The nickname “Entertainment Capital of the World” does not leave much room for interpretation, does it? Luckily, Las Vegas is a city that thrives under pressure, and it relishes the opportunity to prove itself year after year as one of the coolest tourist attractions in America.
The best attractions in Las Vegas extend far beyond the iconic Vegas Strip, though.
Nestled in the intoxicating dry heat of the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is a city that is as quirky as it is glitzy. Part of this has to do with the newness of the city — it is just over 100 years old, and its population almost doubled in only a decade between 1990 and 2000. This means Las Vegas is still a relatively new city, and the resulting energy is practically brimming over.
There is a liberating lack of norms that come along with this newness. It has allowed Las Vegas to redefine itself numerous times as a mobster gambling haven, as the glamorous Sin City and recently as a host of attractions for families. To get to know this enigma of a city, put on your best walking shoes and see if you can hit every spot on this list.
And because free attractions in Las Vegas are such a welcome blessing, we’ll mark them as such.
Take a selfie by that iconic sign. You know you want to. (Free!)
Just because literally everyone else does it is no reason not to. This is Vegas, baby — give in to peer pressure.
The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is as much a part of American history as the Empire State Building or the Hollywood sign, and the city has even been kind enough to place a small parking lot beside it — no more panicked sprints across multiple lanes of traffic.
Fun fact: This sign, along with most of the well-known Vegas Strip, is actually a full four miles south of the city limits of Las Vegas. However, no one cares about this distinction, as locals and tourists alike refer to the whole area as “Las Vegas.”
Betty Willis designed the sign in 1959, and it has not changed since. Its charming, retro colors and shapes still capture the spirit of the city, and you can be sure it will be there for as long as the place stands.
Stroll around New York City in MGM’s new miniature cityscape, The Park. (Free!)
Two cities for the price of one. How much better can you get?
Perhaps notable for being Vegas’s biggest understatement, the modestly named “Park” is, in fact, a marvel of trees, giant sculptures, arenas, casinos, imitation Manhattan storefronts, and a roller coaster. There is even an impressive cluster of scaled-down replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and the New York skyline. These buildings are secretly some of the best hotel attractions in Las Vegas, as they are actually luxury hotels in disguise.
Located by the MGM Grand Hotel, this gem of a place is worth a trip to Vegas by itself. Created in the late ‘90s, it captures the magic of New York City perfectly while also providing a very accessible spot for dining and walking around.
Experience racing an actual supercar on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Have you ever dreamed of racing a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette or even an actual race car? No, not merely sit in it and get ferried around a parking lot — we mean actually drive the thing at high speed around a race track.
Your dream has come true. Exotics Racing has finally given us all the chance to chase down that elusive thrill, by offering a selection of the world’s fastest and nicest cars for you to push to their physical limit. You’ll get an instruction course on how to handle high-performance cars at top speeds, then you’ll get in the cockpit and put the knowledge to work.
This facility is located in North Las Vegas and also hosts one of the world’s premier racing schools for those who want to learn more. In a matter of a day, you can learn the ins and outs of racing and leave with a set of skills that will ramp up your cool points tremendously.
Eat food. Get hungry again. Eat more food.
It’s no surprise many of the best tourist attractions in Las Vegas are restaurants. From melted cheese fajitas to deep-dish, stuffed Chicago-style pizza, Vegas is heaven for foodies.
With a flourishing Latino community and loads of influence from all over the country and world, Las Vegas offers more restaurants than a person can reasonably handle.
Giordano’s comes straight from the streets of Chicago. A proper Chicago pizza, its cross-section consists of a crust, toppings, cheese, another flaky crust and sauce on top. This is way beyond your run-of-the-mill “deep dish” pizza — it is the real deal. Stop in for a life-changing pizza as you explore the city.
Visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop (Free!)
Reality TV never fails to surprise us with its unlikely stars and concepts, but Pawn Stars took it to new levels. The show’s central Las Vegas pawn shop is as busy as ever, specializing in gold, silver, historical trinkets, collectibles, antiques and fine art.
The guys from the show — that is, Rick, Richard, Corey and Austin — all work at the pawn shop day-in, day-out, though it isn’t guaranteed they will be able to break away from their busy schedules to make an appearance on the floor. You never know, though. You might just find yourself getting an autograph from the stars themselves.
Jump from the tallest observation tower in America — and ride its roller coasters.
It may take an elevator ride to get 1,000 feet into the air, but all it takes to get down is a single step. The centrally located Stratosphere Tower offers an incredible thrill by hooking you up to cables and letting you take an open-air, controlled descent from the observation deck to the ground.
The Stratosphere Tower is like the dream of some mad scientist: In effect, it is an amusement park on the outside of a skyscraper. While you’re up there, you may as well try the Big Shot, a ride that boosts you 160 feet straight up before free-falling back down to the launch pad.
Or how about the Insanity ride? This is a spinning theme park ride on steroids. A giant, mechanical arm holds several separate pairs of chairs over 60 feet out from the edge of the tower — meaning 900 feet above the ground below.
Get nuclear at the National Atomic Testing Museum.
Nevada is synonymous with the mysterious world of nuclear weapons tests. This museum tells the whole story of the Nevada Test Site, from its inception to its lasting role on the global geopolitical landscape.
