Nestled in the Nevada desert is Las Vegas. Hotels, casinos, nightclubs, and restaurants all vie for space among the neon and glitz in this city of sin. A lot of people don’t like Vegas – the party, the glitz, the expensive resorts, the fancy be-seen atmosphere. But those people focus on the negatives of Vegas. I am constantly blown away by the city – the amazing mix of restaurants, diners, people, concerts, shows, and and events. There is much more to Las Vegas than the strip. And despite all the wealth on show, it’s pretty easy to pick up freebies in Vegas. Free drinks, meals, show tickets, and reduced accommodation can all be easily had.
Hostel prices – There is an abundance of hostels in Vegas starting at $15 USD per night. However, they are usually far from the strip and you’ll need to have a car to get around. A private single room in these hostels will cost around $25-30 USD.
Budget hotel prices – There are plenty of budget hotels and casinos (think Circus Circus) located on the strip and slightly further afield with prices start from around $30 USD per night, or closer to $50 USD on the strip. Many of the nicer strip hotels start at around $80 USD per night with more luxurious hotels like the Bellagio, Venetian, or Aria starting at $150 USD per night. However, casinos offer tons of cheap room rates to get you into their casinos. There is always a deal being offered online.
Average cost of food – Most hotels and casinos have a buffet where you’ll pay $10-20 USD per session. A meal at a reasonably priced restaurant will be around $25 USD. For one of the nicer resort restaurants, you’re looking to spend about $50 USD per person with one glass of wine. But if you get a bottle and splurge, prices can be as high as $300 USD. Towards the middle of the strip near Ballys there are a number of cheap chain restaurants like Chipotle, McDonalds, and Subway. (You can find some of these in the casinos too but they are more expensive.) Getting off the strip, you’ll find local restaurants with prices about $10-15 USD for a meal.
Transportation costs – The Monorail is $12 USD for a one day pass but there are also a few free routes depending on your destinations. A ticket for the 24-hour Deuce bus is $8 USD and the Las Vegas Strip Trolley is $2.50 USD. Otherwise, taxis are your best option and will cost around $10 USD per trip.
Money Saving Tips
Skip the weekend – Most people visit Las Vegas on a Friday or Saturday and stay for the weekend which means this is the most expensive time to visit. By visiting the city during the week you can avail of the significantly reduced room rates and restaurant prices.
Gamble responsibly – It’s Vegas, of course you’ll want to risk a few dollars in a casino, but don’t go wild. Only gamble what you can comfortably afford to lose, because chances are, the house will win.
Get comps – If you’re gambling the casino will often reimburse some of your losses in the form of meals, discounted show tickets and rooms. Make sure to ask about these!
Use coupons – Coupons are almost a currency in Las Vegas; casinos will give you a book of them when you sign up for a (free) player’s card and you’ll find 2-for-1 offers on meals in restaurants on the strip.
Don’t pay cabs with a credit card – Taxis charge a $3 USD service charge when you pay with a credit card. Avoid the charge by paying cash.
Eat at the buffet – Vegas as some of the best food in the world. With all the money flowing in, it should be no surprise but if you really want to save money on food, stick to the all-you-can-eat buffets. They will cost you about 20 dollars a day.
Top Things to See and Do
Take in a show – Vegas does entertainment better than anywhere else and you’ll find some of the best acts in the world here. It’s often a good idea to book tickets with your accommodation as it can work out cheaper. Check coupon books for discounts, but aside from this you’ll find that ticket vendors offer huge reductions on unsold tickets on the day of the show, but get there early. The most famous shows are the Cirque De Soleil shows. There are usually about five going on at any given time. They are worth seeing.
Gamble – Let’s face it – Vegas is a casino city. Even at the airport you find slot machines. There is every type of game in Las Vegas. If you can bet on it, you’ll find it in Vegas. And if you can’t bet on it, well, someone will let you in Vegas. All the casinos are different and while some of the better ones are experiences in themselves even if you don’t gamble, you can see my guide to the best casinos in Las Vegas for details on all the casinos.
