How to Do Vegas on Any Budget
For all the bright lights and big names in Las Vegas, it's possible to visit the Entertainment Capital of the World without breaking the budget.
Our suggestion: Save some cash in one or two areas, so you can go "all-in" on another experience.
We've picked 12 activities that you'll be doing on your next Vegas vacation -- along with our recommendations on what you should do, whether you want to spend a little, a lot or somewhere in between.
Your Hotel Room
You can stay in Vegas on almost any budget -- after all, there are more than 150,000 hotel rooms in town. Depending on the time of year, midweek rates are usually much lower than weekend prices. Holiday weeks and weekends can offer up especially good deals.
For us, regardless of when you go, it's about finding the best combo of location, vibe and price.
The LINQ wins kudos for its central location and reasonable rates. The Platinum Las Vegas is another favourite of ours -- each room is a suite with a kitchen, it's close to the middle of the Strip and weekend rates are very reasonable.
Vegas is home to some of the most opulent suites in the world. We're talking private villas with butler service and a private chef; themed suites with bowling alleys or a basketball court, the whole nine yards ...
Taking it down a notch, some of our favourite places to splurge are on hotels within a hotel. The Tower Suites at the Wynn Encore, the Venezia Tower at The Venetian and the Four Seasons within Mandalay Bay are luxury picks that are over-the-top without being over budget.
You'll find 4-star hotel rooms for much less than you'd expect in Las Vegas. If you transported the amenities and cool factor of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas or Palms Casino Resort to South Beach, Manhattan or Toronto, the nightly rates would be four times as much.
The Vdara Hotel & Spa is a quiet high-end retreat that doesn't have gaming, but is surrounded by entertainment options. The Signature Suites at the MGM Grand also gets our vote -- you have all the MGM Grand amenities, plus suite accommodations like a Jacuzzi tub and kitchenette.
Getting Around Town
The Las Vegas Strip is more than 6.5 km end-to-end, so you might need help getting around. Here are a few ways to go.
If walking the Strip isn't in the cards, the Monorail has seven stops between the SLS and MGM Grand and free shuttles to off-Strip resorts. It runs until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on the weekends. A one-day pass is $12.
The Deuce bus runs between Downtown and the Strip. A 24-hour pass is $8.
To go all the way, you want someone else doing the driving. For a big night on the town, hire a Hummer limo or a party bus to get around in style. Go big, then get home safely.
For more every day options, ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are ubiquitous in town. If the surge pricing on nights and weekends is too much, taxis are easy to find and reliable.
If you're going to do any exploring of Las Vegas away from the Strip (and we highly recommend that you do) to hike in Red Rocks, visit the Hoover Dam or venture out to the Grand Canyon, then you should rent a car. Parking is no longer free at some hotels, so you don't have to rent for the entire trip -- just on the day or two where you plan to get out and about.
Whether you're starting your day -- or finishing a long night -- the most important meal of the day can also be the most budget-friendly.
The 24-hour menu at Siegel's 1941 at the El Cortez gives you a ton of choices for breakfast (steak & eggs anyone?) with décor that harkens back to the days of casino founder and famed mobster Bugsy Siegel. For a quicker option, one of our go-to choices is Eggslut at the Cosmopolitan, specializing in yummy breakfast sandwiches.
Bouchon at The Venetian offers French dishes from Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller. Going for breakfast or brunch makes it a little easier on the wallet. Ask for a table out on the patio to enjoy the garden setting.
The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace is everything the name implies, with more than 500 dishes available from nine open kitchens. Arrive before 10 a.m. during the week, and you'll save $10 on the price. Do brunch right, and you might not need to eat again until dinner.
Hash House a Go Go has three locations in Vegas, but whichever one you pick, someone has to order the Sage Fried Chicken and Waffles.
The Henry is a 24-hour diner inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas that's one of our favourites. They have breakfast all day, every day. Don't miss out on the cinnamon roll French toast, fried mac-n-cheese balls and the red velvet cake.
The Great Outdoors
All of the excitement in Las Vegas isn't just in the casinos and showrooms. Get out and about to see a side of the area you might miss otherwise.
