Las Vegas may seem like a really strange destination for someone who doesn’t gamble. Somehow though, our first and only visit made us both fall in love with this madcap city and this time around, our second visit after a five year gap, I felt like I owed it to Sin City to share that there’s so much more to it than people assume. Than I assumed, so adamant was I that I would never visit it. Despite the never-ending casinos and the crazy amount of people, Vegas really does pack a punch that goes way beyond what you might think.
Here’s 10 picks of things to do, in no particular order, if you don’t gamble.
Afternoon Tea at the Waldorf Astoria
Exactly like its other outposts, the Waldorf Astoria (formerly the Mandarin Oriental) exudes a sophisticated calm amongst the chaos of the Strip. There is no casino here for starters and as soon as you enter the foyer it feels like all your senses reset. You don’t escape Vegas completely though – what’s worth seeing at this hotel is it’s oh-so-stylish bar and quintessential afternoon tea lounge.
Located (I think) on the 23rd floor, both offer fantastic views of the Strip below so whether you go during the day or at night, make sure to try and ask for a table by the window so you can marvel at the antics below whilst catching the Nevada mountains off in the distance. We went for drinks the first time around when it was still the Mandarin, and went back for drinks on our Sunday evening in town, then for afternoon tea on our final day. Absolutely beautiful.
See A Band
So the reason we returned to Las Vegas this time is because last year Pete bought tickets to see Aerosmith who are in residency at the MGM Park. Yes, I am a rock-God-lover and I don’t care if that’s not on trend – I AM nearly 40 after all (they were insanely good by the way). You will always be able to find someone playing. Last time we came we saw Elton John, and this time as well as Aerosmith which we booked in advance, we on a whim got tickets to see Gwen Stefani who has a residency at Planet Hollywood and was incredible. Lady Gaga is at the MGM Park I think later this year and early next so it’s definitely worth trying to catch someone if you can. In most cases it will be a far more intimate setting than if you see them play here in the UK.
Dinner at Greene St Kitchen, Palms
Unfortunately Palms is not located on the Strip (you can easily get an Uber there for around $10) because it was easily the most stylish hotel we saw on our travels and style is extremely hard to come by in Vegas. We went for dinner there on our last evening after a recommendation from a local, to try Greene St Kitchen, probably one of THE most Instagrammable restaurants in the city. Entrance is a via video game arcade, through a vintage lifesize Coca Cola fridge style door, to marvel at some street art before making your way into the restaurant itself. It’s full of people who want to be seen but the service was great and some very tasty vegan options (at LAST!)
There’s also an original commissioned Banksy, so you know, it really is the place to go.
Horseriding in Red Rock Canyon
Last time we visited Las Vegas, Pete had to go a conference the first weekend we were there so I decided on a complete spur of the moment to book a horse-riding experience. At that point it was probably almost 20 years since I’d last been on a horse which didn’t end well so I had some demons to lay to rest and it was the perfect way to do it. I raved about it so much that Pete said if ever we went back to Vegas he would try it to despite not being into horse-riding.
We booked this sunset trip and it was INCREDIBLE. You really don’t have to worry even if you’ve never ridden before – it may seem like the wranglers aren’t overly sympathetic to your plight but it’s because they know how clever the horses are and the route is one they do every single day. You genuinely just need to sit in the saddle and let your ride do the rest. The on-horse time is around 1 hour 45 mintues, taking you through the national park along a rocky trail. It’s the most amazing experience and even he said how hooked he was despite being mildly terrified at first.
Afterwards you’re given a proper home-cooked dinner (you can request veggie options, otherwise it’s the biggest steak you ever did see), before toasting marshmallows around the camp fire and being driven back to town. I think our pick up was around 5.30pm and we go back to the hotel about 9.30-10. Make sure to check where the pick ups are too since they don’t necessarily come to every hotel.
Visit The Neon Museum
I have NO IDEA how this escaped us on our last Las Vegas holiday because it’s basically the BEST. Located close to the “downtown” area (an Uber from top end of the Strip cost around $13), it’s a collection of all the old neon signs that shaped Last Vegas’ history, as well as some more modern ones. It’s an outdoor exhibit that will take no more than an hour of your time, you can meander round at your own pace and there are lots of knowledgeable staff on hand. Be warned though, there is absolutely no videoing to be done here, not even Instagram stories and they watch every single person like a hawk.
If you look it up on Insta you’ll see all the best shots to get. I think if we go back to Vegas we’ll go again but at nighttime, to include a guided tour and see all the neon lit up. That said it’s just as interesting to see during the day and you literally feel like you can reach out and touch history. Oh, and the gift shop is all kinds of awesome. Tickets are $22 per person but you save $2 per ticket if you book online in advance.
Downtown Area and Container Park
We stumbled across the Container Park on our last visit after heading downtown to see the Fremont Street Light Experience – if you look it up you can decide if it’s your thing. This is the old part of Las Vegas before the Strip came about and again, you can still find some of the older casinos although there seemed to be an awful lot of development when we were there so I’m not sure how long it will all remain.
