casual eateries offering everything from doughnuts to Mexican fare and brunch favorites. There’s also a theater for shows, a pool for day parties, and a futuristic bar.
As with many resorts, the hotel contains its own shopping district, the LINQ Promenade, but more notably, also features the mind-boggling High Roller ferris wheel and the Fly LINQ zipline, where guests soar 12 stories over the Promenade.
At 550 ft (168 m), the High Roller at the LINQ hotel is the tallest observation wheel in the world.
t Gondolas gliding through the Grand Canal Shoppes under a painted sky at the Venetian
An astounding piece of architecture that re-creates the city of Venice, the Venetian hotel holds, along with its sister resort the Palazzo, over 7,000 suites. Together they typify the luxury mega-resorts of Vegas. The Venetian opened in 1999 on the site of the legendary Sands Hotel – former home of the “Rat Pack” and a famous swim-up craps table – which was demolished in 1996.
The Venetian’s Strip facade consists of facsimiles of the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile, and the Ca’ d’Oro, which overlook the blue waters of the Grand Canal – complete with a gondola park beneath the Rialto Bridge. Craftsmen have made sure that every detail looks as authentic as possible – even the concrete is aged to look like 400-year-old stone.The colonnade of the Doge’s Palace offers visitors one of the best views of the Strip.
Inside the building, and up the stairs, another separate section of canal, also plied by gondolas, winds through a large upscale shopping mall known as the Grand Canal Shoppes. The Venetian fantasy continues with high-quality stores and restaurants set among cobblestone walkways and bridges beneath a paint-ed blue sky that resembles a Renaissance painting. Acres of lavish marble flooring, statues, and replicas of Venetian artworks are found throughout. The stunning front lobby has a dome decorated with scenes from paintings by the Venetian masters, and the entrance to the Grand Canal Shoppes boasts a copy of Veronese’s 1585 painting, The Apotheosis of Venice.
At the far end of the mall, a series of walkways lead into the Palazzo hotel and casino, completed in 2008, which has the largest rooms on the Strip as well as more upscale stores, restaurants, and nightclubs.
t A performance of Mystère ™by the Cirque du Soleil® troupe at Treasure Island
This hotel resort and casino offers luxurious accommo-dations and award-winning service. Originally pirate-themed, the hotel is now a more generic young-adult resort, and often abbreviates its name to the less piratical TI. Guests can relax in the hotel spa or sip cocktails by the heated outdoor pool. There are eight restaurants to choose from, including a branch of the Mexican-themed Señor Frog’s, as well as several bars and lounges; nightclubs include the honky tonk Gilley’s Saloon.
The hotel is also host to the exhilarating contemporary circus Mystère™ by Cirque du Soleil®, which is performed regularly in a specially customized showroom.
The Mirage hotel and casino opened in the fall of 1989 at a staggering cost of $620 million. At the time it was the largest hotel in the US, with over 3,000 rooms. This mega-resort aimed to cater not only to gamblers but to vacationers and conventioneers. Perhaps more than any other hotel, the Mirage revolutionized the Strip, setting out to draw visitors with attractions other than just the casino – a kind of fantasyland for adults.
Occupying an entire block along Las Vegas Boulevard between Caesars Palace and Treasure Island, Mirage offers a range of attractions to its own guests and Vegas visitors alike. Its traffic-stopping facade introduces the complex’s South Sea island theme, with tropical gardens, waterfalls, and a lagoon. But the star of the show is undoubtedly a volcano outside the main entrance that erupts, spewing fire and smoke, daily at 8pm and 9pm, and at 10pm on Friday and Saturday. Inside the complex, an atrium filled with exotic plants (some real, some fake) is kept suitably steamy by computerized misters. Behind the main desk an aquarium is filled with 85 species of tropical fish.
As well as gaming, visitors can shop in designer stores, eat in one of 16 restaurants and bars, see LOVE™, Cirque du Soleil®’s tribute to the Beatles, or another of the many shows staged nightly, and walk in the hotel’s lush, landscaped gardens.
