A guide to things to do in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of those places that leaves you feeling a little speechless when you first take in its magnitude. The city has a pulse all of its own, and though pop culture might have us believe otherwise, there’s so much more to Las Vegas holidays than wandering the iconic strip or flirting with Lady Luck at the casinos. Here are a few of our favourite activities that might get you straying away from the neon-lit path.

Ride the Big Apple Coaster

It’s one thing to experience the bright lights of Las Vegas from the ground, but quite another to see them from the top of a roller coaster. This isn’t just any roller coaster either, as the Big Apple Coaster is attached to the lively New York-New York Hotel and Casino. Strapped into a taxi-cab-themed car, you’ll twist, turn and flip upside down at 67mph with striking views of the city’s strip just below.

Hike through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is about a 30-minute drive from Las Vegas, but has a tendency to make visitors feel like they’re on a different planet altogether. The desert landscape and tall, rust-coloured cliffs here are just a small window into Nevada’s eerily beautiful scenery.

Once you arrive, there’s a visitor centre where you can pick up brochures and learn about how the area formed over thousands of years. A popular way to see the sights is via car on a 21-kilometre loop, thanks to a whistle stop tour that shows you all of the highlights. If you have a whole day to spend at the canyon however, there are a number of hiking trails cutting through the desert that allow visitors to spot some of the local flora and fauna.

Sit front row at one of Las Vegas' incredible live shows

Las Vegas has a reputation as the world’s entertainment capital for a reason and its hotels and theatres attract some of the best performers in the world. We’re not just talking one-night shows you can only catch when you’re in the right place at the right time, though they’re also in abundance here. Some of the biggest names in show business set up shop in Las Vegas for months and perform nightly.

From Elton John to Cher and Bette Midler, there’s really no limit to who you can see live in Las Vegas. Among the regular shows are the line of Cirque du Soleil performances and the circus acts at the Circus Circus hotel, not to mention the Blue Man Group at the Luxor. Performers come and go all the time, so it’s worth checking in advance who’s calling Las Vegas home when you’re in town.

See the water dance at the Bellagio

Marvelling at the dancing water at the front of the Bellagio hotel is a Las Vegas rite of passage. It’s something you can’t leave the city without doing, and it’s completely free. The fountains create a dazzling water display that spans more than 300 metres wide, shooting water up to 140 metres in the air. What’s more, it’s all expertly choreographed to an eclectic blend of music.

The show runs every half hour until 8pm – or 7pm on Sundays – and from there, runs every 15 minutes until midnight.

Swallow a dose of culture at Las Vegas museums

It’s not all hedonism on a Las Vegas break, as there’s actually quite a bit of culture to be explored here. The museums aren’t your averages ones, and come with the same flashiness and intrigue that permeates the rest of Las Vegas.

There’s the Mob Museum, illustrating America’s complicated history of organised crime, and The Neon Museum, which is essentially a graveyard for Las Vegas’ plethora of neon signs. There’s even an exhibit on the Titanic at the Luxor hotel, featuring pieces of the famous ship’s hull and a full recreation of its grand staircase.

Take the kids on an Anderson Dairy Tour

The Anderson Dairy was established in 1907 and is of the oldest family-owned businesses in Las Vegas.

For a complete change from the glitz the kids can go on a Barnyard Buddies Tour complete with talking animals and farm scenery to find out about the dairy and how it works.

Watch an erupting volcano

Located in front of the Mirage hotel you can watch a volcano erupt with huge flames of shooting fire, water plumes, sounds and lighting effects. The show happens every 30 minutes from 5pm to 11pm daily.

Be amazed by the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

This is garden design Las Vegas style, so expect spectacular, colourful, larger-than-life displays. It takes 120 gardeners, engineers and designers to create the amazing fresh flower displays, which are regularly re-designed throughout the year so there’s always something new to see.

How to spend a week in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has its fair share of casinos, sure, but it’s got a heck of a lot more – days are easily wiled away at live shows, national parks and hotels so unique they’re practically museums. Here’s our itinerary for how to spend a week in Sin City.

Day one
In Las Vegas, the hotels are in a league of their own. Each is basically its own mini attraction, worthy of a wander that’ll also help you get your bearings in this vast, neon-lit landscape.

There’s the Paris Hotel and Casino, whose blue sky ceilings make you feel like every day is a perfect day, the vast marble lobby of Caesar’s Palace and the Italian-inspired architecture surrounding the indoor canals of The Venetian.

By night, you’ll want to head over to the Bellagio for the hotel’s famous fountain show. It’s a choreographed performance set to light and music that shoots water more than 140 metres into the air. One of those can’t-miss spectacles on the strip, it runs every 15 minutes from 8pm to midnight, as well as every 30 minutes during the day.

Day two
Las Vegas isn’t all hedonism – this bright light city has its fair share of culture too, in the forms of various top-notch museums. On day two you can take your pick of exhibits at museums like the Neon Museum, which houses the retired neon signs the city is famous for, the Pinball Hall of Fame, and the Mob Museum – a dark and winding history of America’s organised crime.

And then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the shows that make Las Vegas so renowned. Depending on when you visit, you’ll find any number of world class performers doing in-house shows at Vegas’ hotels. In the past, Las Vegas has been an extended home to performers like Elton John, Cher, Britney Spears and Celine Dion, plus a crazy array of Cirque du Soleil shows. You’d be wise to check in advance to see what’s on the bill.

Day three
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located about a 30-minute drive outside Las Vegas but it feels like a world away. Its desert landscape is peaked with deep red rocks and speckled with native flora and fauna like Joshua trees and yucca plants, wild burro donkeys and desert tortoises. The easiest way to explore the area is via car – there’s a 21-kilometre long road that loops past most of the area’s most popular spots and hiking trails.

Day four
After trekking through Red Rock Canyon, you’ll have deserved a day by the poolside. Las Vegas has a subtropical desert climate due to its Mojave Desert location, so days here are typically steeped in a lovely warmth. With this in mind, many Las Vegas hotels come ready with a pool to help you keep cool. And then on day four, once night arrives, you’ll want to hit the Big Apple Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino. It whips by at 67mph, and offers views of the strip from a whole new angle.

Day five
No trip to Vegas is complete without a serious shopping stint. Most of the hotels will feature their own shopping areas – there’s the Grand Canal at the Venetian, Luxor’s Galleria, Le Boulevard in the Paris Hotel and Casino and Appian Way at Caesar’s Palace. Also on the menu are the 250 shops of the standalone Fashion Show Las Vegas, and the 150 designer shops of the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets.

Day six
You know it. You’re in awe of it. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous Grand Canyon, carved with deep ravines and red, layered rocks scientists believe have been around for 17 million years. It’s a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, but there are a huge number of tours that’ll take you right to this national park’s unforgettable doorstep for a day of exploring, marvelling and picture-snapping.

Day seven
The only proper send-off for your holiday to Las Vegas is a private helicopter ride over The Strip. It’s best done at night, when the city comes to life with neon signs and headlights. It’s quieter up here but for the sound of the helicopter blades, and offers unrivalled views of this iconic city.