Take a morning trip to the Hoover Dam, less than an hour from Vegas. The earlier you arrive, the fewer crowds you'll encounter. It costs money to tour the dam and to park. For the best pictures, however, walk across the Pat Tillman Bypass Bridge.
To go for a hike and work off that buffet brunch, head to the 48 kilometres of trails at Red Rock Canyon, less than 30 kilometres from Las Vegas. The red sandstone formations are most stunning at sunrise and sunset.
Even if you don't have $250,000 to drop on getting the keys to a private Bellagio Fountains show, you can still go big.
What's bigger than the Grand Canyon? The best way to see this wonder is via helicopter. Maverick Helicopters and Papillon are among the companies that arrange helicopter tours from Las Vegas. Fly out in the morning, land in the Grand Canyon for lunch and bubbly, then head home as you hover over Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and the lights of the Strip. Pretty much the perfect day ...
To stay on the ground, hitch a ride to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, then borrow a 600-horsepower NASCAR for a few laps at speeds up to 250 kilometres per hour with the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Check the calendar and book ahead -- drive dates are most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus select Tuesdays. If you drive on Saturdays and Sundays, you'll save $200 off the eight-lap experience.
The Boneyard at the Neon Museum has more than 200 old neon signs that let you walk through the history of Las Vegas. Guided tours are available hourly -- but they do sell out, especially the night tours, so get your tickets in advance.
A little R&R goes a long way. Resorts are continually upping their spa game.
Two words: day passes. For about half the cost of one treatment, you'll get access to the spa amenities -- which could include juices, steam room, private plunge pool and light food. At some hotels, spa access may already be included in the resort fee.
Condé Nast Traveler rates Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian among the top 10 resort spas in the U.S. The 12,449-square metre day spa has more than 90 treatment rooms, fitness classes and signature aqua therapy environments.
The Spa and Salon at Encore is a stunning space with service that earns it a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. Treatments include Swedish, Hawaiian, Thai, Chinese, Moroccan and Polynesian elements.
For our money, the Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace is one of our favourites. In addition to the treatments, the Roman baths are a great spot to unwind, finishing with the Arctic Ice Room -- the only place in Las Vegas where it snows.
If you went all-out for brunch, perhaps lunch is an afterthought. It shouldn't be -- you can't do Vegas on an empty stomach.
At many of the best buffets in town, the lunch price is less than the dinner bill. You are also more likely to score a table at some of the most-coveted dining spots in town if you go at lunch.
Start with the bao appetizers (Chinese steamed buns) at Fat Choy, just off the Strip, then dig into their over-the-top Fat Choy burger -- a half-pound Angus & short rib patty with bacon, cheddar, onion jam and a fried egg.
For a cheap foodie fix, grab quick bite and a sticky toffee milkshake at Gordon Ramsay's Fish & Chips on the LINQ Promenade.
One of the best views of the Bellagio Fountains is at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas. The outdoor seats at this French bistro are easier to score at lunchtime, so enjoy the fountains along with the onion soup au gratin and steak frites. Make it a later lunch, the first fountain show on weekdays is at 3 p.m. (Weekends start at noon.)
Across the street, you'll find heartier Mediterranean fare at Todd English's Olives at the Bellagio. If you went light on breakfast or did some serious hiking, this is the spot to refuel for the rest of the day.
Head off the Strip, for what the New York Times praised as the best Thai food in the country at Lotus of Siam. The lines can get long at dinner, so lunch is a great way to sneak this in. Order off the "Northern Thai" menu, where the house specialties truly live.
Burger and a milkshake anyone? Try the serious burgers and boozy milkshakes at Holstein's Shakes and Buns in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The Gold Standard Burger includes dry-aged sirloin, smoked bacon and goat cheese cheddar. Add a Campfire Smores milkshake with vodka and a toasted marshmallow on top.