Las Vegas has dozens of superb golf courses, surrounded by spectacular scenery. As well as exclusive championship courses there are many public ones, some just a short hop from the Strip. Your hotel concierge desk will book you a slot. The Mirage and some other resorts partner with specific golf clubs, so enquire when booking. If you want to play a particular course it’s best to get a combined golf-hotel package.
t A tree-lined walkway under the glass ceiling of the Wynn’s Atrium
While the exteriors are not as flamboyant as other hotels on the Strip, the bronze-glass facades of the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister resort, Encore, are nevertheless stunning. Set against the desert and a forest-clad mountain range, the hotel offers wonderful views.
Within the two gigantic 60-story towers, opulence and exclusivity reign. The resort carries a reputation as the most expensive and fashionable place in town.
Upon arriving at the main entrance of the Wynn, visitors are guided to the Atrium, with its tree-lined walkways. At the center of the hotel is the Lake of Dreams and a man-made mountain that soars over the lake, while curtains of water cascade in a dramatic waterfall. There is also a majestic 18-hole golf course, which has hosted PGA and LGPA tour events, in addition to award-winning restaurants and spas.
Encore ranks among the city’s most prominent nightlife destinations. The indoor-outdoor Encore Beach Club achieved worldwide notoriety thanks to Prince Harry in 2012, while the acclaimed XS nightclub has a 10-ft (3-m) rotating chandelier and a patio with poolside bars. The resorts’ casinos are known for high gambling stakes: the Sky Casino only takes bets over $300,000. However, for the less serious gamer, there are slot machines, table games, and poker tournaments.
Located at the north end of the Strip, Circus Circus opened in 1968 and is a themed resort offering family entertainment. The hotel has an impressive choice of reasonably priced restaurants and buffets, including a delicious steakhouse.
This vast property has one of the largest indoor theme parks in Nevada. The huge pink Adventuredome is decorated with a re-created Southwest landscape of sandstone cliffs, caves, and a waterfall, and is maintained at a temperature of 22° C (72° F) year round. It includes an FX 4D theater, a range of family rides, and two fabulous coaster rides: El Loco twists, turns, and drops 90 ft (27 m), providing a 1.5 vertical G-force, while the Canyon Blaster is a double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster.
The four casinos here cover an incredible 100,000 sq ft (9,300 sq m). Above the main casino is the Big Top, with its circular walkway of traditional games where the children are the winners. This is also the place to find seating for the live circus acts that perform half-hourly from 11am to midnight, with world-class acrobats flying high above the heads of gamblers at the slot machines below.
⌂ Circus Circus # Daily; times vary, check website ∑ adventuredome.com
There’s plenty of fun for children in Vegas. Lots of shows are family-friendly. Many resorts, like Excalibur and Circus Circus, have fantastic family swimming pools with slides. Circus Circus’s Adventuredome under its Big Top is a fun amusement park and the resort also features daily clown shows. North of the Strip is the Discovery Children’s Museum.
t Visitors enjoying an Insanity thrill ride far above the Strip at Stratosphere
Located at the north end of the Strip, away from the main attractions, this resort hotel has the tallest building in the city. The summit of Stratosphere Tower has both indoor and outdoor observation decks, which offer unparalleled views of the city and the surrounding desert and mountains, and are the highest of their kind in the USA. There is also the popular Top of the World revolving restaurant, which rotates 360 degrees over the course of an hour.
The tower elevators take just 30 seconds to whisk you up to the top, where you will find several thrilling rides, including X-Scream, a giant teeter-totter that propels riders 27 ft (8 m) over the tower edge; Insanity, where a giant mechanical arm suspends you 900 ft (275 m) above the Strip; and SkyJump, a terrifying 855-ft (260-m) free-fall (the highest controlled free-fall in the world).
The Stratosphere hotel itself offers two shows, and several restaurants and stores.
⌂ Stratosphere # 10am–1am Sun–Thu, 10am–2am Fri, Sat & public hols
Once the favored destination of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and the “Rat Pack”, the legendary former Sahara Hotel and Casino reopened as the sleek, modern SLS Las Vegas in 2014 following a $415-million renovation. Having undergone a further $100-million upgrade in 2018, this upscale property is characterized by the striking contemporary and artistically whimsical interior decor by Parisian designer Philippe Starck, creating a sophisticated environment in which only traces of the old Sahara are visible. Over 1,600 guest rooms and suites are spread across three towers, and the rooms in each tower are decorated in varying styles.
The nightlife at SLS is a big draw, with plenty of nightclubs, bars, and lounges to attract a young, hip crowd. The popular Sayers Club, originally based in Los Angeles, hosts established and emerging acts. Foxtail Pool offers day- and night-time entertainment in a warm, intimate space that extends outside to the pool.
