Nestled in the Nevada desert, Las Vegas is a sprawling city of glitzy hotels, bustling casinos, wild nightclubs, and world-class restaurants. A lot of people don’t like Vegas – the party, the showiness, the expensive resorts, the fancy see and be seen atmosphere.
But there’s more to visiting Sin City than just the Strip. Personally, I love the city! I am constantly blown away by the amazing mix of restaurants, concerts, shows, events, nearby hiking, downtown area, and history.
And, despite all the wealth here, it’s pretty easy to pick up freebies in Vegas. Free drinks, meals, show tickets, and reduced accommodation can all be found easily!
This travel guide to Vegas can help you navigate the city on a budget and show you there’s more to Vegas than the Strip. Don’t under estimate this city!
Table of Contents
Click Here for City Guides
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Las Vegas
1. Take in a show
2. Experience Fremont Street
3. Splurge on a meal
4. Head to Hoover Dam & Lake Mead
5. Visit the Neon Museum
Other Things to See and Do in Las Vegas
1. 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 ($85 USD). These take an entire day 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. If possible, rent a car instead. That will give you more flexibility and will likely be cheaper if you can split a rental.
2. 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 $29 USD. The aquarium is located in the Mandalay Bay Resort.
3. See Vegas from The Strat
Offering the best views of Vegas, Stratosphere is the tallest free-standing observation tower in the US. If you’re feeling brave, consider trying the rides at the top. The aptly named X-Scream propels you headfirst 27ft over the edge of the tower and leaves you hanging 850 feet in the air. Admission to the Sky Pod Observation Deck costs $30 USD. Adding a “Thrill Ride” is $5 USD per ride while Sky Jumps (think bungy jumping) start at $139 USD.
4. Hike Red Rock Canyon
If the bright lights of Vegas get too much for you, head out to Red Rock Canyon for a day of hiking. A road rings the canyon, and each trailhead has a parking lot where you can leave your car to go hike before driving to the next trailhead. At 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long, the Calico Tanks trail is the most popular in the area. You pass a natural water tank on the way, which leads up to a summit offering a great view of Las Vegas. Make sure to come early in the morning before it gets too hot, and bring a lot of water, a hat, and sunscreen. The entrance costs $15 USD per vehicle (or $5 USD if you’re a pedestrian), and the scenic loop is open from 6am to at least 5pm. Other popular trails worth checking out are the Ice Box Trail (2.6 miles), Keystone Thrust (2.2 miles), and the White Rock-Willow Spring Loop (4.4 miles).
5. Check out 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, which is based on a true story). With the rise of the mega-resorts, the mob has less influence these days, however, there would be no Vegas without the mafia. This detailed, eye-opening museum showcases the history of the mob and Vegas. It’s super informative! Fun fact: my family used to be involved with the mob out in Vegas. Admission is $29.95 USD.
6. See the Mirage Volcano
Set to its own soundtrack, this man-made volcano erupts finely choreographed fireballs and smoke 100ft into the air from the waters below, turning the waterfall to molten lava. It’s located at the Mirage (on the Strip) and has been erupting since the hotel opened in 1989. The volcano show happens nightly at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, and 11pm. It’s one of the many free nightly displays on the Strip that hotels use to attract and captivate visitors.
7. Visit the Venetian
While gondola rides are super cheesy, overpriced, and touristy (just like in Venice!), the architecture and construction of this casino are magnificent. It’s one of the best on the Vegas Strip. Spend some time walking through here. Simply put – it’s super pretty and makes for a good stroll. Plus, it’s free!
8. Watch the Bellagio Fountain Show
Soaring as high as 460ft, The Bellagio fountain show offers a magnificent nightly light and water display set to music. I think it’s overhyped (probably due to Ocean’s 11), so while I wouldn’t make my night revolve around it as some people do, it’s worth seeing if you’re nearby. Check the Bellagio website for showtimes.
9. Hang out in Boulder City
Along the way to the Hoover Dam, this suburb offers a taste of local life in the area. Milo’s is the hot restaurant in this town. There’s also a main street and some shopping you can do, but not much more than that. But despite the lack of “things to do,” strolling around this quiet little community is a nice contrast to the crowds of Vegas.
