Las Vegas is one of my all-time favourite cities in the US; I’m from Australia and I’ve been there no less than 4 times. The absurdity gets me every time, the “what happens in Vegas” mantra is alive and well, and because of the intense competition between casinos, it changes every time I come back. For a city teeming with excess, there is surprisingly something for everyone, with plenty of accommodation options and things to do for every budget in Sin City.
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
Your biggest expense on any vacation will almost invariably be your accommodation. You might expect Las Vegas to command a premium price and be poor value, but this would be wrong. Las Vegas is one of the best value cities in the US. The reason is, the resorts prefer you to gamble there than stay, as they make more money. So if they can encourage you to stay by giving lower rates, you are more likely to gamble there.
You can stay at the like of the luxurious Bellagio for under $200 a night (incredible value for a 5 star hotel), but if you’re reading a “budget guide”, my guess is that is probably still a little out of budget.
At the lower end of town you can stay at the Circus Circus for around $55/night in a double king room; Hooters for around $80 a night, which has recently been refurbished; or the Super8, which is by far the cheapest I’ve seen at $25/night.
Bear in mind prices in Vegas fluctuate a LOT depending on the season, local events, and whether it’s a weekend or not.
Eating in Las Vegas
If you’re on a budget, I dare say you’ll be skipping the gourmet celebrity chef restaurants in place of something with fewer dollar signs next to it.
For a cheap and dirty eat, I absolutely loved Pin-Up Pizza. It’s along the strip in front of the Planet Hollywood Casino, it’s hard to miss.
The Cheesecake Factory, inside the Forum Shops at Caesars, offers very reasonably priced meals in a sit-down setting.
Shake Shack is another great option for a cheap meal in a takeaway setting. They do great burgers but are famous for their shakes (the hint is in the name). This won’t be a novelty for east coast Americans, but for everyone else, it might be your only opportunity to try it on the west coast.
Gambling in Las Vegas
It wouldn’t be a visit to Las Vegas without having a punt. Even if you aren’t normally a gambler, or are morally opposed to it, it’s something you have to do once.
That said if you pick the wrong table at the wrong casino, playing a game you don’t understand, you could end up losing a lot of money.
It might be obvious, but the more upmarket a casino or hotel is, the higher the minimum stakes usually are.
For example, to avoid wagering too much at a time, avoid the likes of the Wynn, the Aria, or the Belaggio. The cheapest tables I’ve found were at the Luxor, Circus Circus, and the Flamingo. At all of these there are plenty of $5 blackjack, craps, and roulette tables, with special mention going to Hooters who even has some $3 tables.
The general rule is the cheaper the hotel, the cheaper the tables.
Entertainment in Las Vegas
Beyond gambling, there is actually a ton to do in Las Vegas, and a lot of it is free. To start out with, check out the free daily shows around town.
Caesars put on an animatronic show called the Fall of Atlantis, which is right at the end of the Forum Shops (near the Cheesecake Factory). Shows are hourly.
Keeping with their hotel theme, Treasure Island also does a pirate themed stunt show in the evening. It’s a pyromaniac’s dream.
Visiting the Las Vegas sign is quintessential Las Vegas and won’t cost anything except maybe a taxi or a decent walk.
Visiting the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo is free, and a great escape from the ridiculousness of Las Vegas. Known for real flamingos, the habitat is also home to many different species of birdlife and even some turtles! The Habitat is free to walk through and is located at the back of the Flamingo casino floor.
A visit to Downtown Las Vegas at night is a great night out, and because it’s a public, open air, covered boulevard, it’s free. At night there’ll be live music, possibly dancers, and the flashing bulbs vintage Las Vegas is known for. Watch the zip liners overhead, duck into one of the flanking casinos for a happy hour special, or get your photo taken with a million real dollars at Binions. It’s a loud and obnoxious circus, but hey, that’s Vegas.
Getting High in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas strip lights up the desert and is a spectacular sight from the air. There are of course pricey observation decks like the Eiffel Tower Experience, the Linq High Roller, or the Stratosphere. But my recommendation is to just find a bar with a great view of the strip. You might pay a bit more for your drink, but certainly not the same as an experience ticket!
The Palms is a great option, which is off strip, so gives a wholistic view of the strip. The Foundation Room in Mandalay Bay offers unobstructed views from the south end of the Strip. And any pond-side restaurant at the Belaggio has incredible views over the fountains. Make sure you go when they are on though! (Unlike when I was at Lago by Julian Serrano). Get more ideas here.
You can see how else I spent my time in Las Vegas here: