Las Vegas may be known as “Sin City,” but there’s so much more to the desert city than most visitors ever see. Its history dates back to the early days of the American mob, but is now known as the country’s entertainment and gambling capital. Each casino and resort is known for something different.
Most travelers spend the majority of their time on the Strip, or Las Vegas Boulevard, but the area is also a hub for other excursions to natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, and, of course, the modern marvel known as the Hoover Dam. Las Vegas also has so much to offer in terms of shopping, so bring some extra cash for vintage finds at The Attic or the upscale boutiques downtown. Most travelers come for only a weekend, so it’s an easy drive from many parts of California or a red-eye flight across the country.
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Las Vegas Travel Expenses Tips
In the land of the high rollers, there’s certainly an air of wealth here and it’s easy to spend a lot of money. But for every luxurious experience, there’s also budget-friendly experiences.
Party on the Cheap
Most nightclubs have someone running promotions who give away free entry or add you to the guest list if you’re in the right place at the right time. While they usually appeal mostly to the ladies, it’s an easy way to save money if you want to go out. Also go out during the week, as there’s always something going on. Poolside daytime parties are another highlight and if you’re gambling at a casino, your drinks are usually free. Just don’t forget to tip your server!
- The 15 Best Nightclubs in Las Vegas, Period, Thrillist
Save on Sleeps
Accommodation is usually what eats up most of your budget and that’s certainly the case in Las Vegas. While there are plenty of five star places to stay, both hotels and casinos, this is also a way to save money. Before you start planning your trip, subscribe to the email newsletters from Travelzoo and Shermans Travel, as they often have deals for mid-week or off-peak stays at the top properties.
You can stay for less than $50 per night at the RV Park at Circus Circus or in a private room at one of the many hostels. Also seek out hotels away from the strip, like the vintage casinos on Fremont Street.
Indulge in Buffets
While you may scoff at the idea of buffets where you live, in Las Vegas, you can get fine dining for cheap this way. They give you the most food for your money, so indulge for one meal like brunch, which combines two meals and usually includes alcohol. Also visit Fremont Street casinos for a budget-friendly steak dinner and $1 margaritas. If you do want to go to some of the celebrity chef eateries, make reservations in advance.
Get Off the Strip
There’s so much to do in the Las Vegas area that doesn’t involve never leaving the air conditioned confines of the casinos. Check out the Fremont Street Experience and venture out to see the natural wonders of Nevada.
- 34 Things to Do In Las Vegas Besides Gamble, A Passion and A Passport
- Las Vegas on a Budget: Tips from a Local, Hub Pages
Take in the Free Experiences
There are so many things you can do in Las Vegas for free. Those fountain shows at the Bellagio? Totally free. The pirate show at Treasure Island? You guessed it. The flamingo habitat at the aptly named Flamingo? Nada. The list goes on and on, as virtually every casino has some sort of attraction worth seeing that won’t cost you a dime.
- 25 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas, Local Adventurer
Essential Gear to Pack for Las Vegas
Keep it casual for day wear in Las Vegas, as the heat will be sure to affect unsuspecting visitors. Bring a few nice outfits for dinners out and nightclubs.
Sun protection– This includes a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Comfortable shoes to walk the strip- Don’t kid yourself about the distances, as they’re much further than they seem, so pack comfy shoes, not ones that are hard to walk in. Skip overpriced cabs and instead take public transportation between venues.
Your ID– Remember that, even if you can drink or gamble in your home country, the gambling age and drinking age are 21 in the United States. Bring a form of identification like your passport.
Layers for the desert at night– Since the city is in the desert, it gets surprisingly cold at night. If you’ll be there during winter months especially, bring a light sweater or layer to cover your shoulders when the sun goes down.
- Packing List for Las Vegas in Summer, Her Packing List
- Packing List or Las Vegas in Winter, Her Packing List
Books to Read Before Visiting Las Vegas
Not as many books are set in Las Vegas as there are movies, but we’ve included just a few to be sure to check out before your visit. There are also lots of interesting nonfiction books on the city’s history.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson– Perhaps the most well-known book about Las Vegas, it tells of two drug-addled men as they take a road trip to Sin City. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich– In the book that inspired the film 21, a real-life group of MIT math geniuses learn how to count cards and take the Vegas casinos by storm. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien– A prostitute falls for an alcoholic in this dark tale of life in Las Vegas. The film adaptation starred Nicholas Cage. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Beautiful Children by Charles Bock– This novel features overlapping narratives about a child that goes missing in Las Vegas one Saturday night, the effect it has on his family and the people they meet trying to find him. Grab a copy on Amazon.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt– The Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells of a young boy that survives a horrific accident and is taken in by a wealthy family. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Movies to Watch Before Visiting Las Vegas
The movies you might have seen about Las Vegas have share a trend of stories about bad decisions made in Sin City, but there are a few that use the city as a backdrop for a larger story. Here are a few of the memorable films set in Las Vegas.
