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Welcome to Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, Las Vegas was created entirely to entertain and has been described as the world's largest theme park. This psychedelic city of sin is home to over a million people and welcomes 35 million more each year to its lavish hotels and casinos. Visitors today are amazed that only 70 years ago this thriving metropolis was a backwater with less than a thousand inhabitants whose only guests were railway passengers stopping off to stretch their legs on the long journey between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

Things started to change in March 1931 when the State of Nevada legalised gambling; one month later the City issued six licenses. Then in 1946, Mafia don Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel opened the sensationally lavish Flamingo Hilton on Highway 91. Las Vegas Boulevard was born and the city would never be the same again.

Soon stars like Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra were making the pilgrimage to what was fast becoming America's premier entertainment centre. In the early days the Mafia dominated the gambling industry but in the 1960s their influence waned and soon all the large hotels and casinos were controlled by big business.

Las Vegas has 18 out of 21 of the largest hotels in the world and walking down 'The Strip' visitors will see the skylines of New York and Paris, discover the canals of Venice and the Pyramids of Egypt and, at Treasure Island, see a full on-sea battle between a Pirate ship and a British Galleon. Despite these excesses, room rates and restaurant bills are the lowest in the western world - all subsidised by gamblers intent on a free holiday.

Although the principal draw card is still gambling, Las Vegas is now marketed as a family destination and there is no shortage of theme parks, shopping malls or golf courses. However, the vast majority of visitors come to gamble and the incredible displays are mostly designed to lure passers-by into the casinos, and once there it's hard to leave; the exits are discreetly hidden.

Information & Facts


Located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is hot and dry during summer with mild winters, and plenty of sunshine all year round. In the height of summer, during July and August, the mercury often soars above 100ºF (38ºC). Winters are cooler and bring winds and cold nights, with daytime highs of around 60ºF (16ºC) and chilly nights averaging 40ºF (4ºC). What little rain there is usually falls in winter, between January and March. In summer though there are sometimes late afternoon thunderstorms that move in from Mexico.

Eating Out

There was a time when Las Vegas' restaurants were known more for quantity than cuisine. This was due to the legendary casino buffets which offered mountains of food for modest prices on the well calculated assumption that diners would hit the tables or slots machines to work off their meal. Today however, Las Vegas has a large selection of world-class eateries, with Italian trattoria, classic French fine-dining and luxury steakhouses especially well represented. Some of the country's top chefs are now based here and exciting new restaurants open weekly. In addition, Vegas is home to several world-class sommeliers. All this increasing activity and greater competition means that Vegas offers decent value for money compared to other large cities. The net result is that the former capital of the 99c shrimp cocktail is now a regarded as a global cuisine capital. When it comes to eating at least, the odds are really in your favour.

Getting Around

Most visits to Las Vegas are confined to the Strip and downtown, so it is not necessary to hire a car as both are easily navigable by foot and there are several forms of transport that can be used. Public transport is limited to buses, but private trolley services, taxicabs, monorail links and free shuttle services, courtesy of the casinos, are also available. Local buses run the length of the Strip and into downtown and operate 24 hours a day with a flat fare including transfers. The old-fashioned Las Vegas Strip Trolley also runs the length of the Strip from 9.30am to 2am, and the Downtown Trolley circles between the Stratosphere and downtown from 7am to 11pm. A state-of-the-art monorail runs above the streets, operating from 7am to 2pm daily between the Sahara Hotel and the MGM Grand. Taxis are plentiful and can be found lined up outside every hotel and casino and at taxi stands. Car hire is popular with visitors although it is best to avoid driving along the Strip as traffic is heavy and there is little parking available. Cars are the most practical way to explore outside Las Vegas, although there are bus tours offered to Hoover Dam. Visitors need a valid driver's license and must be 21 years old; under-25s are usually subject to surcharges. To really fit in, why not consider hiring a limousine? Although not entirely practical, it can be a fun way to feel part of the glitz and glamour and there are several limousine agencies in the city.

Kids Attractions

At first Las Vegas may seem bright and brash, no place to take kids on holiday, but this fun and fantasy filled city is described as the world's largest theme park - what more could a child want? Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, this family holiday destination offers everything from wildlife viewing to theme parks and shopping malls. Kids on holiday in Las Vegas will immediately be impressed by the re-created New York and Paris skylines, seen from 'The Strip', and revel in the adventurous notion of exploring the canals of Venice or the Egyptian pyramids. And all the pretty Las Vegas lights, so many lights everywhere! An 8pm bedtime will be a tough call... In an attempt to lure gamblers to the casinos to squander all their cash, Las Vegas accommodation and restaurants are surprisingly affordable - a real benefit for families on holiday. The pursuit of pleasure by both parents and children alike is possible year-round; the summers in Las Vegas are definitely hotter, but everything is air-conditioned.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.


