The bright lights and the casinos are no longer the only draw for visitors heading out to Las Vegas. In recent years, Sin City has shown it has a family-friendly face and, with the many spectacular attractions scattered around the outlying area, as well as in the city itself, it is a much more diverse holiday escape than you might think, as Natalie, my partner, and I found out when we enjoyed some time out together in the Nevada Desert.
The fabulous array of things to see and do in Vegas is legendary. From glitzy casino-resorts to stunning stage shows, and high-adrenaline entertainment to laid-back dining, this desert oasis has it all. It’s with good reason this city has earned itself the reputation of being the entertainment capital of the world. Forget the adage 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’; the things you see and experience here you’ll be telling your friends about for years to come.
At least that’s what my partner, Natalie, and I felt about our whistle-stop four-day visit, which packed in a host of once-in-a-lifetime moments. The heart of the action is The Strip, a four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that’s home to some of the biggest - and most extravagant - hotels and casinos in the world. It is famously also the stage for all the incredible shows for which Vegas is world-famous.
You’ll be spending a lot of time wandering up and down this amazing street, but a great way to get an overview is to take a spin on the High Roller, a 168-metre-tall Ferris wheel that you won’t be surprised to discover is the world’s tallest.
The wheel is located just off The Strip, so you get a great, as well as relatively close-up, view of all the major sights as it gently rotates. You’ll also get a decent amount of time to take it all in, as the wheel takes 30 minutes for one revolution, making it probably the slowest thing in Vegas.
At the other end of the spectrum, high-speed elevators take just 40 seconds to whizz you 109 storeys up to the viewing deck of the Stratosphere Tower, a 350-metre tower at the northern end of The Strip.
The views from here are even more impressive than from the High Roller. On a clear day you can apparently see as far as Arizona and California - and there’s obviously no limit on how long you can spend gazing out at the 360-degree views.
We did so during the day, and at night, but if you’re only going once then I’d suggest the latter, as Vegas is a much more impressive sight when lit up at night.
You can even jump off the Stratosphere Tower if you’re so inclined - the SkyJump offers the option to take the quick way down via an open-air leap that’s effectively a vertical zip wire that plunges 253 metres in three seconds. No thanks!
There are also the ‘highest thrill rides in the US’ for any adrenaline junkies not satisfied by that particular madness. Big Shot catapults rides 49 metres up from, and then back down to, the viewing platform; the X-Scream roller coaster propels passengers headfirst over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower; and the aptly-named Insanity, spins passengers round at speeds up to three Gs, all while tipped to face the earth 275 metres below.
We considered each ride as a spectator sport, rather than as participator activity, smugly watching people in various states of (apparent) distress do each of the above before we chose our own, more sedate but just as exciting, spinning option in the form of a helicopter tour.
Taking a helicopter ride is a hugely popular tourist activity in Vegas, and offers a brilliant birds' eye view of The Strip, whether you choose a 15-minute city tour or something more extravagant.
We opted for the latter, in the form of a trip to the Skywalk, an incredible open-air glass walkway that lets you step out over Arizona’s Grand Canyon more than 1,219 metres below.
The sort of mind-blowing experience you could only have in America, the horseshoe-shaped walkway juts 21 metres out over the Canyon’s western rim, and is both sublime and ridiculous. A sublime natural wonder beneath a ridiculous feat of engineering. It was dreamt up by a businessman from, where else but Vegas.
But despite its obvious commercialism - which does actually benefit the Hualapai Tribe who operate it - we absolutely loved the Skywalk, and wish we could’ve stayed longer to enjoy the panoramic views of one of the world’s most incredible vistas, around as well as beneath us.
We eeked as much out of it as we could and, despite being surrounded by other tourists doing the same, we were struck by just how peaceful it was - the silence only broken by photographers cajoling people into poses for their pictures. You’re not allowed to carry anything onto the walkway, which is clearly a ploy intended to make you buy the photos, but also frees you up to appreciate - and experience - it a whole lot more when you're not looking at it through a lens.
We could have gazed at the multi-coloured rock faces for hours, but all too soon it was time for the 45-minute flight back to the multi-coloured neon of Vegas.
For the record, we travelled with, and can highly recommend, Sundance Helicopters, which is the oldest, biggest and generally regarded as the best operator in Vegas. As well as flights over Vegas itself (which we got as a bonus on our return journey), you can fly to and through the Canyon, land in it for a picnic, or even get married there.
