The lights, the noise, bustling crowds and in a city that literally doesn’t sleep. Its allure extends worldwide and it is known as Sin city, where if you tell someone “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” will probably get you a fat grin and a remark “One day, we’ll go with the lads”.
Las Vegas, Spanish for “The Meadows”, it actually has a lot of history behind it and isn’t just known for its gambling and clubs. It was officially named Las Vegas in 1905 and evolved over the decades, saloon bars and Western style experiences grew initially but then change came about, which gave birth to the Vegas we know today.
The casino scene boomed, entertainers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra were synonymous with Vegas and also Mob culture grew there too in the 1930s onwards. A lot of the hotels were actually owned by mobsters in that time but then Howard Hughes (remember the aviator with Leo Di’Caprio), bought out a few hotels as the managers requested he leave as he overstayed his visit. Hughes decided he didn’t want to leave and so bought many hotels and did as he pleased.
Modern Vegas was transformed by Steven Wynn who opened The Mirage, the first super hotel resort and this is what we associate Vegas with now, casino resorts and bright lights.
Getting to Vegas
I travelled from LA to Vegas via bus but there are a lot of options, you could get a direct flight or even drive across states to reach it. I decided I would get a Greyhound bus, I had heard good things about the company in the UK but I had never taken one. I wish I had not taken it!
I took a greyhound from San Fran to LA and the bus was 30 minutes late but we arrived on time, everything was handled fairly well and we got some updates from the driver. However in the LA greyhound depot, it was complete and utter chaos. Homeless people were sprawled over chairs and the staff sent people to queue in corners (there was no order!). Some people actually missed their buses because they were mixed in with other people queueing for different destinations but luckily they were put on the next bus out.
The Vegas bus didn’t arrive until 2.5 hours after its initial departure time, there was no update from the staff and people literally stood in the queue during the whole time. When it did arrive, it smelt like a toilet and I don’t think there were enough seats for all passengers.
Guys, don’t take the Greyhound in the US – however I do highly rate Boltbus.
Yep, I got an AirBnb. I paid £24 a night and I think this was slightly above budget as I remember the cost of some of the hostels were about £19 and mentioned late night clubbing and loud noises which isn’t my thing.
I stayed with a Mexican family Penny was my host, Jesus (her husband), Miguel and Raquel (Pennys parents). They were exceptionally friendly and very nice, they even gave me some homemade Mexican food and really took time out to get to know me.
However if you want the full Vegas experience then you can book to stay in one of the many hotel resorts available, I would highly recommend it just for the experience.
A lot of people in San Francisco said that the transport in LA and Vegas were awful. I actually thought the transport was quite good. Vegas has local city buses which will take you across anywhere in the Vegas area and if you want to go down the Strip then you can take The Deuce (it makes me laugh everytime). If you are staying for a few days or a week then I would recommend getting day passes or an extended pass (15 or 30 days). If you get a 24 hour pass from a vending machine along the strip it will cost you $8 but if you go to special sites like Bonneville transit centre, you can get it for $5 and I think you could get a 15 day pass for $15 (bargain price). This will allow you to travel on the city buses and the Deuce. An alternative is to take the monorail between resorts, I think it’s $13 and is quicker.
- The Strip
- Mirage Volcano
- Caesars Palace
- Wynns fountain
- New York New York
- Hoover Dam
- Grand Canyon
- Mob Museum
- Fremont Street Experience
- Neon Museum
- Container Park
- Las Vegas shows
Hoover Dam – Grand Canyon
I would advise booking these before you go, you can probably book it on the day if you want to. I went with a Grayline tour for Hoover dam, they pick you up at one of the hotels down the strip and then you make your way towards the dam (roughly about a 40 minute drive). The tour included transport and a basic Powerplant tour, however you could rent a car and drive to the Hoover dam and purchase a tour package ($15 Powerplant $30 Deluxe – includes two more sites within the dam).
The Hoover Dam, formerly know as the Boulder dam took 6 years to build and it was one of the most, if not the most famous manmade dam built. The dam was constructed to try and utilise water from the Colorado river and create artificial Lake Meade, this was done to create hydroelectric power and control the water flow into cities and for agriculture. Supposedly if you pour water over the dam, it will cause the water to go up, due to the extreme updraft of wind from its design.
I booked a Grand Canyon tour with Viator and it was a long long long tour! I woke up at 4am to take the bus out to Excalibur for a 6am pick-up. Never again! The tour lasted over 10 hours as we arrived back in Las Vegas at 10pm and then my transit home is an hour from the strip. The reason why it took so long is because we went to the South Rim which is further away.
