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Las Vegas is larger than life in every way. A neon jungle, heaving with people, indulgence and excess. Las Vegas isn’t a place you go to relax, unless your idea of relaxation is 24 / 7 activity and no sleep. But that is the joy of this manic city – it’s where you go to live hard for a few days before escaping to the surrounding desert landscapes! But I do think you should visit Vegas at least once in your life. Here is my guide to Las Vegas for beginners.
Arriving into Las Vegas
Flying into Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas is a breeze. You can even play the slots while waiting for your luggage at the carousel. There are tram lines that go from the airport to the Strip, but we found it easier to just get a taxi, Uber or Lyft to our hotel. Las Vegas isn’t really designed for walking, even places that look close are deceptively far away – it’s the scale of the place! We took private hires everywhere and with two people the prices are comparable to the public transit and skytrain.
Where to stay in Vegas for the first time
Las Vegas has a hotel for every budget, and for every taste and proclivity. A smorgasbord, you could say. For your first visit, I would recommend staying on or near the Strip – just to help you see more and orientate yourself. At the top end of the budget, places such as Caesar’s Palace, The Bellagio, Four Seasons and Wynn Las Vegas punctuate the Strip in fine fashion.
Mid-range hotels on the strip include New York New York (make sure you ride the roller coaster), and the Luxor. Between the Strip and Downtown, the Stratosphere is a good option. Try the Golden Nugget for a mid-range hotel downtown on Fremont Street. I have stayed at the Stratosphere, and loved the huge suite we got for a fraction of the cost it would’ve been on the Strip.
It is easier to find budget accommodation a little outside the Strip, however there are some options in town. The Days Inn, Ellis Island Hotel, and Excalibur (good for families) are central and get decent reviews. You can also choose to rent an apartment or house in the suburbs – we found this a good option when we visited with family.
Things to do in Las Vegas for Beginners
The Bellagio Musical Fountains
Seeing the Bellagio Fountains dance along to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by the Beatles was one of the most memorable Vegas memories I have. These beautifully choreographed fountain dances are free to watch and enjoy and draw a crowd morning, noon and night. The fountains run every 15 or 30 minutes every afternoon and evening (timings can change with inclement weather).
The Fremont Street Experience
I love downtown Vegas. It is on a smaller scale and has that ‘old Vegas’ vibe about it. Fremont Street East is great for reasonably priced bars, cheap eats and vintage neon. I especially like the Downtown Container Park. A mall created out of containers, with fire-breathing junkyard sculptures outside. This is the gritty end of town – it’s a fun night out!
The Fremont Street Experience is a pedestrianised area at the west end of Fremont Street. For 5 blocks, you are dazzled by an overhead light show, a huge zip-line, live music and outdoor bars. Grand old lady casinos like Binion’s and Golden Gate offer cheap 1c slots in a retro setting. With the delightfully grim moniker “Glitter Gulch”, Fremont Street is an assault on your senses, but in a good way.
Take the hassle out of picking attractions by buying a Las Vegas Explorer Pass!
Take in a show
There’s nothing like seeing a show in Vegas. I saw Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil at New York New York and it was spectacular. Tickets can be expensive, but keep an eye on the sale sites for last minute deals. Visiting mid-week can sometimes be cheaper, and some hotels offer discounts on the shows they host.
Stratosphere Observation Deck
Every time I visit Las Vegas I head up the Stratosphere Tower to see the view over Vegas at night. It is such a whimsical neon view, a quiet way to experience the chaos of Las Vegas without being among it. If you are staying at the Stratosphere, your entry to the observation deck is free.
There are some scary-looking rides that take you outside the safety of the enclosed observation deck. Things that tip you over the edge, and a roller coaster too – no thanks! I have ridden the New York New York roller coaster once, and that was quite enough scary rooftop fun for me!
One of my favourite activities on the Strip is to visit the Vegas versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sphinx, and the Venice canals! The Eiffel Tower and Arc are at the Paris Las Vegas Resort, which also has whole Parisian style streets inside. The faux-sphinx sits at the entrance to the Luxor, toward the southern end of the Strip. Inside the Venetian Hotel are replica canals, in which you can take a gondola ride! The scale of these faux icons is epic, and typically over the top!
Gambling – I’m not going to advise where the ‘best’ places to gamble are, because casinos and slots are literally everywhere. I’ve even seen slots in the bathrooms. Go forth – spend spend spend!
The Neon Museum
Neon is part of the framework and the lifeblood of Las Vegas. The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign must be one of the most photographed signs in the world. The Neon Museum is where old signs come to die and it is a fascinating graveyard. Make sure you book well ahead of time, as the popular night tours book up quickly.
Where to eat in Vegas
I have had everything from cheap hotel buffets to diner food and English afternoon teas in Las Vegas. Like with hotels, there is something for every budget.
We had the all-you-can-eat steak dinner at Paradise Buffet on Fremont Street for a mere $14 + tax each, and it was delicious. I can absolutely recommend the nachos from Nacho Daddy (multiple locations in Vegas). Just as advertised, there were no dry chips, and the flavour combos were fab. I also recommend the Tea Lounge at the Waldorf Astoria for a posh afternoon tea experience.
Las Vegas for Beginners
Las Vegas will leave you exhausted and craving quiet, or perhaps that’s just the introvert in me talking! It is frenetic, huge, and full of every kind of person you can think of. It is a melting pot of humanity. This can be an incredible experience or overwhelming – it depends on your mood and capacity for chaos. I love it for a few days at a time, then I end up running away to the desert to recover! I hope you found my guide to Las Vegas for beginners helpful to kickstart your Vegas experience.
All photos & content © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF-S 24 mm f/2.8 STM Lens; and an iPhoneX.
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