Las Vegas is located in western USA, and is the largest city in the state of Nevada. Recreationally, Las Vegas is a city renowned internationally for gambling and shopping, aptly nicknamed “The Entertainment Capital of the World”.
Las Vegas is all about glamour for its own sake: over-the-top hustle and flash as means and end. It is crowds of people in polyester pantsuits, big hair and gold chains, staring at neon signs and spinning cherries like deer hypnotised by headlights.
Not that Vegas doesn't have a serious side - billions are at stake on the tables and at the megaresorts. But you're given enough distractions to ignore it, until you lose. If you tire of the ding-ding-ding of the slot machines, the surrounding area has some of the Southwest's most beautiful scenery.
Summers in Las Vegas are scorching. The daily high averages around 38°C (100°F) from June to August, compared with average winter lows of around 13°C (55°F) from December to February; the rest of the year is temperate. It's pretty dry most of the time, but thunderstorms are most common in the summer (June to August) and can cause dangerous flash floods.
Deciding on when to go to Vegas is a gamble in itself. As a general rule November to February has always been the quietest and thus cheapest time in Vegas. However, a lot of shows take a break during this time and during events such as Thanksgiving, New Year and the Superbowl, surges of people take their parties to Vegas. Add to this the plethora of conventions that are continually held in town and accommodation prices fluctuate at a whim. The spring-fall shoulder months tend to be the busiest times: mid-summer fries the bejesus out of Vegas and winter, while still relatively mild, can throw a chilly night its way.
Las Vegas is an extremely accommodating place for people with reduced mobility. Nearly every casino in town is on the ground floor and most hotels and area restaurants have taken the steps to make their establishments wheelchair accessible. The same goes for public restrooms. Where stairs exist, so does an elevator or a ramp. Automatic doors and shaved curbs are standard. Most public transport and some hotel pools are lift-equipped. By law, all taxi companies must have a wheelchair-accessible van. Wheelchair seating is widely available and assisted listening devices are available at most showrooms. Guide dogs may be brought into restaurants, hotels and businesses. For more information, contact the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority's ADA coordinator on 702 892 7575 (voice relay 800 326 6888, TTY 800 326 6868).
The aim is old-fashioned: ensure visitors go gaga and keep coming back for more. Beyond the casinos, the Liberace Museum has recently been upstaged by the Smithsonian-affiliated Atomic Testing Museum and Las Vegas Art Museum, while back on the Strip you'll find showy spectaculars, kitschy sideshows, high-flying thrill rides and amusement parks galore.
Atomic Testing Museum
Tel: (702) 794 5161 (info)
During the atomic heyday of the 1950s, gamblers and tourists watched mushroom clouds rising behind downtown's Fremont St, and the city even crowned a Miss Atomic Bomb. Don't skip the deafening Ground Zero Theater, which mimics a concrete test bunker.
Tel: (866) 906 7171
The Bellagio's lobby features an 18ft ceiling adorned with 2000 hand-blown glass flowers in vibrant colors. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art showcases temporary exhibits by fantastic artists, and the massive artificial lake in front of this glam palace comes alive nightly with more than 1000 choreographed water jets.
Circus Circus Midway
Tel: (702) 734 0410 (info)
Free circus performances acts steal centre stage directly above this Austin Powers-era casino's main floor. Grab a seat at the revolving Horse-A-Round Bar made infamous by Hunter S Thompson's gonzo-journalism epic Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.
Fremont Street Experience
Tel: (702) 678-5600
The four-block-long covered pedestrian mall known as the Fremont St Experience is a sound-and-light extravaganza devised a decade ago to inject new life into a Las Vegas downtown deserted by tourists in favour of The Strip. It's weird, but definitely captivating.
