No Las Vegas travel guide would be complete without listing the many attractions to be enjoyed in Vegas. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it includes the highlights (in my opinion) and should give you a base from which to start your trip planning.
Bellagio Fountain Show (free): This is my #1 recommended attraction for any Las Vegas vacation. The fountains are choreographed to music and go off every 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on the day and time. The schedule for the shows can be found at the website, as well as a list of music. My favorite moments in Vegas consist of watching the fountains dance to Rondine al Nido (Luciano Pavarotti) or Con Te Partiro (Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman). It brings tears to my eyes.
Bellagio Conservatory (free): The conservatory (a.k.a. the Botanical Garden) changes its flower displays each season. They do an amazing job creating panoramas with flowers, and the attention to detail is fabulous. The best display I saw here was in fall of 2013, when they recreated a “fall in New England” landscape that included a talking tree and an Ent. It was very cool.
While you’re walking through the lobby to get to the Conservatory, do look up and take note of the Chihuly glass sculpture on the ceiling. Consisting of 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, this sculpture cost a reported $10 million.
Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, The Mirage: Siegfried and Roy have been involved in the conservation of rare white tigers for many years, and you can see some of them here at the Mirage, along with Black Panthers, Golden Tigers, Snow Leopards, and more. There is also a Dolphin Habitat, a very nice facility that includes vantage points above the pool where the dolphins swim, as well as an underwater viewing area. Admission is $15 for adults. For a much heftier price, you can be a dolphin “trainer for a day”, participating in the daily activities of the center with direct contact with the dolphins.
Mirage volcano (free): This attraction is situated in a lagoon in front of the Mirage. Starting at 7pm, it erupts every hour on the hour until 11pm.
Lobby Aquarium, the Mirage: Located behind the check-in desk, the Mirage has a 20,000 gallon aquarium. It measures 53 feet long, with artificial corals and a vast array of exotic sea life, including stingrays, sharks, eels, and puffer fish. According to the Mirage website, there are now more than 1,000 coral reef animals representing 60 species from Australia, the Caribbean, Fiji, and the Red Sea, among others.
Tropical Rainforest, the Mirage: The Mirage has a lush, tropical rainforest located in the atrium just off the lobby. The rainforest includes cascading waterfalls, more than 100 different types of plants, and Palm trees that tower 60 feet under a glass dome. They have 300 orchids.
CSI: The Experience, MGM Grand: This is one of the newest attractions on the Las Vegas Strip, based on the hit CBS television show. CSI: The Experience places guests in the role of crime scene investigator as they solve one of three mysteries. Examine a crime scene, spend time analyzing evidence in a lab and try to solve the case. As a CSI fan, I had to do this and it was a blast. If you find the $30 price tag too high (as I did), try to secure a half-price ticket via Goldstar Events or one of the Tix4Tonight booths in Las Vegas.
Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay: Billed as “North America’s only predator-based aquarium and exhibit,” this is a great way to spend some time in Vegas. It has sharks of various kinds, piranha, golden crocodiles, and endangered green sea turtles, among other things. See website for current price and hours.
Fremont Street: I highly recommend spending at least one evening Downtown during a Vegas trip. It’s got a whole different feel from the Strip, like a block party. Gambling is cheaper here, and there are some inexpensive souvenir shops, and some great bars and restaurants. You can even go ziplining. This is “old” Vegas, or “classic Vegas,” but it’s also in the midst of a huge revitalization, so you’ll see a blend of the old and the new here. There is a light show every hour at night on the canopy over one section of Fremont Street, where all the old-time casinos are. It’s fun to see at least once. Don’t miss Fremont East, the section of Fremont Street that runs past Neonopolis, where some of the best bars are.
Gondola Ride, The Venetian: Simulate the experience of being in the real Venice with a gondola ride through the twisting indoor canals at the Venetian. The gondoliers are very talented singers. You can ride with others or pay extra for a private gondola. You can also just watch for free.
The Neon Museum (aka The Neon Boneyard) – The only way to view the Neon Museum is via a tour–and believe me, it’s worth it. This is one of the best museums in Vegas and the best tour. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about Las Vegas from exploring its old neon signs.
The Mob Museum: Surely you’ve heard about Las Vegas’s storied mobster past? Whether you know a lot or a little about organized crime in Las Vegas and the U.S., you’re sure to learn more at this museum. Filled with fascinating stories and artifacts, this glimpse into Vegas’s more violent history is worth a trip Downtown.
Stratosphere Observation Tower and Rides (Big Shot, Insanity, and X Scream): The Stratosphere has the tallest observation deck in the U.S. at 1,149 feet. It offers 360 degree views of the Las Vegas valley. Per the Stratosphere website: Big Shot shoots passengers straight up 160 feet at 45 mph until they are 1,081 feet above the Strip. X-Scream is a giant teeter-totter that dangles you 27 feet over the edge of the Tower, 866 feet above ground. Insanity extends 64 feet over the edge of the tower and spins you at a force of 3 Gs. I have been to the observation deck, and it’s really quite a view. I have not been on any of the rides, because I’m not insane.
The High Roller at the Linq: The High Roller is Las Vegas’s new observation ferris wheel, the tallest in the world at 550 feet. You can get some amazing views of Las Vegas from up there. It’s a bit pricey at $25 for a day ride and $35 for a night ride, but you’d drop that much in 10 minutes at a slot machine, so what the heck?
