Things to do Las Vegas


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.

To Stay

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.

To Eat

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.

To Drink

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.

To Do

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!

To Shop

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.

To See

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.

Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is in a league of its own. Most of the other luxury accommodations on the strip are ostentatious and classless, preferring to concentrate on their in-house casinos and the business it brings in. Staying true to the brand, Mandarin Oriental is a conventional hotel, focusing on beautiful design, ultimate luxury and the highest level of service.

It was blissful to walk inside the sophisticated lobby of the Mandarin Oriental… the air scented with exotic flowers and all our luggage and car instantly taken care of. We zoomed up to the 23rd floor where the formal reception is found, after a swift check-in (complete with herbal tea and cold flannels) we found ourselves in room 1703 on the 17th floor of the hotel. Though the style and details are similar to other MO hotels, the floor to ceiling bedroom window offers a birds-eye view of the Strip, a constant reminder of the Vegas hysteria.

There are 392 rooms and suites at the hotel. Our King room was decorated in warm beiges and golden creams, fresh orange tulips arranged on the table, and striped cushions on the bed. The space felt spacious but cosy. The open plan bathroom had a freestanding bath (complete with bath salts), his and her marble sinks, a power rain shower and Shanghai Tang toiletries.
I woke up late after a replenishing sleep in the luxurious bed. Wanting to make the most of the facilities I made my way to the outdoor pool on the 8th floor. After a brief swim I went to try the complimentary yoga class with Amanda. The hotel offer two free yoga or pilates classes a day, the perfect way to unwind and relax. Yoga was both good exercise and a refreshing way to clear my mind after a busy few days. With a spa, sauna/steam rooms, gym and fitness centre, there is everything a guest could need after an extravagant night on the town.

Mandarin Oriental are proud to have the fine dining restaurant ‘Twist’ by three star chef Pierre Gagnaire in the hotel. If you are after a more casual meal Mozen Bistro caters for every occasion. Offering an eclectic mix of Asian-American dishes it is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch. On Sundays between noon and 2.30pm a special Brunch is served, including the $39 Bento brunch, which includes a main course and a trio of Asian tastes. The bacon waffle, fried chicken, peach and bourbon bbq sauce was a particularly indulgent and creative dish. For a tasty oriental option try the Korean Bulgogi – marinated stir-fry beef, jasmine rice, bibb lettuce and house made Kimchi, it was flavoursome and healthy.

The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas feels almost boutique in comparison to the other five star hotels in this crazy city. After visiting most of the establishments on the strip I can honestly say this is the place I would hope to stay in if I returned to Las Vegas.

More information and book a room at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas here.

Hakkasan, Las Vegas

If you walk through the doors of a Hakkasan restaurant, anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a great meal. The Hakkasan group of fine dining restaurants in London is renowned for serving the best Cantonese cuisine in the city. The branch in Las Vegas, however, is best known for its exclusive nightclub, but it was the food and service that made this place special for me.

We were greeted by a group of welcoming staff, who helped us navigate our way through the dimly-lit maze of tables. After a glass of fine Louis Roederer champagne we started looking through the extensive and luxurious menu. Though I recognised several dishes from the London eatery, there were a range of unique new recipes to try.

If you feel like something fun and fabulous, you are in Vegas after all, order one of the ‘Only in Vegas’ cocktails, more specifically the ‘Buddha’s Palm’ – a mix of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Velvet Falernum, yuzu juice, yuzu marmalade, black grapes, white balsamic vinegar, mint – it has a vibrant and exciting taste. The black grapes offer a particularly interesting flavour, a rare and unusual fruit that I had never tried before.

Our waiter highly recommended the signature Crispy duck salad with pomelo, pomegranate and pine nut, and I would agree it is a must. The neat stack of leaves and crispy duck meat was delicious enough, but the addition of the red jewel pomegranate and toasted pinenuts created an irresistible texture and balance of sweet and salty flavours. I also loved the Hakka steamed dim sum platter, a basket of beautifully made coloured dumplings, each filled with a different delicious delicacy of vegetables, fish or meat.

For main course we chose the Roasted chicken with satay sauce, Stir-fry black pepper beef ribeye with merlot, Pak choi with garlic sauce and Steamed jasmine rice. Portions are generous and the food is rich, but it is so tasty we couldn’t resist finishing the feast on our table. My favourite was the decadent Hakkasan classic stir-fry, high quality beef cooked in a sophisticated red wine sauce. The dish is artistically presented in a crispy rice shell, which you can eat if you’re still peckish. The roasted chicken is a simpler dish but equally well executed and served with a creamy, moreish peanut sauce.

We tried a trio of exquisite deserts, all new to the menu. Prepared with great precision by the pastry chef, they looked almost too beautiful to eat. The highlight was the Sicilian pistachio semi-freddo with violet crème, yoghurt meringue and cassis sorbet. It is a light and palate-cleansing final course, with an exciting range of flavours and textures.

After our meal we were lucky to have a sneak preview of the fashionable 3-level Hakkasan Nightclub, with its oversized VVIP booths and epic dancefloors that play host to the world’s biggest DJs. It is one of the most popular party spots in Vegas, but for me the magic of Hakkasan is still down to its faultless food and thoughtful service.

More information on Hakkasan Las Vegas here.