Guggenheim Hermitage Museum
Tel: (702) 414 2440 (info)
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, this austere gallery exhibits masterworks from the museum's vast collection of impressionist, postimpressionist and early modernist works. A partnership with the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg ensures that the masterpieces will keep on coming. Look up at the natural skylight, the underside of which flaunts a homage to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Tel: 800 473 7625 (info)
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is home to one of the world's most impressive collections of rock-and-roll memorabilia. The pool complex is a sexy, see-and-be-seen scene that's perfect for entourage wannabes.
Tel: (702) 731 3311 (info)
Time your visit to the Imperial Palace to coincide with the evening shift change of the Imperial Dealertainers, celebrity impersonators who do double duty as blackjack dealers. Elvis, Janet Jackson, Gwen Stefani and others belt out hits between hands.
Las Vegas Cyber Speedway & Speed
Tel: (702) 734 7223 (info)
The Las Vegas Cyber Speedway & Speed is housed inside the NASCAR Cafe. The Indy car simulators, with 7m (20ft) wraparound screens, are mounted on hydraulics and are so authentic - with their 15-speaker sound system - they excite real Formula One drivers.
Tel: (702) 798 5595 (info)
For connoisseurs of over-the-top extravagance, the Liberace Museum is a must-do. The home of 'Mr. Showmanship' houses the flamboyant art cars, ornate pianos and the most outrageous costumes concocted outside of a Halloween parade.
Little White Wedding Chapel
Tel: (702) 382 5943 (info)
The Little White Wedding Chapel has welcomed thousands of couples since opening in 1946, and is a favorite spot for celebs to say 'I do.' You can have an Elvis impersonator officiate or have the affair broadcast over the internet. They'll marry you in a helicopter, an air balloon - you name it. Drive-through rates start at around US$40, with full ceremony packages averaging US$800.
Tel: (702) 262 4000 (info)
You can't miss this 30-storey pyramid fronted by a 10-storey high crouching sphinx. Inside is the world's biggest atrium, which is topped off by a beacon of light so strong it can be seen by astronauts. For a taste of Egyptian history, the King Tut Museum features exquisite reproductions of ancient artifacts.
Manhattan Express Rollercoaster
Tel: (702) 740 6969 (info)
Feel your life flash before you on the Manhattan Express Rollercoaster, where a twist-and-dive maneuver produces a (rather violent) sensation similar to what a pilot feels during a barrel roll in a fighter plane.
Tel: (702) 671 0600 (info)
Spontaneous weddings have always been a Vegas trademark. Whether it's a planned affair or a spur-of-the moment decision, Las Vegas offers more than 30 different places to tie the knot. There's no waiting period and you don't need a blood test. You just have to be at least 18 years old and show up at the Marriage Bureau. Once you have the certificate, it's off to the chapel.
Tel: (702) 791 7111 (info)
This casino hotel was the first of the theatrical palaces that define modern Las Vegas. A fake volcano erupts hourly after dusk, with flames rising out of orange-coloured water and a deep rumble threatening to break windows. When the Mirage opened in 1989, then-owner Steve Wynn boasted that his goal was to create a property 'so overriding in its nature that it would be a reason in and of itself for visitors to come to Las Vegas'. This $630-million resort could claim to be such a place.
Tel: (702) 477 0470 (info)
The crown jewel of a downtown redevelopment effort, the Neonopolis shopping and entertainment complex is most notable for its collection of vintage neon signs. At the alfresco Neon Museum, (www.neonmuseum.org) plaques explain their history.
Red Rock Lanes
Tel: (702) 797 7467 (info)
If the idea of luxury bowling sounds - ahem - right up your alley, hotfoot it to Red Rock Lanes. A bowling palace with 72 lanes, shuffleboard, pool tables and VIP pampering galore, it gives the sport newfound class.
Star Trek: The Experience
Tel: 888 462 6535 (info)
Beam-me-up geeks will go Captain-Kirk-ga-ga over the Star Trek Experience, where you can ride the Klingon Encounter and thrill to a museum of props and costumes.