Oceans Eleven– Perhaps one of the best examples of films on Las Vegas, start with the original 1960 version before indulging in the modern adaptation, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and countless others. Grab a copy on Amazon.
The Hangover– On the other end of the spectrum is the cautionary tale of a bachelor party gone awry that spans three movies. The city is the backdrop, including Caesar’s Palace and the Wild Wild West Casino. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Vegas Vacation– My personal favorite is the Chevy Chase film and installment of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series. Ellen meets Wayne Newton while Rusty gets a fake ID to gamble with. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Rain Man– In career-defining roles for both Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, a young man learns of the death of his father and that his inheritance went to the autistic savant brother he never knew he had. They go on a road trip where he learns of his skills counting cards. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Viva Las Vegas– What kind of list would this be without the Elvis classic? The King stars alongside Ann-Margaret as a race car driver who goes to Las Vegas to earn money for a new engine on his car. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Top Things to Do in Las Vegas
Las Vegas has so many attractions, from traditional must sees like museums to the unique experiences you can’t find anywhere else.
The hotels and casinos on the strip each have their own set of things to do, some that are free and others that cost extra. Attractions like the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef Aquarium and New York New York Big Apple roller coaster charge an entry fee, along with the Adventuredome at Circus Circus, a gondola ride at The Venetian and the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris.
Free casino attractions include checking out the grounds and the shows that take place outside. This includes the Bellagio’s fountain shows, the Chihuly ceiling, and the conservatory and botanical gardens. It won’t cost you anything to wait for the volcano at the Mirage or to see the Flamingo Habitat at The Flamingo.
Many people come to Las Vegas for the entertainment, which includes dance, comedy, musical acts and a combination of the three. Top name acts like Blue Man Group, Celine Dion or Britney Spears should be booked well in advance when possible. Cirque de Soleil has a different show for nearly every casino, so see which one suits you best before booking. For example, Beatles Love features the music of the band while Zumanity is more racy.
Comedians and magicians also get top-billed performances, whether it’s well-known acts or not. Burlesque and tribute acts are also popular. If you’re feeling flexible, get last minute deals at Tix4Tonight, the city’s answer to New York’s TKTS, and promo codes at Smarter Vegas.
Museums and Other Attractions
A handful of activities top the list of things to do in Las Vegas, starting with the Fremont Street Experience, where guests see a light show above the canopy in old Las Vegas. Also take a ride on the city’s hottest new attraction, the High Roller at the Linq, the highest Ferris wheel in the world. The Stratosphere, located on the far end of the strip, has its own high-flying rides like the Sky Jump, a controlled descent down the tower. Other favorites with a slice of Vegas history are the Neon Museum, where remnants of old signs now call home, and the Mob Museum, which details the city’s seedy past.
Las Vegas is also known for its proximity to other places. The Hoover Dam is an easy day trip away and if you have time, spend a day on scenic Lake Mead. Day trips also run to the Grand Canyon, which you can even experience via helicopter. And, of course, closer to the city is Red Rock Canyon, a favorite hike of locals.
- 101 Things to Do in Las Vegas, Local Adventurer
- 17 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Las Vegas, Buzzfeed
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
You might feel the urge to “go big or go home,” but it’s totally possible to do Las Vegas while staying in budget accommodations. After all, that just gives you extra money for everything else. There are a handful of hostels here, but they may have a party vibe of international backpackers so you might want to opt for a private room. Some casinos offer budget-friendly options, like Circus Circus’ aforementioned RV park.
Staying off the strip is also cheaper, as Fremont Street casino rooms are plentiful. For example, rooms at the Golden Nugget start at $49, while similar rooms at The Mirage start at $150. If you’re in the mood to splurge, however, Las Vegas has also seen a rise of the boutique hotels that have a smaller casino component. These include properties like The Cromwell and The Cosmopolitan.
Food and Drink in Las Vegas
The bigger, the better when it comes to food in Las Vegas. There isn’t one signature dish of the city, but you’ll find plenty of places with steak, burgers and Italian food. Buffets also reign supreme, as do fine dining restaurants run by celebrity chefs. Make reservations in advance for these types of places and save buffets for brunch, when your meal may just come with alcohol. For lunch, check out one of the many burger joints, which include outposts of Umami Burger, In-N-Out, Shake Shack and Burgr. Steaks can be top dollar at classic steakhouses or less than $20 on Fremont Street, which you can pair with a $1 beer or margarita.