About a week ago, I arrived home from my dream trip to the United States to celebrate my 21st birthday. And that is exactly what it was – a dream come true! It exceeded my wildest expectations. I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching and planning the trip, so it was incredibly rewarding for it to pay off. Unsurprisingly, I want to blog about it and have decided to divide the trip into one post per city. So, here is the first part about our first stop (and my third time to this city) – fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada!
Firstly, here is our actual itinerary of the trip. And below, you will find my much more detailed account of what this awesome city has to offer!
Anytime anyone asks me for advice about planning a trip to Las Vegas, my first piece of advice is always to stay in a hotel on the Strip (formally named Las Vegas Boulevard). This is a must. Sure, it might be enticing to stay at a super cheap hotel a few blocks off the Strip, but when the main area of the Strip (from the north end at the Encore to the south end at Mandalay Bay) is over 6 kilometres long in itself, you would be crazy to add any further walking distance to your hotel on top of that. Just trust me. Besides, all of the life and fun of Las Vegas happens in this area, so you do not get the full experience if you stay out of it. And there are so many affordable options on the Strip, which brings me to where we actually stayed…
The two hotels I stayed in during my two previous trips to Las Vegas have actually been demolished or rebranded – a testament to the ever-changing nature of Las Vegas. This time, we stayed at the Jockey Club. In my opinion, it is the best kept secret of Las Vegas accommodation. Not only does it have huge suites as its standard rooms (with a kitchen, lounge room, dining area and walk-in wardrobe) and has one of the absolute best locations in the middle of the Strip, but it is one of the cheapest hotels available! However, it does not have a casino or a theme and is much smaller than nearly all of the other hotels on the Strip.
There are way too many things to see and do in Las Vegas for me to possibly cover them all. But firstly, I want to immediately dispel the myth that Las Vegas is only a city for gamblers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Las Vegas is almost entirely made up of casinos and hotels, but there is so much to see within each of these. Heck, I have been there twice as an underage child and still had the most amazing time. I totally understand that this might be hard to believe for people who have never been there before, but Las Vegas is a truly unique city that has something for everyone.
Basically, the best way to see Las Vegas is to walk up and down the Strip and explore what each hotel/casino has to offer. I suggest allowing at least two days just to do this. One must-see attraction is the Conservatory and Botanic Gardens in the Bellagio, which is a spectacular flower display that changes every season. The Bellagio is also where you will find the world-famous fountains. Inside my favourite hotel, the Venetian, is the incredible Grand Canal Shoppes. It is a lot of fun to take a gondola ride through this area. We were also impressed by the interior design of New York, New York, which does a great job of making you feel like you are in the Big Apple. The Forum Shops in Caesar’s Palace are quite spectacular to observe too. Basically, Las Vegas is a city that lets you be transported around the world merely by walking into the next hotel/casino.
If you are looking to take a photo with the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign, be aware that it is a fair way down the southern end of the Strip. We personally used a hire car to get there. However, it is possible to walk there from Mandalay Bay, as it is a bit less than a kilometre each way.
At the other end, just north of the Strip is the Stratosphere – the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States. It is not really within walking distance of the main area of the Strip – unless, of course, you are feeling particularly guilty for indulging in a buffet the night before and are motivated to walk two and a half kilometres each way from the Wynn hotel! There is public transportation that can take you there, which I talk about further down. The view from the top of the Stratosphere is one of the best in Las Vegas. It is possible to see both the Strip and Fremont Street from the tower. I recommend going at night to see Las Vegas in its full, neon glory. And there are several crazy rides that operate outside at the top of the Stratosphere for the thrill-seekers out there! We went on the ‘Insanity’ ride, which was an absolute blast.
