Partake in these iconic activities to make your next Vegas visit one to remember forever.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the city of Las Vegas, the state of Nevada, and all establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions throughout the United States continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Go big or go home. This tiny phrase encapsulates pretty much everything you need to know about the glitz and glam and over-the-top grandeur of Las Vegas. The motto also typifies the very best attractions the city has to offer—Sin City’s ultimate experiences.
The Big Apple Coaster
What makes The Big Apple Coaster at New York–New York Hotel & Casino so thrilling is that it hugs both indoor and outdoor track, giving riders a varied experience the entire time. This is the first coaster anywhere to boast a 180-degree Heartline maneuver; it also has a loop that takes riders upside-down. Oddly, the coaster also offers some of the best views of the Strip from the south. Just be sure you ride with your eyes open.
Cannabis is the star of the show at this new-ish Downtown attraction, which bills itself more as an “interactive experience” than a museum. Inside, visitors follow weed from seed to bud, wandering through exhibits that bring them face-to-face with huggable nubs, a slide that winds down through (fake) smoke rings, and a station where you can smell different terpenes. Cannabition also is home to the world’s tallest bong, which measures a whopping 36 feet and is totally smokable, dude.
Cocktails take on new meaning at the bar in the center of the casino at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Master mixologist Mariena Mercer concocts innovative spins on classics, reinventing the menu every few months or so to keep things interesting. The real magic happens on Level 1.5, where Mercer has been known to serve edible cocktails. It’s also the only spot to get the Verbena, an off-menu drink with a flower that numbs your taste buds. True to its name, the Chandelier is dappled with millions of crystals.
Cirque Du Soleil
The year 2019 is the 25th anniversary of Cirque in Las Vegas. The show started in Sin City when Mystère opened on Christmas Day 1993; today there are six different productions at six different properties around town. Mystère is still running and is as sexy as ever. Other Cirque shows include O, Zumanity, KÀ, The Beatles LOVE, and Michael Jackson One. Of all the shows, O is by far the most elaborate, with a pool and a dedicated staff of divers. Not surprisingly, O also is the most popular of the bunch.
Downtown Container Park
Malls can be cool, and this open-air shopping pavilion proves the point in spades. The park is composed of dozens of repurposed shipping containers—all of which have been renovated to create welcoming and inviting businesses. In the middle of it all rises a three-story treehouse with a slide big enough for children and grownups. Toward the back, a stage welcomes live bands just about every night of the week. Out front, a metal sculpture of a praying mantis breathes fire at night.
Eataly Las Vegas
The very best of Italy is yours for sampling at this combination marketplace/restaurant, one of the newest eateries at Park MGM on the South Strip. The facility features two formal sit-down restaurants and nearly a dozen food stalls where visitors can buy food to enjoy at public tables nearby. There’s even a chef’s table, where epicures can take cooking classes and see how some of the delicious morsels are made. In the marketplace, items imported from Italy are marketed as the perfect souvenirs.
18b Arts District
The hottest neighborhood in Las Vegas these days also is the most eclectic. Here, galleries and working studios sit side-by-side with hipster coffee shops, classic dive bars, and award-winning restaurants such as Esther’s Kitchen, from Chef James Trees. On the first Friday of every month, the neighborhood throws one giant street party designed to celebrate art. “First Friday,” as it’s called, is a popular time to visit for locals and tourists alike.
Fountains at Bellagio
Arguably the most recognizable sight in all of Las Vegas, the “dancing fountains” in front of Bellagio go off every 30 or 15 minutes, depending on the time and day of the week. Background music differs by performance—sometimes it’s classical, sometimes opera, pop, or Broadway. Perhaps the best thing about the fountain show is that it’s totally free. If you can’t score a north-facing balcony room at The Cosmopolitan next door, the best place to see the show is across the street from Paris Las Vegas.
Fremont Street Experience
Think of the Fremont Street Experience (FSE) as one giant party. The attraction spans six blocks along Fremont and features a canopy that is lined with programmable LED lights—essentially making it a giant screen. The stretch of car-free roadway underneath the canopy is a great spot for people-watching. In summer, The D Las Vegas hosts free live music concerts down on the FSE. There are other attractions along the FSE, including a virtual zombie game.
