It is easy to feel acquainted with Las Vegas; the neon city so often depicted in films and TV shows. But nothing could prepare me for the reality of this money-driven, party town in the middle of the desert. A dream world of lights, music, drink and gambling… It is easy to get caught up in the seedy glamour of it all, but once you examine the culture under the surface, there are some exciting places to discover.
Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas – There are plenty of five star hotels in Vegas, but the Mandarin Oriental is in a league of its own. Focusing on beautiful design, ultimate luxury and the highest level of service, it is a temple of sophistication to return to after a night out on the town.
Hakkasan – If you walk through the doors of a Hakkasan restaurant, anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a great meal and this branch of the fine dining Cantonese chain is no different. Enjoy the glamorous venue, sip on a strong Buddha’s Palm cocktail and don’t miss the signature Crispy Duck Salad. Upstairs is one of the Strip’s most exclusive nightclubs.
In’n’Out Burger – This Californian burger chain is renowned for its super cheap, but delicious burgers. Customise your burger or pick from the not-so-secret menu, my favourite was the ‘animal style’ burger (additional thousand island spread, mustard grilled patty, grilled onions and extra pickles). Fresh, fast, food that is perfect at the end of a night (especially if you’ve lost all your money gambling!)
Luv-it Frozen Custard – If you didn’t know where to look you would miss this cute retro frozen custard vendor. A tiny hut in a car park, it is a favourite with locals who line up at the window for the delicious sundaes. I tried the pecan-flavoured custard with caramel sauce and pecan chunks.
Commonwealth – An atmospheric prohibition style bar in downtown Las Vegas. Choose from the main bar with live music, the breezy rooftop or text a secret number and try to find your way inside the Laundry Room, a secret backroom speakeasy. Expert mixologist, Dan, will make you a classic or conjure up a unique recipe to suit your tastes. We tried immaculately made Clover Clubs and Old Fashioned cocktails before letting Dan loose to create original concoctions for us to enjoy.
High Roller at The Linq –As the tallest observatory in the world at 550 feet, this wheel offers the best panoramic views of Vegas. It takes 30 minutes to take one round trip, and many say dusk offers the best views of the illuminated strip.
Neon Museum – Neon lights have been the life and soul of Las Vegas since the birth of the city in 1905. The Neon Museum holds a remarkable collection of old disused signs from the last hundred years. Tours run every 30 minutess and cost $18 (or $25 for the nighttime tour) but make sure you book in advance, as it can get extremely popular. My tour guide was the hugely informative Mitch, who gave the group a thorough history lesson on Vegas, explaining the magical signs from downtown casinos, motels, restaurants, small businesses and the strip.
Mystère – Mystère was the first show to arrive in Las Vegas in 1993. 22 years and 10,000+ performances later this magical show is still considered by many to be the best show to see in Las Vegas. With a host of circus acrobats, comical clowns and group acts, the 90-minute show is awe-inspiring and entertaining from start to finish.
Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris – A half height replica of the original, travel up in the 90 second lift to the top and admire the 360 degree cityscape below.
Gamble at Casino Royale – You can’t leave Vegas without trying your luck at the tables. Avoid the expense of the prestigious hotel casinos and visit Casino Royale, the only place on the strip with a $5 minimum on blackjack and $1 chips on Roulette… I lost 3 times in a row on black!
Vintage Vegas Antiques – Pick up a little piece of Vegas history at this retro memorabilia shop. I bought a pack of old casino cards for $3 from renowned strip hotel and casino, Imperial Palace. You can also buy old neon signs here.
Fabulous Las Vegas Sign – Commissioned in 1952 and created by Betty Willis, this iconic welcome sign is your first glimpse of neon splendor as you drive into Vegas. There is a handy car park so you can grab a photo along with all the other tourists.
Graceland Chapel – For the ultimate rock’n’roll wedding head to Graceland Chapel where couples can pay for a marriage on the spot. For an extra special ceremony, an Elvis impersonator will escort the bride down the aisle and serenade you with some of his most famous hits.
Guardian Angel Cathedral – The perfect place to repent your gambling sins. This striking cathedral was designed by architect Paul Revere Williams, who also created homes for stars such as Frank Sinatra. I loved the unique and colourful fresco on the exterior of the building. When I visited the church it was completely empty and hauntingly beautiful.
Casino Displays – The top casinos on the strip offer elaborate shows to entice the visitors in to bet. Don’t miss the exploding volcano at The Mirage and the beautifully choreographed fountain display at The Bellagio.