I went to Las Vegas for the first time in 2011. It was me with a couple of buddies who were young and on a road trip around California. I visited a few weeks later without them as part of a 2-day tour from LA to the Grand Canyon. I then visited for a third time in 2014 with my wife. And late last year we found ourselves back in the States and made our way back to Vegas to catch up with some of the same friends as visit 1, plus a few extras.
Suffice to say I love Vegas. The energy and grandeur is like no place on earth. The night sky lights up with scale replicas of some of the world’s best-known attractions. And you can carry beers from one casino to the next as you seek out new places to play cards.
Everything about it is brilliant.
This most recent time in 2016, I was able to explore a little more than I had before because a) I’d done a lot of the common Vegas attractions before, and b) because I had 4 days there instead of 2. Here are some of the highlights from my most recent trip that made it all the more memorable.
Eiffel Tower Experience
The cornerstone of the Paris Hotel and Casino, the one-third scale Eiffel Tower replica dominates the Las Vegas Strip. By day it stands boldly, towering over the Bellagio fountains and by night it lights up like a beacon, a perpetual reference point.
I took the chance to actually go up the Eiffel Tower replica this time; I got some discounted tickets on Groupon. And while the view is a little different to that of the real thing, it is no less dramatic. We went up at night and were treated to an impressive vista of the entire strip – the Linq High Roller and beyond to the north, The Aria, the Luxor and more to the south.
However, the highlight of the Experience is being able to watch the Bellagio Fountains dance the night away with the best seat in the house every 10 minutes.
For me, it’s one of the best things to do in Las Vegas for the non-gambler.
Discovering Downtown LV
Downtown Las Vegas is a completely different experience to the Las Vegas strip. The Strip is long and feels unbridled to the point of exhaustion (in a 100% good way). Downtown is contained mostly within the Fremont Street Experience: a comparatively short, covered street bounded by low-rise, historic casinos, live music, and the obligatory flashing lights on the ceiling and on every surface possible.
Just like the Strip, Fremont Street is great to wander. Grab a roadie from a convenience/souvenir store or sit down at a bar with a cheap margarita. My group chose – actually I’m not sure what casino we chose. But the margaritas were strong and cheap.
Make sure to visit the shark tank in the Golden Nugget and if you visit in summer, bring your swimmers to take a water slide through it. You can take a brewery tour at Banger Brewing, see a what a million dollars cash looks like at Binions Casino, or enjoy some of Vegas’ best pizza and craft beer menu at Pizza Rock.
Finding Craft beer in CVS
While this may only be special to beer lovers from Australia, being able to not just buy beer, but excellent beer in a local pharmacy was something dreams are made of. Buying long necks of Lagunitas and Goose IPA was something of a novelty. Buying a big can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA and drinking it while walking down the street then inside another casinoa at midnight was something that is not just illegal, but impossible to do in Australia.
I recognise that this is not exclusive to Las Vegas within the USA, but the novelty was heightened by the magnitude that is Las Vegas.
Seeing the strip from the air
If you know anything about Las Vegas you will know that it was built from nothing, up out in the middle of the desert. It is near nothing and all electricity needs to be generated nearby, and water piped in from far away just so the extreme consumption of each casino and individual can be satisfied in the city.
Nothing exemplified this more than seeing the city from the sky. The whole region is flat and sandy, with the exception of Red Rock Canyon. Then there is a small section of odd-shaped high-rise buildings in the middle. It is truly something special to see and is equally spectacular in the day as it is at night.
I think it was so memorable for me because when you’re walking along the strip, you can usually only see a few casinos at any one time, and you feel dwarfed by them. You see exactly what the architects want you to see from the strip, and this is what most people see most of the time.
But in the air, you see it all. You can see the scale, and you can see the layout. You also get a sense of how trivial it is. I mean, I love Las Vegas, but it truly is excessive. From the air, it just looks so small.
Getting immersed in nature at Red Rock Canyon
I went to Vegas to enjoy the lights, the ridiculousness, and play some blackjack while drinking free beers – as usual. However, my highlight this time was indeed a day hiking out at Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is a natural, rocky wonder just 30 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard. Over 20 hiking trails of varying difficulty extend from the one-way ring road.
The hike my group chose was Calico Tanks and we couldn’t have selected better. It wasn’t a difficult hike and it took us through some incredibly vivid rock formations, winding its way through a canyon valley until finally reaching the end: a beautiful panorama of a flat Clark County with the Las Vegas Strip visible in the distance.
Have you been to Vegas? What was your favourite discovery or unexpected highlight?
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