Eiffel Tower Tour, Paris: Pretend you’re in the real Paris by going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower for great views of the Las Vegas Strip–including the Bellagio Fountain show across the street. Dusk and darkness are the best times to go up. Beware if the wind is blowing and it’s really hot out, it can really irritate your eyes. Also the observation deck is narrow, so it can get crowded at times.
Titanic: The Exhibit, Luxor: I toured this exhibit when it was at the Tropicana. This isn’t just a museum-type exhibit featuring artifacts retrieved from the Titanic, they really have gone to a lot of trouble to pull the visitor into the experience. When I entered, I was given a card with the identity of a passenger on the Titanic and a few details about her. At the end of the exhibit, there was a wall listing the dead and the survivors, so visitors could see the fate of their alter ego. Mine survived, but her husband perished. I thought it was well worth the (then) $15 price. However, since it has moved to the Luxor, the price has climbed to $32! Look for a discount coupon.
While you’re at the Luxor, you might want to check out Bodies: The Exhibit. I’m way too squeamish for anything like that, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative review of it from anyone who saw it. I can only use their words to describe the exhibit: “The Exhibition offers an intimate and informative view into the human body. Using an innovative preservation process, the Exhibition showcases real full-bodies and organs, providing a detailed, three-dimensional vision of the human form rarely seen outside of an anatomy lab.”
The Pinball Hall of Fame (aka the Pinball Museum): This attraction is off-Strip at 1610 East Tropicana. It is easily accessible if you have a car, or you can take a bus or taxi to get there. Trust me, it’s well worth the trip. Relive your lost youth for a little while by playing pinball machines of yesteryear. No, you won’t win your money back, but it’ll last a lot longer than it does in a casino.
Fall of Atlantis and Festival Fountain Shows, Caesar’s Forum Shops (free): Every hour on the hour, statues come alive at these two separate locations in the Forum Shops. In one, we see the fall of Atlantis, and in the other, a discussion between various gods and a light show. I prefer the Atlantis show, as it has better special effects–fire and water and surround vision/sound. Cheesy? Yes. But it’s free. It also supposedly got an overhaul this year.
NYNY Rollercoaster: This coaster twists and turns on the outside facade of the hotel. It’s the first rollercoaster to feature a 180-degree “heartline” twist and dive maneuver, providing riders with heart-stopping actions and thrills (according to NYNY press materials). You can even purchase a picture of yourself “frozen in time” at 67mph.
The Auto Collection at the Quad: I’m not much of a car person, and even I found this collection pretty neat. There are over 250 antique and classic cars on exhibit here, and all of them are for sale. Admission starts at $11.95 but you can usually find discount coupons all over town. I’ve never paid to get in.
Richard Petty Experience: If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drive–or ride in–a racecar going 160mph around a standard track, wonder no more. Head on out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to the Richard Petty Experience where you can take your turn behind the wheel of a stock car or ride shotgun with a professional doing the driving. I never thought I’d ever do anything like that, but it was one of the highlights of my many trips to Las Vegas. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Springs Preserve: Springs Preserve is a short drive or longer bus ride away from the Strip in the desert of Las Vegas. It features a handful of museums, walking trails and botanical gardens and is a great way to learn about the history of Las Vegas and its native habitat.
Madame Tussauds, The Venetian: I visited this museum on my first Vegas trip, and then again in 2005, and felt completely differently about it the second time. If you’ve never done a wax museum, it can be a little freaky. The figures look so real sometimes you find yourself thinking they’re live people. While it’s great for photo opps, it’s a little hard for the solo visitor to get a picture of herself, say, marrying George Clooney unless she doesn’t mind asking a stranger to take her picture. I found myself bored by the museum during my second trip. They just hadn’t changed things up enough in 4 years. Also, it’s overpriced, in my opinion. If you can get a discount, do try.
Wildlife Habitat, the Flamingo (free): The Flamingo Casino and Hotel has a flock of wild Chilean flamingos, as well as ducks, koi and turtles on property, en route to the pool area.
And here are a few attractions that will either require you to book a tour or have access to a car during your stay:
Hoover Dam: One of the greatest engineering marvels in the country, the Hoover Dam is a must-see for many first-time Las Vegas visitors. I was one of them. It is definitely impressive. If it weren’t for Hoover Dam, Las Vegas wouldn’t be the thriving city it is today.
Red Rock Canyon: This is a beautiful natural desert area about 20 minutes off the Strip. You can drive a scenic, 13-mile loop here to enjoy the landscape, or go hiking, and view the Native American petroglyphs. There’s a Visitors Center that should get you acclimated.
Valley of Fire State Park: This is SO worth the trip. The Valley of Fire is a beautiful state park with some of the most stunning desert vistas I’ve ever seen, including natural sandstone formations. It’s a great escape from the crowds and chaos of the Strip. There are picnic areas out here, so be sure to pack a lunch.
Bonnie Springs Old Nevada: The best way to get to Bonnie Springs is by driving, so if you flew into Vegas, consider renting a car for the day. Bonnie Springs is one of those old West recreations with a saloon and gunfights. It’s also got a petting zoo, though I’m guessing adult solo travelers will find that less interesting than people with children. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Westerns and good kitschy fun, you might give it a try.