10. Go golfing
There are many golf courses in Vegas, including Shadow Creek, considered one of the best courses in the world. If you aren’t a member of any local clubs, many of the casinos can arrange day passes. You can find tee times for as little as $20 USD!
11. Get artistic at First Friday
On the first Friday of every month, the downtown area fills up with exhibits and displays from local artists during First Friday. It’s free and a great way to get a sense of the local art scene as well as mix with locals. Be sure also to check out Arts District 18B, the arts center of Las Vegas, which is home to cool bars, shops, galleries, and more.
12. Visit the Pinball Hall of Fame
If you’ve got nostalgia for the vintage-style pinball machines of your childhood arcade days, visiting the Pinball Hall of Fame (near the Strip) is a must. After moving to a new location in April 2021, this museum now spans 25,000 square feet and is dedicated entirely to classic pinball games. Just make sure you bring lots of quarters.
13. Come for the Life is Beautiful Festival
Life is Beautiful is a huge music and arts festival that takes place every September in downtown Las Vegas. You get all the big-name musicians, but there’s also lots of unique entertainment – Bill Nye and Rosario Dawson are just two of the festival’s past guests. Plus, the whole downtown core gets transformed into an open-air art gallery as street artists make the city their canvas. Even if you’re visiting after the festival is over, you still get to appreciate these artworks.
14. Check out the Arts Factory
Located in the Arts District downtown, the Arts Factory is a stark contrast to the glitz and glam of the Strip. Inside this 50-year old warehouse, you’ll find galleries, studios, and all kinds of live art events (poetry readings, plays, etc.). While First Friday is the most active time to visit, you can really visit anytime. The exhibitions are always changing so there’s always something new going on. Check their website for an up-to-date schedule. It’s free to visit too.
15. See the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Arts
This 300,000 square foot museum is home to local and international exhibits. It’s located on top of the Neonopolis mall and boasts a public exhibition space, special gallery areas, and small workshop galleries. You’ll find everything from paintings to sculptures to photography here. The museum has an emphasis on multicultural works and there are often workshops and educational events held here as well. Admission is free.
16. Have fun at Area15
This immersive entertainment complex is hard to describe. It’s kind of like an indoor theme park and performance venue and retail center all rolled into one. There are events and performances (live music, drag shows), as well as dance party events with DJs. There are bars inside (including a bar and arcade combined) as well as several games and activities (like ax throwing). In short, it’s a huge complex with all kinds of weird and wonderful things to do. It’s free to enter, and then you pay for whatever activities you want to do.
For more information on other cities in the United States, check out these guides:
Las Vegas Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are currently only a couple of hostels in Vegas. During peak season, a bed in a 4-6-bed dorm room starts at $45 USD. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around $40 USD. During the off-season, a bed in a room with eight beds or more cost from about $30 USD a night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and both hostels have kitchens for cooking your own meals. Neither offer private rooms.
Budget hotel prices – You can find tons of cheap budget hotel options in Vegas near the Strip or downtown. Budget two-star hotels start at $100 USD in peak season. In the off-season, they start at $75 USD.
There are lots of Airbnb options in Vegas, but not many are located near the Strip. Plus, there are so many high-end hotels offering low prices, you don’t really need to consider Airbnb. A private room costs around $120 USD per night while entire homes/apartments start at $150 USD.
Food – You can find cheap eats in Vegas at hotels and casinos where there are buffets between $20-30 USD. While not exactly cheap, you can really fill up on food here.
Towards the middle of the Strip near Ballys, there are a number of cheap chain restaurants like Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Subway where you can find cheap fast food. Slices of pizza go for about $4 USD, and you can find burgers for $10 USD.
Vegas has lots of mid-range dining options, especially around downtown and Fremont Street. You can dine out for $15-20 USD per main course, including meat and pasta dishes. A beer costs about $6 USD (but if you want to really save money, grab a beer from a corner store for less than $5 USD — you can drink on the street here).
A latte/cappuccino costs around $5 USD while bottled water is $1.50 USD.
