Las Vegas

Written by Scott Travis

September 13, 2015

Las Vegas is the largest city in the US state of Nevada. Nicknamed Sin City, it is situated in the midst of the southern Nevada desert landscape. The communities around the city, commonly thought of as part of Las Vegas, have giant mega-casino hotels, decorated with lavish care and attention to detail to create a fantasy-like atmosphere. The casinos often have names and themes that evoke romance, mystery, and far-away and exotic destinations.


Compared with other cities in the western US, Las Vegas is a relatively recent arrival. It was founded in 1905, and for many years it was merely a small settlement in the middle of the desert. However, several pivotal events would come together in less than twenty years that would help Las Vegas grow into what it is today:

  • The construction of Hoover Dam in 1928 brought thousands of workers to the area. What is now known as Boulder City was established for the workers.
  • Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, and downtown Las Vegas became an entertainment center for the dam workers, with casinos and speakeasies. Business became so good that it surpassed Reno as the gambling capital of the world in less than 10 years.
  • In 1941, the luxurious El Rancho Vegas resort opened on what would later become the Las Vegas Strip. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel later opened the Flamingo Hotel in 1946, starting the building boom and one-upmanship that would still continue today and creating a precedent of organized crime involvement in Nevada’s gambling industry. By the 1990s, federal regulations and enforcement, and investments by established corporations would virtually wipe out any mob involvement.
  • The city is laid out as follows: Main Street as well as the numbered streets run north-south, starting with Main Street in the west. The bus station is on Main Street. Downtown has several hotel-casinos, as well as the “Fremont Street Experience”, a pedestrian mall lined with casinos, near the western end of Fremont Street. A couple miles south of downtown starts the “Strip” (Las Vegas Boulevard South), a north-south street lined with large casino-hotels, shopping malls, and other attractions. The northern end of the Strip is marked by the tall Stratosphere tower. Frequent city buses run up and down the Strip and connect the Strip to downtown. The Las Vegas monorail and the convention center sit just east of the Strip, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) is located slightly more east of the Strip on Maryland Parkway. The airport is at the southern end of the Strip.

Get in

By plane

McCarran International Airport (IATA: LAS) is served by most major domestic and many international air carriers. Terminal 1 serves most domestic flights, including those of dominant carrier Southwest Airlines as well as budget airlines Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, all of which have large operations at the airport. The airport is one of the few in the world to have slot machines in it, meaning you can lose your entire vacation budget within minutes of stepping off the plane. The airport provides free Wi-Fi without registration. To travel between the airport and your Strip hotel:

  • Taxis cost $10–$20 from the airport to a Strip location. The taxi line is well organized and the city taxi dispatcher will direct you to a numbered space along the curb. You need not tip the taxi dispatcher. There is some debate on whether the taxi driver should or should not be taking any Strip-destination passengers through the tunnel when exiting the airport. Most taxi drivers prefer to take the tunnel because (surprise, surprise) it produces a higher bill. The general consensus seems to be that taking the tunnel is 5–10 minutes shorter, but will cost you $5–$10 more; and not taking the tunnel is 5–10 minutes longer, but will cost $5–$10 less. Some people prefer to save the money as the time savings isn’t that huge. You have the right to tell the driver if you do not want to take the tunnel. And do not let them tell you they need to take the tunnel to avoid the “big accident” if that is not your preference. If you feel you have been taken advantage of by the taxi driver, take down the driver’s license number and call the Nevada Taxi Cab Authority.

Get around

View full-screen map for Las Vegas

By foot

If traveling along the Strip, walking is a reasonable option as the hotel-casinos are close to each other. However, note that what may look to be a short walk of only a couple hotel-casinos away may be farther than you expected as the resorts often look closer than they are due to their large size. In most cases, hotels are connected to each other either by bridge or underground or in the case of Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay, by a complimentary rail shuttle. Be aware that during the summer, the oppressive heat during the daylight hours may make walking a very uncomfortable activity.