A Day at the Pool
Most hotels include pool access as part of your resort fee, so you won't encounter extra fees unless you're renting a cabana or daybed, or you're headed to one of the pool parties that charge admission. Pool season in Las Vegas can be a full-contact sport. At some pools, you'll find a scene with thumping bass spun by world-renowned DJs and a nightclub vibe in broad daylight. Other pools are more about a laid-back, relax-in-the-desert-sun vibe. So these headings below are less about the budget, and more about how wild or chill you want your pool day to be.
If your goal is some serene sunbathing, luxury resorts such as Bellagio, Wynn and Mandarin Oriental offer up quiet retreats available only to hotel guests.
For a little more excitement, The Tank at Golden Nugget includes a three-story water slide through an aquarium with 300 species of fish, including sharks.
If you're going to splash out at the pool, rent a daybed or cabana with bottle service at one of the big pool parties like Marquee Dayclub (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas), Rehab (Hard Rock), Wet Republic (MGM Grand), the rooftop Drai's Beach Club (Cromwell), Tao Beach (The Venetian), Encore Beach Club (Encore) or Ditch Fridays (Palms) and expect to make hundreds of new friends.
Most resorts will have one pool in the complex reserved for hotel guests, so that can be an option if you're looking for lazy rivers or a lazy afternoon.
The Mandalay Bay Beach has 2,700 tonnes of sand and a wave pool, if you want a little SoCal while you're in the desert.
The Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace is a sprawling complex with seven pools -- chances are good you'll find one that's your speed.
For a view of the Eiffel Tower while you sunbathe, soak up the rays at Soleil Pool at the Paris Las Vegas.
Drinks & Cocktails
Happy hour can be a 24/7 occurrence here, but you'll find most events between 3 and 7 p.m. Happy-hour specials can be a way to try hip and happening spots before the evening crowds amp things up.
The Barrymore is a hidden gem off the Strip inside the Royal Resort. The intimate space has film reels on the ceiling and a Rat Pack vibe, along with $5 cocktails and wine during happy hour (5-7 p.m.) If you stick around for dinner, the steak gets high marks from past guests.
For a unique experience (and good cocktails), Frankie's Tiki Room is a local favourite. The decor is kitschy chic and the rum drinks are strong.
Bound at the Cromwell has quickly risen the ranks of top cocktail bars in Vegas. Learn how they make their signature drinks during "Mixology Hour" between 5 and 6 p.m. on Friday or Saturday -- and enjoy some free samples.
The Foundation Room at the top of Mandalay Bay (63 stories up to be exact) is home to one of the best views in Vegas, looking north up the full length of the Strip. This social club is connected to the House of Blues, and you can go all-in for the VIP Experience. The Skyfall Lounge at the Delano offers up similar views with a trendier scene. Book the VIP package to reserve a table with a view, plus wine or Champagne.
The cocktails are the showpieces at The Dorsey, a high-design lounge at The Venetian. Order the Penicillin (scotch, lemon, ginger, honey and an islay float) for what ails you, and find out why The New York Times called it part of a "modern cocktail revival".
A secretive speakeasy located in Downtown's Fremont East area, Tokyo 365 is an intimate venue with 10 seats and really good craft cocktails. This spot used to be member-only, but recently opened up for reservations.
If someone tells you to meet them at The Chandelier at The Cosmopolitan, don't just go to the closest light fixture. Seek out the three-story bar inside a massive chandelier in the middle of the casino. It's a cocktail lounge mixed with an art installation, and one of the coolest spots you'll ever get a drink.
How much Champagne can you drink in two hours? Bottomless Bubbles at the FIZZ Champagne lounge at Caesars Palace is a daily event, where the bubbly is ever-flowing for $36 between 5 and 7 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m.
The Downtown Cocktail Room is a lot less obvious -- you enter this Fremont East speakeasy through an unmarked steel door -- but it's a pioneer in the craft cocktail scene that's brought mixologists on par with modern-day celeb chefs.
You'll eat well in Vegas. If you're looking to snag a table at one of the big foodie draws in Vegas, go early (before 7 p.m.) Many restaurants have a lounge area that's first-come, first-served. We've scored many a sweet meal this way without a reservation.
