Las Vegas is one of the most popular cities to visit in the United States. With its glitzy hotels and casinos, an overabundance of spectacular things to do and insanely good restaurants, you can’t help but love it.
But its unique characteristics don’t come without a price. Some of the very things that make Vegas so attractive could be problematic to some visitors. To ensure that your Vegas vacation is the best it can be, there are a few things to know about Las Vegas before you go.
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Things to Know About Las Vegas
Around 42 million people visit Las Vegas annually and although it’s a popular, it’s not unusual to hear someone say how much they don’t like it. Since I love Vegas so much, I’m always a little shocked, and low key offended 🙂 when I hear someone say that and I wonder what they had go wrong on their Vegas trip.
But I also think back to my first time in Vegas. There are plenty of things I would have liked to have known before I got there that could have made my trip better. Now, after more than 25 visits (my daughter lives nearby) I’m sharing what I wish I knew before going to Las Vegas.
1. It’s More Than Just the Strip
When people talk about going to Las Vegas, they usually mean the Strip – 4.2 miles of Las Vegas Boulevard in Paradise, Nevada. The Strip starts, more or less, at Sunset Road near the airport, and ends around Sahara Boulevard.
Between these two roads is some of the most expensive and over the top real estate in the world. On the south end, the strips begins with Mandalay Bay and ends with The Strat (the resort with the crazy roller coasters on top) on the north end.
But Las Vegas is more than just the Strip. There’s also Downtown Vegas, centered around Fremont Street aka Glitter Gulch, which is where Vegas basically got it’s start in 1905. Fremont Street was Vegas’ first paved road so there’s a lot of history there.
Besides these two most famous touristy areas of Las Vegas, there are plenty of suburbs and cities around Vegas worth visiting and a countless number of beautiful public lands, impressive national parks and other significant natural areas that surround the city.
All that being said, one of the most important things to know about Las Vegas is that if you have the time, and the opportunity, don’t limit yourself to only seeing the city lights. Get off the strip and explore! There are so many tours!
Plan a day trip from Las Vegas. Eat somewhere not on the Strip. Visit Chinatown or Henderson and by all means try to include a visit to one of the museums that educate visitors about the history of Las Vegas. Springs Preserve, just a short bus ride from the Strip, is the perfect place to start.
I’m convinced that the people who say they hate Vegas are people that only attended a conference and never left the Strip.
2. Las Vegas is in the Desert
If you didn’t know already, Las Vegas is in the desert. The Mojave Desert to be precise. Known for its arid climate and unique landscapes, the Mojave Desert is one of the largest and driest deserts in North America.
A little strange to build a lavish, party city in the middle of the desert, no? It might seem so but the area we now know as Las Vegas has a long history of settlement. Mainly because although it’s the desert, groundwater has been abundant.
Showing up in Vegas and not being prepared for the desert can seriously impact your visit. Especially in summer when temps are the hottest. It’s no joke and even spring and fall can be really hot in southern Nevada.
Before you travel to Las Vegas, check the weather. Take cool clothes and remember to hydrate more than you normally would. Even if you are only walking around on the strip. That low humidity means extra dry hair and skin. Carry lip balm and sunscreen.
If you happen to be visiting in winter, again, check the weather. Days are generally pretty mild and pleasant but you might need a jacket at night.
3. You Might Be Underwhelmed at First
Everyone has pretty big expectations when they go to Vegas. All the bright lights, glam and glitter. But if you happen to arrive to Las Vegas in the day, you might end up being a bit underwhelmed by its daytime look.
Since it is the desert, there’s not a lot of color in the daytime and everything kind of looks the same. And actually kind of ordinary. But don’t worry. As soon as you see the sunset and those sparkling lights come on, you’ll be smitten. There’s nothing anywhere in the United States that’s comparable.
4. Everything is Big
Everything in Las Vegas is huge. Ginormous. From the resorts to the city blocks between the resorts, to the parking lots – everything is big.