By monorail

The Las Vegas Monorail, ☎ +1 702 699-8200, runs along the east side of the Strip with stops behind several of the hotels and at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It costs $5 one-way and $15 for a one-day pass, with 2-7 day passes also available. Do the math before boarding; it could be cheaper for a small group to take a taxi. Because the monorail stops at the back entrance of the hotels, it takes a long time to wind through the maze of casinos, often taking 30 minutes to an hour to get from one point to another on the Strip – if you’re in a hurry, take a taxi. The monorail’s carrying capacity of 4,000 people per hour is woefully insufficient to handle the evening exodus from the larger conventions which have as many as 150,000 attendees. If you are visiting with a friend from Nevada and want to ride the monorail, consider asking them to buy your fare because by showing a Nevada State ID or Clark County Work Permit Card (issued to all hotel employees) they qualify for the locals fare of $1. The discounted fare can be purchased from the customer service booths located at each station.

Due to high prices, inconvenient station locations, low passenger ridership, and the fact that it does not connect to downtown or the airport, the Monorail is widely regarded as a failure. It has been operating under the supervision of a federal bankruptcy court since January 2010 while it tries to reorganize its finances under the protection of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

By bus

Buses can be an inexpensive and convenient option, especially if just traveling up-and-down the Strip, or to-and-from downtown. A bus ride is a good way to recuperate during those hot summer months after a long and tiring walk on the Strip since the buses are air-conditioned.

The city bus system RTC Transit, +1 702 228-7433, operates routes throughout the valley. Most routes operate 5:30AM-1:30AM daily, but some routes operate 24 hours per day. In addition to regular service, there is also the Deuce, a double-decker bus, and the futuristic-looking Strip & Downtown Express (SDX), both of which operate at 15-minute intervals along the Strip and connect to Downtown (the SDX also stops at the Convention Center). The Deuce runs 24 hours a day, while the SDX runs from 9AM to midnight and uses roughly the same stops as the Deuce, but skips three out of four Deuce stops, making for a faster service than the Deuce (but you might also need to walk a longer distance to and from the bus stops). Be aware that on the Strip, Deuce buses often stop at short intervals and may be there for a couple of minutes as passengers board and disembark. If traveling longer distances, it is often worth it to wait and catch a SDX.

The fare is $2 for all RTC residential routes (transfers an extra $1), and $6 for Deuce and SDX service (includes transfer). The fare for residential routes and the Deuce may be paid in cash directly to the driver (no change given). On the SDX you can’t buy the ticket on board the bus, but need to purchase in advance using the ticket vending machines at the SDX bus stops. Ticket vending machines give change and accept credit/debit cards. A day pass which includes fare for Deuce and SDX service costs $8, while a 3-day pass costs $20.

By taxi

One of the easiest ways to get around is by taxi. It is relatively cheap to go from hotel to hotel, but be aware that since traffic is often so congested on the strip, taking a taxi often isn’t much faster than walking. Many taxis will cut off the strip to use a parallel road—this is often faster but can double your taxi fare. The taxi driver is required to use the meter and to take the shortest route to your destination. There is a surcharge for rides originating at the airport, but not for extra passengers. Taxi lines (queues) are typically found at the front of hotels.

All taxis require an address for pickup and drop off. It is illegal in Las Vegas for taxis to pick up or drop off passengers on the street, especially on the Strip. It is customary to tip the hotel taxi dispatcher $1 and tip the taxi driver 15% of the meter, and about $1 per piece of luggage.

If you are traveling with a large group, consider hiring a limousine, as you will often forgo a wait and the price per person may even be lower than that using a taxicab. Limousines usually queue in front of the taxicab line and can be approached directly.

By car

Driving Las Vegas Boulevard (the “Strip”), especially on weekends, is an exercise in frustration. Due to extremely severe gridlock, you could easily spend an hour (or more) sitting in traffic on the Strip just to travel a couple of miles. The Strip’s most critically congested section is the 1.7-mile-long portion between Spring Mountain Road/Sands Avenue to the north and Tropicana Avenue to the south, which happens to be where almost all of the major hotel-casinos are located.

