Shimmering from the desert haze of Nevada like a latter-day El Dorado, Las Vegas is the most dynamic, spectacular city on earth. At the start of the twentieth century, it didn't even exist; now it's home to two million people, and boasts nineteen of the world's twenty-five largest hotels, whose flamboyant, no-expense-spared casinos lure in thirty-seven million tourists each year.
Las Vegas has been stockpiling superlatives since the 1950s, but never rests on its laurels for a moment. Many first-time visitors expect the city to be kitsch, but the casino owners are far too canny to be sentimental. Yes, there are a few Elvis impersonators around, but what characterizes the city far more is its endless quest for novelty. Long before they lose their sparkle, yesterday's showpieces are blasted into rubble, to make way for ever more extravagant replacements. A few years ago, when the fashion was for fantasy, Arthurian castles and Egyptian pyramids mushroomed along the legendary Strip; next came a craze for constructing entire replica cities, like New York, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice; and the current trend is for high-end properties that attempt to straddle the line between screaming ostentation and "elegant" sophistication.
While the city has cleaned up its act since the early days of Mob domination, it certainly hasn't become a family destination. Neither is Vegas as cheap as it used to be. It's still possible to find good, inexpensive rooms, and the all-you-care-to-eat buffets offer great value, but the casino owners have finally discovered that high-rollers happy to lose hundreds of dollars per night don't mind paying premium prices to eat at top-quality restaurants, while the latest developments are charging room rates of more like $300 than $30 per night.
Although Las Vegas is an unmissable destination, it's one that palls for most visitors after a couple of (hectic) days. If you've come solely to gamble, there's not much to say beyond the fact that all the casinos are free, and open 24 hours per day, with acres of floor space packed with ways to lose money: million-dollar slots, video poker, blackjack, craps, roulette wheels, and much, much more.
Gambling capital, vacation paradise or premier business destination; these are all definitions of the city that never sleeps. Reality takes a hike when you enter the world of glittering casinos with their 24-hour gambling excitement. The scarcity of clocks adds to the fantasy of those taking time off from the real world. As a family vacation destination, the city offers the ultimate in entertainment for all ages. As a business destination, Las Vegas wins hands down with the volume of facilities and services available for either large conventions or small business get-togethers. Multitudes of upscale eateries are at your fingertips for a business lunch or dinner and after-hours entertainment is plentiful and diverse. Whether you are planning to move here, attend a business meeting, skydive, get married or just relax and enjoy, you will find Las Vegas to be a city like no other in the world.
The Strip: Las Vegas Boulevard
This fabled three-mile area holds more hotel rooms than any other city in the world. You will find the most famous and remarkable resorts such as Bellagio with its Italian Renaissance aura and Caesars Palace , the glory of Rome, Vegas-style. Old standbys include the Flamingo Las Vegas and the Mirage , with its white tigers and erupting volcanoes. See the Paris Las Vegas with outstanding replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and magnifique Parisian atmosphere and charm. Treasure Island offers daily live "Sirens of TI" shows, free of charge. The new Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is also an impressive hotel with a nice casino that is very popular with the most trendy of visitors and celebrities. At the "bottom," or south end, of the strip, risen from the ashes of the Hacienda Hotel, now stands the magnificent Mandalay Bay with its tropical atmosphere and a pool with waves you can actually surf. At the top of the Strip, you will find the Stratosphere Tower visible from miles away. It is the highest free-standing building in the western half of the United States, with views from the top that are indescribable.
Downtown: Fremont Street
The original Las Vegas, where people hung out in the '30s and early '40s, is still thriving, but with a modern face known as the Fremont Street Experience . Some tourists actually prefer this area to the Strip because room prices are generally lower, it's an easy walk from one casino to the next and it's reminiscent of the early, nostalgic days of Las Vegas. In addition, there are famous hotels such as The Plaza (formerly known as Union Plaza), overlooking Fremont Street, and the classic Golden Nugget . For nostalgia buffs, there is also the Golden Gate Hotel Casino , renovated to its earlier classic glory and appearance and still famous for the 99-cent shrimp cocktail. Downtown Vegas is also home to another monument to its infamous past with the Mob Museum .
In recent years, hotels have sprouted up near the Strip, which are conveniently accessible by shuttle bus, taxi or car. Some of the better known of these are The Orleans , the Rio Suites and the Gold Coast on Flamingo. Further north on Sahara, is the Palace Station , the granddaddy of the Station Casinos. To the east, there's the LVH with the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center . Further south, between Flamingo and Tropicana, east of the Strip, you will find the "must see" Hard Rock Hotel and Casino next to the original Hard Rock Cafe , each with its own fantastic giant neon guitar at the entrance.
