Las Vegas is a city that needs little introduction. Sin City has spent the past 100 years carefully crafting its reputation as a place where anything goes – and it lives up to the hype. Gargantuan hotels for a fraction of what you’d pay in other major cities, fine dining restaurants from around the world, mall upon mall (with lower sales tax than in neighbouring California), and gambling and nightlife to last a lifetime.
But the best thing about Vegas is that it can be whatever you want it to be. A sunny retreat, a swish city break, or a place to go all out and escape reality – the choice is yours. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas.
You already know what to do in Vegas: everything to excess. As a city built entirely to meet its visitors’ whims, you can gamble, shop till you drop, eat in world-class restaurants, see spellbinding shows and recover by the pool. You can visit Paris, Rome, Egypt and New York in an afternoon, or keep it classy at one of the many luxury hotels.
You may be surprised to know that there is some culture in town: the Las Vegas Art Museum, away from the centre of town, is a fine-art gallery showing international and local artists, with a programme of events and lectures.
Away from the Strip, the Grand Canyon is an easy 45-minute flight away and many travellers choose this as a perfect twin-centre holiday.
For all-round luxury, the Bellagio is hard to beat. Following a full renovation in 2012, all rooms are of a high standard (often, entry-level rooms in Vegas are not up to scratch). Wynn and sister property Encore – which skews towards a slightly younger, trendier crowd – act as the benchmark for full-blown luxury on the Strip.
The first Nobu hotel opened in a tower of Caesars Palace in 2013, and last year it was joined by the Delano – a sister property to the Miami stalwart – and the SLS, which has unleashed its Philippe Starck-designed rooms and Beverly Hills style on one of the most historic casinos on the Strip, the former Sahara. If you want the feel of a real design hotel in Sin City, this is the one that cuts the mustard.
With some of the world’s best-known chefs establishing outposts in Vegas, it’s hard to go wrong dining on the Strip. For atmosphere, you can’t do better than Lago, the new restaurant from Juliano Serrano at the Bellagio, sitting right on the hotel’s lake with prime views of the famous fountains. Bazaar Meat and Katsuya at SLS are also must-dos: both imports from LA, they bring that Beverly Hills vibe to Vegas.
It’s not all fine dining, though. One of the most memorable places to eat is Mon Ami Gabi, a French brasserie with an outdoor terrace tucked between the ‘legs’ of the Eiffel Tower, overlooking Lake Bellagio. Its patio breakfasts are legendary, and the coffee is some of the best you’ll find on the Strip.
Oh, and if you insist on a buffet – because when in Vegas – Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan and Bacchanal at Caesars Palace are head and shoulders above the rest.
Las Vegas was built as an American’s dream city, so it’s made for driving. Every casino has free, ample parking and valet service, meaning renting a car is often the easiest option.
If you plan to stick to the Strip, taxis are easy to come by, with ranks at every casino, though lines can be long at peak times. There’s also the monorail, though access tends to be via long walks through the backs of casinos. If you’re going to try to walk, know that distances are always longer than you think: it’s not advisable to walk more than three casinos away.
Las Vegas really is a year-round destination, with relatively mild winters, hot springs and autumns, and summers that are roasting and bring the pool party crowds.
Go midweek for better value, and remember to bring a coat if you’re going in winter – you may be surprised by how cool it can get.
If you think America’s tipping culture is out of control, wait till you hit Vegas. You’re expected to grease the palm of pretty much every person you come into contact with, and taxi drivers routinely expect tips of 30 per cent and more.
Seeing the city from on high gives you an entirely different perspective of Vegas. The High Roller, a super-sized London eye, and the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, is the newest attraction to open, but we prefer the observation deck on the Stratosphere tower (the tallest of its kind in the US). From here, you see the Strip unfolding below you and perfect views of the desert mountains that cradle the city basin.
It may not be the most obvious outdoor destination but the western outskirts of the city brush up against Red Rock Canyon, a national park where enormous sandstone cliffs nestle under a string of mountain peaks.
Vegas is also the place to try activities you’ve never done before. Shoot a machine gun. Drive a NASCAR racing car. Operate a bulldozer. It’s all possible here. And if you’re new to gambling, most of the casinos offer free lessons for the table games (ask at your hotel).
It’s not the most obvious family-friendly destination but there’s a surprising amount on offer for kids in Vegas. The Bellagio fountains, Mirage volcano and TI’s pirate show are all crowd-pleasers, and free to boot; and the Mirage also has the Secret Garden, with resident tigers and dolphins. And then, of course, there’s the Grand Canyon º– go in a helicopter rather than a car to swap cries of “Are we there yet?” for enchanted silence.