Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, Las Vegas was created entirely to entertain and has been described as the world's largest theme park. This psychedelic city of sin is home to over a million people and welcomes 35 million more each year to its lavish hotels and casinos. Visitors today are amazed that only 70 years ago this thriving metropolis was a backwater with less than a thousand inhabitants whose only guests were railway passengers stopping off to stretch their legs on the long journey between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Things started to change in March 1931 when the State of Nevada legalised gambling; one month later the City issued six licenses. Then in 1946, Mafia don Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel opened the sensationally lavish Flamingo Hilton on Highway 91. Las Vegas Boulevard was born and the city would never be the same again.
Soon stars like Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra were making the pilgrimage to what was fast becoming America's premier entertainment centre. In the early days the Mafia dominated the gambling industry but in the 1960s their influence waned and soon all the large hotels and casinos were controlled by big business.
Las Vegas has 18 out of 21 of the largest hotels in the world and walking down 'The Strip' visitors will see the skylines of New York and Paris, discover the canals of Venice and the Pyramids of Egypt and, at Treasure Island, see a full on-sea battle between a Pirate ship and a British Galleon. Despite these excesses, room rates and restaurant bills are the lowest in the western world - all subsidised by gamblers intent on a free holiday.
Although the principal draw card is still gambling, Las Vegas is now marketed as a family destination and there is no shortage of theme parks, shopping malls or golf courses. However, the vast majority of visitors come to gamble and the incredible displays are mostly designed to lure passers-by into the casinos, and once there it's hard to leave; the exits are discreetly hidden.
Most visits to Las Vegas are confined to the Strip and downtown, so it is not necessary to hire a car as both are easily navigable by foot and there are several forms of transport that can be used. Public transport is limited to buses, but private trolley services, taxicabs, monorail links and free shuttle services, courtesy of the casinos, are also available. Local buses run the length of the Strip and into downtown and operate 24 hours a day with a flat fare including transfers. The old-fashioned Las Vegas Strip Trolley also runs the length of the Strip from 9.30am to 2am, and the Downtown Trolley circles between the Stratosphere and downtown from 7am to 11pm. A state-of-the-art monorail runs above the streets, operating from 7am to 2pm daily between the Sahara Hotel and the MGM Grand. Taxis are plentiful and can be found lined up outside every hotel and casino and at taxi stands. Car hire is popular with visitors although it is best to avoid driving along the Strip as traffic is heavy and there is little parking available. Cars are the most practical way to explore outside Las Vegas, although there are bus tours offered to Hoover Dam. Visitors need a valid driver's license and must be 21 years old; under-25s are usually subject to surcharges. To really fit in, why not consider hiring a limousine? Although not entirely practical, it can be a fun way to feel part of the glitz and glamour and there are several limousine agencies in the city.
City of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival
The annual Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival takes place at the Clark County Government Amphitheater where those who enjoy a toe-tapping good time should pack a camping chair, their sun hat and some snacks and refreshments and head on down to see live acts such as Will Downing, Euge Groove, Karen Briggs' Soulchestra and Fattburger. Craft and food stalls are also available and festival-goers can enjoy getting out into the Nevada heat to listen to some good old Rhythm and Blues.
Rock ï¿½nï¿½ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon takes place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where runners can enjoy the sights and sounds of Sin City, and spectators get into the swing of things with live entertainment, including music, cheerleaders, and Vegas-inspired fanfare. Runners and spectators alike can expect a high-energy, rockin' run and a post-race party like no other - it's in Vegas after all. The half marathon has a wave start, allowing runners plenty of elbow room to enjoy the run and the sideline entertainment along the way.
National Finals Rodeo
Referred to as the 'Superbowl of Rodeos', cowboys and cowgirls from across America and Canada work hard all year in the hope of being one of the top 15 to qualify for the NFR and to compete for the prize money. Events include bull riding, calf roping, team roping, saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling and barrel racing.