While other folks are waiting for tables at restaurants helmed by culinary rock stars (and paying dearly for the privilege), claim a table on the patio at Culinary Dropout at the Hard Rock. Dinner is the time to go to this gastro-pub (the pool scene next door can be high-energy during the day), and make sure you order the pretzels and provolone fondue for the table to start.
GQ Magazine praised Umami Burger as "Burger of the Year" in 2010, and the menu here is still a standout. Make sure you get the umami sauce (Umami is Japanese for "deliciousness".) Las Vegas is one of only six cities in the world with a Umami -- located at the SLS Las Vegas, with a craft beer garden and the William Hill Sports Book.
To find the Secret Pizza place in the third floor at the Cosmopolitan, you'll need to ask for directions. It's not even listed on the hotel website. If you're going after a night at the clubs, look for the line. Go earlier in the evening and your wait for the yummy New York-style slices will be much shorter.
Just about every celebrity chef worth his or her Michelin Star has an outpost or two in Las Vegas. We're talking Michael Mina, José Andrés, Joël Robuchon, Wolfgang Puck and the list goes on.
But only one has inspired an entire hotel. Nobu Matsuhisa has two Nobu restaurants in Las Vegas -- one at the Hard Rock, and another appropriately located in the Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace. (Staying here? Order room service -- from Nobu.) Both spots serve up amazing sushi and signature dishes like black cod miso and squid pasta.
In a town of serious steakhouses, Mario Batali's CarneVino at The Venetian is a great pick for a 90-day dry-aged steak, Italian side dishes and robust bottle of red wine. If you're looking to splurge, the BBL beef tasting menu for $150 per person is the place to start.
One of the hardest reservations to get in New York City is at Rao's, so you're better off visiting the Vegas version of this Italian classic located at Caesars Palace. Make sure your meal includes the meatballs, lemon chicken and seafood salad.
Chinatown is the stretch of Spring Mountain Road just a few minutes from the Strip, and it's home to some of Las Vegas' most underrated restaurants. One of our favourites is Raku, for Japanese small bites from the charcoal grill, along with creamy homemade tofu and fresh sashimi. Leave room for Japanese-French dessert at Sweets Raku next door. Grab a seat at the counter to watch the chefs prepare the food -- it's like performance art.
Fun & Games
You've hit the slots, played the pass lane at the craps table, bet on black at roulette and took the spread at the sportsbook. Now, here are other ways we like to have fun in a city full of diversions.
There's a bunch of attractions in Las Vegas you can enjoy without spending a cent. The most famous has to be the Fountains of Bellagio. The dancing fountains are on display every half hour from 3 to 8 p.m. on weekdays (noon start on weekends), and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight. Afterwards, go inside to see the 1300-square-metre conservatory with flower displays that are refreshed regularly.
Other free attractions worth checking out include the volcano eruptions at the Mirage, walking along the canals inside the Venetian, the live circus performances each half hour at Circus-Circus and, of course, snapping a selfie in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
With the change in your pocket, you can visit the Pinball Hall of Fame and play vintage pinball machines. Games cost 25 to 50 cents apiece, and you'll have plenty of options across the 29-square-metre space.
A ride on the High Roller at the LINQ never gets old.
At 167 metres tall, it's the world's tallest observation wheel (beating the London Eye). During your 30-minute ride in one of the 28 glass cabins, you'll see the Strip and the rest of town. Time your ride for dusk, when the lights give Vegas its signature look.
Pro Tip: You can buy tickets with an open bar for the 30-minute trip. Call it a "happy half hour".
If you aren't afraid of heights, head to the top of the Stratosphere for more extreme fun with the SkyJump. You'll be jumping off the 108th floor, 253 metres above the Las Vegas Strip, for a scream-inducing plummet and one heck of a story.
Fremont Street and Downtown Las Vegas have undergone a resurgence in recent years, attracting visitors with new features like the Fremont Street Experience, with nightly light shows, a zip line and free concerts alongside the old-school glitz and retro glamour of vintage Vegas.