Do what the locals do and avoid driving long distances on the Strip altogether. Instead take I-15, which parallels the Strip, and get off at the exit nearest your hotel and park there. Frank Sinatra Drive (which dead ends into Industrial Road) lies just west of the Strip, runs behind the casinos, and provides another option. Koval Lane and Paradise Road provide similar access on the eastern side of the Strip. If you need to do an east or west traverse of the northern half of the Strip and I-15, consider using the Desert Inn Road superarterial, which was built specifically to provide a fast grade-separated route for east-west traffic.

Virtually all major casinos on the Strip, and downtown, offer free parking and many also offer valet parking for an additional charge. On Friday and Saturday nights, the self-parking lots fill up fast; consider splurging on the valet to avoid cumbersome delays and endless circling around.

Rental cars

If you mostly plan to hang around one casino and your time in Vegas is short, you might want to forego a rental car altogether and just take taxis. On the other hand, taxi fares add up quickly, and with car rental so cheap, anyone staying a few days or longer would be better suited with the flexibility of a car. Some of the best sights are located just outside of Las Vegas and require that you drive to those destinations. If you need to or might go farther (e.g., out of state), ensure your rental agreement allows it and sharing of driving duties.

The base rental price for a car at McCarran International Airport is quite competitive with other major cities. Unfortunately, agencies at the airport must levy very large fees (e.g., for airport improvements) and taxes on those base prices. These can increase the modest weekly cost of a compact or intermediate size car by nearly 60 percent.


On the Strip

  •  Aquarium at the Mirage. There is an impressive aquarium behind the check-in counter. Nearby, the atrium of the hotel beneath the dome has a miniature rainforest, with towering palm trees and waterfalls. Free. edit
  •  Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. M-F 11AM-6PM, Sa-Su 10AM-6PM. In the back of the Mirage Hotel is a collection of exotic animals, including white tigers, panthers, and dolphins. $20 adults, $15 children. edit
  •  Volcano at the Mirage. Eruptions begin nightly at 8PM and run every hour (with the exception of 8:30PM) until midnight. The volcano in front of the casino erupts in a terrific light show. edit
  •  Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Inside of the casino there is a tremendous flower garden, with displays changed once for every season and once for the Chinese New Year. edit
  •  Bellagio Fountains. The Fountains of the Bellagio perform a magnificent display (set to music) every 15 minutes in the evenings and also every hour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Show times can vary on public holidays. edit
  •  Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. A fine-art gallery. Not free. edit
  •  Eiffel Tower Experience, Paris Las Vegas, 3655 S Las Vegas Blvd, toll-free: +1-888-727-4758. M-F 9:30AM-12:30AM, Sa-Su 9:30AM-1AM. You can take an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower on the Strip, a half-sized replica of the one in Paris. This is a popular attraction, especially at night, for its excellent views of the Strip. Evening: $16.50 adults, $11.50 children/seniors; daytime: $11.50 adults, $7.50 children/seniors. edit
  •  The Auto Collections, The LINQ, 3535 S Las Vegas Blvd (Located on 5th floor of parking facility behind the LINQ), ☎ +1 702-794-3174. Daily 10AM-6PM. Said to be the “world’s largest classic car showroom” with over 250 antique, classic, and special-interest vehicles on display and available for sale. Free admission available online. edit
  •  Flamingo Garden, 3555 S Las Vegas Blvd. A 15-acre garden with flamingos and other exotic birds, as well as koi and turtles. Free. edit
  •  Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, Mandalay Bay Resort. Su-Th 10AM-8PM, F-Sa 10AM-10PM; summer hours daily 10AM-10PM. The highlight is walking through a transparent tunnel with sharks, sea turtle, fish on all sides. $18 adults, $12 children. edit
  •  Madame Tussauds, 3377 S Las Vegas Blvd #2001 (at The Venetian), ☎ +1 702-862-7800. Su-Th 10AM-9PM, F-Sa 10AM-10PM. The only celebrity wax attraction on the Strip, featuring wax recreations of 100+ celebrities and famous figures. edit
  •  High Roller, 3545 S Las Vegas Blvd, The LINQ. Daily noon-2AM. Opened in April 2014, this is the world’s tallest Ferris wheel at 550 feet. One revolution lasts between 30 and 45 minutes in an enclosed cabin with excellent views of the Strip. Ticket options vary; $20 daytime, $35 nighttime, family/group options available. edit
  •  Stratosphere Tower. A 1,149 foot high tower, the tallest observation tower in the United States, with an indoor and an outdoor observation deck on top that offers a 360-degree view over the valley. A revolving restaurant also sits at the top, as well as a set of thrill rides (see below in “Do”). Elevator to the top: $20 adults, $12 children, $14 seniors/Nevada residents. edit
  • In addition to the above, there are various characters you are likely to see while you visit the Strip, including Elvis impersonators.