Tel: (702) 380 7777 (info)
The 350m (1149ft) Stratosphere Tower offers thrill-seekers the Big Shot, which straps riders into completely exposed seats that zip up the tower's pinnacle, while Insanity spins riders out over the tower's edge. Views from X Scream are good, but the ride itself is a bit limp - save your dough for the views from Romance at the Top of the World lounge.
In Las Vegas consumption is as conspicuous as dancing fountains in the desert. Haute purveyors cater to the cashed-up, and here you can find almost anything on offer that you might pick up in London, New York or Tokyo, along with a few high-roller items not likely to be sold anytime soon.
55° Wine + Design
Tel: (702) 632 9355 (info)
A wine shop extraordinaire. Bottles at the front are stacked in white mod fiberglass pods above handmade glassware and accessories. Knowledgeable staff handle the winetasting bar by the refrigerated wine cellar that stocks 2000 truly international wines. Prices are high, but every bottle gets its own pillowed bag for safe take-out.
D'Loe House of Style
Tel: (702) 382 5688 (info)
You know it's fabulous from the instant you catch sight of its hot-pink and blue exterior. It's owned by Cirque du Soleil costume designer Mario D'Loe, who hoards unique fashions from the pre-WWII era to the 1970s, including evening wear, bejeweled accessories and more casual items.
Tel: (702) 693 7050 (info)
Mr. Leighton is the proud owner of the world's most prestigious collection of estate and antique jewellery. Many Academy Awards night adornments are on loan from Fred. And they'll let anyone try on finery, even pieces that once belonged to royalty. Prices run from about US$100.00 for a tiny but exquisite pin to well over the million dollar mark.
Gamblers Book Shop
Tel: (702) 382 7555 (info)
Longtime owner Edna Luckman (no joke) stocks just about every book ever written on gambling and Las Vegas. The amiable older gentlemen who staff the store dispense valuable edge-beating advice, though they can be a bit suspicious, asking us once, 'So, you are either librarians or FBI agents, right?'
Houdini's Magic Shop
Tel: 877 346 4946 (info)
The legacy of this legendary escape artist lives on at this shop packed with gags, pranks, magic tricks and 'zines. Magicians perform for wide-eyed crowds and each purchase includes a free private lesson.
Miracle Mile Shops (Desert Passage)
Tel: (888) 800 8284 (info)
Formerly the Aladdin's upscale North African-themed marketplace, this sleek shopping mall is a staggering 2.4km (1.5mi) long. It has 170 retailers and 15 restaurants, with an emphasis on contemporary urban apparel, jewellery and gifts. Cargo bikes await to transport baggage-laden shoppers to the remote parking garage.
Williams Costume Company
Tel: (702) 384 1384 (info)
Williams has supplied the Strip's starlets with DIY costuming raw goods since 1957. Check out the headshots in the dressing rooms, then pick up some rhinestones, sequins, feathers - you go girl! The staff are friendly and costume rentals are available.
Tel: (702) 735 4942 (info)
Calling itself the 'last real record store,' this Arizona-based vendor has a warehouse full of ear-tickling sounds, including a locals-only section where you might dig up a demo by the next break-out Vegas band. Live in-store performances happen on a stage with the warning sign: 'No moshing allowed'.
Vegas is one big show - a low-plot production utterly upstaged by song and dance numbers. You can catch a stage show at midnight, hit a hip-hop club in the wee hours or settle in for old-fashioned laughs at stand-up comedy club.
Tel: (702) 598 1965 (info)
Swill a cocktail, watch the manicure demonstrations or just chill inside the salvaged innards of a 1950s New Jersey beauty salon. DJs rotate nightly, spinning tiki lounge tones to '80s garage rock or funk and soul on 'Badass Fridays'.
