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The Ultimate Las Vegas Travel Guide

Everyone needs a good "remember that time" Vegas story. For instance: Remember that time in Vegas when all we were trying to do was have brunch, but then we started talking to other people at the bar and got invited back to their house for more drinks and it devolved into an orgy because it turned out they were all swingers? Yep, that happened. And, yep, a certain group of my friends still talk about it. Vegas is a place of myth and legend, a city defined by its own The Hangover, "what happens in" hype machine. Yet it also walks the walk. Damn near anything can happen to anyone -- you just have to come prepared to say "yes" to everything.

Remember that time in Vegas when you were so far gone you got pissed because we didn't want to leave the blackjack table to get food? So you stomped off on your own adventure that ended with some random chick calling us from your phone at 6am to ask if we could please come get you because you were passed out and her boyfriend would be home soon?

Yes, you are going to spend unconscionable amounts of money. Yes, you are going to get conned at every place you walk into. Yes, you saved up $2,000 to blow on one wild weekend, and yes, you're going back home with nothing to show for it except a misspelled tattoo and maybe the clap, gotta get that checked.

Remember that time in Vegas when we were going to hit the Artisan for one last drink, then ended up staying until the next morning when the pool opened? And all those hot chicks were going topless so we got a cabana and kept the party rolling, and those chicks stayed with us all day and we dropped like three grand on bottle service?

In the end, you will not "do" Vegas. Vegas will do you. And it can be as over-the-top meteorically batshit or as gonzo-worshipping gutter punk as you want it to be. So let's get started. To help max out your visit, Thrillist has put together our fifth DestiNATION travel guide (past hits include MiamiNew Orleans, Austin, and San Diego). What you have here is a rollicking self-defense manual that'll walk you through the city's hottest restaurants and bars, into the finest cheap eats and most over-the-top, only-in-Vegas bars, and to the top hotels in town. Make your best bad decisions at strip joints, in other sexy places, and at bonkers tourist attractions -- but don't get suckered into casino grifts, and do your best to avoid the easiest tourist mistakes. Once you're tapped, head to the great outdoors or hit up Vegas' free attractions. And if you want to know how locals roll, consider the stripper who banks over a quarter-mil a year -- or Penn Jillette (of & Teller fame), who loves this town for outgrowing its ironic appeal. "People come to Vegas," he says, "and actually enjoy it for real."

Las Vegas has the world's highest proportion of celebrity-chef restaurants per capita, or pretty close, anyway. We're not just talking about one or two spots per big-name chef; we're talking multiple locations across multiple properties. Because with Vegas, most visitors aren't going to stray too far from their home-base hotels for their meals.

In Vegas, you can eat like a sultan. You can also eat like a street rat, rolling up into 24-hour Thai spots in Chinatown to buffer some of the damage you just did at the bar. No matter your taste or budget, Vegas has everything, and it's some of the best in the country, with new "it" spots opening weekly (because this city is the anthropomorphic embodiment of ADHD). Same goes for bars -- whether you want $10,000 Veuve bottle service at a superclub or $1 drink specials at a local dive, Vegas caters to your taste. Because that's what we do here. We cater to ALL tastes. *Winks creepily*

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Deep breath. OK, here goes: You are in over your head here. You are always in over your head here. Doesn't matter how often you visit -- hell, it doesn't even matter if you live here -- Vegas has a way of taking whatever it is you believed about yourself, and the world, and the nature of reality, and twisting it into a warped surrealist mutation of itself. This city will eat you if you let it. It is stronger than you. You are now in high-stakes risk management mode.  

Pace yourself. As the saying goes, Vegas is a marathon, not a sprint. This sounds like painfully obvious advice, yet still, there are tourists puking before noon daily (and not from the night before). Second, drink water. You are in a desert that will leach moisture from your body every time you draw breath.

When you gamble, put down a checks-and-balances system so that, when Substance-Enhanced You careens ass-first down the rabbit hole, you only lose so much money. Casinos are designed to extricate as much cash from you as your bank account will bear, so don't even carry plastic: Just tote as much cash as Back-to-Work-on-Monday You deems acceptable to lose. This also goes for strip clubs. There's a reason these ladies' incomes can rival doctor salaries, and part of that business model is trotting dazed customers over to the $40-fee ATMs to take out even more cash.