In addition, there are six restaurants to choose from, including Bazaar Meat, run by James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés. The comfortable and inviting 60,000-sq-ft (5,574-sq-m) casino offers over 600 slot machines, dozens of classic table games, and a high-limit room and sports book.
t The stylish interior design of the gaming rooms at the SLS
EXPERIENCE Las Vegas
No other city in the US has reinvented itself as often and as successfully as Las Vegas.The city’s early growth is linked to some of the biggest names in 20th-century show business, such as Elvis Presley, and personalities like the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, not to mention mobsters like the notorious Bugsy Siegel. Today, more than ever, Las Vegas is a dazzling city that fires the imagination – a playground of limos, star-studded entertainment, and an “anything goes” ethos for those who can pay for it.
t Fremont Street in 1953, lined with numerous casinos and hotels
t The Hoover Dam being constructed on the Colorado River, around 1934
Las Vegas grew up around Fremont Street in the early 1900s, but by the early 1920s the city’s population fell to 2,300. Beginning in 1931, the construction of the Hoover Dam nearby brought a rise in Las Vegas’s fortunes and by the early 1930s the population had grown to around 7,500. Tens of thousands of visitors arrived to see the building of the dam and to enjoy the new gambling clubs springing up, and the city became a hedonistic escape from the 1930s’ Depression. In the 1950s, the Rat Pack, which included Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin, sealed Las Vegas’ reputation as an entertainment mecca. By the 1980s Fremont Street had begun to suffer from competition from the Strip. From a few low-rise buildings along a desert road in the 1960s to the glittering neon canyon of today, the Strip’s transformation was remarkable.
Experience Las Vegas
Billionaire Howard Hughes arrived in Las Vegas in November 1966, moving into a luxurious suite on the ninth floor of the Desert Inn hotel. When the hotel’s management tried to move him out a few months later, Hughes bought the place for $13.2 million.Although he never left his room in four years, he spent some $300 million buying Vegas properties. These included the Silver Slipper hotel and casino across the Strip, whose blinking neon slipper disturbed him – as the owner he had it switched off. Hughes is credited with bringing legitimate business and a sanitized image to Vegas, sounding the death knell of mob investment in the city.
EXPERIENCE Las Vegas
Timeline of events
Las Vegas is founded as a stopover on the railroad between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Gambling is legalized in Nevada; casinos are licensed on Fremont Street, which becomes the first paved street in the city.
Construction of the Hoover Dam nearby spurs the building of casinos and showgirl theaters to entertain dam workers and visitors.
Thomas Hull builds the luxury El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel resort on the Strip.
Mobster Bugsy Siegel builds The Flamingo, a high-class casino; mafia money increasingly fuels the development of new casinos.
Las Vegas becomes an entertainment mecca with an influx of Hollywood stars.
Billionaire Howard Hughes arrives and begins investing in Las Vegas properties, bringing legitimate business to the city.
The opening of Steve Wynn’s Mirage ushers in the era of mega-resorts; MGM Grand, Luxor, New York New York, and others follow.
The first Cirque du Soleil® show, MystèreTM, opens at Treasure Island.
CityCenter is built on the Strip, featuring a mega-resort and luxury shops.
The High Roller, the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, opens on the Strip.
t Fremont Street’s vast steel canopy above the Fremont Casino and Four Queens
Long known as “Glitter Gulch,” Fremont Street has been at the heart of downtown Las Vegas since the city was founded in 1905. This is where the first casinos were built, complete with neon signs, and where famous illuminated icons such as Vegas Vic and Vickie lit up the night sky. However, as the Strip boomed in the 1980s and early 1990s, Fremont Street became ever more run-down.
The spectacular Fremont Street Experience, an ambitious $70-million project to revitalize the area, was unveiled in 1994. A vast steel canopy was erected over the central stretch of downtown. Light shows are projected onto the canopy after sunset every night, on the hour, using over 12 million synchronized LED modules backed by a huge sound system.
Fremont is pedestrianized, so you can easily stroll from casino to casino, stopping to snack and shop along the way. Some of the famous signs have gone, but many of the dazzling old facades remain. One way to see them is from the Slotzilla zipline, allowing you to fly the full length of the street.