There's a reason they say 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' and the nightlife and entertainment may well be that reason. With bars, clubs, strip clubs, casinos and world-class international shows running for months on end, it's little wonder why Las Vegas has earned itself a reputation, albeit not always favourable, as one of the world's party capitals.

The world-famous strip is bland and dingy-looking during the day, but the minute the sun sets this desert oasis springs to life with neon illuminating just about every inch of this infamous city. The real problem when heading out for a night on the strip is choosing where to begin.

The current trend regarding shows is towards headline comedy or music acts and Big Broadway productions all of which can be seen at the main hotels throughout town. Many hotel lounges and bars have been replaced with DJs and go-go dancers and those in search of a drink need look no further than the hotel bars.

Hotels worth checking out while in Las Vegas are the Bellagio, the Venetian, Caesars Palace, Palms Palace, Trump Hotel and the MGM Grand. Here you will find endless hours of entertainment, if not in the bars and lounges, then perhaps in the slots and on the tables.


Las Vegas just might be the mall shopping capital of the world: there are over 20 mega malls competing for your dollar, each uniquely themed in its own style, and each offering prices that retailers in other cities struggle to compete with. So if you are burdened with your gambling winnings here are some shopping venues to help lighten your load:

Town Square Las Vegas is a mega mall with a difference: most of the stores are outside so you can enjoy a pedestrian friendly village atmosphere while exploring a comprehensive range of stores. Town Square also offers an eclectic range of restaurants, a newly built day-spa, and a wonderful interactive children's park. Another retail centre is Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. Occupying prime position on the Strip, there are over 170 specialty stores and 15 restaurants to choose from.

Caesars Palace is home to the hugely popular Forum Shops with over 700,000 square feet (220,000 sq/m) of retail space, while the Fashion Show Mall at 3200 Las Vegas Boulevard is still worth a visit for its incredible bargains 30 years after its founding. The largest mall, and indeed the biggest in the whole state of Nevada, is Boulevard Mall offering over 170 stores and 1,2 million feet (370,000 sq/m) of retail space.

If you like your mall shopping with a healthy dose of kitsch then don't miss The Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian. This indoor shopping area is built as authentic reproduction of Venice's Grand Canal (and yes, there are gondolas) with a replica of Piazza San Marco as the extravagant centre piece.

The Strip is known for designer boutiques and haute couture, and all the big names are represented here. Away from the strip and opulent malls you can find more individual stores selling Las Vegas collectibles (old gambling chips are highly prized), esoteric books and kooky clothing. Two markets are really worth a look: Broad Acres Swap Meet has over 600 retailers and the Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet has an astounding variety of new merchandise.

Sales tax of 7.75% is built into the price of goods. Because states set their own sales tax the US government has no system for refunding you as a non-US visitor.


When you visit Las Vegas you quickly realise that the city itself is the biggest attraction. You can simply walk the Strip and bask in the fluorescent lights, soak up the sounds of laughter, traffic hooting, pinging slot machines, and absorb the incredible energy of this improbably fascinating city in the desert. 100 years ago there was nothing here - today it's one of the world's fastest growing cities.

The key sites are naturally the extravagant casinos that line the Strip. Check out the MGM-themed Mirage, the Egyptian fantasy of the Luxor and opulence of the Bellagio. Music fans will head for the Liberace museum and the grand shows, while automobile nuts won't want to miss the world-class Imperial Palace Automobile Collection.

If exploring on foot, do so at night when the lights make their biggest impact and the temperature is cooler. During the day make the most of the city buses which run the length of the strip.

The glass-encased theme park of Adventuredome is the perfect attraction for thrill-seeking kids on holiday in Las Vegas - its loop roller-coaster and other gut-wrenching rides are not to be missed! If this adrenalin rush is a bit too excessive, there are also shows by the likes of magicians and jugglers on offer, as well as plenty of decadent treats like ice-cream, popcorn, candy...

The Bellagio is one of Las Vegas' most opulent hotels and most popular casinos. With an Italian theme, the great bulk of the Bellagio sits in its own vast garden. It has over 3,000 rooms and hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables, however its best-known attraction is its amazing water show - a breathtaking union of water, music and light. Between 3pm and midnight (from 12pm on weekends) the Bellagio's world-famous fountains 'dance' to opera, classical or whimsical music with carefully choreographed movements. Beyond the Bellagio's gracious lobby lies the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, a magnificent garden abounding in fragrance, texture and colour. The hotel also has a new fine arts gallery that hosts contemporary art exhibits.

