The First Timer’s Guide To Las Vegas

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You can live the American Dream in one (long) weekend in Las Vegas. This is crazy town and if you don’t come back with plenty of stories then you’ve not really done it properly. They’ve created replicas of Venice, Paris and Merrie England in three of the hotels. You can be a VIP for a day (or even an hour), go proper James Bond in the casinos and see some of the biggest superstars in the world performing in your hotel. So if you’ve got a Grand Canyon-sized gap in your travel plan, this is the place you’ll be talking about for years to come. That’s if you can remember it…

What’s it like? |  Essential Information | Useful tips | Things To Do

shot-of-the-grand-canyon

What’s Las Vegas like?

It’s the party capital of the world. And there really isn’t anywhere else like it. As it’s one of the most visited destinations on the planet, they’ve got hotels, bars and casinos to spare.

  • Size wise – it’s not that big. But they pack the entertainment into every square foot.
  • More than 43 million people visited in 2015. That many people can’t be wrong.
  • The “Strip” is four miles long. It’s an entertaining stroll (or taxi ride if you want to go top to bottom and back).
  • You will lose track of time. It’s impossible not to. You may even forget what natural light is.
  • You probably haven’t seen hotels like this – they’re like mini-amusement parks, with casinos. Please try and leave yours. At least once.
  • It’s brash, neon, noisy and fun. It’s really fun. We can’t stress this point enough.

las-vegas-night-scene

When to go to Las Vegas

This is the best thing about Vegas, baby. It’s anytime. You don’t even need to leave your hotel to have a good time so there’s no weather dependency. Spring and autumn are generally considered the best times, as the weather is warm and mild – and it’s not peak season so you’re likely to get a decent travel deal. However if you’re looking to do some hiking and see the Grand Canyon then you might want to avoid the height of summer – the temperatures soar and walking about might be a little sweaty.

What’s the weather like in Las Vegas?

It doesn’t rain much, makes a nice change.

  • You’re in the desert, so summer temperatures soar and hit the mid 30s to early 40s. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
  • In the winter months it can get a bit nippy, but you can still expect a good amount of sunshine.
  • Spring and autumn are warm and mild – a good time to go
Grand Canyon in the spring

Grand Canyon in the Spring

How long do you need?

A better question might be “How long have you got?”

  • A day trip: Not happening. It’s too far and there’s too much to do – a one nighter maybe at a push.
  • A short and packed weekend: You’d do the main sights, and could get out to the desert for a day or morning trip.
  • Four to five days: Probably your best bet if you really want to experience the nightlife and the wildlife (and more importantly, recover).

Getting there

Which airlines fly to Las Vegas from the UK?

Good news. There’s really good competition among the airlines taking you across the pond.

  • British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and Norwegian are among the carriers flying directly to Las Vegas.
  • Flights depart from UK cities including London, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
  • The average price of a Las Vegas flight is around £400 – there is seasonal variation of course

Find flights to Las Vegas

desert-drving

Which is the best airport to fly to?

You’ll most likely fly into McCarran International Airport.

They’ve got two terminals – which are not connected – so check which one before you head there. If you’re flying straight from the UK it’s most likely you’ll be at Terminal 3.

How long’s the flight to Las Vegas?

This is a long-haul trip. Expect an average flight duration of just under 11 hours from London, Manchester or Edinburgh.

How to get from the airport to the city

Be aware that on the way back, US international check-in times are around three hours – so leave plenty of time to get to the airport.

  • Limousines – it’s Vegas, so you might want to make an entrance. Limos aren’t too expensive if you book ahead.
  • Taxis – You only pay a $2 surcharge to and from the airport – and they can fit up to five people. If you’re on your own they now have a “ride share scheme” so you can catch a lift with other people.
  • Shuttles – these are quite fun. You get a little tour as they drop off from hotel to hotel – and it’s cheap.

Is there a time difference?

Yes. The UK is eight hours ahead – our late afternoon is their morning.

Some people might experience a little jetlag as you’re heading west. And that’s why Las Vegas is ideal. Having trouble sleeping? This place is full on 24 hours – so there’s loads of reasons to stay up and battle that fatigue.

