Going to Sin City and not hitting up the slot machines is like visiting France and turning your nose up to Champagne or travelling all the way to Blarney and refusing to kiss the stone. But as I found out on my first visit, there’s a lot more to Vegas than gaming and gambling.
An oasis of glittering lights in the desert, Las Vegas is home to the Strip, the drive-in wedding chapel, and a visual spectacle complete with Eiffel Tower, Egyptian pyramids and Venetian canals. There’s so much to do in and around the resorts, so even if you’re winning on the slot machines, you’re probably losing out.
According to the most recent figures the average gambling budget spent during a stay in Vegas is $527.05 / €472. Here are some smarter ways to make that money go further in Sin City:
I’m no stranger to a bit of adrenaline-fuelled fun – I’ve parachuted in New Zealand and zip lined in a Mexican jungle – but looking up at the giant Slotzilla machine towering over Fremont Street in Downtown Vegas made me want to run for the desert. The bustle of people on the street below going about their business mixed with terrifying shrieks from above was hard to process. But when in Vegas, etc... I took one for the team. It was even more petrifying mid flight. But the thrill was worth it. The photos purchased post flight, however, were not. They're unlikely to ever see the light of day. Vegasexperience.com; $25/€21.
Pedestrians walk under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience as people ride zip lines overhead. Photographer: Sam Morris.
Need For Speed
More heart-pounding thrills can be found at the Speed Vegas racetrack. A short drive outside the city, the custom-built dirt track offers the chance to drive all kinds of exotic motors. Alongside flashy Ferraris and multi-coloured Lamborghinis are dirt trucks, or Baja race trucks to be precise. Circling the track a lot faster than the Micra I’m used to, taking leaping jumps and high-speed corners was a real adventure. Speedvegas.com; from $69/€62.
Author, Rosaleen McMeel, upgrading her Micra for a dirt truck in the Nevada desert.
Show & Tell
Vegas is known as the ‘entertainment capital of the world’, so you'll have no end of options. Gwen Stefani, Paula Abdul, Aerosmith and Donny and Marie Osmond are among those currently enjoying residencies this winter, proving there really is something to suit all tastes. I caught The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil which was a kaleidoscope of both colour and talent. cirquedusoleil.com; tickets from $79/€70.
Sign of the Times
While new by European standards, Las Vegas has a fascinating history worth exploring and where better to start then at the Neon Museum – a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving and sharing iconic signs of yesterday. This veritable boneyard of signage offers a glimpse at the glittering heritage of this desert city. An outdoor collection means it’s perfect for non-museum fans as well as those seeking a little more culture than the Strip has to offer. Each sign has a story and there are willing and affable assistants dotted around the yard itching to tell it if you ask. Visit at dusk for Instagram-friendly lighting and cooler temperatures. neonmuseum.org; $22/€19.
The Neon Museum is a trip highlight.
Wine & Dine
Vegas has become a mecca for celebrity chefs. There's a restaurant bearing one's name in nearly every major hotel. From gluttonous, Insta-worthy bites to fine dining Sin City has it all. Brunch at Maxies is a fun option for families, but kids of all ages will love the Cotton Candy Pancakes or the Fruity Pebbles French Toast. Portions are enormous, so opt for “one to share” or leave in a carb coma. Roy Choi’s Best Friend at the Park MGM has everything from Kimchi to spaghetti and is worth a visit for the lively decor and street food vibes. My favourite hands down was Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the Bellagio Resort. While fine dining, there is nothing stuffy about the experience. The food and service were equally exceptional, and if you’re smart you’ll book a table by the window where you can enjoy the world’s largest fountain display in front of the Bellagio. Other food experiences worth adding to the list include Carson Kitchen in Downtown Vegas for social plates that are so imaginative you’ll be thinking of them on your flight home and Jupiter Lounge for awe-inspiring cocktails.
Follow The Crumbs
Deciding where to eat in Vegas is likely to be the biggest decision you’ll have to make on a trip to Vegas as every whim is catered for. However, if you want to make the most of a short trip or sample as much as you can while you’re in town, take a Lip Smacking Foodie Tour. These cleverly planned guided tours offer you the chance to sample canapés, starters, mains and dessert in different restaurants. The informed guides offer fascinating insights into the history of the city as well as the restaurants and the chef’s behind them. vegasfoodietour.com; from $125/€110.
Even non-guests can seek refuge at the Mandalay Bay Resort Spa
There’s no doubt about it, Vegas is an assault to the senses. There’s so much to take in and process, so why not do it in style. Book yourself some time out at the Spa at Mandalay Bay, which offers a gentle reprieve from the bright lights. Non-guests can book a spa day, which gives you access to the redwood sauna, heated whirlpools, exercise room and relaxation lounge. mandalaybay.mgmresorts.com/en/amenities/spas; $50/ €45.
You can’t beat the panoramic views from a helicopter over the city. Throw in the cover of darkness and Vegas comes alive. Maverick Helicopters offer a Las Vegas Helicopter Tour Night Flight, which sees you soar high above the world-famous Strip as you witness iconic landmarks such as Bellagio, Caesars Palace, the Eiffel Tower, MGM Grand, Luxor, The Strat, T-Mobile Arena and more. A Champagne toast upon arrival coupled with great pilot banter all adds to this incredible experience. Maverickhelicopter.com; $104/ €94.
Little will prepare you for the view over the Strip from a helicopter. Visible in the photo are Bellagio, Fountains of Bellagio, Caesars, Mirage, Bally's, Flamingo and Cromwell. CREDIT: Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Las Vegas has much to offer in terms of accommodation. Average hotel rates work out at around $130 / €116 - but unlike other States, you get quite a lot of bang for that buck in Sin City and comfort is king. At Park MGM (mgmresorts.com) you’ll get a generously sized boutique room from $140 / €125 per night, while the penthouse at the Bellagio (bellagio.com) will set you back $631 / €566 per night.
There are currently no direct flights from Ireland to Las Vegas, however, United (united.com) offers flights from Dublin via Chicago from €537 return. Book into 51st & Green, the US pre-clearance lounge at Dublin Airport to ensure your trip gets off to a relaxing start.
For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing and more, see, visitlasvegas.com