  •  Fremont Street Experience, ☎ +1 702 678-5600. Dusk to midnight. A pedestrian mall just outside the downtown casinos. Multimedia shows are displayed on a giant canopy over the street nightly. Free. edit
  •  The Tank at the Golden Nugget Hotel. Daily 10AM-8PM, weather permitting. A huge outdoor pool complex with a shark tank, a 3-story enclosed waterslide which passes through the shark tank, and private cabanas above the pool. $20 for non-hotel guests. edit
  •  Urinals at Main Street Station Casino. The urinals in the men’s room are mounted on an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. If you’re one of the fairer sex, ask an employee to let you see it, they almost always will accommodate you. edit
  •  Container Park, 707 Fremont St, ☎ +1 702 359-9982. A unique open-air shopping center filled with boutique retail shops, restaurants, and live entertainment for the whole family. Be sure to see the giant fire-breathing mantis at night. edit
  •  Mob Museum, 300 Stewart Ave, ☎ +1 702 229-2734. Su-Th 10AM–7PM, F-Sa 10AM–8PM. Extensive exhibits on the history of organized crime in the U.S., with lots of artifacts from famous mobsters and the law enforcement agencies that fought them. The museum is inside the old federal courthouse building, and includes a recreation of the courtroom where a major hearing on organized crime took place in 1950. $20 adults, $16 seniors/military/law enforcement, $14 children/students, children 10 and under free; discounts for Nevada residents. edit
  •  Neon Museum, 770 N Las Vegas Blvd, ☎ +1 702 387-6366. An outdoor lot loaded with huge signs that once twinkled in front of the Silver Slipper, Stardust, and El Cortez. See the giant horseshoe made of thousands of gold-colored light bulbs. Open only by one-hour guided tours. $18. edit
  •  Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park, 500 E. Washington Ave, ☎ +1 702 486-3511. Tu-Sa 8AM-4:30PM.One of the few historic attractions in Vegas is this small park which preserves the restored Mormon Fort, the first structure built by European settlers in Las Vegas. A visitor center on-site has exhibits on the fort’s past. $1, children under 12 free. edit


  •  Red Rock Canyon (on the western edge of the Las Vegas city limits). Features hundreds of traditional/gear and sport routes. Climbing is possible year-round, though Spring and Fall tend to be most comfortable. There are a couple of guide books that detail the routes. Though the area does not receive much precipitation, it is worth remembering that if the sandstone becomes wet (from rain or snow) it becomes brittle and you’d be wise to avoid it for at least two day before checking if it dried out. There is also a scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon, which will take you about 30 minutes to complete, though there are opportunities to park up and get out of the car. Entry is $7 per car unless you have a National Park pass. edit
  •  The Gun Store, 2900 E Tropicana Ave, ☎ +1 702 454-1110. 9AM-6:30PM daily. In addition to being a gun store, the range gives you a chance to shoot an automatic weapon. Photo ID required. Beware long lines. A 2-3 hour long wait is not unusual on weekends and busy days. $250-400 for machine gun shoots; lower for other standard gun types. edit
  •  Pinball Hall of Fame, 1610 E. Tropicana Ave (located in a white nondescript building on the north side of the street). 10AM-. Old-style pinball machines and the newest ones from Stern are there, all in very good condition. Some favorite arcade games too. Definitely worth a look.From $0.25 per game. edit
  •  Maverick Helicopters, 6075 S Las Vegas Blvd, toll-free: +1-888-261-4414. Helicopter tours that will take you over the Grand Canyon or above the neon lights and mega resorts of the Las Vegas Strip, as well as helicopter tours that include rafting down the Colorado River. $114-599. edit
  •  Vegas Indoor Skydiving, 200 Convention Center Dr, toll-free: +1-877-545-8093. 10AM-8PM. Fly your body in a vertical wind tunnel. No experience necessary, all training and equipment provided. Safe for all ages. $75. edit