Vegas is the wedding capital of the world of course, with around 115,000 people tying the knot every year, and more than 100 chapels to choose from. We even spotted one with a shooting range next door, giving new meaning to the expression 'shotgun wedding'!
On the subject of shooting, Vegas has a fairly dark past in terms of its links to organised crime, an aspect brilliantly illustrated at The Mob Museum. Located in Downtown Las Vegas, the city’s original heart, the museum is set in an old courthouse and contains a range of artifacts, weapons, movie reels and real-life stories about gangsters, such as Al Capone.
We found it absolutely fascinating, if a little bleak, so were happy to emerge back into the sunshine to explore the rest of the downtown area, also known as ‘Glitter Gulch’, which has been dramatically revitalised over the past decade.
The area’s best-known attraction is the Fremont Street Experience, a stunning video and music show that appears on the canopy ceiling of a pedestrianised mall and now has the added excitement of zip wire riders flying past, Superman-style, at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
We chose a more Clark Kent-style pace by toddling off to Downtown Container Park, a quirky shopping and eating area built out of shipping containers with a giant and occasionally fire-breathing praying mantis at the entrance. It didn’t take us long to tour the courtyard’s shops and gallery, but just long enough to feel we’d earned lunch and a beer from Pinches Tacos, a terrific Mexican restaurant near the entrance.
Which seems a good point to acknowledge the amazing array of food you can find in Vegas, which ranges from street-food trucks, definitely one of my favourite ways to sample new cuisine, to break-the-bank fine dining restaurants in the casinos. But whether you choose to go high - literally in the case of the Top of the World at the Stratosphere, Skyfall Lounge at the Delano, or Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas - or low, the choice is endless, and eating out together as a couple is always a treat, wherever in the world you are.
Even when your long-suffering partner is forced to visit In ‘n’ Out Burger yet again, I love this fantastic fast food chain, or indulge my need to see what all the fuss is about by sampling a waffle chicken sandwich at Bruxie, it is always worth the effort of agreeing to sample different cuisines together. When eating out and snacking during the day, I'd advise looking at the portion sizes, as you will find it may be more than enough to share one portion - and save some money into the bargain! Delicious though this food is, neither of us came close to finishing our meals.
Bruxie is located opposite a small park - aptly named ‘The Park’ - at the southern end of The Strip, a long way from Downtown Vegas, where we left off before the food interlude. However, the two are effectively on the same road, namely Las Vegas Boulevard. The best, and most cost-effective, way to travel between them, as well as up and down The Strip, is on the hop-on, hop-off bus service, The Deuce.
The bus stops near most of the major casinos on The Strip, giving you access to a whole world of incredible sights - and when I say world, I mean WORLD. There are replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, a Venetian canal, Roman Colosseum, London Eye (okay, it’s the High Roller), and an Egyptian pyramid with the Sphinx, all within half an hour of each other.
Our favourite attraction on The Strip was undoubtedly the Bellagio Fountains, which ‘perform’ to music every half hour outside the casino of the same name. We watched, and were captivated by them, time after time. They are especially magnificent after the sun goes down when they seem to dance to the lights, as well as to the music.
There’s lots more music and dancing at the incredible range of shows you can enjoy in Vegas, of course, and while some of the ticket prices are jaw-dropping I’d recommend that you definitely take the plunge at least once for a 'once in a lifetime' experience. But then also keep an eye out for the Tix4Tonight ticket booths, which sell discounted tickets to nearly all the top shows.
We opted to see one of the world-renowned acrobatic dance group, Cirque du Soleil’s seven shows, picking out The Beatles LOVE due to a mutual (ahem) love of the Fab Four’s music. The show was absolutely fantastic, mixing wonderful music (the original material all reworked by Beatles producer George Martin), incredible acrobats, hologram-style visuals and pyrotechnics to create a truly fabulous spectacle.
The kaleidoscopic show was like stumbling into our very own Magical Mystery Tour - something that could be said for experiencing all the larger-than-life attractions, both natural and man-made, in Vegas itself.
There is so much more to Las Vegas than spending all your hard-earned cash in the casinos. Get out and about, see a show, learn about Sin City's interesting origins and experience the natural phenomenon that is the Grand Canyon. You will be absolutely stunned, thrilled and astounded at each turn in this City of Lights.
If you're a member of RCI and want Las Vegas to be the destination for your next great holiday adventure, you should know that there are 36 RCI-affiliated resorts to choose from in Vegas and its surrounding area. To see what there is on offer, check out our Resort Directory below.
If you own timeshare and you're not an RCI member, but want to be, you can Join RCI in a few simple steps…