The hotels are built to accommodate their guests and non-guests that come to gamble. Plus, many resorts have restaurants, shows and maybe even popular musical residencies. All of that adds up to people taking up space so everything has to be roomy to make it work.
Because it’s so big, it can take some time to get from place to place. Factor in the crowds and you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to get to reservations and shows, etc. It takes time, and patience, to move around Vegas.
I always recommend staying in the area closest to the things you want to see or do. And if you are attending a conference, by all means stay at the venue. It will save you a lot of time and a lot of walking.
The good news is the resorts have put thought into controlling crowds and making it easier to get around. Escalators, people movers, overpasses and even trains between casinos are just a few of the elements the city and the resorts use to mitigate the problem.
Southerner Says: taxis and ride shares are plentiful at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) but if you can also book a private car or bus airport transfer to your hotel in advance.
5. You Need a Plan
Unless your intention is just partying or you’re sticking close to your hotel the entire time, to really see the sights, especially your first time, one of the most important things to know about Las Vegas is that you’ll need a plan.
The resorts and casinos want you on their property so you’ll spend your money there. For that reason, just about every resort has something unique or interesting to see or do. Most of these attractions are free things to do in Las Vegas, too.
You can check the schedules online for popular events like the Bellagio Fountains or the Fall of Atlantis at Caesar’s and make a game plan to be in the hotel or nearby area.. That way you won’t miss something or end up waiting around wasting time.
6. Wear Comfortable Shoes
Odds are, you’ll walk more in Las Vegas than you’ve ever walked anywhere. Even if you don’t leave your resort, just getting through the casino to get your section of the hotel to the elevator to your room is a lot of steps.
Out of all the things to know about Las Vegas, the most important one is to wear the most comfortable shoes you have. Not new shoes, not somewhat comfortable shoes but, the most sensible, reliable, comfortable shoes you own.
If that wasn’t enough, a few of the resorts are designed to look like European cities i.e. Paris and Venice. One of the features is cobblestone streets throughout the venue. While it’s really pretty to look at, the uneven concrete surfaces are murder on your feet in bad shoes.
Ask me how I know when I say your shoes can make or break your Vegas vacation.
7. It Can Be Overwhelming
Because it is so large and provides so much entertainment, Vegas has a way of making you feel like you have to do it all. That pressure can be a bit overwhelming. With so many choices, you might get frustrated.
Not to mention, the crowds, the flashing lights, people trying to sell you a show and constant sounds of slot machines is sensory overload. The next thing you know, you’ve given up because you don’t know what to do or you’re just tired of it.
To help fight that feeling, unless you are a young 20-something that can go non-stop, schedule in some quiet time. A spa visit, a relaxing day by the pool or even a day away from the strip to see the beauty of southern Nevada beauty can do wonders for your brain and help you recharge.
8. Everything Isn’t Open As Late As You Think
With it’s Sin City and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas reputation, many people assume Vegas is up all night. And it is to an extent.
Casinos have people in them all night. You can always gamble and get a cocktail. But if you are looking for dinner and a low(er) key experience, the majority of nice upscale and celebrity owned restaurants don’t stay open that late.
If there’s a particular dining spot you have in mind, it’s best to plan ahead, check the operating hours, and make a reservation.
A few of my favorite late night, on the strip, options are Cabo Wabo Cantina and In-n-Out at the Linq Promenade. Both are open till 1am. Tacos el Gordo is open till 2am. Secret Pizza, in the Cosmopolitan and Istanbul Mediterranean Restaurant, in front of the Horseshoe (formally Bally’s) are both open till 4am.
One more that’s open all night is Cafe Americano, conveniently located right inside the main door in Caesar’s Palace. Not only is it open 24 hours, but it’s open 365 days a year. And they have a make your own Bloody Mary bar.
9. You Can Take the Kids
Las Vegas may have has a bawdy reputation but it actually can be a very family friendly vacation and some resorts cater to that familial vibe.
