Top 10 Must-See Attractions in LV
October 04, 2022
“We’re going to Vegas, baby!” Countless tourists yell out this phrase every weekend, because Las Vegas is the place you go to escape reality for a few days, let loose and have fun.
Marketing slogans have led many to believe that what happens in this city stays there (meaning you can do what you want, and it remains a secret). In this day and age, with social media and pro-level cameras in everyone’s pocket, I wouldn’t count on that. Nonetheless, Las Vegas is an awesome place to spend time in.
But if you can only experience a few things, which ones do you choose? Having lived here for 10 years, I can give you the insider scoop. So here’s the list of what I consider to be the Top 10 attractions you must check out when visiting Vegas.
Since 1959, the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign has been greeting visitors, then bidding them adieu with “Drive Carefully, Come Back Soon” on the back side.
The city literally grew up around the Las Vegas sign, because when it was first placed, it was a monument in a patch of dirty desert between two roads on the edge of civilization. Now it has its own driveway, parking lot, guardrails and crosswalk, preventing people from just randomly darting through traffic to pose with it.
It was created by Betty Willis, one of the only female commercial artists and neon sign designers of her day. She’s also responsible for some pretty influential Vegas motel signs, like the innovative Del Mar, elegant Moulin Rouge, and beloved Blue Angel.
Because Willis gifted the Las Vegas sign to the city and never trademarked it, you’ll see it referenced everywhere. There are two smaller signs—one at the entrance to Downtown Las Vegas and one on Boulder Highway—as well as souvenirs galore bearing the famous sign.
The Las Vegas Strip is what makes Vegas “Vegas,” and we could write a Top 10 list just featuring attractions on The Strip, which is a relatively short section of Las Vegas Boulevard. But since it’s ever-changing, let’s just lump it all together and then call out some specific highlights.
It all started with Caesars, really. Before that, the Vegas action was downtown (which is north of The Strip). But when Caesars Palace opened in 1966, it set the trend for fantasy-based resorts that revolve around a theme. That included the architecture, design, Italian sculptures, fountains, and staff in Roman-themed attire like short togas on cocktail waitresses and tunics on cashiers.
And yes, “Caesars” is the correct spelling (no apostrophe) because all the male customers were called Caesars while the females were referred to as Cleopatras. While you’re there, be sure to visit the adjoining Forum Shops, which continues the ancient Roman theme with some of the best dining and designer shopping options in town. There’s even a life-sized replica of Michelangelo’s David statue.
The “theme resort” model can now be seen all up and down The Strip, so you can “visit” not just Rome but also Venice, Paris, Egypt, Burma, Hollywood, New York and more.
Be sure to check out:
There’s no longer a Las Vegas Zoo, but there are plenty of beautiful gardens and animal habitats to see on The Strip. And then retired big cats, birds and giraffes go live at the nearby Lion Habitat Ranch.
On The Strip, you can visit:
The best place to see Las Vegas is from a birds-eye view, and there are several high vantage points you can access. You might want to get both day and night views, since the city looks totally different when the lights come on.
Here’s where to find the best views:
Cirque du Soleil isn’t one landmark or attraction that remains in a set place. Rather, it’s the backbone of many of the most popular shows in Las Vegas. Nearly every major casino has its own signature Cirque du Soleil show, drawing in audiences who want to see a unique, polished and jaw-dropping performance. And yes, you must see a Cirque show when you visit Vegas.
Founded in Quebec in 1984, the company name is French for “Circus of the Sun.” It was originally designed as a different type of circus, focused on human athleticism and acrobatics rather than trained animals. Every show features a different theme or storyline, and some focus on the music of a specific artist. But all include incredible acrobatic stunts and lavish costumes.
Some shows get refreshed now and then, but the current lineup is Mad Apple at New York-New York, KÀ at MGM Grand, Mystère at Treasure Island, “O” at Bellagio, The Beatles LOVE at Mirage, and Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay.
Fremont Street is the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, where all the action was in the golden age of Vintage Vegas. This is where the Rat Pack hung out, and where iconic animated neon signs once hung (cowboy Vegas Vic is still mounted at the former Pioneer Club—now a souvenir shop—but he no longer waves his arm).
Las Vegas earned its reputation for showmanship, bright lights and excitement in this district. Fremont was the street that teenagers would cruise up and down on Friday nights. It was the place where people would go to shop, socialize and be entertained.
