Though you can get around central Las Vegas adequately without a car, the easiest way to experience the city can be to drive it. A car gives you easy access to all the casinos and attractions; lets you make excursions to Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and elsewhere at your leisure; and gives you the chance to cruise the Strip and bask in its neon glow. If you plan to spend most of your time on the Strip, a car may not be worth the trouble, but otherwise, especially given the relatively high costs of taxis, renting or bringing a car is a good idea.
Valet parking is available at most major hotels but can take a while at busy times, and in most cases there is a fee in addition to your tip for the valets ($2 to $3 is expected). Self-parking on and around the Strip is, for the most part, no longer free. Still, it's usually less expensive to rent a car and drive around Vegas, or to use the monorail (or even—gasp!—to walk), than to cab it everywhere.
The airport's rental-car companies are off-site at McCarran Rent-a-Car Center, about 3 miles from the main airport complex, and visitors must take the Rental Car Shuttle buses from the center median, located just outside the baggage claim Ground Transportation exits from Level 1 (Terminal 1) and Level Zero (Terminal 3) to get there. The facility reduces congestion in and around the airport, and offers visitors the opportunity to check bags for flights on some airlines without setting foot in the main terminal. But getting there can add 15 to 25 minutes to your travel time to or from the airport. If you rent a car, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to return the vehicle and catch your flight.
Rental Car Rates: For 2021, the Las Vegas average was running anywhere from $25 to $80 a day for intermediate to full-size cars. Usually you can find a car for less than $40 a day (and at very slow times for less than $30), but during very busy times (and in the aftermath of COVID-19), expect sky-high rates, especially at the last minute. Las Vegas also has among the country's highest car-rental taxes and surcharges: 8.1% Nevada sales tax for car rentals, a 2% Clark County rental tax, 10% concession recovery fee, and a 4% vehicle licensing fee. If you rent your car at the airport, an additional $3 per-day "customer facility charge" applies as well. During special events and conventions, rates frequently go up as supply dwindles, but at other times you can find bargains. For the best deals, check with the various online services or your airline, or contact a representative of the hotel where you'll be staying, as many hotels have business relationships with car-rental companies.
Although there are several local car-rental companies along the Strip itself, they tend to be more expensive than those at the airport or elsewhere in the city.
Rental Car Requirements: In Nevada you must be 21 to rent a car, and some major car-rental agencies have a minimum age of 25. Those agencies that do rent to people under 25 often assess surcharges to those drivers. There's no upper age limit for renting a car. Non–U.S. residents will need a reservation voucher, a passport, a driver's license, and a travel policy that covers each driver when picking up a car.
The principal north–south artery is Las Vegas Boulevard (Interstate 15 runs roughly parallel to it, less than a mile to the west). A 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South is known as the Strip, where a majority of the city's hotels and casinos are clustered. Many major streets running east–west (Tropicana Avenue, Flamingo Road, Desert Inn Road, Sahara Avenue) are named for the casinos—past and present—built at their intersections with the Strip. Highway 215 circumnavigates the city, and the Interstate 515 freeway connects Henderson to Las Vegas; the Summerlin Parkway connects the city and that suburb. Because the capacity of the streets of Las Vegas hasn’t kept pace with the city's incredible growth, traffic can be slow at virtually any time, especially on the Strip, and particularly in the late afternoon, in the evening, and on weekends. At those times drive the streets parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard: Koval Lane and Paradise Road to the east; Frank Sinatra Drive and Industrial Road/Dean Martin Drive/Sammy Davis Jr. Drive to the west. That last shortcut (from Tropicana Avenue almost all the way to Downtown) can save you an enormous amount of time. You can enter the parking lots at Fashion Show mall, Trump Las Vegas, and Circus Circus from Sammy Davis Jr. Drive. Exit Frank Sinatra Drive off Interstate 15 North, and you can access most of the hotels from Mandalay Bay to Caesars Palace (including CityCenter).
Visitors from Southern California should at all costs try to avoid traveling to Las Vegas on a Friday afternoon and returning home on a Sunday afternoon. During these traditional weekend-visit hours, driving times (along Interstate 15) can be more than twice as long as during other, nonpeak periods.
It's easy to find gas stations, most of which are open 24 hours, all over town, within a mile of the Strip in either direction, along the main east–west cross streets. Gas is relatively expensive in Las Vegas, generally 30¢ to 40¢ per gallon above the national average, and the stations nearest the airport tend to charge a few cents more per gallon—it's prudent to fill up your rental car a few miles away from the airport before returning it.
You can’t park anywhere on the Strip itself, and Fremont Street in the casino district Downtown is a pedestrian mall closed to traffic. Street parking regulations are strictly enforced in Las Vegas, and meters are continuously monitored, so whenever possible it’s a good idea to leave your car in a parking lot or garage. Self-parking is available at most of the massive garages and lots of virtually every hotel, although you may have to hunt for a space and possibly wind up in the far reaches of immense facilities. It’s also no longer free. You can avoid this challenge by opting for valet parking, but most hotels now charge for that as well. Parking in the high-rise structures Downtown is generally free or inexpensive, as long as you validate your parking ticket with the casino cashier or restaurant host.
The long tradition of free parking at all Strip resorts ended in mid-2016, when MGM Resorts International starting charging for both self-parking and valet at all of its resorts. Caesars Entertainment Corporation followed suit, as did The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Self-parking is still free at Wynn/Encore (although there’s a fee for valet), The Venetian/ The Palazzo, the Westgate Las Vegas (although there may be a fee there during conventions), the new Virgin hotel, and nongaming hotels in the tourism corridor. Also note that some players’ card holders and holders of company-branded bank cards get free parking. (Most Downtown hotel-casinos charge, but you generally get a few hours of free parking if you gamble, dine, or otherwise patronize the property). Parking rates can vary, even within the same company, so check with the property you’ll be visiting.
It might seem as if every road in Las Vegas is in a continuous state of expansion or repair. Orange highway cones, road-building equipment, and detours are ubiquitous. But once the roads are widened and repaved, they're efficient and comfortable. The city's traffic-light system is state of the art, and you can often drive for miles on major thoroughfares, hitting green lights all the way. Signage is excellent. The local driving style is fast and can be less than courteous. Watch out for unsignaled lane changes and turns.
There are rarely weather problems in Las Vegas, but flash flooding can wreak havoc. For information about weather conditions, highway construction, traffic incidents, and road closures, visit the website of the Nevada Department of Transportation, or call its Travel Info system by dialing 511 in Nevada or 877/687–6237 if calling outside Nevada.
Call 911 to reach police, fire, or ambulance assistance. Dial *647 to reach the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Rules of the Road
Right turns are permitted on red lights after coming to a full stop. Nevada requires seat-belt use in the front and back seats of vehicles. Chains are required on Mt. Charleston and in other mountainous regions when snow is fresh and heavy; signs indicate conditions.
Children: Always strap children under age six or less than 60 pounds into approved child-safety seats. In Nevada children must wear seat belts regardless of where they're seated.
DWI: The Las Vegas police are extremely aggressive about catching drunk drivers—you’re considered legally impaired if your blood-alcohol level is 0.08% or higher (this is also the law in most neighboring states, but Utah's limit at 0.05% is even lower).
Speed Limits: The speed limit on residential streets is 25 mph. On major thoroughfares it's 45 mph. On the interstate and other divided highways within the city the speed limit is 65 mph; outside the city the speed limit is 70 or 75 mph. Police officers are highly vigilant about speeding laws within Las Vegas, especially in school zones, but enforcement in rural areas is rare.