Beat the heat by stopping in the Mob Museum downtown. Get an interactive look on the role organized crime has played in American history -- the good, bad and ugly. Listen in on wiretaps, check out artifacts from Al Capone and watch clips from your favourite gangster movies.
The Downtown Container Park is one of the more unique structures in the whole city -- which is saying a lot in a town with an Egyptian pyramid and replica of Paris. The building materials for the boutique shops and unique restaurants in this open-air park are shipping containers. There's a kids playground, plus live entertainment and outdoor family movie nights.
The Big Show
Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, David Copperfield, Shania Twain, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Elton John, Elvis Presley -- even Prince -- all have headlined in Vegas. Travellers come here to see the big acts on the biggest stage in entertainment.
Friday is actually one of the best nights to find tickets and entertainment deals in Las Vegas. Why? Conventions and corporate events can eat up tickets during the week for popular shows -- and weekend warriors often don't want to go right to a show when they first arrive in town on Friday night.
Not every ticket requires a jackpot. The V and Saxe Theaters host a variety of shows with tickets around $20.
Penn & Teller are Las Vegas icons -- performing here for 24 years, and the last 16 years at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. They keep changing up the act with new and bolder diversions, peppered with their trademark snark and wit.
If you've been saving your pennies elsewhere, this is where you go all-in. Current concert headliners in town include Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men and Ricky Martin. Splurge on the best tickets you can afford for these big-time productions.
Cirque du Soleil is a global phenomenon and Las Vegas is home to seven different performances of this artistic display of acrobatics. Whether it's the $165-million production of KA at the MGM Grand, the otherworldly Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay or the playful Beatles tunes backing "LOVE" at the Mirage -- these memorable performances only happen in Vegas. It's worth the money to catch at least one.
Our deal experts love Absinthe -- an uncensored circus-style show with elements of cabaret, burlesque and comedy. This show at Caesars Palace is for adults only, but it's one you shouldn't miss.
Le Reve - The Dream at the Wynn is a spectacle. It's a combination of diving, synchronized swimming, circus acrobatics and gymnastics -- all in an aquatic theatre in the round with pyrotechnics and dancing fountains. You're not going to see something like this at home.
Need an excuse to plan a trip to Vegas? How about cheering on your hometown hockey team? In the fall of 2017, the NHL starts skating at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas -- the first major sports franchise to call this city home. Season tickets are already sold out, and single-game tickets will go on sale in August.
A Night at the Club
Go big or go home, right? Your night out can be showing off your dance moves to high-energy, house music or enjoying some late-night tunes at a more low-key joint. The great thing about Vegas is that everything's on the table.
Catch Irish musicians after 9 p.m. at Nine Fine Irishmen, one of the city's best Irish pubs with a bar that was crafted in Ireland and shipped to the wild West. Or head to the Bar at Times Square in New York New York Hotel for a dueling piano show that is rated among the best in town.
If you think you can do better than the headliners, go off the Strip to Ellis Island for karaoke.
Vegas is home to mega-watt nightclubs where A-list DJs spin tunes as the bold and beautiful dance to the beats. Make sure to dress to impress, and as a rule of thumb, the earlier you get to a club, the less of a chance you'll get knocked out of line. At some clubs, like TAO, a restaurant reservation will give you VIP access to the club later that evening.
If you're going clubbing, these spots should be on your list.
Hakkasan at MGM Grand is a five-story nightlife destination, with a restaurant on the bottom two floors and then three floors of a dance club. Start your night here for dinner and you won't battle the queue.
XS Nightclub at Encore at Wynn celebrates the excess of Vegas -- look for all the gold elements in the design starting with the grand entrance. Take a break from the dancing by heading outside to the pool area for fresh air.
Marquee at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas transforms from a see-and-be-seen pool party during the day to a nightclub when the sun goes down. Head up to The Library if you need to catch your breath.
For one of the best views of the Strip, head to the Ghostbar nightclub at the top of the Palms. You'll get a full view of the Strip from the outdoor terrace, and if you're there between 8 and 10 p.m. you can enjoy a Champagne happy hour.
Ready to Go? Start your Vegas vacation at VisitLasVegas.com.