There are two distinct sections of Fremont Street, and each has its own feel and appeal, despite being right next to each other.
The five-block section of Fremont between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard was covered over, closed to traffic, and opened as a kind of outdoor mall in 1995. Called the Fremont Street Experience, it features the world’s largest video screen on the ceiling at almost 1,400 feet long and 90 feet wide. Complete with 16.4 million LED lights and a 550,000-watt sound system, the Viva Vision video screen displays a free animated musical light show every hour from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
The Fremont Street Experience is the front yard to several iconic casinos, including Four Queens, Binion’s, Fremont Hotel, the Golden Gate, the Golden Nugget and the Plaza. It’s also home to the newer Circa Resort and The D.
Besides the casinos and souvenir shops along this stretch, you’ll see plenty of characters—some deliberately dressed up to pose for photos, some who are amazing street performers, and some who are just random people showing off their wild and colorful side. You’ll also have your choice of free concerts on three separate live stages, including the annual summer Downtown Rocks series with old classics and big-name chart toppers. All while zipliners soar over your head.
Once you cross Las Vegas Boulevard from the Fremont Street Experience, you enter the Fremont East District. Rather than building extravagant tourist attractions like the Fremont Street Experience, Fremont East is trendy and artsy with a true Old Vegas feel.
The middle of the street hosts the Neon Gallery, a collection of classic neon signs that have been restored to working condition. Here you’ll see a ruby slipper, bikini-clad “buxom beauty,” and the magic lamp from the old Aladdin hotel and casino. A newer sign that just looks retro is Oscar’s Martini Glass, named after the former Mayor Oscar Goodman and his favorite drink.
On Fremont East you’ll also find the historic El Cortez Hotel and Casino, as well as Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas with tavern license #00001. On the same corner is the Commonwealth, a two-story tavern with rooftop bar and a secret speakeasy called The Laundry Room.
Another block east is the innovative Downtown Container Park. You can’t miss it, because right out front is a giant metal praying mantis sculpture that shoots fire out of its antennae. Past the gates, you’re in an open-air shopping center with stores and restaurants built out of oversized shipping containers, a concert stage and the yoga-friendly Lawn. There’s also an interactive playground for all ages, featuring The Treehouse with 33-foot slide. Decidedly “un-Vegas,” this area feels more like the hipster-friendly Portland, Oregon or Boulder, Colorado.
Fremont East is also home to the world-famous Life is Beautiful, an annual 18-block arts and music festival—which is basically the Vegas answer to Coachella, with a more convenient location (think block party rather than weekend camping retreat).
Also in Downtown Las Vegas, but south of the Fremont Street Experience, is the Arts District. This is where you’ll find art galleries, street installations, creatively decorated bars with craft beer on tap, and once a month, the First Friday arts, music and culinary festival.
But just past the Arts District is the 60-acre Symphony Park, where you can immerse yourself in arts and culture any time. Did you know you could watch Broadway shows and Philharmonic concerts in Las Vegas? You can, at The Smith Center, located in Symphony Park. Opened in 2012, this is the place that made it possible to finally bring performing arts to the city, like every other world-class city has. Its Neo Art Deco style gives it a classic appearance reflecting the era when Vegas really began to grow, thanks to the Hoover Dam.
The Smith Center has a 170-foot carillon tower with 47 handcrafted bronze bells weighing a whopping 29,500 pounds in total. The center has sustainable features like energy efficient windows, water wise restrooms and natural lighting, making it the first performing arts center of its size and scope to earn gold-level certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
In front of the Smith Center is the photo-friendly Pipe Dream sculpture, a colorful installation by Las Vegas artist Tim Bavington. Each pipe represents a note from American composer Aaron Copland’s 1942 classical song, “Fanfare for the Common Man,” with the colors and sizes coded to the tune.
It’s not technically in Las Vegas, but it was responsible for the city’s growth, and it’s only a 30-minute drive away. Straddling the Nevada-Arizona border, the Art Deco Hoover Dam is a National Historic Landmark. The largest dam in the world when completed in 1935, it’s the equivalent of 60 stories high, 660 feet thick at the base, and contains 6.6 million tons of concrete—enough to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City. It generates hydroelectric power for 1.3 million people annually and provides water for not only Las Vegas but also Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles.