  •  Adventuredome Theme Park, 2880 South Las Vegas Blvd. America’s 2nd largest indoor theme park with 25 rides and attractions for all ages. Day pass $29.95. edit
  •  Big Apple Coaster, New York New York Hotel. A roller coaster that lifts riders up 203 feet, then drops down 144 feet, reaching speeds of 67 mph. Simulates a jet fighter’s barrel roll, with a 180° turn, a section that leaving riders hanging in the air, then twists and dives. Individual tickets $14; day pass $25. edit
  •  Gondola rides, 3355 S. Las Vegas Blvd (at the Venetian Hotel), ☎ +1 702 607-3982. Su-Th 10AM-11PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight. $18.95 for 15 minutes on four-seat gondola; private two-person gondolas $75.80 (reservations may be made at the Emporio D’Gondola in the Grand Canal Shoppes). edit
  •  Stratosphere Tower rides. In addition to the observation desk on top, with its restaurant and great views of the city, there are four thrill rides on the top of the tower. Big Shot is a tower ride that makes up the mast of the Stratosphere and shoots passengers straight up 160 feet at 45 mph (over 4 Gs) until they are 1,081 feet above the ground. X-Scream is a giant teeter-totter that propels you 27 feet over the edge of the tower, 866 feet above the ground. Insanity is a massive mechanical arm that extends 64 feet over the edge of the Tower and spins riders at a force of 3 Gs. Lastly is SkyJump, a bungee jump ride that consists of an 855-foot controlled, falling descent from the 108th floor of the tower. Tower admission + Big Shot/X-Scream/Insanity rides $25-$36, depending on number of rides (otherwise, rides $15 each in addition to Tower admission); SkyJump $120 and up. edit
  •  SlotZilla, 425 Fremont St (at Fremont Street Experience), ☎ +1 702 410-7999. Su-Th noon-midnight, F-Sa noon-2AM. A zip line which stands 12 stories high and resembles a giant slot machine. Riders start at the east side of the Fremont Street Experience, the Slotzilla zip line is 114 feet high and launches riders in a horizontal position flying 1,700 feet — the entire length of the Fremont Street canopy – at speeds faster than 35 miles per hour. Up to four riders can ride at once, each on parallel zip lines. $20-$30 (age and weight restrictions apply). edit
  •  VooDoo Zip Line, 3700 W Flamingo Rd (at the Rio Hotel), ☎ +1 702 388-0477. M-Th noon-midnight, F-Su 10AM-midnight. Las Vegas’ second and highest zip line. The VooDoo zip line extends across the towers of the Rio Hotel and Casino where riders soar 400 feet in the air between the Rio’s two towers, offering 360-degree open-air views of the Vegas valley. $25-$40 (age and weight restrictions apply). edit


If you win…

Chances are that, if you win it big in Las Vegas and you are not a U.S. citizen your winnings will be subject to a 30% withholding tax from theIRS. That $10,000 slot winning can dwindle quite quickly if that is taken off the top. Not to worry though you can reclaim your gambling winnings tax through a 1042-S form. You should get this from the casino so don’t lose it…it is your starting ticket to getting your gambling winnings back.

Opportunities to gamble are found in most places in the Las Vegas metro area, even at McCarran Airport and small supermarkets.