You can experience a simulated ground-zero observation of a nuclear test, as well as see artifacts and mind-blowing displays related to the history of nuclear weapons development. The museum also makes subatomic physics accessible to the masses by explaining exactly how nuclear bombs work.
And if you are at all interested in the art of surviving an atomic weapon attack, this museum also offers an exciting exhibit on how to do so. Don’t worry, you’ll go far beyond the Cold War-era instructional videos of hiding under your desk.
The museum is located a short drive east of the Bellagio.
Take down zombies with airsoft weapons and tactical training.
Those of us in the know are already busy preparing for the imminent zombie apocalypse. But how ready are you, really? Have you received training from Green Berets or Special Forces? Have you been put in a realistic combat scenario? Have you? Have you?!
Probably not. But in Vegas, anything is possible.
Adventure Combat Ops is a facility like no other. You will receive actual combat training from special ops whose specialty is taking down bad guys. In this case, the bad guys are zombies, and you will use airsoft rifles to annihilate them as a team. Think of it like laser tag, with much more adrenaline and strategy involved.
Drive and operate construction equipment at Dig This.
Hop behind the controls of excavators and bulldozers and learn how to dig, move objects, climb over obstacles and even have your machines strike a pose. This dream-come-true is another one of those experiences that could only happen in Vegas.
Specifically designed for those who have at some point wanted to try their hand at an excavator — which is everyone — this place gives you the training and materials to do so. Pick up massive tires and dig holes. Lift the front of your machine up by pressing on the ground. The world is your playground.
Walk around Fremont Street to get a feel for the city. (Free!)
Fremont is a street running through central Las Vegas. On its western end is a glamorous, flashy pedestrian mall whose ceiling is made of LED lights. This 24-hour mall is a feast for the eyes and a great place to explore shops and restaurants. It is also a prime spot for people-watching, an especially rewarding sport in Sin City. The Fremont Street area is an ideal spot for anyone who tires easily of big casinos.
Fremont’s eastern end is a must for anyone who wants to get to know the intimate growth of the city. This is the up-and-coming, artsy part of town that is attracting investors and creative types from all over to the middle of the desert. It has that same energy Williamsburg, Brooklyn had a decade or two ago — a place bursting with ideas and energy, which may yet give Vegas yet another sense of identity outside of gambling and entertainment.
See the incredible nature just outside Vegas.
Don’t forget, you’re in the middle of the Mojave Desert. All around you are wonders both natural and man-made, and it would be unfortunate to journey all the way here only to miss them.
First, there is the Hoover Dam, only 40 minutes from downtown Vegas and one of America’s most beloved landmarks. Standing nearly 800 feet tall, it holds back Lake Mead, the largest U.S. reservoir and the source for Las Vegas’ water.
You can also go rock climbing in Red Rock Canyon National Park, ski some of the nation’s lightest and fluffiest powder at Mount Charleston or do any of the uncountable hikes scattered around the area.
And speaking of “areas,” Area 51 is a mere three-hour drive from downtown Las Vegas. Just saying.
You really do need to go see the casinos.
Casinos and Vegas go hand-in-hand, and what a spectacle they are. The Bellagio, Mirage, Venetian, Pallazzo, Wynn and more make up some of the best casinos in the world, and it is worth it to wander through their flashing lights and gold-trimmed decor.
Some of the most beloved films in history have been filmed in Vegas casinos, too. Among them are Rain Man, Casino, Iron Man, The Hangover, Go and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The fountains in front of the Bellagio are exactly the right backdrop to recreate that final scene in Ocean’s 11, too.
Visit the Neon Museum, where beautiful old signs go to retire.
Ever wondered what happens to those old, ornate signs that advertised the businesses of yesteryear? Wonder no more: They are living in the Neon Museum, a gateway to the past where you can walk among them and relive history.
There is an outdoor section called the Boneyard, in which the colossal old signs line the walkways like buildings on a city street. Wandering the Boneyard is a surreal experience — signs advertising wedding chapels, motels, casinos, nightclubs and more surround you, their neon bulbs long burnt out. Colorful statues of cactuses and billiard players stand proud in their new home, perpetually posing for photo ops and wedding backdrops.
See a show — they’re the best in the world.
The Entertainment Capital of the World lives up to its name in many ways outside of shows, but it is worth it to see them. Trust us — if it’s a big-ticket show in Vegas, there is simply no way it won’t be incredible. The competition for Vegas slots is too fierce to allow for mediocrity. For the audience, that means a guaranteed good time.
There is Cirque du Soleil, which offers not one show, but rather a plethora of them. “Michael Jackson ONE” is popular, as is the aquatically themed “O.” Acrobatics, music and stunning visuals abound in Cirque du Soleil, as the world’s best performers congregate on one stage for your viewing pleasure.
No other magic duo has captured the public imagination quite like Penn & Teller, who arguably equal Siegfried and Roy in their ubiquity. The tall, bold Penn does all the talking, while adorable Teller wordlessly amazes with elegant sleight of hand. This pair is unique in their commitment to keeping magic honest. At no point do they pretend to possess otherworldly powers, and their commitment to keeping logic and reason sacred never detracts from their ability to wow audiences.
The Blue Man Group is another one of Vegas’ most prized acts. As wordlessly as Teller, they guide the audience through a performance of incredible music, hilarious skits and even expansive social commentary.