Vegas has some of the best high-end dining restaurants in the world, and you really should splurge on at least one good meal. You can get a prix-fixe three-course meal for $60-300 USD (or more) in this city! But you can also get really delicious meals with two courses for about $55 USD. A glass of wine is another $10 USD (at least).
If you cook your own food, expect to pay $50-65 USD per week for groceries including pasta, rice, vegetables, and some meat.
Two of my favorite restaurants here are Lotus of Siam and Esther’s Kitchen.
Backpacking Las Vegas Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Vegas, expect to spend $75 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, using public transportation to get around, cooking your own meals, limiting your drinking, and doing free activities like the fountain shows and wandering Fremont. If you plan on drinking, add at least $10-20 USD to your budget per day.
A mid-range budget of $220 USD per day covers staying in a budget hotel or private Airbnb, eating out for all of your meals at cheap fast-food chain restaurants, enjoying the occasional buffet, having a few drinks, gambling a bit, and doing some paid attractions such as seeing Hoover Dam or going to a concert.
On a “luxury” budget of $440 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel on the Strip, eat out at mid-range restaurants, drink more, see more shows, and rent a car to go on a trip to the Grand Canyon. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Las Vegas Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
You can visit Las Vegas on a budget if you’re mindful of your spending. However, you can easily go through money really, really quickly here if you aren’t careful (I mean two drinks at the bar could cost you $40 USD). Here are some ways to stay on a budget in Vegas:
- 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 enjoy significantly reduced room rates and restaurant prices.
- Gamble responsibly – It’s Vegas, so of course you want to risk a few dollars in a casino. Just don’t go wild. Only gamble what you can comfortably afford to lose because the house always wins.
- Get comps – If you’re gambling, casinos 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 give you a book of them when you sign up for a (free) players card, and you can find 2-for-1 offers on meals in restaurants on the Strip.
- Don’t pay cabs with a credit card – Many taxis charge a $3 USD service charge when you pay with a credit card. Avoid the charge by paying cash.
- Eat at the buffet – To fill up on food, stick to the all-you-can-eat buffets. They cost about $20-30 USD a meal and you can really pack it on!
- Eat cheap at 5-star restaurants – Prime-time seating at the Strip’s five-star restaurants is between 8-10pm, but these hot spots like to be full all the time, so most have both happy hour and pre-show menus to kick off their evenings between 4pm-7pm.
- Go to Reverse Happy Hour – Most Vegas restaurants stop serving food by 10:30pm, but there are so many performers finishing up about that time that the Strip has a tradition of the post-10pm (or 11pm, depending on the place) “reverse happy hour,” with food and drinks starting under $5 USD.
- Do brunch – A boozy brunch is a Sin City staple. And in Vegas, the best ones come with unlimited food and drinks on the weekends. (I order my mimosas bottomless and tell them to “hold the juice.”)
- Drink at the casino before hitting the club – To cut down on expensive drinks at the clubs, drink on the casino floor. The drinks are free as long as you’re playing one of the games. Sit down at a penny slot machine, play slow, and drink fast. You can have 10 drinks for the price of one at the club! Just make sure you tip the waitress.
- Get discount tickets to shows – My favorite part about staying near the Strip is getting to see so many shows. Tix4Vegas has booths at Fashion Show Mall, Bally’s Grand Bazaar, Town Square, Planet Hollywood, and various other locations around town. There you can find tickets for shows that night for 50% off. You can also get them online too.
- Get the Go Las Vegas Pass – This pass allows you to see a large number of attractions (and includes a free hop-off, hop-on tour as well as transportation on The Deuce). A two-day pass is $109 USD, a three-day pass is $189 USD, and a five-day pass is $259 USD. Some of the things you can enjoy with this pass are a free tour of the Hoover Dam, free entrance to Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., and free entry to the Eiffel Tower experience.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft (my preferred company) are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi — especially if you’re going to/from the airport. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings.
- Take a free walking tour – Nomad Walking Tours and Big Boy Tours offer daily free walking tours around the Strip and downtown. They’re a great way to get oriented and see the major sights without breaking the bank. Just be sure to tip your guides!
- Hang out on Fremont Street – Drinks on the Strip are pricey. Save money by drinking down on Fremont. Drinks are much cheaper there!
