Las Vegas is one of those travel destinations that’s almost too busy and flashy to process. It’s been nicknamed “Sin City” and “America’s Playground,” it’s been mythologized in countless films, and it sparkles with the light energy output of a small star (or seems to, at least). It can all be rather alluring. When you actually set about planning a trip there though, it’s also dizzying.
Recommendations for Vegas vacations are simply limitless. There is so much entertainment and activity built into this desert resort cluster that it’s easy to become overwhelmed with your options. Frankly, there’s something to be said for picking a resort that appeals to you, making the trip, and simply setting off on your own to explore and see what you like. But to offer a little bit of guidance, I want to cut through the endless strings of popular recommendations and point out 10 things that you’ll actually be happy to experience in town.
1 – See Cirque du Soleil
I’m starting with Cirque du Soleil because there may not be anything else so quintessentially Vegas. These vaguely theatrical circus performances are over the top, unusual, amusing, artful, and, without fail, sensationally impressive. It’s like they were made for a city that could just about be described the same way. As to which version of the show you see, it’ll depend a little on schedules. But KA at the MGM Grand might just be the most amazing of the bunch.
2 – Have A Drink At SkyBar
The top-rated bars in Vegas cover a lot of ground. There are exclusive-feeling mixology bars, over-the-top cocktail lounges, themed venues, and even a few off-the-beaten-path dives worth checking out. Your personal preferences might lead you to any of these types of places. But in a city known for its bars, the one I’d really recommend checking out is SkyBar at the Waldorf Astoria. It may not quite have the personality of some alternatives, but a high-class bar overlooking Vegas at night is difficult to top.
3 – Dine At Bazaar Meat by José Andres
As with bars, highly recommended Vegas restaurants number in the dozens, if not hundreds. You’ll read about Asian- and Italian-inspired menus, celebrity chef haunts, top-of-the-line burger joints, dinner shows, and even extravagant brunches. The truth is a lot of it is awfully good. This is a city where you can eat like a king. But for my money, the best place to do so is Bazaar Meat by José Andres. You’ll enjoy an elegant atmosphere and an unrivaled menu. Plus, there’s something nice about supporting Andres (who spends much of his time providing nutritious meals for populations that have experienced disasters).
4 – Play Poker At A Major Casino
Unless you’re really in it for the gaming, there’s a lot of activity on the casino floors in town that you can pretty much ignore. Slots, roulette and the like just aren’t that gratifying (and usually have pretty low odds). That said, the iconic Las Vegas poker rooms are a different story. Resorts like Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand, The Bellagio, and a few more have been known for their poker offerings for many years, and live up to their reputations. It can be a little intimidating, but if you play some poker in one of these venues (I opt for MGM Grand), you’ll feel like a movie character (in a good way).
5 – Try Your Hand At Blackjack, Too
Poker would be my priority, gaming-wise, but blackjack at a real Vegas casino is pretty cool, too. You’ve probably seen it played in films ranging from Rain Man to 21, and while those films dramatize things quite a bit, it is pretty exciting when things are going your way at the tables. I don’t find the Vegas blackjack tables to be as unique as the poker rooms by comparison to those in other parts of the world. But they’re still a great time.
6 – Experience TopGolf
TopGolf, if you’re not familiar, is a business that operates gigantic, gamified golf driving ranges. And rest assured, even if you’re not into golf, they’re a great time. You essentially rent an area on a platform with friends, and in that area enjoy food and drink service, your own TVs, and all sorts of ways to customize games. The games have to do with how far your golf ball goes and where it lands as you drive it off the platform. Now, TopGolf isn’t unique to Vegas and for that reason it’s understandable to prioritize other experiences. But I will say there’s something extraordinary about playing at this facility with the Vegas Strip in the background.
7 – Luxuriate In A Resort Spa
There are plenty of places in the world to experience an incredible spa treatment. Tropical island resorts and other exotic destinations are known for them. German wellness centers and the spas of the UK have terrific reputations. And frankly most big cities around the world have a few great facilities as well. The spas at Vegas resorts are truly world-class though, and as with TopGolf there’s just something special about trying this in Vegas. A totally relaxing break at the Encore or Waldorf Astoria is the perfect way to break up an otherwise busy, overwhelming trip.
8 – Take A Gondola Ride
At some point in Vegas you’ll want to explore one or two of the themed resorts. They’re all fun to check out, but The Venetian also offers you the opportunity to take a real gondola ride — albeit though a fake canal! Part of the resort is designed to mimic the streets and canals of Venice, and while it feels a little like a theme park, it’s still a lot of fun. There’s nothing else quite like it in the city.
9 – Race A High-End Sports Car
It may not be for everyone, but the racing experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is an incredible thrill. There are different levels of the experience, but the bottom line is that there are a lot of incredible cars available, and for different prices you can try them out on a real speedway. And even if you’re not a car enthusiast, driving a Lamborghini around the Vegas Motor Speedway is unforgettable.
10 – Walk The Strip At Night
Finally, it’s a simple recommendation, but do take some time to really walk The Strip at night. From the bright lights and massive faux monuments, to the Bellagio fountains, to the most eclectic crowds of people you’ve ever seen, you’ll get the best feel for the city on a late-night walk.