Golden Knights game
From the moment the armor-clad knights take to the ice to joust and rev up the crowd, it’s clear that witnessing a Golden Knights home hockey game at T-Mobile Arena is unlike anything else in Las Vegas. The beloved Knights were the first pro sports team to come to Sin City, and local fans love them. They also happen to be unbelievably good, making it to the Stanley Cup final in just their first season back in 2017–18. If you go, splurge and treat yourself to a black-and-gold sweater.
Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
The television show, “Pawn Stars,” has made this pawn shop on the outskirts of Downtown into a famous set—and a destination for reality TV fans of every walk of life. Filming occurs here during parts of every day; you can always tell when cameras are running because there’ll be a line on the sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard out front. When the show started, the entire shop sold merchandise on consignment. Nowadays, nearly one-third of the shop sells souvenirs.
Grand Garden Arena
The Grand Garden Arena inside MGM Grand has been the setting for some of the most legendary boxing matches in the history of Las Vegas. Naturally, then, this venue remains a spectacular place to see a fight. Instead of paying big bucks for ringside seating, opt for something farther back; the venue is so intimate that there really aren’t bad seats in the house. Be sure to pregame for the fight in The District, MGM Grand’s version of restaurant row.
Hershey’s World Las Vegas
Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate is on the menu at this South Strip attraction and monument to Hershey’s. Marvel at a version of the Statue of Liberty composed of 800 pounds of chocolate. Star in a version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial. You even can sample different flavors of Hershey Kisses. There’s an on-site bakery and, for grownups, a bar that whips up special chocolatey drinks. Whatever you do, don’t stop here when you’re on a diet.
At 550 feet diameter, the High Roller is the tallest observation wheel in the world, nearly 50 feet larger than the Big Apple Coaster. The attraction also is one of the very best ways to see the Las Vegas Valley—especially at night. The wheel boasts 28 passenger pods in all; it takes 30 minutes for each pod to make a full revolution. Perhaps the most enjoyable option: A Happy Hour pod, in which passengers have unlimited drinks for their turn around.
A total of 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete was used (in the 1930s) to build the Hoover Dam, which stopped up the Colorado River to create Lake Mead outside of Las Vegas. Though the Vegas area doesn’t see much of the water or power the dam generates (most of it goes to Arizona), the dam itself has become a huge attraction to visitors from the Vegas Valley. Tours are available year-round; more active travelers can get there by cycling on an old railroad right-of-way that’s been converted to a bike path.
Las Vegas Springs Preserve
This all-ages attraction in North Las Vegas basically is five or six different museums wrapped up into one. Exhibits teach visitors about the history of the Las Vegas valley, the science behind life in the desert, the engineering behind the Hoover Dam, and more. There’s also an outpost of the Nevada State Museum, and a facility designed to teach people about sustainability. Most notably, the “Springs Preserve,” as it’s known, has a few miles of hiking trails, from which wildlife sightings are practically guaranteed.
Marvel at modern-day pyrotechnics in front of Volcano Las Vegas, the not-so-natural disaster on the Strip outside of The Mirage. This volcano spews forth fire and fireworks three times daily, and the show unfolds to a driving soundtrack from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian table standout Zakir Hussain. Stand close enough on cold nights and the fireballs will keep you warm. To be frank, the best views are in front of Casino Royale across the street.
Housed in a former federal courthouse where local mobsters were sentenced to serious prison time, this museum pays homage to mafias throughout U.S. history. Exhibits span time and distance, explaining how mob families work and flourish. A controversial addition lets visitors practice how to shoot a gun. Downstairs the museum is home to a speakeasy bar and brewery that brews its own beer. Admission to the speakeasy is totally separate from admission to the regular museum.
Las Vegas has become the hottest place on the planet to see live music. It all started with Lady Gaga, who signed a two-year residency in the Plaza Theater at Park MGM. Since then, other artists to sign residencies have included Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, and more. The benefit to seeing mega-stars during residencies like these—most Vegas theaters are smaller than ordinary venues, meaning the experience is fundamentally more intimate.
The Boneyard is a big lot where the neon signs of Old Vegas go to die. Instead of burning out, however, some of them get second lives and become among the small handful of signs that museum docents light up at night. There are more than 400 signs total—a small portion of which are visible on the guided tour. One of the newest additions: The neon guitar from the soon-to-be-former Hard Rock Hotel. A new-ish nightly feature, Brilliant!, uses lasers and music to reanimate a handful of signs in a separate lot.