Carnival themed Circus Circus, New York New York with its roller coaster and even MGM Grand with its lazy river, are really good choices for a family vacation right on the strip. Resorts off the strip are amazing for the entire family as well.
The Hilton Vacation Club Cancun Resort Las Vegas and Home 2 Suites, near the convention center, with no resort fees btw, offers good alternatives for families who want to enjoy Vegas but not everything that comes with it.
10. You Don’t Necessarily Need a Car
Is a car nice to have? Definitely. But unless you plan on exploring off the strip, it’s not necessary. Las Vegas has excellent public transportation options.
The city offers public buses for going up and down strip, hop on/off double decker tour buses and a convenient monorail system. Not to mention plenty of taxis, Uber and Lyft. With all that, just let someone else do the driving or just rent a car for a day or two.
Many resorts conveniently have car rental agencies onsite and if yours doesn’t, there are stand alone rental companies up and down the strip. You don’t have to return to the airport.
Get your Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket before you get to Las Vegas so you can start exploring immediately! Choose 1 or 2 day tickets options. Stops include hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping and attractions.
11. Parking Isn’t Free
One of the reasons you might decide to skip the car is that what used to be one best things about Las Vegas is gone now. And that’s free parking. It was like the extra cherry on top of visiting. But sadly, in the last few years nearly all the resorts on the strip charge for parking.
Some hotels do offer guests (and locals) a discount but it’s not much. So, if you are staying on the strip and opt to rent a car, factor in the daily parking fee. I have to hand it to them, Las Vegas held out a lot longer than most places and it is a bit cheaper than some other cities but not by much.
12. Hotels Charge a Resort Fee
That good deal you find on Booking.com isn’t really a good deal until you check the final price where unfortunately, you’ll then see a resort fee tacked on. In the last few years, resorts fees in Las Vegas have become a hotly discussed and complained about thing.
What is a resort fee? It’s a nightly charge that’s added to your hotel bill, on top of the regular room rate and tax. And they don’t always call it resort fee. It might be passed off as a service charge, destination charge, or even an experience fee.
There was a time, not too long ago, when there were no resort fees. Now hotels use this fee as an excuse to “cover” just about every thing from wi-fi to other amenities like fitness center access and even pool privileges and phone calls.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to avoid this, in my opinion, ridiculous charge unless you book one of the few hotels that don’t charge it. There are a few downtown Las Vegas hotels that don’t charge the fee.
In the end, you’ll have to evaluate high much you are willing to pay. Expect to see, on average, anywhere from $30 USD to $50 USD at most places.
13. You’ll Probably Get Lost
Navigating the many corridors, the numerous casino areas and a variety of bars and restaurants at the resorts can be a challenge, particularly for first-time visitors. It’s not uncommon for you to find yourself turned around or lost in the maze of amenities and slot machines.
No worries. There will always be a staff member or someone nearby to help. Google Maps provides a pretty good floor by floor breakdown of the properties even if it’s a multiple floors as most resorts are.
Also, don’t be too concerned, getting lost is just part of the Vegas experience. And since most places are full of surprises, you can always just roll with it and see what you find along the way.
If you’re outside on the strip, to get your bearings, look for north for easily recognizable Strat. If it’s at night then look for the beam of light from The Luxor on the south end of the strip.
14. You Can Carry Alcohol on the Strip
Maybe one of the more surprising things to know about Las Vegas is that you can carry alcohol on the strip. Vegas is one of only a handful of other U.S. cities like Savannah and New Orleans where you can legally drink on the street.
This is a good thing for the thrifty traveler because you can buy alcohol at convenience and drug stores on the Strip and save a few bucks by mixing drinks just how you like them in your room before you head out.
Just remember that even though it’s a fun, unique part of the Las Vegas experience, it’s essential to be mindful of local regulations and don’t get drunk! No one wants to be that person passed out on the sidewalk.
15. Don’t Pay Full Price For Shows
While there’s not much you can do about resort and parking fees, at least you can find discounted tickets for a wide range of activities including shows and events. This includes some of the most popular performances.