Double Down Saloon
Tel: (702) 791 5775 (info)
You just gotta love a punk bar where the tangy, blood-red house drink is named 'Ass Juice'. There's also a behaviour code: 'You puke, you clean'. There's never a cover charge, and the low-roller drinks are cash only. Monday is the Bargain DJ Collective night, with lunatic-fringe bands other nights. Play pool, pinball, Asteroids or the legendary jukebox.
Tel: (702) 384 0092 (info)
Join the local downtown scenesters for First Friday, a mobbed monthly block party of live music, art openings and street performers. Check the website for event venues.
Tel: (800) 829 9034 (info)
Vegas' longest-running production is a tribute to the Parisian Music Hall. Appropriately, it features some of the most beautiful showgirls in town and takes the traditional French-style revue to new heights. The song-and-dance numbers include a fashion show, a royal ballroom number, the original award-winning can-can routine and a steamy Latin mambo.
Tel: (702) 632 9442 (info)
A speakeasy vibe pervades this sexy, but petite bi-level club. Ignore the crazy bachelorette antics and feast your eyes instead on the smoking-hot traditional burlesque acts backed up by a brassy three-piece jazz band. Acts appear on stage every 90 minutes, starting before midnight.
Tel: (702) 942 6832 (info)
A clubby crowd, often thick with celebs, packs the Palms' 55th-floor watering hole. It provides an escape from, as well as a magnificent view of, the chaos below, and it's up-to-the-minute hot, glam to the max. DJs spin groovy old school, R&B, rock, & funk tunes while patrons sip overpriced cocktails amid the sky-high 360-degree panoramas and smart sci-fi decor. Dress to kill.
Tel: (702) 730 7000 (info)
Houdini's, next to the baccarat area in the Monte Carlo Hotel, offers a dark and comfy respite from the clamour and glamour. Piano jazz, magic tricks and other entertainment may take place here, but even if they don't, this luxe lounge is still ideal for a soothing drink and tête-à-tête.
Tel: (702) 792 7900 (info)
A sophisticated tri-environment club, Jet has broken the sound barrier racing to the creamy top of Vegas' nightlife. Follow the flickering candles and tiny staircase made for strutting onto the mainstream dance floor, or sidle into more intimate lounges where the beats run to deep house and hip-hop.
Tel: (702) 796 9999 (booking)
Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone's evocative celebration of life begins with a pair of babies making their way in a world filled with strange creatures. A misguided clown's humorous antics are interspersed with agile feats of acrobats, aerialists and dancers. And it's still the cheapest Cirque ticket in town.
Tel: (702) 796 9999 (booking)
Another of Cirque du Soleil's, this time an aquatic show inspired by the element of water and infinity. Timeless, perpetually popular and only at Bellagio, Las Vegas.
Tabú Ultra Lounge
Tel: (702) 891 7183 (info)
It's all about sensual sophistication at the MGM's ground-breaking ultra lounge. DJs spin Euro house music to an interactive backdrop while stunning hostesses who also happen to be models mix cocktails tableside. It's intoxicating all round.
Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean
Tel: (800) 633 1777 (info)
Capitalising on Rat Pack nostalgia, the Greek Isles tries to return the old Sands hotel's Copa Room to what it was in the 60s. The show faithfully replicates the gang's routines, with the same songs, politically incorrect jokes and some embarrassing behaviour by Marilyn Monroe.
If you can tear yourself away from the gaming tables, you'll find that the city is surrounded by a rough-and-rugged desert landscape that is ideal for a range of outdoor activities. The steep, jagged red rock valleys and canyons around Las Vegas are superb hiking and rock climbing territory.
Bowling is very big in Las Vegas and most bowling centres are in casino hotels where you can work on your glide and release far into the small hours. Occasionally a venue can suffer an 'attack of the bowling league', so call ahead to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Novice skiers are thrilled by the downhill at the Lee Canyon ski and snowboarding area on Charleston Peak in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, about 80km (50mi) northwest of Las Vegas.