The Festival of the Burning Man is one of the most unique festivals. Drawing crowds of over 20,000 each year from all over the world, the celebration is of art, creativity and humanity. Unlike most other festivals in the world, this one has no commerce; no shops, no rock stars, no rollercoasters. It is simply a gathering, albeit a very large one. The Black Rock Desert, two or three hours north of Reno is the setting. The serenity of the place allows festival goers the environment to feel uninhibited and expressive. The emphasis is on community and people helping one another and all who attend do so in friendship. And on the last day, the bonfire of the Burning Man takes place setting the skies alight in fire while the community dances around. Due to the non-commercial nature of the festival, those attending are advised to bring everything they might need for themselves with them, as little or nothing will be available. The art theme for 2012 is 'Fertility 2.0'.
Cirque du Soleil
The world famous Cirque du Soleil - a riot of costumes, colours and contortionists - brings its unique magic to Las Vegas with several immensely popular shows, including MystÃ¨re, which has been honoured as 'Las Vegas' Best Production Show'. Other shows include the aquatic show 'O' at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, KÃ at the MGM Grand and the latest 'The Beatles - Love' at the Mirage.
Venetian Hotel and Casino
No expense was spared building the Venetian Hotel, which aimed to recreate the city of Venice in the Nevada Desert and the result is fairly spectacular. Guests can travel around the hotel in a gondola - real canals run through the hotel - and a replica of St Mark's Square and the Basilica turns from night to day every three hours; visitors have to look carefully to notice that the sky is actually a vast fresco. The only things missing are the pigeons and the backpackers. The casino itself is massive, featuring 2,500 slot machines and 125 gaming tables. For guests taking a break from the tables, there are five swimming pools, a fitness centre, and 17 restaurants - mostly pizzerias. One of the main attractions is Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, a wax museum presenting some of the world's biggest icons including stars, politicians, record-breaking athletes and legends.
Bellagio Hotel and Casino
The Bellagio is one of Las Vegas' most opulent hotels and most popular casinos. With an Italian theme, the great bulk of the Bellagio sits in its own vast garden. It has over 3,000 rooms and hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables, however its best-known attraction is its amazing water show - a breathtaking union of water, music and light. Between 3pm and midnight (from 12pm on weekends) the Bellagio's world-famous fountains 'dance' to opera, classical or whimsical music with carefully choreographed movements. Beyond the Bellagio's gracious lobby lies the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, a magnificent garden abounding in fragrance, texture and colour. The hotel also has a new fine arts gallery that hosts contemporary art exhibits.
Another MGM mega-casino, the showpiece at the Mirage is a Volcano that shoots flames 100 feet (30m) into the night sky every 15 minutes (6pm to midnight), spewing smoke and transforming a tranquil waterfall into spectacular streams of molten lava. As you'd expect of Las Vegas, it's all quite naff, but great entertainment. Siegfried & Roy's White Tigers used to be one of the Mirage's signature attractions, but the show was cancelled in 2003 after Roy Horn was attacked by one of the tigers during a show. A popular attraction is the aquarium located behind the Front Desk. This 20,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is home to angelfish, puffer fish, tangs, sharks and other exotic sea creatures.
Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada's oldest park, and is so named because of its red sandstone formations which appear to be on fire when the sun reflects off them. The rocks were shaped over 150-milllion years ago when dinosaurs roamed the area. Apart from the rugged beauty of the surrounding Mojave Desert, the main attraction in the park are the well preserved petroglyphs that adorn many of the red sandstone structures, left there by the ancient Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi. This rock art dates variously from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Visitors should head to Atlatl Rock for some of the finest examples of ancient Indian rock art or petroglyphs, including a depiction of the atlatl, which was a notched stick used to propel spears, a predecessor to the bow and arrow. Other activities here include hiking, camping and picnicking.