You can utilize various resources like your hotel concierge, discount ticket booths found around town and even websites like Groupon and Viator, to secure the best deals means you don’t have to break the bank to have a good time in Las Vegas.
This works best if you want to see a show but don’t really care what it is. However, if there is something in particular you really want to see, then get those tickets early so you won’t be disappointed. You might not want to take a chance on waiting till you get there.
Also, just know that most shows are “dark” on Mondays – meaning there’s no Monday performances.
16. Smoking is Allowed in Some Casinos
You might be also be surprised to find out that even though, Las Vegas has implemented non-smoking policies and smoking in bars, restaurants and most hotel rooms is prohibited, the vast majority of the casinos on the Strip allow smoking in the casinos.
This is definitely one of the important things you need to know about Las Vegas because for someone with allergies or asthma, it could really affect your vacation.
The good news is, the casinos work hard to eliminate the odor and smoke to make the property smell good. In fact, there are odor control, ozone technology companies that specialize in doing this.
In all my years of going to Las Vegas, only a few of the more budget hotels and casinos have that lingering tobacco smell. The Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan, Mandalay Bay and Paris are definitely doing something right because you won’t notice it there.
If you absolutely don’t want to chance it but still want to gamble, then the Park MGM, currently, is the only completely non-smoking casino on the Strip. You can always book a hotel without a casino as well.
17. You Might See Almost Naked Men & Women
And you don’t even have to pay for it. Expect to see scantily clad women and men on the strip posing for photos and promoting events. It’s easy to ignore them or stop for a photo if that’s your thing but you will be asked to pay them and I’ve read they can be quite pesky.
18. Carry Earplugs Just in Case
With that party all the time reputation, Las Vegas can get a bit noisy. Most resorts on the strip have done a really good job at blocking out the noise. Generally, you don’t hear the buzz of the street or the sounds inside the hotel unless your room happens to be above or close to a club.
I’ve only had that happen one time when staying at The Horseshoe (formerly Bally’s) and heard 50 Cent across the street at Drai’s until 3am. Earplugs would have taken care of that. Now I always travel with a pair. From fancy to cheap, they are a lifesaver in some situations.
If you are concerned about the chance of a noisy room, ask when you check-in. You might not have much say-so in room placement when booking online but you can ask for a change when you arrive to the hotel.
19. You Don’t Have to Dress Up
Las Vegas caters to a diverse range of fashion choices so whether you prefer casual attire or more more glam, you’ll feel right at home. Basically, the dress code in Las Vegas is there is no dress code. In fact, you’ll see more casual dress than anything.
Getting dressed- up is appropriate in some high-end restaurants and upscale clubs where there maybe a more specific attire requirements, so check in advance to ensure you’re appropriately dressed for the occasion.
And unless you just love them, you can save those high high heels for the clubs. Vegas can be fancy but no one is really walking around sightseeing in high heel.
20. Prostitution Isn’t Legal
Despite the misconception, prostitution is explicitly prohibited Las Vegas. Nevada, on the other hand, allows it in some counties in a very particular type of establishment.
While Las Vegas is renowned for its vibrant nightlife and entertainment options, it is essential for visitors to be aware of and respect the local laws and regulations to avoid any legal complications during their stay.
21. Rewards Cards Are Worth It
There are several hotels and casinos that offer reward or loyalty cards to frequent visitors and patrons. MGM Resorts International has M Life Rewards, Caesars Entertainment offers Caesar Rewards and Wynn Resorts calls theirs the Red Card. These are just a few of the programs available.
These loyalty programs allow guests to accumulate points while spending money on accommodations, dining, shopping and entertainment within their properties. Once you accumulate enough credits or points you can use those for a host of other benefits, exclusive perks and “comps” or complimentary stays and items.
Of course, the resorts want you to gamble and spend money in their casino but you don’t have to be a gambler to sign up for and use a rewards card. You can still accumulate points just by staying in the resort and and by dining and shopping there.