This has become something of a phenomenon in itself. The Boulder Highway was once a sprawl of small motels and businesses, leading from Fremont Street out to the city of Henderson and beyond that to Boulder City and Boulder Dam, also known as Hoover Dam. But in recent years it's become the "Second Strip" with its proliferation of large, popular hotels and casinos including the Boulder Station Hotel and Casino , one of the first properties to offer child-care at a nominal fee for children of both guests and non-guests, and Sam's Town Hotel and Casino , which has become the high standard of western-theme resorts with its Mystic Falls Indoor Park .
North Las Vegas
The city of North Las Vegas has the Las Vegas Motor Speedway , a major tourist attraction in itself, as well as Nellis Air Force Base, one of the strongest military bases in the United States and home to the flying Thunderbirds. As far as accommodations are concerned, there are several popular spots including The Fiesta and Texas Station Hotel and Casino . There is also the Santa Fe in northwest Las Vegas.
Located in the far northwest section of the Las Vegas valley, Summerlin is a planned community with homes, shops, recreational activities, festivals and concerts. A wonderful accommodation in this area is the Suncoast Hotel and Casino .
Beyond Las Vegas
For day trips that are well worth your time, check out nearby Boulder City, Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam to the east and southeast. To the west, there is Red Rock Canyon and beyond that is Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.
Once a vast wasteland of buffets, Las Vegas has come of age when it comes to dining and drinking. Las Vegas has transformed from a mecca of 99 cent shrimp cocktails (which are still available) into a major international culinary destination, with a mindblowing collection of many of the world's best restaurants and chefs all within several miles of each other. Visitors now have their choice of fine dining experiences, both on and off the strip.
Las Vegas, and especially the Strip, has quickly become a hotbed of upscale fine dining establishments, attracting world-class celebrity chefs from all corners of the globe. Famous for his California-style food and original restaurants, Wolfgang Puck has graced the city with several ventures. One of his establishments, Postrio , located inside the Venetian Hotel provides the romantic atmosphere of a genuine bistro, along with private rooms. If you like a fine dining experience with a spectacular view, ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas for an evening at the elegant Eiffel Tower Restaurant . There is not a bad seat in the house since the room has stunning 360 degree views of the Las Vegas Strip, the fountains at the Bellagio and Red Rock in the distance. Bouchon is world renowned chef Thomas Keller's Vegas venture, offering the very best French bistro cuisine inside the Venetian Resort & Casino . Another celebrity chef who has made himself a home in Las Vegas is Bobby Flay, whose Mesa Grill inside Caesars Palace Hotel Casino brings real southwestern flavor to Sin City. If you're in the mood for something a little more exotic, try Shibuya at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino to sample the flavors of the far east. Visiting the Mohave Desert does not preclude enjoying fine seafood. Chef Emeril Lagasse produces award winning lobster, fish and crab delights of the Big Easy at Emeril's New Orleans Fish House inside the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino . Awards have also been garnered by Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at the Mandalay Bay , a restaurant dedicated to sustainable seafood.
If you rather have quantity and quality, there are some great buffets on the Strip. In fact, buffets are less expensive than fine dinning and you can have all-you-can-eat lobster, steak and dessert for one price. Some of the best, though rather expensive, buffets are on the Strip. Le Village Buffet can be found at Paris Las Vegas , where you can sample as much as you can stomach, all from various regions of France. For a more upscale all-you-can-eat experience, it doesn't get much classier than The Buffet at the Bellagio , complete with a champagne brunch on weekends. The Buffet at Wynn also boasts numerous cooking stations, including sushi, risotto and of course, dessert. Spice Market Buffet , located in the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino is a contemporary buffet featuring international delicacies from Mexican to Middle Eastern and is a consistent winner of best buffet in Vegas awards. The Treasure Island Buffet is a tried and true classic, which also boasts an impressive Sunday brunch buffet. Another brunch hotspot is Sterling Brunch at Bally's Casino Resort . While it is only open for Sunday brunch, and is one of the more pricey buffets, it is well worth the effort and money.
Being one of the entertainment capitals of the world, Las Vegas has no shortage of theme restaurants. Perhaps you'd be tickled by dining with a cyborg from the Terminator, or Freddy from Friday the 13th. If so, drop in at Planet Hollywood where you will see authentic movie props and maybe a real star or two. You don't need to travel to the jungles of South America to get a taste of exotic plants and animals, instead you can just pop into the Rainforest Cafe in the MGM Grand , and then pop across the way to check out the real live wildlife in the Lion Habitat . Le Provencal inside Paris Las Vegas will transport you to a small European village, without ever leaving the Strip! For something a little more casual, Burger Bar serves up everything burger, right down to the dessert.