There are dozens of golf courses in Las Vegas Valley, most within 16km (10mi) of the Strip. Unless you can hustle together US$30000.00 up front plus US$500.00 a month for membership of a private club, you'll be playing at a public course. Reserve your tee-off time a week in advance.
Great for hiking, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30km (20mi) west of the city, has multicoloured sandstone scenery that irresistibly draw climbers and hikers. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, further northwest of the city, features Charleston Peak and trails that wind through pine forests and desert scrub. Camping is allowed at both places.
For boating and water-skiing, smear on the sunscreen, slither into your wetsuit and head over to Lake Mead, about 50km (30mi) east of Las Vegas. You can even scuba dive here. The lake's 880km (550mi) of shoreline offers plenty of sunbathing spots.
With so many 'celebrity chefs', the food stakes are high and those who come to live out a high-life fantasy expect a gourmet meal in an opulent setting - which Vegas will provide. Hard-core punters numbly head for a fast-food fix while the thrifty yet ravenous duel with the buffet superleague.
With more than 130,000 guestrooms, there's no shortage of places to stay in Vegas. You can lay your head down in a downtown hostel, go mid-range with flamingos for company, or sleep the sleep of the gods in an exquisite penthouse suite on the Strip, complete with 24-hour butler service.
The classic way to pull into Vegas is in a car (preferably a Red Shark of a car) or on a Greyhound bus. If you travel by rail, you'll end up on a bus anyway, as trains only reach as far as California and Arizona. If you're coming from elsewhere in the US, Canada or Europe, you can usually fly direct into McCarran International Airport.
Greyhound runs bus services between Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Phoenix, Arizona. The station is in downtown Las Vegas. Green Tortoise offers a low-budget, communal bus experience between Las Vegas and major cities on the West Coast.
One of the best and most picturesque ways to get to Las Vegas is by car. Highways traverse the desert and converge on Las Vegas from the major cities of the southwest.
Las Vegas is served by McCarran International Airport (LAS), where travellers from other US cities, Canada and Europe have the best connections. Departure tax is included in ticket prices. McCarran International Airport is located at the southern end of the Strip, about 8km (5mi) south of downtown. Several companies run shuttle buses between the airport and the city. Taxis are also available, and city buses run along the Strip into downtown.
There is no train service to Las Vegas, but you can travel to Kingman, Arizona (170km/105mi); Needles, California (185km/115mi); and Barstow, California (250km/155mi) by train and connect to Las Vegas by Greyhound's Thruway bus.
Vegas' compact centre and devotion to the customer make getting around a breeze. It's easy to navigate your way around either on foot (if you can stand the desert heat) or in a car. Taxis are waiting for your lightest gesture; you can also jump on the cheap and efficient buses or on one of the trolleys (air-conditioned!) that chug up and down the Strip.
The local bus company Citizens Area Transit (CAT) offers an excellent and inexpensive service. Buses chug along the Strip, downtown and between the two 24 hours a day. Many off-Strip casino hotels offer limited free shuttle bus services to/from the Strip.
Las Vegas is a traffic-choked city to drive around (orientation around the grid is not as easy as ABC), but if you want to get out of town you'll need your own wheels. You can rent a car at one of the many agencies in town or at the airport. Free self-parking and valet services (tip US$2.00) are available almost everywhere on the Strip and at downtown casino hotels.
A pricey private monorail system zippily links only some properties along the Strip's resort corridor, from the MGM Grand to the Sahara, detouring to the Hilton and convention centre.
If you don't want to do any more walking than you absolutely have to, you'll get by just fine in Las Vegas. You don't even have to dirty your stilettos on the sidewalk: just wave down a taxi from the entrance of your hotel.
Free private trams connect TI (Treasure Island) and the Mirage; and Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay. The tram between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo is under reconstruction as at 2006.
The Strip and downtown are easy to navigate on foot, especially since getting around really only means getting between three or four casino-hotels in a day anyway... If you do plan to walk around, remember, this is the desert - it gets hot!
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