The Luxor is themed on ancient Egypt and is one of the most prominent sights on the Las Vegas Strip. It is a massive black-glass pyramid containing 36 floors of hotel rooms, and shining through it up into the night sky is the world's most powerful light beam, which they claim can be seen by planes circling Los Angeles. The ground floor of the hotel is given over to a massive casino, which stands beneath a recreation of King Tut's Tomb. Other than gambling, entertainment at the hotel includes an IMAX theatre, gyms, swimming pools and exhilarating shows by comedians, dancers and singers.
One of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1993 with more than 5,000 rooms; the complex also houses 19 restaurants, many shops and nightclubs, a convention centre, and a spa. The MGM Grand's most famous attraction was for many years the glass-sided lion habitat, however the casino closed this in early 2012 as part of an extensive renovation. Today, the MGM Grand is home to the Cirque du Soleil production, KÃ , the Crazy Horse Paris nude ballet, and the interactive attraction CSI: The Experience.
The 44-story Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is among the largest on the Las Vegas Strip with more than 3,000 hotel rooms and a 135,000 square foot (12,500 m2) casino. The tropical-themed resort has a number of popular family attractions, including the Shark Reef saltwater aquarium and large-scale stage shows ranging from Broadway musicals to Cirque du Soleil productions. The most popular attraction at Mandalay Bay however, is Mandalay Beach, an 11-acrepool area featuring three heated pools, a wave pool, lazy river, and children's pool. Voted Best Pool of Las Vegas many times by Las Vegas Review Journal readers, Mandalay Beach has its own bar and two restaurants.
Imperial Palace Auto Collection
With over 250 classic antique cars on display (all available for purchase), the Imperial Palace Auto Collection is an absolute must for car enthusiasts. It is actually part of a larger collection and cars are rotated in and out of the showroom on a regular basis; once a car is sold it is replaced by another. Exhibited are rare models, racecars, muscle cars, touring roadsters and dozens of vehicles once owned by the rich and famous.
Fremont Street Experience
The downtown area of Las Vegas is where it all began and the Fremont Street Experience aims to celebrate this heritage. The street is also known as 'Glitter Gulch' for the bright neon signs and thousands of flashing lights that line the streets - this is where you'll find Vegas Vic and Sassy Sal, two of the nations best-known neon icons. Some of the city's most famous vintage casinos are found here, including the Golden Nugget and the Gold Spike, as are most of its strip clubs and stage shows. Most entertainment is on, or just off, the Freemont Street Experience Mall.
Las Vegas Roller Coasters
Unlikely as it may seem, Las Vegas is one of the world's top rollercoaster destinations, with some of the fastest, biggest, and most innovative rides. Some of the best are atop the 1,149-foot (350m) Stratosphere Tower, the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Thrill seekers can enjoy excitement over 100 stories above the ground on four exciting rides: Sky Jump, Big Shot Insanity and the X-Scream. The latter should be experienced only by veteran rollercoaster fanatics or those wearing adult-size diapers. There is also a revolving restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere, which offers great views but pretty average food. Best ride first, then eat. The Sahara Casino and Hotel is home the Speed Ride, while Circus Circus's Adventuredome has the Canyon Blaster - the only indoor double-loop and double-corkscrew rollercoaster in the world - and Chaos, a ride designed to offer a different experience each time. New York, New York Hotel and Casino has the Manhattan Express, another high quality ride that gets rave reviews from rollercoaster connoisseurs.