Our driver, Derek was great and explained the South Rim views are the best but it takes longer to reach it. However if you want to get a quick trip to the Grand Canyon then go visit the West Rim, it takes 2.5 hours and you can purchase a ticket to go on the Skywalk, which is a clear platform where you can walk off the edge of the rim (without dying!). I would highly recommend going to the Grand Canyon but if you don’t want to be stuck on the bus for eternity then take a trip to the West Rim or drive yourself down Historic Route 66 and stay at a lodging in the Grand Canyon.
Mob Museum – Fremont street Experience
The Mob museum is located very close to Fremont Street and cost roughly £14 to enter, if you want you can purchase a shooting range experience too. The museum starts on the 3rd floor and you make your way down and details the history, uprising of the mob and its eventual downfall. The museum is really well laid out and has a lot of interesting facts from the Prohibition wars, Al Capone, G-men and how mobsters were involved in Las Vegas.
The Fremont Street Experience is a definite place you have to see, if combines all of what Las Vegas is known for down one long street. Bright lights, bars, barely clad women and a zipwire. Yes, there is a zipwire which extends across Fremont street called Slotzilla. It is definitely a cool experience and the roof of Fremont Street experience is actually a massive tv screen which will blare out music and a light show every hour which is six minutes long.
Neon Museum – Container Park
The museum is located near Fremont Street but it requires abit of walking, so I would give yourself plenty of time. I visited the Boneyard which contains a lot old signs of Vegas and you get a guided tour. The tour itself only lasts an hour but gives you good insight into how Vegas has changed and also interesting facts like mob culture and why neon signage was so popular in Vegas. It is better at night and I would pre-book too.
The container park is located near Fremont street also, near the revolving heel. It is free to enter and a nice getaway from the hustle of Vegas, it has a square which contains eateries and bars but even has a play area for kids. I just wandered around to see what it was like but it would be a good place for families, couples and friends.
For some reason Vegas is known for its buffets and a lot of the resorts will offer food or buffets of some sort. The most famous buffets would be the Bacchanal (feast of the gods) and The Wicked Spoon. As a late birthday present to myself, I went to try the Bacchanal.
The Bacchanal is located in the heart of Caesars palace and it costs $54 and $59 for lunch or dinner. This gives you a 2 hour window to eat your heart out and also a free bar for some drinks. The queue for the Bacchanal is preceeded by a waiting list; so what I mean is, you have to go up to a kiosk and order a ticket then return to join the actual queue when your allocated slot is open, which I guess is to try to make sure the buffet is not overcrowded. The food ranges from seafood, American, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and a salad bar with cured meats. The range of food is outstanding and quality is good but if I’m honest, I wouldn’t go back because I actually thought a lot of the food was quite bland but I wanted to try the world famous Bacchanal, if you don’t feel like spending that much on a buffet there are cheaper alternatives or miss it out altogether.
There’s always a show in Vegas but getting the right price is another thing. I didn’t go for a show because I think I would enjoy it better with company. However if you do fancy it, I would suggest prebooking it or even going to one of these discount kiosks on the strip to see if there is an offer as some shows can be discounted up to 50%.
The Strip – Las Vegas Boulevard
I wanted to leave this last as the strip is the highlight of Vegas, walk down it during the day and then the night and you will get two entirely different experiences. However if you do decide to walk down the strip then prepare for a long walk as it can take up to 4 hours. My recommendation is to use your RTC bus pass and ride the deuce down the strip.
I’ll admit the strip looks way better in the night when everything is lit up. If you walk then it will take a while but take the deuce and get off at regular stops to walk around and take some photos. I won’t go into detail about the whole history of the strip but it has changed a lot since the 1940’s.
I’ll be honest all the good food I had was at the buffet
- I only spent 3 fully days in Vegas but a week would be adequate time – I haven’t covered all the cool things that it has to offer like the golden nugget
- Invest in a 24 hour bus pass or if staying for a week invest in the 15 day pass – Bonneville transit centre do it for $5 and $15, you can get passes at kiosks outside certain deuce stops – more towards Wynn and Encore – the day pass here is $8
- If you buy a 24 hour pass, then it will validate upon purchase so don’t buy one thinking that it will validate when you use the pass and expire 24 hours from that time – buy one at a time, unfortunately Vegas hasn’t come up with a rechargeable system or maybe they don’t want to
- Definitely see the strip at night and take the deuce, you could see the resorts at night/ go shopping inside during the day then take the deuce to Fremont street experience or one of the museums
- Vegas is quite big, so leave plenty of time to get around places
- If you book a Grand Canyon tour then decide which part you want to see, West Rim in hindsight seemed like a better option to see the rim and didn’t take eternity
- If you want to go to the Bacchanal, leave early to get a queue ticket – it takes about 1 hour to be allowed to queue in order to pay then you can feast