Peking Duck at Mott 32
When Mott 32 opened at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas in December 2018, it became the first Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. The eatery’s signature dish: Peking Duck, which requires at least 24 hours of advance notice to prepare. The rest of the menu unfolds like options in an Asian hawker center—lots of dumplings and street food, all served in an architecturally beautiful space on the Palazzo casino floor. Technically, the menu is Cantonese with Szechuan and Beijing influences.
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Out on the west side of the Las Vegas Valley, in the shadows of the Spring Mountains, an expansive open space offers everything from rock climbing and hiking to bouldering and petroglyphs. This park—dubbed Red Rock after the ochre-red hillsides all around, is a great destination for day-trippers and campers alike. A 13-mile loop road provides access to several different trailheads and trails of varying lengths. A small outfitter offers guided horseback rides nearby.
Shark Reef Aquarium
Sharks! In the desert! Dreams (or perhaps nightmares) can come true inside Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Get up close and personal with the critters while walking through an acrylic tunnel inside the 1.3 million-gallon Shipwreck Exhibit. Fish present include sharks (of course), turtles, jellies, and more. There’s even a baby crocodile. Little ones will enjoy handling horseshoe crabs and other critters in the Touch Pool. The facility is home to more than 2,000 animals overall and more than 100 different species.
The most famous zipline in Las Vegas starts at the far eastern end of the Fremont Street Experience and shoots thrill-seekers up to 30 mph west, directly above the pedestrian mall below. The attraction boasts two different heights—one at seven stories above the ground, the other at 11 stories. The most ridiculous (and utterly random) thing about this zipline: the starting blocks are about halfway up the world’s largest slot machine, which visitors can actually feed and play just as they would any other slot.
Considering that they combine potty humor, physical comedy, and eccentric characters, shows from Spiegelworld are unlike any others in Vegas: They’re raunchy, hilarious, and nuts. Currently, the production company has two different shows: Absinthe, outside Caesars Palace; and Opium, inside The Cosmopolitan. Each incorporates circus-style acts such as sword-swallowing, trick hula-hooping, and body contortion. A third production, Atomic Saloon Show, recently opened at the Venetian.
The tallest freestanding tower in the United States—1,149 feet in all—keeps visitors busy with a fancy restaurant, a trio of thrill rides, and more. The restaurant, dubbed Top of the World, rotates slowly, making one full revolution every hour. As for the rides, one is a roller coaster that dangles off the top of the tower, while another enables intrepid souls to bungee jump over the side. There’s also an observation deck from which one can marvel at the enormity of the Vegas Valley.
Tea at Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas
Afternoon tea at the Waldorf Astoria inside City Center is an elevated experience—in more ways than one. For starters, the experience unfolds in the lobby bar on the 23rd floor, a commanding perch with breathtaking views of the Strip heading north. Second, the service is exquisite, complete with finger sandwiches, little sweets, and the option to start with a round of bubbles. Done right, the tea lasts about two hours, so plan accordingly. Gluten-free and children’s menus are available.
Thunder From Down Under
It’s not a surprise that visitors to Vegas would flock to see nearly naked chiseled Aussies bumping, grinding, and engaging in cheeky humor on stage. What’s surprising is that this show has run since 1991, and that more than 10 million people have seen it since then. Today the fellas perform in an eponymous theater at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. Like most Vegas shows, the all-male revue runs about 90 minutes long. That’s a lot of butt flexes.
So what if the canal system at Venetian Resort Las Vegas is man-made? Sitting on an authentic gondola and being serenaded by your gondolier while he or she paddles remains one of the most romantic outings in all of Las Vegas. Anyone can take a 15- or 30-minute ride; the package deals that include roses and photographs are totally over the top. The resort even offers Gondola School throughout the year, during which regular people can learn how to ride—and sing—like gondoliers themselves.
Locals refer to him as Mr. Las Vegas, and Wayne Newton, age 76, is still going strong and crooning regularly. While he’s sung in just about every casino around town, Newton now performs on the Barge at Caesars Palace. His show mixes traditional favorites such as “Danke Schoen,” with more current ditties. Above all else, what rings true about Newton is his stage presence; say what you will about the plastic surgery he’s had over the years, but the guy’s personality is as authentic as they come.