The Grand Canyon
A mile deep, 277 miles (446km) long and up to 18 miles (29km) wide the breathtaking grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive that pictures or words simply cannot do it justice. One of the great natural wonders of the world, it was formed by the cutting action of the Colorado River over millions of years, the harder rock formations remaining as great cliffs, pinnacles and buttes, and the different layers of rock possessing colours that range from purple, fiery red and pastel pink, to yellow, brown, grey and soft tones of blue. Whether by foot or on horseback, from a plane or helicopter, aboard a raft down the mighty Colorado River or by merely gazing in awe from the rim, the canyon's seemingly infinite depths can be experienced in a variety of ways and is a landscape not to be missed, however one chooses to see it. The park receives hoards of visitors from around the world, who cannot fail to be transfixed by the sculpted rock shapes, the shifting colours that change with the light and a tiny glimpse of the Colorado River far below. The Grand Canyon National Park comprises two separate areas, the South Rim and the more remote North Rim. Separated by the 10-mile (16km) width of the canyon, it is a 215-mile (346km) drive from one visitor centre to the other and the South Rim, being the most accessible and possessing more facilities, sees over 90 percent of the park visitors. The North Rim is higher in elevation and wetter, with thicker surrounding forests; it is further to get to and is usually closed by snow from October to May, but many people prefer the comparative peacefulness of its less crowded lookouts. At both rims there are several drives and walkways along the edge with numerous lookout points for views from different angles, as well as a few hikes down into the canyon where one can overnight at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. The impact of over four million visitors a year to the South Rim, especially during the busy summer months, has its negative influences on the park, with overcrowding and traffic congestion, but despite the hoards it is a positively memorable experience to have visited one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world.
Stretching 1,247 feet (380m) across the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam holds back the waters of Lake Mead and is a fine example of the engineering of its time. One of the world's most famous dams, the Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression in the 1930s - one of many vast public projects commissioned by the US Government to get people back to work. The dam employed thousands of men from all over the country, and its hydroelectric power generator supplies Nevada and its neighbouring states with electricity. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is popular with water sports enthusiasts as well as those just after a bit of sun and relaxation.
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is a dramatic valley ten miles (16km) west of Las Vegas and is a good excursion to escape the neon lights and jangle of the slot machines. Its defining feature is the steep Red Rock escarpment, which rises 3,000 feet (914m) on its western edge. Today the dramatic landscape is peppered with cacti and Joshua trees and is a good spot for walking, rock climbing, cycling or simply a scenic drive. The Mojave Desert is not barren as you might think; it teems with life and beauty that is rare and unique - waterfalls cascade into the canyons and high above red tailed hawks search for their next meal.
The glass-encased theme park of Adventuredome is the perfect attraction for thrill-seeking kids on holiday in Las Vegas - its loop roller-coaster and other gut-wrenching rides are not to be missed! If this adrenalin rush is a bit too excessive, there are also shows by the likes of magicians and jugglers on offer, as well as plenty of decadent treats like ice-cream, popcorn, candy...
When the Las Vegas summer heat gets too much for the kids head to the Doolittle Pool complex, which has a great swimming pool and pool toys for kids to enjoy. Other features of this attraction include a water slide and playground, as well as sports fields and a picnic area.
The Buffalo Bill's amusement park is an excellent holiday attraction for children, offering everything from earth-plunging rides that defy gravity or end with a huge splash, to log rides on a fantasy lake. Kids also love the Frog Hopper experience, bouncing around the park on the back of Buffalo Bill's life-like amphibian.
Blue Man Group
An entertaining attraction for children (and their parents) in Las Vegas is a show by the Blue Man Group. Three 'mute' performers, painted blue and wearing bald caps, keep kids on the edge of their seats with a combination of humorous theatrics, music and comedy. Ponchos are handed out to the first few rows, as paint can occasionally go flying.
Grand Canyon Helicopter and Ranch Adventure
Kids will revel in the exciting experience of flying through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter and landing at the Grand Canyon West Ranch. Once at the ranch, children are enthralled by horse-drawn wagon rides and the cowboys putting on a show. The western-style meal served at the Ranch House also goes down a treat.
No longer the family-friendly pirate hangout it once was, Treasure Island has revamped itself as an adult-oriented contemporary resort. The free Sirens of TI show is a special effects-laden production is a must-see on the Las Vegas Strip, with music, explosions, bussaneers, and beautiful women. Treasure Island is also home to the Cirque du Soleil show MystÃ¨re, and offers a number of restaurants and nightclubs.