For many years the landmark casino in Vegas was Binion’s Horseshoe, established by the legendary Benny Binion, who is said to have arrived in town in 1946 wearing a ten-gallon hat and carrying $2 million in cash. Binion’s, as it is known today, is famous for its poker heritage; the World Series of Poker started here in 1970, and the Hall of Fame Poker Room is lined with photos of historic poker games and players. You can even pose next to a stack of $1 million in banknotes.
The dazzling Golden Nugget has its eponymous nugget on display in the lobby. The “Hand of Faith” is the world’s largest nugget, weighing an incredible 61 lb 11 oz (28 kg). The nearby El Cortez is one of the very few casinos to retain its original 1950s features. Built in 1966, the Four Queens has mirrors and chandeliers evoking 19th-century New Orleans.
⌂ 128 E Fremont St # 24 hrs ∑ binions.com
⌂ 129 E Fremont St # 24 hrs ∑ goldennugget.com
⌂ 600 E Fremont St # 24 hrs ∑ elcortezhotelcasino.com
⌂ 202 E Fremont St # 24 hrs ∑ fourqueens.com
The length of the steel canopy that stretches above Fremont Street for five blocks is 1,500 ft (457 m.)
Las Vegas these days is a far cry from the city of the 1950s and 1960s, when many casino owners had close links with organized crime, and profits were “skimmed” to line the pockets of mobsters. That era is recalled at the Mob Museum, a pet project of former mayor Oscar Goodman, who, as a lawyer, defended many Mob-associated figures. Three floors of displays tell the story of the gory deeds and flamboyant lifestyles of the city’s gangsters, and of the dedicated lawmen and politicians who eventually brought them to justice.
Located in Symphony Park, on the western edge of downtown, this excellent museum is devoted to interactive exhibits that are fun for both adults and children. It centers on a 12-level tower known as the Summit, where visitors can experiment with exhibits that show the connections between scientific concepts and real-life applications. Other displays include a laboratory for young inventors; a water tank that replicates and explains the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead; Eco City, a child-sized environmentally friendly city laid out along a boulevard complete with banks, grocery stores, and a wind turbine; and a glorified desert sandpit called Toddler Town with role-play activities for kids under the age of five. Changing exhibitions cover a range of interesting subjects from world cultures to art and wildlife.
A popular choice with families who need a break from the Strip, this museum has an appealing range of exhibits. Dioramas re-create the African savannah and display a variety of wildlife from leopards and cheetahs to several African antelope species such as bush boks, nyalas, and duikers.
The International Wildlife gallery showcases mammals’ ability to adapt and survive. Animatronic dinosaurs include a 35-ft- (11-m-) long Tyrannosaurus rex, while the marine exhibit has live eels and sharks. Try digging for fossils and exploring the five senses in the discovery room.
t The Neon Museum on Las Vegas Boulevard, lit up in green at night
This museum is dedicated to the iconic glowing neon signs that once dominated the Las Vegas skyline before most of the mega-resorts switched to LED lighting. The history of neon stretches back to 1910, when French inventor Georges Claude discovered that passing an electric current through a glass tube filled with neon gas results in a brilliant light. In the 1940s and 1950s, the craft of neon sign-making was elevated to the status of art form in Las Vegas.
The site includes a visitor center, gallery, and the outdoor Neon Boneyard, where you can take a guided tour of 200 retired signs, including those from the Stardust, Moulin Rouge, and Flamingo. The museum also traces changes and trends in sign design and technology from the 1930s to the present day. Although the museum is open during the daytime, an evening visit has the authentic feeling of the glitzy Las Vegas of old.
EXPERIENCE Las Vegas
Enjoy varied platters and an extensive salad bar in comfy booths.
The former mayor’s one-of-a-kind eatery in a futuristic glass bubble.
Top Of Binion’s Steakhouse
Spectacular views of the Strip, plus live piano music on weekends.
This diminutive, pink adobe building in downtown is the oldest in Las Vegas and all that remains of a fort built by Mormon settlers, who were the first non-Natives to establish themselves permanently in the area in 1855. The fort, built on the banks of Las Vegas Creek, consisted of two bas-tions and a row of two-story buildings arranged around a 150-ft- (46-m-) long, rectangular placita (small plaza) with 14-ft- (4-m-) high walls. After crop failures, disappointing mining yields, and dissension among the group, the settlers abandoned the site around three years later. It became part of a ranch in the 1880s and was run by Las Vegas pioneer Helen Stewart.