Head to Hoover Dam & Lake Mead – It’s worth making a couple of side trips while in Vegas. 35 miles south of the city, you’ll find Hoover Dam. The dam is a massive curved wall, towering 726 feet above bedrock and acting as a plug between the canyon walls to hold back over 9 trillion gallons of water in Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, which was created by its construction. It was constructed in the 1920s and attracts millions of people per year.
Take a trip to the Grand Canyon – You can combine a trip to the Grand Canyon with an outing to Hoover Dam if you take one of the many coach tours for around $85. Try to factor in an entire day for your tour though as the canyon isn’t that close to the city. Since they are over 250 miles away, a tour of the Canyon and Hoover Dam can easily take up to 14 hours. While I think the Grand Canyon deserves its own trip, if this is the closest you can get to it, a rushed visit is better than no visit.
Explore Shark Reef – As one of the most prestigious sea-life centers in the world, Shark Reef Aquarium is a must see. Shark Reef tunnel, which is designed to look like a sunken ancient shipwreck allows you to come face to face with all kinds of sharks, sawfish, giant rays, endangered green sea turtles and rare golden crocodiles. Tickets cost $18 USD, and it is located in Mandalay Bay Resort.
See Vegas from Stratosphere – Offering the best views of Vegas, Stratosphere is the tallest free-standing observation tower in the US. If you’re feeling brave then consider having a go on one of the extreme rides at the top. The aptly name X-Scream propels you headfirst 27ft over the edge of the tower and leaves you hanging over 850 ft in the air. Admission to the tower and all rides costs $34 USD.
Hike Red Rock Canyon – If the bright lights of Vegas get too much for you then head out to Red Rock Canyon for a day’s hiking. At 2.5 miles long, the Calico Tanks trail is the most popular in the area. You’ll pass a natural water tank on the way which leads up to a summit offering a great view of Las Vegas.
Check out the the Mob Museum- Las Vegas started with the mafia. Bugsy Segel built the Flamingo and since then the mob has controlled Vegas. (See the movie “Casino.”) With the rise of the mega resorts, they have had less influence however. Still, the mob and Vegas are tied together and a wonderful and very detailed museum has opened to discuss the history of the two. Fun fact: my family used to be involved with the mob out in Vegas.
Watch the Bellagio Fountain Show – Soaring as high as 460 ft, The Bellagio has a fountain show that performs a magnificent light and water display set to music. It happens every fifteen minutes and crowds form about five minutes before the light show starts. I think it overhyped (probably due to Ocean’s 11) and while I wouldn’t make my night revolve around it like some people do, it’s worth seeing if you are nearby.
See the Mirage Volcano – Set to its own soundtrack, the volcano erupts finely choreographed fireballs and smoke 100ft into the air from the waters below, turning the waterfall to molten lava.
Stay at Aria – This my favorite hotel. Hands down. I love everything about Aria. I love the high tech rooms, the pool area, outdoor club, delicious restaurants, and modern look and feel to the hotel and casino. But my favorite thing? The smell. The whole place is scented with vanilla. It’s by far the best-smelling place on the strip. I would recommend staying here but if you choose somewhere else, make sure you come and visit and at least enjoy one of the great restaurants.
Visit the Venetian – While gondola rides are super cheesy, overpriced, and touristy (just like in Venice!), the architecture and construction of this casino is magnificent and one of the best on the Vegas strip. If anything, just walk through here. Simply put – it’s pretty and makes for a good stroll.
Eat, eat, eat – Forget the buffets. Las Vegas has some of the best food in the world. With all that money flowing in, it is easy to see why. A trip here isn’t complete without at least one fine dining experience. My favorite restaurants are Yellowfish (Bellagio), Sirio (Aria), American fish (Aria), Lemongrass (Aria) The Peppermill, Firefly, Aureole (Mandalay Bay), and Otto (Palazzo).
Go clubbing – Clubs in Vegas are some of the most prestigious (read: pretentious) in the world, so you can expect to wait in line for a long time, pay outrageous prices for drinks and entry into the club, as well as being rejected if you’re not dressed smartly enough. The biggest ones are Lavo, Tao, Marquee, and Haze.