A dream come true for many, Dig This is a wildly popular attraction in Las Vegas that allows you to operate enormous vehicles like bulldozers and excavators under the supervision of trained instructors. While the price tag is high (starting at $210 for 90 minutes), the experience is unforgettable as you team up with other participants to complete tasks. You must be at least 14 to operate the machines.
Andreï¿½s at Monte Carlo
Cuisine style: French
Most of the glitzy Las Vegas hotel resorts feature French restaurants, but Andre Rochat's latest contribution is exceptional. Extreme fine dining here includes fresh seafood, poultry and vegetarian dishes - don't miss the signature dish, Scampi AndrÃ©, or perhaps try the Rack of Colorado Lamb. Andre's is known for its excellent stocks and sauces, as well as its fine pastry. Open daily, reservations essential.
Address: 3770 Las Vegas Blvd.
Cuisine style: French
Just 500 yards from 'The Strip', Pamplemousse provides a quiet dining oasis reminiscent of a cosy French country inn, with soft orchestral music in the background to accompany the gourmet fare. There is no menu. Waiters knowledgably recite the specialities of the day, which usually include the renowned Hobo Steak, Norwegian salmon, roast duckling, veal medallions, filet mignon and spring lamb. The appetisers and desserts are just as mouth-watering including the famous trademark Basket of CruditÃ©s. Reservations are essential. Open daily for dinner. Dress smart casual (no jackets required, but appreciated).
Address: 400 East Sahara Avenue
Golden Steer Steakhouse
Cuisine style: American
The Steer, about a mile from 'The Strip', is the oldest steak house in Las Vegas having been in business in the same spot since 1958, and still a favourite with thousands of loyal diners. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley frequented the Steer to enjoy the large and perfectly grilled traditional steaks, especially the Diamond Jim cut of prime rib. Fish, chicken and some Italian dishes are on offer too, and a selection of interesting appetisers - try the seafood stuffed mushrooms. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, dinner Saturdays and Sundays.
Address: 308 W. Sahara Avenue
Cuisine style: Moroccan
Exotic and exciting dining is offered in a cosy Middle-Eastern tent where diners lounge on cushions on the floor, or on comfy low couches, to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal. Robed waiters explain the six-course fixed-price menus, while belly dancers gyrate provocatively. The meals are accompanied by homemade Moroccan bread and, if offered, be sure to try the filet mignon (marinated and grilled in Moroccan spices). Algerian wines are available. Open for dinner nightly. Reservations required.
Address: 3900 Paradise Road
Mon Ami Gabi
Cuisine style: French
Few restaurants can claim sidewalk space on the famous Las Vegas Strip, where diners can watch the passing parade. Mon Ami Gabi, emulating a Paris brasserie, does just that with not only an outdoor section, but a glass conservatory and several indoor dining rooms as well. The cuisine on offer is mainly classic French steak frites and fruits de mÃªr with flavoursome sauces. Their braised pork shank, and the steak with blue cheese sauce, are subliminal. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Address: 3655 S. Las Vegas Boulevard
Cuisine style: Italian
Italian restaurants abound in Las Vegas, both on and off The Strip, but for really good home-cooked food and excellent value, the unimposing brick building housing Chicago Joe's, in the residential downtown area, is a sure bet. The pasta sauces are renowned among locals, all reputedly recipes handed down by the owner's family through generations. Try the pasta with eggplant (aubergine/brinjal) or white clam sauce, or perhaps the Lobster Joe. Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Friday; Saturday dinner only.
Address: 820 South 4th Street
Cuisine style: Burgers
Famous across the western US, In-N-Out is a burger chain totally different to McDonald's or Burger King. The burgers are made from fresh ingredients prepared on-site, and the service is excellent. While the menu may seem very short, insiders know that there is a 'secret menu' available on the website with all sorts of bonus options, including 'animal style' burgers and Neapolitan milkshakes. It's not fine dining, but In-N-Out is a great place to go for a quick burger in Las Vegas.