An entertaining attraction for children (and their parents!) in Las Vegas is a show by the Blue Man Theater Group. Three 'mute' performers, painted blue and wearing bald caps, keep kids on the edge of their seats with a combination of humorous theatrics, music and comedy.

The Buffalo Bill's amusement park is an excellent holiday attraction for children, offering everything from earth-plunging rides that defy gravity or end with a huge splash, to log rides on a fantasy lake. Kids also love the Frog Hopper experience, bouncing around the park on the back of Buffalo Bill's life-like amphibian.

When the Las Vegas summer heat gets too much for the kids head to the Doolittle Pool complex, which has a great swimming pool and pool toys for kids to enjoy. Other features of this attraction include a water slide and playground, as well as sports fields and a picnic area.

The downtown area of Las Vegas is where it all began and the Fremont Street Experience aims to celebrate this heritage. The street is also known as 'Glitter Gulch' for the bright neon signs and thousands of flashing lights that line the streets - this is where you'll find Vegas Vic and Sassy Sal, two of the nations best-known neon icons. Some of the city's most famous vintage casinos are found here, including the Golden Nugget and the Gold Spike, as are most of its strip clubs and stage shows. Most entertainment is on, or just off, the Freemont Street Experience Mall.

Kids will revel in the exciting experience of flying through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter and landing at the Grand Canyon West Ranch. Once at the ranch, children are enthralled by horse-drawn wagon rides and the cowboys putting on a show. The western-style meal served at the Ranch House also goes down a treat.

Stretching 1,247ft (380m) across the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam holds back the waters of Lake Mead and is a fine example of the engineering of its time. One of the world's most famous dams, the Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression in the 1930s - one of many vast public projects commissioned by the US Government to get people back to work. The dam employed thousands of men from all over the country, and its hydroelectric power generator supplies Nevada and its neighbouring states with electricity. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is popular with water sports enthusiasts as well as those just after a bit of sun and relaxation.

With over 250 classic antique cars on display (all available for purchase), the Imperial Palace Auto Collection is an absolute must for car enthusiasts. It is actually part of a larger collection and cars are rotated in and out of the showroom on a regular basis; once a car is sold it is replaced by another. Exhibited are rare models, racecars, muscle cars, touring roadsters and dozens of vehicles once owned by the rich and famous.

* The Liberace Museum closed in October 2010, due to funding problems, and is currently seeking new ways to share its rich trove of memorabilia with Liberace fans.

The museum was founded in 1979 by the late entertainer and features 'Mr Showmanship's' dazzling jewellery, outfits and other memorabilia. Liberace was a massively popular musician in America and best known for his outrageous outfits and stage sets. He was a regular visitor to Las Vegas. The museum houses his vast collection of pianos and cars, which include a custom-made Rolls Royce, covered with tiny mirrors. His costumes, stage props and jewellery can also be seen. His 'crown jewels' include a spectacular piano-shaped watch with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, and a piano-shaped ring containing 260 diamonds in a white and yellow gold 18-carat setting with ivory and black jade keys. Proceeds from the not-for-profit museum support scholarships for the performing arts.

Red Rock Canyon is a dramatic valley ten miles (16km) west of Las Vegas and is a good excursion to escape the neon lights and jangle of the slot machines. Its defining feature is the steep Red Rock escarpment, which rises 3,000ft (914m) on its western edge. Today the dramatic landscape is peppered with cacti and Joshua trees and is a good spot for walking, rock climbing, cycling or simply a scenic drive. The Mojave Desert is not barren as you might think; it teems with life and beauty that is rare and unique - waterfalls cascade into the canyons and high above red tailed hawks search for their next meal.

Unlikely as it may seem, Las Vegas is one of the world's top rollercoaster destinations, with some of the fastest, biggest, and most innovative rides.

Some of the best are atop the 1,149ft (350m) Stratosphere Tower, the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Thrill seekers can enjoy excitement over 100 stories above the ground on four exciting rides: Sky Jump, Big Shot Insanity and the X-Scream. The latter should be experienced only by veteran rollercoaster fanatics or those wearing adult-size diapers. There is also a revolving restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere, which offers great views but pretty average food. Best ride first, then eat.