It’s absolutely free and easy to sign up and some cards ever have welcome benefits just for being a joining. This article here breaks it down nicely.
22. Don’t Forget Your Bathing Suit
Although Las Vegas is known for its scorching summers, some of the city’s renowned pools are open year-round and offer the opportunity to enjoy a swim regardless of how cold it is. Several hotels and resorts offer heated pools and amenities even during the cooler months.
Mandalay Bay has one of the best pools in Las Vegas and they are open year-round, as well as the one of the MGM Grand pools, the pool at the Bellagio, Caesars and The Venetian. Check directly with your hotel to see what’s available.
Even if they are open year-round, pool hours may change in winter and if a property has multiple pools, as many do, they might not all be open.
23. Free Drinks Are Not a Myth
Yes, it’s true that Vegas casinos often provide complimentary drinks to guests who are engaging in gambling activities. it’s a gesture of hospitality and encouragement to continue playing and spend that money!
This practice is a well-known tradition in many casinos along the strip and downtown area. You’ll see cocktail servers circulate the gaming floors, offering a variety of beverages, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, to players.
How long you have to gamble, or how much you have to spend, before being comped a drink is based on the casino and their guidelines. However, if you are offered a drink, be polite and tip your server well.
It’s also important to gamble responsibly and be mindful of your alcohol consumption and not get too wild, especially on the casino floor.
24. It Can Be Pricey
I’m not going to lie, Vegas isn’t cheap. It’s not the most expensive destination in the U.S. and it is possible to plan a budget-minded vacation.
But one of the most important things to know about Las Vegas is that it wants you to spend money and no matter what good intentions you have, somehow, Vegas has a way of emptying your pockets.
If you want to do Vegas on the cheap, then you’ll need a budget, and a plan, and stick to it. Avoid the upscale hotels and go in the low (June-August) season. Stay mid-week. Vegas hotels are significantly more expensive on the weekend.
Know ahead of time where you want to eat instead of just popping in somewhere and being surprised at the prices. Most celebrity restaurants are super expensive. Pick smaller, local places to eat, and you’ll save a ton of money.
Also good to know is that many of the hotels have food courts with popular chain restaurants where you can eat cheaper. And you can always find the usual fast food restaurants on the Strip. Chipotle, In-n-Out, Taco Bell and other well known chains all have a Vegas Strip presence.
25. You Don’t Have to Go to the Strip and Gamble
Maybe the best trait about Las Vegas is that even away from the lights of the Strip, there’s no shortage of fun to be had. You can explore natural wonders, like the Red Rock Canyon or Mt Charleston. Visit Boulder City and the Hoover Dam.
Dive into the local culture by visiting art galleries or Area 15. And museums are plentiful. The Neon Museum and the Mob Museum both capture the spirit of Las Vegas and provide a unique perspective on the city’s history.
For a weekend getaway, the elegant Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa in Summerlin or the Mediterranean-inspired Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson are ideal. Both offer fantastic poolside areas, world-class dining options and relaxing spa experiences, these off-Strip resorts offer the ultimate experience without ever having to leave the property.
Need to Know Las Vegas FAQ
When is the best time to go to Las Vegas? It depends. Vegas is a year round destination but for those on a budget, the cheapest time to visit is during the summer months when hotels are less expensive. The downside – it’s hot. But, there’s always the pools.
For the best all around visit – good weather and decent prices – visit in Spring and Fall. Just remember that Vegas is a huge conference and trade show city so you may want to check to see what event is scheduled when you’re visiting. For example, October is a great month to visit but late October into November is usually automotive month and it can impact hotel prices and crowds.
What to Know About Las Vegas
In conclusion, Las Vegas is a city that surpasses its sin city reputation and offers a ton of experiences beyond the twinkling lights of the Strip. But it comes with some quirks.
Understanding the local culture, being mindful of the desert climate and exploring both popular attractions and offbeat gems can provide a well-rounded experience in this iconic city.
See you on the road!