- Bring a reusable water bottle – Vegas gets super hot (you’re in the desert after all!) so bring a reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated. The tap water is safe, but you can use a filter like LifeStraw to ensure your water is always clean.
For more money-saving tips in Las Vegas, check out my comprehensive post on how to save money in Vegas without breaking the bank!
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
Vegas only has a couple hostels since most people who come here want to live like a rock star for a few days. If you want to stay in a hostel, here are my recommended places to stay in Vegas:
How to Get Around Las Vegas
Monorail – Most of the Strip is connected via tunnels and walkways, but when it’s too hot, the monorail is a good option for getting around. The monorail stops at seven different points on the Vegas Strip, including several different major hotels. A one-way ride is $5 USD, while a day pass is $13 USD.
Bus – The bus system in Vegas is known as The Deuce. It’s one of the best ways to get between downtown and the Strip, with the two main routes are The Deuce on the Strip and the SDX. A two-hour bus pass is $6 USD, while a 24-hour pass is $8 USD. A three-day pass is $20 USD.
Taxis – Taxis start at $3.50 USD here, with the normal tariff being $3.25 USD per additional mile. Many taxis also charge a processing fee of around $3 USD if you don’t pay cash. Also, if you take a taxi from the airport there is a $2 USD surcharge. Since traffic here can be a pain it’s best to just skip the taxis if you can.
Ridesharing – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around the city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as $35 USD per day for a multi-day rental. You’ll need to be at least 21 years old to rent a car.
When to Go to Las Vegas
Vegas is busy all year-round, but especially during the winter months when the rest of North America comes seeking Nevada’s hot, desert temperatures. Spring and fall temperatures are pleasant, with highs averaging between 69-82°F (20-28°C). Summer is a scorcher, with temperatures reaching 105°F (40°C).
It’s especially busy in Las Vegas during the week between Christmas and New Years’ and also at the end of January when all the conventions are in town. March in Vegas can be total chaos when Spring Break and college basketball hits so, if you want lower prices and fewer crowds, definitely do not come during these times!
How to Stay Safe in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is a safe place to visit. Violent attacks are rare, but like all big cities, practice caution wherever you go. Vegas does have some gang violence, but if you stick to Fremont Street or the Strip, you likely won’t come in contact with it.
Don’t walk alone at night in unlit places, and keep your valuables secure at all times. Keep an eye on your wallet while in large crowds on Fremont Street or on public transportation.
Never leave your drink unattended and be wary of buying things from street vendors. This is especially true for event tickets.
If you’re hiking, always bring water and sunscreen. It can get super hot! If you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight. While break-ins are rare, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid. There aren’t many here in the states though.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Las Vegas. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Las Vegas Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Las Vegas. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Las Vegas Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Las Vegas Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a must-read travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. The story follows Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. He finds thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams
In 1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles along the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite writers, and this book is very reminiscent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belonging. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant
As a big fan of the state of Mississippi, I was keen to read this book. The state is an often-overlooked tourist destination with eccentric but wonderful people; beautiful parks, rivers, and swamps; stunning architecture; and a complex and rich history for history buffs like myself. In this book, English writer Richard Grant and his girlfriend move to rural Pluto, Mississippi, to live a better life, escape the big city, lower their cost of living, and try something new. They learn to hunt, garden, fend off wild animals, handle snakes, and befriend interesting characters along the way.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
The United States of America is more than just 50 states. There are also the non-states of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In this funny, detailed, fact-rich book, Doug Mack explores these territories largely forgotten by the rest of the country, which play a more important role in our country than we realize. I had the pleasure of listening to Doug talk about his book in NYC, and he’s a wealth of knowledge — just like his book! This one of those travel books that expands your mind about the place you don’t really know.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a deep dive into America’s unknown tiny towns scattered across the country map, like New Hope (Tennessee), Remote (Oregon), Why (Arizona), and Whynot (Mississippi). Yes, those are real town names! Heat-Moon’s book is considered a masterpiece in American travel writing and you’ll love his adventures and the incredible people he encounters as he reveals the “real” American experience.
Las Vegas Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: