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Your first-timers guide to Las Vegas!

Setting the Scene 

Las Vegas translates as “the meadows” in Spanish because the area originally featured abundant wild grasses and desert spring waters needed by travellers when the town was first conceived in 1905. When the Hoover Dam started excavation work in 1931, a massive influx of construction workers convinced the Mafia to build casinos and theatres to take advantage of the captive audience. Helped by an enviable electricity supply from the nearby dam, Las Vegas grew into the self-styled “Entertainment Capital of the World”. 

Throughout its nearly 120-year history, the town has been known as the planet’s premier destination for gambling – and for good reason. This desert metropolis has more places to try your hand at gambling than any other city in the world. However, the entertainment options have long since become more diverse, extending far beyond the clamour of slot machines. You’re just as likely to find visitors hiking the sandstone hills of Red Rock Canyon or catching a U2 concert in the latest massive crowd-puller – The Sphere, as you are to see them rolling the dice at the tables or visiting the enormous hotels which are attractions in their own right. Wherever your interests lie, now is the best time to visit Las Vegas, a town that is pulsing with innovation and creativity. Although gambling is still a significant draw, it’s just one of its many facets. 

First Impressions

Entering Las Vegas is like walking onto a movie set. The opulence, glitz and glamour are everywhere you look, offering the most prominent hotels, the most spectacular shows, and the best stars in the world of show business, with shops and restaurants rivalling anywhere in the world.  Yet you don’t have to go far to find natural beauty in the lakes, the desert and the stark, brooding mountains. 

Tips and hints

For first-timers, the sheer scale and grandeur of the hotels are a surprise, so when checking in at the larger properties, ensure you get a map at reception to find your way about. If you are new to town, you should never book any of the cheaper hotels in Las Vegas, as the more upmarket establishments offer some great deals at reasonable prices. However, it is worth double-checking the resort fees at the various establishments – they can provide a sting in the tail for something you believe you have already paid for, sometimes up to $45 a time. Everything in Las Vegas seems closer than it is. You will do a lot of walking while in town – Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) is 4 miles long, so come prepared, especially as the city can get overwhelmingly hot and humid. Always have water with you and get your bearings on the first day by walking along the Strip, which most agree stretches from the Mandalay Bay Hotel to the STRAT Hotel. Take time to watch the Bellagio Fountains, then gaze at the 46-story Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel before exploring the Venetian and watching the Volcano lava flowing at the Mirage. A unique monorail system from the Sahara Hotel close to the STRAT Hotel offers a more comfortable option on the return journey, often running very late into the night.


When the Sphere’s exterior LED screen suddenly switched on for the first time in 2023, this golf ball-shaped music and entertainment arena became a worldwide sensation. People crowded onto resort parking lot rooftops to watch as the largest spherical building on the planet transformed into a giant blinking eye, a swirling snow globe or a Space Age metallic orb. At 366 feet, the Sphere is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and the entire exterior of the building is cloaked in 1.2 million LED lights. It is easy to find what shows are on because billboards are plastered all over town selling the latest productions, but make sure you book in advance for those you really want to see. Cirque du Soleil makes up a large percentage of those with as many as six shows at once. Discounted tickets are available normally on the day at various outlets. Also, it is wise to book restaurants in advance, especially those you wish to try, as they can be notoriously busy. However, tipping is a big issue for international visitors to North America, with 18-25% of your bill expected to be the norm. A $1-$2 tip is also expected for each round of drinks served, even at the bar. If you are actively gaming, the drinks are normally provided free of charge, but it is best to avoid the ATMs near the casinos, as they appear to have different rates for different mates. 

The Hotels 

Visiting Caesars Palace, where Rain Man, The Hangover and Iron Man were filmed, you will find around 160 shops at The Forum and big showcase productions in the Colosseum with the likes of Rod Stewart, Sting and Adele. The Wynn is for those with expensive tastes, while the luxurious Bellagiois the closest hotel to the Sphere, but the piece de resistance is the tens of thousands of flowers that a dedicated team of horticulturists bring to the hotel’s Conservatory and Botanical Garden each season. The jaw-dropping Venetian Hotel has 7,000 rooms and seems to replicate its namesake, almost in its entirety, including gondoliers on the large canal. If you want a hotel without a casino, then try the Vdara, an elegant hotel in the middle of the Strip, or the Waldorf Astoria and Four Seasons for luxury stays. The more affordable Alexis Park All Suite Resort is just a minute’s stroll from the Strip and is also non-gaming but has the bonus of three pools. 

Nearby Attractions 

It’s not all about Las Vegas and bright lights. There is spectacular scenery nearby, with the Grand Canyon only a two-hour drive away, visiting the impressive Hoover Dam en route. Red Rock Canyon lies on the western side of Las Vegas, and a scenic drive can offer brilliant red colours popping out of nowhere against the desert backdrop. You can also try hiking on the many trails through the remarkable geological formations. 

Secret Las Vegas 

There are so many more things to do in and around Las Vegas besides the gambling, the shows, and the noisy bars. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Strip, there are many unique and quirky attractions, and with the average stay in Las Vegas only three nights, they are easy to miss out. Take a thrilling ride on a Buggy Tour over the desert dunes for a rattling good time, or head to some more unusual museums. The Neon Boneyard is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs, providing a fascinating trip back to the past. At the same time, the Mob Museum is a surprisingly entertaining look at the city’s darker past, with a “secret” Speakeasy called the Underground staging live jazz most evenings. Entry is by password only, which changes frequently but is easily found on Instagram during the day. The Atomic Museum provides an authoritative look at the days before Oppenheimer when early testing in the Nevada desert occurred. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, you can rely on the history and educational aspects of the museum. Area 15 is home to the world’s first experiential art and entertainment complex, featuring massive art installations and virtual reality experiences alongside a range of restaurants, bars, and lounges. The Downtown Container Park is an intriguing outdoor mall which, as the name suggests, has been built using 40 old shipping containers. Each outlet is very different from the more traditional luxury malls found on the Strip and provides a welcome respite from the more crowded areas elsewhere. Down at the Luxor Hotel, the Titanic Artefact Exhibition is a hugely popular and compelling look at over 250 authentic articles recovered from the Titanic itself, along with extensive recreations of some of the most famous rooms on the liner.

Las Vegas does have some edgy elements, but “What Happens in Vegas” covers a lot more activities and attractions than ever before.