Age restrictions

It is state law that all gamblers must be at least 21 years of age. Even if you are at least 21 years old, you are required to bring to the casino a valid ID that shows your current age or complete date of birth (e.g. driver’s licence, passport) as proof of your age. Photocopies of valid IDs are usually not considered valid. In-house security makes rounds of inspections to check compliance. If you are under-age or without a valid ID to prove your age and found in the gambling premises, hotel staff will ask you to leave, and could ask the metro police to issue you a citation. Moreover, under-age gamblers cannot collect any jackpot; such bets are void and the casino will at best return your wager before asking you to leave the premises. There is a curfew for anyone under the age of 18 and metro police regularly transport violators to a juvenile center.


Texas Hold’em, 7-card stud, and Omaha can be found at almost all Las Vegas poker rooms. However, not all casinos have a poker room, so call the casino or ask a gaming floor attendant. Casinos with non-smoking poker rooms include Wynn, Bellagio, The Palms, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, and Mirage.

During June and July, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is held in Las Vegas. If you are interested in poker, this is a must see and all top poker players are present. And if you are a skilled player, you can play the side games taking place during the WSOP.

A bad surprise at check in are so-called “Resort Fees”. Many hotels in Las Vegas collect this fee on top of the actual room charge(typically between $10 and $20 per night) when you check in. You won’t get around paying it, even if you claim that your hotel booking website had indicated the total pricing as final. The resort fee is apparently an attempt at introducing low-cost airline-style pricing to hotels: splitting up the price into an attractively cheap basic fee, and charging the customer for almost everything separately. Thusly, in Las Vegas, the resort fee typically “covers” the usage of the swimming pool and of the fitness center. Some hotels do not collect resort fees. It may be worth it to ask the front desk to remove this fee; especially if you had a bad experience with your stay. However, keep your expectations low but be polite and reasonable.The vast majority of visitors to Las Vegas arrive on Friday or Saturday nights and stay for the weekend. As such, room rates can seem ridiculously cheap from Sunday-Thursday night but zoom upwards on weekends. Travelers can plan a trip to their advantage: by staying, say, Sunday through to Thursday, one can not only save a bundle on hotel rates, but also take advantage of package deals that may include a show, meals, and gambling coupons—occasionally worth more than the cost of the hotel room itself.

Be aware that in Las Vegas hotels, even the resort fee does not always cover hotel amenities that are included for free in hotels in the rest of the world: These charges may be quite expensive; most hotels charge for use of the fitness center with rates around $20 to $40 per visit, local calls are usually billed, and wireless internet is generally at least $12 per day. Unless the service is free; it is better to use your own cell phone or mobile router.

Due to the flamboyant and lively atmosphere of most casino hotels, be aware that you may not get a good night’s sleep, especially on weekends or during busy tourist seasons. Drunken parties and associated recklessness are frequent occurrences in most of the motels and hotels on The Strip. Most hotels will send security personnel up to dispel loud parties or to warn drunk patrons to keep the noise down if you call the front desk, but their effectiveness may vary.

In Las Vegas parlance, the words “hotel” and “casino” are interchangeable. There is a big difference between casino hotels and mainstream hotels without gambling. Casino hotels tend to be large (often with a long walk from the parking to your room and often via the gambling floor). The size of casino hotels means that they often have a wider range of services (restaurants, bars, shops, coffee shops, etc.) and many facilities have long opening hours or are open 24 hours.

Heat exhaustion and dehydration

Expect extremely low humidity and temperatures above 105°F (40°C) May to September. Bring sunscreen and wear loose, light-colored clothing that substantially reflects sunlight. Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids.

Las Vegas. (2015, August 28). Wikivoyage, Free travel information around the globe. Retrieved 02:37, September 13, 2015 from

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  1. Diane Wall

    Am I weird to want to take my kid to Las Vegas?! 🙂 I love the information you provide on this page!

    • Heather Travis

      I’ve had good and bad experiences taking my kids to Vegas. Last time we were there, we had so much fun! The time before, terrible. I think there are tons of fun things to do there with kids!


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