Address: 4888 Dean Martin Drive
Gonzalez y Gonzalez
Cuisine style: Tex-Mex
With just about as much Mexican flair and spice that can be conjured up, Gonzalez y Gonzalez is the perfect place to knock back a few margaritas, dive into a plate of tacos, tamales or quesadillas and enjoy the Mexican energy in the outdoor dining courtyard decked with lanterns and piÃ±atas. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
Address: New York-New York Hotel and Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Wicked Spoon Buffet
Cuisine style: Buffet
Amid the sea of $5 lobster that is buffet dining in Las Vegas, Wicked Spoon Buffet comes out tops. The restaurant serves a huge selection of dishes ranging from pizza and tacos to sushi and pad thai, all portioned out in attractive single-serving dishes rather than scooped from serving bowls. Make sure to save some room for dessert, which is highlighted by a fully-staffed gelato bar.
Address: 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Cuisine style: Seafood
It's well worth leaving the Strip for dinner at Roy's, considered the best seafood restaurant in Las Vegas. The menu is Hawaiian fusion, with mouth-watering options like Crunchy Golden Lobster Potstickers and Boursin Cheese-Stuffed Chicken. There are a few sushi choices, and Roy's even has special vegetarian and gluten-free menus.
Address: 620 East Flamingo Road
Cuisine style: French
Le Cirque which is located in the luxurious Bellagio Hotel and winner of the prestigious AAA Find Diamond rating, is decked in vivid orange, reds and pinks with elaborate and colourful artworks, conjuring a unique and accurate feel of what it must be like to dine under a big top. Boasting a world-class wine list of more than 900 international selections highlighting wines from France's best wine regions, you can be sure the food is just as mouth-watering. Try the Coeur de Filet de Boeuf served with sautÃ©ed foie-gras, smoked serrano potato Croquette and sweet onion compote, while those with a sweet tooth will love the classic Tahitian vanilla bean crÃ¨me brulÃ©e. Open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner only. Bookings essential.
Address: Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Cuisine style: American
If there's one place in Vegas you're going to find a Rock 'n Roll themed restaurant, it'll be in the Hard Rock Hotel. Diners can enjoy a good, old-fashioned American hamburger while gazing at the restaurant's 50s and 60s rock memorabilia. A good place to grab a greasy bite to eat, like the Sirloin Burger, after a long night at the slots or tables. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Address: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 4455 Paradise Road
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
Location: McCarran airport is located one mile (2km) south of the Las Vegas Strip.
Contacts: Tel: +1 702 261 5211.
Time Zone: GMT -8 (GMT -7 from March to November).
Departure tax: None.
Transfer between terminals: The two airport terminals are connected by free shuttle buses.
Facilities: Las Vegas airport has a number of shops, bars and restaurants, and of course lots of slot machines. There are ATMs, a full-service bank and currency exchange in Arrivals and Departures. Free wireless Internet connections are available for those with their own Wi-Fi enabled computers and Internet kiosks are located in the C and D Gates. There is also a Fitness Centre, children's play area, shoe-shiners and information booths. Disabled facilities are good; those with special needs should inform their airline or travel agent in advance.
Parking: Short term parking at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport starts at $2 per hour for the first three hours, then increases to $3 per hour up to a daily limit of $36. Long-term parking is $3 for the first hour and $1 per hour thereafter up to $14 per day. A free shuttle bus links the remote car park with the terminals.
Transfer to the city: There are regular buses going to and from the airport, downtown Las Vegas and The Strip, dropping off at most hotels; buses 108 and 109 connect to the Downtown Transportation Center and the South Strip Transfer Terminal. Shuttle services are available on west side of the baggage claim area, outside exits 7-13. Expect to pay $12 for a round-trip. There are also taxis available outside Arrivals, but the short ride is expensive.
Car rental: Car hire companies represented at the airport include Avis, Budget, Dollar and Hertz. Rental agencies provide free transportation between their parking lots and the terminal buildings. There are more car rental companies in Las Vegas, which can be contacted by using the free telephones in Arrivals.
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