Where to stay

Venetian

Venetian

If you’re going for a short break, you’ll probably want to stay close to the main action. Las Vegas has nearly 150,000 rooms, so you’re going to have plenty of choice. However check if there’s any major conventions in town as it can mean hotel prices might be a little higher.

Luxury

These iconic hotels are almost as much tourist attractions as places to stay. Even if you’ve never been to Las Vegas you’ve heard of them or see them in the movies (Ocean’s Eleven has a lot to answer for). They have everything inside. Bars, restaurants, clubs, shows, hairdressers, shops, spas, casinos.

The Bellagio

The Bellagio

  • The Bellagio: You’ve got to watch the fountain show at the hotel. It’s ace. There are some special hotel bars here too – you’ll feel pretty swish sipping a cocktail.
  • Caesar’s Palace: 2016 is the hotel’s 50th birthday. One of the oldest and most famous hotels in Las Vegas – they’ve had Celine Dion, Elton John, Mariah and Rod Stewart appearing at their shows to celebrate.
  • MGM Grand Hotel and Casino: Made up of four 30-story, 280 feet towers – this place is massive. It’s got more than 5,000 rooms and 750 suites, Michelin-starred restaurants and a 45-foot-tall Lion statue at the entrance (the biggest bronze in the USA).
  • The Venetian: One word: Gondolas. There’s canals. In the hotel. We’re not making this up.
  • Wynn Las Vegas: Pool parties. They have great pool parties in the warmer months.
Wynn Las Vegas pool

Wynn Las Vegas pool

Mid range

If you ever wanted to stay in a hotel that’s got an interesting take on English history – mashing up the legend of Robin Hood with that of King Arthur – then Excalibur Hotel and Casino is brilliant. It looks like a fairy-tale castle. Though you might get a bit confused when you look out of your window and see the Eiffel Tower – that’ll be the Paris Las Vegas hotel then.

Downtown

It can be cheaper to stay off The Strip – and with transport being cheap, and running for 24-hours, it’s not a bad place to stay and save some dollars for the casino.

downtown-street-scene

Staying longer?

Browse our Las Vegas hotels to find something to suit your trip or combine your hotel with a flight option – see our Las Vegas holidays.

Getting around Las Vegas

walkway-in-las-vegas

 

As we mentioned – this isn’t a huge city so it’s not going to cost you much if you want to do something other than walking.

Buses

  • They’re really cheap and run 24 hours.
  • It’s cheaper off the Strip than on the Strip to travel.

Taxis

  • You can hail them in the street – just wave your arm and shout “taxi!” (you’ve seen it in films).
  • It’s paid for by the meter with a small initial charge – remember to tip.

Limousine 

  • Well, if you’re going for glitz and glamour you may as well go all out. You can hire them for around $35 an hour.

Monorail

  • Well, it’s different. See the Strip from an unusual angle on the Las Vegas Monorail. It’s around $5 for one trip – but you can buy passes from one to seven days if you think you’ll use it more.

By car

  • If you want to so some exploring – or cruise up and down the strip with the top down – there are loads of car hire places to choose from. Just don’t buy your petrol (gas) on The Strip – it’s more expensive.

valley-of-fire-near-vegas

Useful tips

Tipping: this is probably the most important thing to get to grips with – it’s a huge part of the American culture – here’s some suggested tipping scenarios.

Money: So how much money should you take? Well, visitors who stayed three nights in Las Vegas spent an average of $292.00 for food and drink and $73 on transport in total. If you’re gambling, the average person’s budget is around $400. To save money, book in advance for shows (always cheaper online even if you’re already there) and make the most out of the food buffets and food courts. Hotels will have discount codes for local restaurants so check with them for deals.

Culture: It’s not exactly high-brow. You come here to see the big names and the even bigger shows. Having started with Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack (the original Ocean’s Eleven) back in the 1950s, Elvis, Liberace, Wayne Newton (30,000 shows) and Elton John have been some of the headliners. Celine Dion and Penn & Teller are two of the biggest names in music and magic appearing in long-running shows in 2016.