Just like the action never stops in Vegas, there's also a lot of restaurants that go round the clock with you, so no matter what the time, you can always find something to satisfy your appetite. Raffles Cafe at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino is a casual, tropical restaurant with a diverse menu to satisfy any craving at any time. At Caesars Palace Hotel Casino the Central Michel Richard also has American classics with a French twist day or night. Le Cafe Ile St. Louis , overlooking the Paris Las Vega s casino floor, has all the atmosphere of a Parisian sidewalk cafe, offering French and American specialties, and the Grand Lux Cafe at the Venetian offers over 20 desserts to satiate any late night sweet tooth yearnings. Cafe Bellagio is an upscale coffee shop with gorgeous views any time of day.
If you'd like to save some money for the slots and shows, there are several cheap places to grab a meal. For breakfast, dinner or anytime in between, head to Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino and try Planet Dailies to experience the coffee shop of the future. There are several good dining options at the Miracle Mile Shops @ Planet Hollywood , like Ocean One Bar & Grille , which will really suit your budget. Backstage Deli at the Luxor is a New York-style deli that will make you feel like you've been transported to New York, don't miss their famous triple-decker sandwiches. If you'd rather grab a burger Cheeseburger Las Vegas will to save you some money for the slots and you can top your burger with almost anything you could think of. At the Bellagio , Noodles can give you a taste of Asia without the cost of getting there. They also have dim sum on weekends. Ready for something sweet? Le Creperie in Paris can help, with numerous different dessert crepes, as well as savory options for dinner.
Downtown Las Vegas has both historic and new restaurants. Although you'll still have to deal with the crowds, the prices will be more reasonable than on the Strip. If you want casual fine dining Second Street Grille is a great place to have Pacific Rim cuisine. Grotto Ristorante at the Golden Nugget Hotel Casino is a beautiful Italian restaurant that uses only the freshest ingredients. Binion's Steakhouse is the perfect place to have quality steak or seafood, make sure you try the Chicken Fried Lobster.
Off the Strip
If you don't want to deal with the crowds and the prices of the Strip or downtown Las Vegas, the restaurants off the Strip have plenty of great choices. For a taste of south of the border, head to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to Pink Taco , where you can get tacos, burritos and other Mexican favorites.
Las Vegas has always been known for its numerous, affordable buffets. And while the days of the 99 cent all-you-can-eat prime rib are waning, there are endless quality options available. The Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino features two buffets, the award winning Carnival World Buffet and Village Seafood Buffet , both extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. Ports o' Call Buffet at the Gold Coast Hotel Casino is another local favorite, with seven live cooking stations.
If music is more your cup of tea, you can dine with the world's largest guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe . Mr. Lucky's 24/7 Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino serves up classics like pizza and burgers with a '50's diner feel 24 hours a day.
Outside the City
If you need a break from hustle and bustle of the touristy Las Vegas, you can find the real deals outside the city. Go to Amigo's Mexican Cantina for a Mexican meal paired with a margarita. If you want an all-you-can-eat option try the international buffet is the Feast Buffet , located a little ways outside the city at the Green Valley Ranch Resort Spa & Casino .
Las Vegas may be known as the "Sin City,” but it has a lot of great attractions. Certainly, the casinos and nightlife are what bring visitors here, but there so much more to do. There are several historic and interesting sites, that are perfect for guided or self-guided tours.
Las Vegas Strip
The Strip is without a doubt Las Vegas' number one attraction. Start with a visit to the exciting Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay with its rare green sea turtles and golden crocodiles. Start wandering down the Strip and check out the iconic casino hotels along the way like the Tropicana and Planet Hollywood . Take a break to step inside the opulent and modern Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on your way to watch the Bellagio Fountain show. Keep going and pop in to the Venetian for an unforgettable meal at Canaletto in St. Mark's Square. When you're done, stroll across the street to the Mirage and check out the spectacular Volcano eruption.
The Hoover Dam is one of Nevada's proudest possessions. It displaces the Colorado River and creates Lake Mead , a large man-made waterway. You'll find a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants found within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area . At night, try the Lake Mead Cruise for dinner and dancing, as well as beautiful scenery. There is even a nearby theater, the Regal Boulder Station , that shows contemporary films.
Fremont Street Experience
In the center of downtown on Fremont Street is the Fremont Street Experience . Along the Fremont Street Experience is part of the Neon Museum , where you can enjoy historic Las Vegas neon signs. Step into Binions and visit their world famous poker room to check out the Wall of Fame. For a taste of some Las Vegas history, check out the Mob Museum , not far from Fremont Street. If you get hungry, then head to Grotto Ristorante in the famous Golden Nugget .
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
The exhibits at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum include many different types of dinosaur fossils and various mounted animals. Nearby, Hennessey's has a classic Irish pub atmosphere with the food and drinks to go along with it. You can also take in the contemporary art pieces at the Trifecta Gallery .
Las Vegas was created to provide entertainment, so don't forget to tour local landmarks either on your own or with a guided tour. If you want a guided tour you have plenty of options.
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