The Sahara Casino and Hotel is home the Speed Ride, while Circus Circus's Adventuredome has the Canyon Blaster - the only indoor double-loop and double-corkscrew rollercoaster in the world - and Chaos, a ride designed to offer a different experience each time. New York, New York Hotel and Casino has the Manhattan Express, another high quality ride that gets rave reviews from rollercoaster connoisseurs.

A mile deep, 277 miles (446km) long and up to 18 miles (29km) wide the breathtaking grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive that pictures or words simply cannot do it justice. One of the great natural wonders of the world, it was formed by the cutting action of the Colorado River over millions of years, the harder rock formations remaining as great cliffs, pinnacles and buttes, and the different layers of rock possessing colours that range from purple, fiery red and pastel pink, to yellow, brown, grey and soft tones of blue. Whether by foot or on horseback, from a plane or helicopter, aboard a raft down the mighty Colorado River or by merely gazing in awe from the rim, the canyon's seemingly infinite depths can be experienced in a variety of ways and is a landscape not to be missed, however one chooses to see it. The park receives hoards of visitors from around the world, who cannot fail to be transfixed by the sculpted rock shapes, the shifting colours that change with the light and a tiny glimpse of the Colorado River far below. The Grand Canyon National Park comprises two separate areas, the South Rim and the more remote North Rim. Separated by the 10-mile (16km) width of the canyon, it is a 215-mile (346km) drive from one visitor centre to the other and the South Rim, being the most accessible and possessing more facilities, sees over 90 percent of the park visitors. The North Rim is higher in elevation and wetter, with thicker surrounding forests; it is further to get to and is usually closed by snow from October to May, but many people prefer the comparative peacefulness of its less crowded lookouts. At both rims there are several drives and walkways along the edge with numerous lookout points for views from different angles, as well as a few hikes down into the canyon where one can overnight at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. The impact of over four million visitors a year to the South Rim, especially during the busy summer months, has its negative influences on the park, with overcrowding and traffic congestion, but despite the hoards it is a positively memorable experience to have visited one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world.

The Luxor is themed on ancient Egypt and is one of the most prominent sights on the Strip. It is a massive black-glass pyramid containing 36 floors of hotel rooms, and shining through it up into the night sky is the world's most powerful light beam, which they claim can be seen by planes circling Los Angeles. The ground floor of the hotel is given over to a massive casino, which stands beneath a recreation of Tutankhamun's Tomb. Other than gambling, entertainment at the hotel includes an IMAX theatre, gyms, swimming pools and exhilarating shows by comedians, dancers and singers.

Another MGM mega-casino, the showpiece at the Mirage is a Volcano that shoots flames 100ft (30m) into the night sky every 15 minutes (6pm to midnight), spewing smoke and transforming a tranquil waterfall into spectacular streams of molten lava. As you'd expect of Las Vegas, it's all quite naff, but great entertainment. Siegfried & Roy's White Tigers used to be one of the Mirage's signature attractions, but the show was cancelled in 2003 after Roy Horn was attacked by one of the tigers during a show. A popular attraction is the aquarium located behind the Front Desk. This 20,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is home to angelfish, puffer fish, tangs, sharks and other exotic sea creatures.

The Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada's oldest park, and is so named because of its red sandstone formations which appear to be on fire when the sun reflects off them. The rocks were shaped over 150-milllion years ago when dinosaurs roamed the area. Apart from the rugged beauty of the surrounding Mojave Desert, the main attraction in the park are the well preserved petroglyphs that adorn many of the red sandstone structures, left there by the ancient Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi. This rock art dates variously from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Visitors should head to Atlatl Rock for some of the finest examples of ancient Indian rock art or petroglyphs, including a depiction of the atlatl, which was a notched stick used to propel spears, a predecessor to the bow and arrow. Other activities here include hiking, camping and picnicking.

No expense was spared building the Venetian Hotel, which aimed to recreate the city of Venice in the Nevada Desert and the result is fairly spectacular. Guests can travel around the hotel in a gondola - real canals run through the hotel - and a replica of St Mark's Square and the Basilica turns from night to day every three hours; visitors have to look carefully to notice that the sky is actually a vast fresco. The only things missing are the pigeons and the backpackers. The casino itself is massive, featuring 2,500 slot machines and 125 gaming tables. For guests taking a break from the tables, there are five swimming pools, a fitness centre, and 17 restaurants - mostly pizzerias. One of the main attractions is Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, a wax museum presenting some of the world's biggest icons including stars, politicians, record-breaking athletes and legends.

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