Things to do in Las Vegas

Sightseeing

You’ve probably seen so many films and TV shows about Las Vegas, you’ll be familiar with some of the major sights. But of course it’s different seeing them for yourself.

ooh-aah-point-grand-canyon

  • The Grand Canyon: One of the natural wonders of the world. You could easily spend a few days out here hiking, climbing or biking. There are campsites and lodges if you want to base yourself there instead of Las Vegas, or just do a day trip. We recommend flying so you get the full aerial view. The National Park Service has put together a useful trip planner to visiting the Grand Canyon.
  • Stratosphere: The tallest freestanding observation tower in the USA. It’s 1,149 feet high and you can walk around it (enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass). A rooftop pool opens in the summer and there’s the Sky Jump. You dive off the 108th floor. Gulp.
  • CSI: The Experience:  Whooooo are yooooouuu… It’s one of the most recognisable  TV theme tunes and one of US TV’s biggest shows. And at the MGM Grand, you can have a go at being a crime scene investigator in the city where the show was set.

street-scene

Gambling

The majority of the hotels have their own casinos. Even if you’re not a major high-roller, you can still have a little flutter – even if it’s a quick go on the slot machines.

  • Craps: That’s the one where everyone gathers round the table as you chuck the dice (after you’ve blown on them for luck of course).
  • Baccarat: Popular as it’s simple to pick up – you bet on either the Player or the Banker.
  • Blackjack: Don’t go over 21 and beat the banker’s hand (Pontoon, essentially).

Shopping

The big hotels tend to have shopping centres inside them.

  • The Grand Canal Shoppes: Jump off your gondola and explore the cobblestones of “Venice”. There’s more than 150 stores, mainly premier luxury brands of course. Top-notch restaurants and live entertainment make this worth a trip.
  • Forum Shops at Caesars: LV’s answer to Rodeo Drive – you’ll get all the big names here like Burberry, Hugo Boss and Chanel.

Las Vegas shows

Elvis impersonators, check. Zombie Burlesque, err… check. There’s hypnotists, mentalists, tribute acts, magicians, torch singers, acrobats, comedians and  musicals. You’re advised to book ahead for the Las Vegas headliners.

Eating out in Las Vegas

dining-with-a-view

There are high-end Michelin-star restaurants and cheap and cheerful fast food at the other end of the scale. Have a look at reserving online as you can often get restaurant discounts or two-for-one deals.

  • Buffets: You’ve got to visit a buffet at least once. These all-you-can-eat affairs vary in price (and dare we say quality). They’re the perfect refuelling option and usually cheaper than eating out at a proper restaurant. It also means you can be a bit of a piglet and try as many different foods as possible (in the interests of research of course).

Going out in Las Vegas

There are pool parties in the summer and club crawls in the winter.  You can try and get VIP at the super clubs with international DJs, and we should mention there are Strip Clubs, with less prestigious “acts”. Either way you can go for it from dusk till dawn and beyond. There’s always someone serving somewhere.

Hyde Bellagio - North Terrace

Hyde Bellagio – North Terrace

  • See Sin City from the sky at the VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub at Caesars. You’re partying 51 stories high and dancing under the stars. The good life indeed.
  • If you want to go even higher and off the Strip, Ghostbar is 55 stories high at the Palms Casino Resort.
  • Party in Paris – well the hotel – at Chateau’s rooftop (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday).
  • There are hundreds of bars to choose from. You can splurge in a speakeasy or just have a beer in a sports bar – here’s a useful list of bars and where they’re located.

Not a first-timer and already visited Las Vegas?

Help them out then. We’d love to hear more about your favourite things to do in Las Vegas.

Please let us know your best tips for newbies by leaving a comment below.

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About Author

Kirsten is the chief blogger here at lastminute.com. A former newspaper journalist (don’t hold that against her), having taken extensive trips to China, America and Australasia, she is now pouring her passion for travel into writing blogs and features for the lastminute.com website. Arriving in London via exotic Scunthorpe, Kirsten has made it her mission to try out as many pubs and restaurants as she possibly can in the capital.

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