Hoover Dam is an American icon, representing engineering ingenuity, industrial advances, and the ability to harness powerful natural resources—even the wild Colorado River. A more recent marvel in engineering is the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, built in 2010, which towers 900 feet above the river and offers incredible views of the dam and surrounding areas.
But let’s back up a little bit. During the Great Depression, thousands of workers moved to Las Vegas hoping for a job building the dam, which pretty much doubled the city’s population. Neighboring Boulder City was established specifically for the laborers to live in. Gambling became legal in Las Vegas that same year, in large part so the workers had something to do, and the rest is history.
Before the Hoover Dam, Vegas was just a small town, but the history goes back a lot further. Las Vegas means “The Meadows,” and the Springs Preserve is where those meadows and desert oasis springs have been for 12,000 years. This is what drew early settlers to Las Vegas and sustained Native American tribes before that. So this is actually the birthplace of Las Vegas, even though it looks nothing like what most people expect Vegas to be.
Just three miles west of The Strip, the Springs Preserve is a 180-acre cultural institution designed to commemorate the history of Las Vegas as well as provide a vision for its sustainable future. It’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978 and began development as a preserve in 1997 before opening to the public 10 years later.
The Springs Preserve features museums, galleries, a colorful botanical garden, interpretive trail system, train rides, and playground with splash pad. It also has a Butterfly Habitat, Wetlands Bird Habitat, Desert Tortoise Habitat, and other live animal exhibits. You might even encounter ground squirrels, rabbits, grey foxes or coyotes on the trails.
It’s also home to the 70,000 square foot Nevada State Museum, which is included in admission. This award-winning museum showcases artifacts from the prehistoric era to the glamorous golden age of Vegas. Check out Nevada’s state fossil of an ichthyosaur, go inside a stalactite cave, watch a holographic telling of Nevada’s miners, see an atomic explosion, and much more.
“Toto, we’re not in Vegas anymore!” Isn’t it interesting how many must-see Las Vegas attractions actually don’t seem like the stereotypical image of Las Vegas at all?
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a beautiful 195,820-acre slice of the Mojave Desert. Designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area, it has a 13-mile Scenic Loop Drive with trailheads and overlooks, as well as 26 different trail hike options that take you from the deepest canyons to the highest peaks. You’ll witness a maze of chutes, gullies, ledges and chimneys with plenty of surprises along the way. You can go hiking, biking, climbing, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, take photos and see the native flora and fauna, especially encouraged on Wildlife Wednesday and Flower Friday.
There are even roads designated for off-highway driving and recreation, although you can’t go tearing through the desert on your ATV. Stick to the Rocky Gap Road, Cottonwood Valley and other smaller roadways that connect to the Scenic Loop Drive. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center and say hi to Jackson the burro.
Where do neon signs go to retire? In Vegas, often dubbed the Neon Capital of the World, they find their final resting place at the Neon Museum. Founded in 1996 and opened to the public in 2012, this non-profit organization collects, preserves, studies and exhibits the city’s iconic neon signs for educational and cultural enrichment. This one-of-a-kind experience feels like a cross between roaming through a junkyard and a treasure trove.
The Visitors’ Center is located inside the transplanted lobby of the historic La Concha Motel, constructed in 1961. The adjacent outdoor exhibition space is called the Neon Boneyard Main Collection, and houses over 250 unrestored signs. Across the street is the smaller Neon Boneyard North Gallery with additional signs on display. You can also view Brilliant! Jackpot, the world’s largest immersive augmented reality light projection show that reanimates 40 iconic vintage signs in the North Gallery.
If you travel to Vegas, don’t forget to take along a credit card that earns you points on travel. For example, Credit One Bank’s new Wander® Card offers 10X rewards points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked using their travel partner, 5X rewards points on other eligible travel, dining, and gas buys, and 1X rewards points on all other purchases.
For over a quarter of a century, Heather has been working as a journalist in all media: TV, radio, print, and online. After establishing her career in Toronto, she has been living, working, and playing in Las Vegas for the past decade. She loves pulling apart complicated topics to make them simple, fun, and easy to understand, especially in the business and financial niches. But she also enjoys writing about the personal side of life, including success, relationships, families, and pets. She approaches everything from a yin-yang perspective, so her passion for wordplay and entertaining metaphors is always balanced with an intense (and some would say annoying) focus on facts and accuracy.
This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.
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