Today, the visitor center is a reconstruction of the original adobe house, with its simply furnished interior much as it would have been when the Mormon settlers lived here. The building also contains an exhibition that describes the Mormon missions and their impact on Las Vegas.
t Exploring the red sandstone formations in the Valley of Fire State Park
This spectacularly scenic state park sits in a remote desert location some 60 miles (97 km) northeast of Las Vegas. Its name derives from the red sandstone formations that began as huge, shifting sand dunes about 150 million years ago. There are several well-maintained trails across this wilderness, including the Petroglyph Canyon Trail, an easy half-mile (1-km) loop that takes in a series of Ancestral Puebloan rock carvings. Summer temperatures often reach 44° C (112° F). The best time to visit is in spring or fall.
The nearby town of Overton lies along the Muddy River. Ancestral Puebloan people settled here around 300 BC but left some 1,500 years later, perhaps because of a long drought. Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of prehistoric artifacts in the area since the first digs in the 1920s. The Lost City Museum of Archaeology, just outside the town, has a large collection of pottery, beads, woven baskets, and delicate turquoise jewelry.
⌂ 721 S Moapa Valley Blvd, Overton # 8:30am–4:30pm daily ¢ Jan 1, Thanksgiving, Dec 25 & 26 ∑ nvculture.org/lostcitymuseum
After the completion of the Hoover Dam, the waters of the Colorado River filled its deep canyons to create a huge reservoir. This lake, with its 700 miles (1,130 km) of shoreline, is the centerpiece of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The focus is on water sports, especially sailing, waterskiing, and fishing. Striped bass and rainbow trout are popular catches. You’ll also find many campgrounds and marinas.
From downtown Las Vegas, a short, 10-mile (16-km) drive west will take you to the low hills and steep gullies of the Red Rock Canyon. A gnarled escarpment rises out of the desert, its gray limestone and red sandstone the geological residue of an ancient ocean and the huge sand dunes that succeeded it. Red Rock is easily explored on an enjoyable 13-mile (21-km) scenic road that loops off Highway 159. Beside the road are picnic spots and short hikes that cover the area’s winding canyons. The visitor center at the start of the road has informative displays on the canyon’s range of flora and fauna. There are some 80 to 100 bighorn sheep in the convervation area.
About 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Las Vegas, Mount Charleston rises to 11,918 ft (3,633 m) out of Toiyabe National Forest, clad with pine, mountain mahogany, fir, and aspen. Also known as the Spring Mountain Recreation Area, it offers refuge from the Vegas summer heat, with a variety of hiking trails and picnic areas. Skiing and snowboarding are popular in the winter. A range of hikes is available, including two demanding trails that snake up to the summit: the 11-mile (18-km) North Loop and the 9-mile (14-km) South Loop. Easier walks on the forested slopes include a one-hour hike up Cathedral Rock, which starts from a picnic area at the end of Highway 157. This is the more southerly of the two by-roads leading to Mount Charleston off Highway 95; the other is Highway 156, which runs to Lee Canyon Ski Area.
t Visitors taking in the spectacular views from the visitor center at the Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1935 across the Colorado River’s Black Canyon, 30 miles (48 km) east of Las Vegas. An engineering marvel, the dam gave the desert region a reliable water supply and provided inexpensive electricity. Today, the dam supplies water and power to Nevada, Arizona, and California, and has created Lake Mead.Visitors to the dam can take the Hoover Dam Powerplant Tour, which includes a trip to the observation deck, where there are panoramic views of the dam’s huge generators. Guided tours lead through old construction tunnels and explain how the dam was built.
Just 8 miles (13 km) west of the dam, Boulder City was built as a community to house dam construction workers and is one of Nevada’s most attractive towns. Its founders banned casinos, and there are still none here today. Several of its original 1930s buildings remain, including the 1933 Boulder Dam Hotel, which houses the Hoover Dam Museum.
⌂ 1305 Arizona St, Boulder City # 7am–7pm daily ¢ Public hols ∑ bcmha.org
To truly appreciate the vast scale of the Hoover Dam, see it from the air. Helicopter and plane trips from Las Vegas fly directly over the dam on their way to the Grand Canyon, giving you a splendid bird’s-eye view.