But a couple of blocks walk from the Fremont Street Experience is the Container Park which is a great collection of shipping containers turned into bars, restaurants and a few shops. Sadly there seemed to be many less shops than our first visit so I’d recommend to head here in the evening for drinks and dinner. There’s a fun adventure playground in the middle, and an open-air area for local bands and cinema screenings in the summer. It’s got a great chilled out vibe and again, you feel like you’re escaping the madness of uptown.
There is some fantastic street art to be seen here too on pretty much every street corner so take some time to wonder round and if you need respite from the heat then the Mob Museum is well-worth a visit – we ticked that off on our first trip.
Also, if you’re struggling to find vegan food like I did, then VegeNation is THE ONE. I’d come across it online before we went on holiday but didn’t know if we’d actually get round to visiting. Then as luck would have it, chatting to one of the shop owners in Container Park, she mentioned it was a 3 minute walk away and definitely a place to return to. It was really buzzy for a Tuesday lunch time and the food made a brilliant change from all the other stodge.
Brunch at Primrose, MGM Park
Another resort which has been completed since our last visit, the MGM Park sits across almost from the MGM Grand but feels a lot like it’s more exclusive sister. We’re possibly thinking about staying here if we visit again in the future. One of the best things to do in Las Vegas is just to wonder in and out of all the hotels since they’re all so unique and it’s just what people do. Exploring the MGM Park, we came across the prettiest French bistro called Primrose with a sweet outdoor terrace. Another nod to style which I was grateful to find and away from all the frenzy. I can totally recommend the Mediterranean plate but remember, nothing in Las Vegas is small!
Visit The Grand Canyon
If you have more than a long weekend in Sin City then you MUST visit the Grand Canyon. We did it last trip and then went on a different visit this time. You can either do it by helicopter (but I’m never getting on a helicopter, ever!) or you can drive with a guide – it’s a long old day, around 15 hours, but so worth it. There are a lot of tours to take you to the West Rim where there is a tourist-money-sapping Skywalk extra. Honestly? It’s not worth it. The canyon is only fenced in a few places, you can literally sit with your legs dangling over the edge of a 3,000 foot drop there’s no need to do the Skywalk unless you really want to.
This time, we booked a visit to the South Rim. It’s a small mini bus which I think can take around 15 people max, we were 8 in total plus our guide. They pick up from all the main hotels (just after 6am!) and stop for a couple of refreshment breaks en-route before picture opportunities at Hoover Dam and various points along the original Route 66. It’s honestly worth it to drive for this alone. At one of the stops our driver picked up a great little packed lunch for us all and we got to the canyon around 1pm. My recommendation would be to do the tour on a weekday, early in the week if possible. It gets crazy busy from Thursday to Sunday.
Our driver walked us down to the ‘village’ where there is a lodge-style hotel, gift shops, galleries and so on, it’s about a 2.5 mile walk but it’s a tarmac path and not difficult at all. There are plenty of opportunities to stop for pictures and then he headed back to collect the bus to come and pick us up. On the way home he tries to stop as little as possible, bar a quick visit to In ‘N’ Out Burger for dinner (this isn’t included in the price of the trip but is a bit of an American specialty so worth grabbing something) before getting on the way. It IS a super long day but honestly I can’t recommend any visit more than this. The Grand Canyon is probably in the top 3 most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
Catch A Show
Alongside all the music gigs, there’s no shortage of evening entertainment in the form of shows – anything and everything. Last time we went to see Cirque du Soleil ‘O’ and this time we went to see Cirque du Soleil ‘Love’, based tenuously around the Beatles songs. I’d say ‘O’ was better just because I’m not a fan of the Beatles later ‘trippy’ stuff (call me controversial but I genuinely believe they sat around and had a laugh at their fans expense to see how ridiculous they could make the music and still be adored…!). There’s no denying though that Cirque du Soleil put on one hell of a show and compared to a lot of other activities we did, ticket prices were very reasonable. If magic is more your thing then both David Copperfield and Penn and Teller have long-term residencies so as I said, always something to see and most you can get same day.
The Gardens At Flamingo
Flamingo is one of the older hotels still existing on the Strip, dating back to when the mob still ruled the city. It definitely alludes to a time gone by in the most excellent kitsch, quirky way but the stand-out for me are the tranquil gardens that form the entry to the pool area. Complete of course with their very own resident flamingos, what else? Again, you can just have a little mooch around, take some time to rest under a shady palm before heading back out into the razzle dazzle of the Strip.
I hope this has helped any of you thinking about visiting but worried if might not be for you! Honestly we were there for a full week and not one minute of it did I ever have to wonder what to do. It really is the most incredible place, yes after a while you do crave a bit of peace and quiet but as a city it welcomes all-comers and that’s very rare these days. I wrote ’10 Things To Love In Las Vegas’ a few years ago so hopefully between the two you’ve got a good idea of what to see.
Viva Las Vegas!!