There are also quite a few other things to see and do off the Strip as well – the most famous one being a tour of the Grand Canyon. For anyone going to Las Vegas for the first time, this is a must. I have now been there twice with two different experiences. The drive from Las Vegas to the canyon is about four hours each way. So, driving is not really a viable option for people with limited time. That is why I have flown there both times. The absolute best (and, unsurprisingly, most expensive) way to see the Grand Canyon is to fly to it (you also fly over Hoover Dam), take a helicopter to the bottom of the canyon and take a boat along the Colorado River through it. That is what I did on my first trip and it was an awe-inspiring experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. However, this time I wanted a cheaper alternative, so we flew to the canyon and did the Skywalk – which I actually saw being built on my first trip. I had really low expectations for the Skywalk from the abundant negative reviews I read online, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is the tour we did and I would recommend it for people looking for a cheaper option than the fly/helicopter/boat option, who still want to be time-efficient.
Another thing to see off the Strip is Fremont Street – the ‘original’ Vegas. It is home to the world’s largest LED screen and famous hotels/casinos, such as the Golden Nugget. Even though it is much smaller than the Strip, it is still fun to visit. It provides a different vibe and makes you feel like you have stepped back into the Las Vegas of decades past. And if you are looking for a really cheap buffet, then this is where you want to be!
There is a ridiculous amount of restaurants for all tastes and budgets in Las Vegas, so I am not going to elaborate on this too much. Basically, whatever you want, you will be able to find somewhere on the Strip. However, one thing I will recommend is going to the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace for dinner. It is often regarded as the best buffet in Las Vegas, which is a big feat in a city renown for its buffets! Sure, it might be a bit pricier than some other options, but it is definitely worth the money. I am getting hungry just thinking about the five hundred different dishes they prepare daily…
Oh, and if you want a genuine Las Vegas experience, you have to purchase one of the ridiculously oversized plastic cocktail glasses that are filled with frozen daiquiris and just walk around the Strip, drinking it like it is no big deal. Some of the glasses are so big that they require a shoulder strap! Many places that sell them offer cheaper refills once you have paid for the initial glass. I personally bought mine from Fat Tuesday, as they have a lot of locations along the Strip, so I could conveniently take advantage of the refills.
Just in case Las Vegas was not awesome enough, it is also a shopping mecca! Not only does it have amazing factory outlets at both the north and south of the Strip (the north one is bigger), but every hotel/casino has shops as well. There is definitely something for everyone. Some of the big shopping centres on the Strip include Fashion Show Mall, the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and the Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood. Because the factory outlets are off the Strip, it is necessary to take transportation to get to them.
If Las Vegas is known for anything, it is its nightlife! Many of the best nightclubs and bars in the world are found here. I spent the night of my 21st birthday at XS in Encore, which has been rated as the best nightclub in the United States four out of the last five years! It was spectacular. The atmosphere was indescribable and the club itself was so glamorous with a huge pool area. I had so much fun partying with my friends and dancing on a pole – to the point that a random guy offered me money (maybe I should consider a career change… just kidding)! Usually, this nightclub carries a hefty cover charge. But with a bit of organisation, it is possible to get in for free through a promoter. I contacted Rachel in advance, who placed me and my group on her guestlist. Not only did we get in for free without any hassle, but the girls also got a free drink each!
My favourite bar/lounge in Las Vegas that we visited is definitely miX on the sixty-fourth floor of THEhotel/Mandalay Bay. It is so sleek and stylish. Plus, it has the best view of the Strip in my opinion! Seriously, the view is so good that we went there twice to see it during the daytime and at nighttime.
It is also hard to imagine going to Las Vegas without seeing a show at night. Just like everything in this city, there is something for all tastes. Celine Dion just happens to be my favourite singer of all-time, so I have seen her twice in concert here. In 2004, I saw her ‘A New Day…’ show during her first Las Vegas residency, which was completely breath-taking and still remains to be the best concert I have ever seen. On the trip this year, my boyfriend beautifully surprised me with fourth row tickets to see her on the actual night of my 21st birthday! She is now in her second residency in Las Vegas and her new self-titled show is not quite as visually impressive as her first one, but I was still blown away.
The main area of the Strip is walkable. However, as I have mentioned above, there are several things to see and do off the Strip that require transportation. Fortunately, there is a great bus service that is ideal for tourists. You can use this to go to the Factory Outlets, the Stratosphere and Fremont Street, amongst other things. There are also taxis and limousines available everywhere on the Strip. Just be aware that traffic on the Strip at night (and sometimes during the day) can be extremely slow.