You are going to spend a lot of money here. This is the Vegas way: What happens here stays on your credit card collecting interest for several months. For example, the airport is literally across the street from MGM, but a cab ride there will still cost you almost $20. For a place that is literally across the street. Uber/Lyft are often much cheaper, except when 50%+ surge pricing is in effect -- which, alas, is probably when you're going to need them.

Vegas is not a walkable city. (This will not stop Lit You from taking a semi-coherent two-hour Strip stroll in search of your hotel that's 15 minutes away.) It is also not a bikeable city, unless you enjoy the adrenaline rush of constantly being near death. It is barely even a driveable city. And public transit, you ask? Ha! Ohhhhhhh, pumpkin. Cabs are abundant but a rip-off; car sharing is really your best bet for getting around -- car-owning locals often rely on apps instead of their own vehicles when the Strip is involved.

This is it. This is all we've got. We've done all that we could. You're on your own now. You are an adult. Make good life choices. Have fun. Try not to die.

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So, the truly Vegas things are actually synonymous with Vegas: gambling, strip clubs, nightclubs, day clubs, swingers clubs (more on that later). And then there's all the other stuff you can do here that you maybe don't know as much about yet. It's true. You have options now. 

For years Vegas was the only gaming game in town -- and by "town" we mean "the majority of the country" -- until various states and tribal nations decided they also like money and legalized gambling. Over the past decade-ish, Vegas has undergone a serious shift to find other revenue, for as an impossibly resilient desert weed, it is nothing if not adaptable. Nowhere else can touch the quality and quantity of Vegas gambling, but there are also things other than gambling now, too. Including a whole LOT of weird, random, and free shit.

Something about the absurdist polarity of this place makes it a popular party spot for A-list celebs, yet home to scads of D-listers. Here, washed-up careers get second and third and fourth lives in residencies like Our Lady of Perpetual Chest Pounding Celine and Bless Her Heart Britney. Audiences (you, that is) love it.

Vegas is also lousy with celebrity chefs, Cirque shows, magicians, and touring comedians. Think about it: Have you ever been to ANY other city and said to your friends, in all sincerity, "We should go check out this magician -- I heard his show is awesome"?

And yet the greatest parts of Vegas are actually right outside the city. People who enjoy fresh air and physical activity (or who just need to get TF away from the Strip) will, against all odds, find Las Vegas one of the best cities in America for easy access to legit outdoor activities: leisurely hikes in stunning desert landscapes, world-class climbing, passable skiing -- and short hops from the greatest national parks in the West, which is to say, the most stunning places on planet Earth.

Fremont Street Experience | kan_khampanya/shutterstock

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Welcome, all ye sinners! Vegas may not be America's sexiest city -- that distinguished honor belongs to Miami -- but it is the most sex-fueled city. In Vegas, sin -- and skin -- are in. Could be because of all the pools and clubs filled with scantily clad barely legals who give away what strippers get paid to do, or it could be the abundance of said strippers, or all of the sexy topless shows (and let's not forget the nearly naked male revues!), or the actual, for-real sex inside the local swingers clubs (lookie-loos are allowed, but participation is encouraged). And of COURSE there is that whole "prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada" thing -- which, while Las Vegas is technically not one of the parts where prostitution is "legal" (the brothels are all about an hour's drive west of Vegas)… c'mon.

Point is, if a hot streak on the tables gets you a different kind of hot, there are all sorts of ways you can blow off steam here. This is where the "What happens in Vegas…" axiom cracks its knuckles and rolls up its sleeves. Vegas doesn't judge; we just want your money. Part of the fun is cramming in as much sinning as you can in one wickedly degenerate weekend, with gambling, boozing, and cavorting with women (or men!) ranked at the top of your "Things I Can't Tell Mom About" to-do list. (Note: Your mom has also been here, and ain't telling you shit, neither.)

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Las Vegas is not like other cities. This cannot possibly be emphasized enough. The amenities you might expect from other cities -- walkable neighborhoods with street-front restaurants and retail, a vague sense of local identity -- do not apply here. Vegas is basically the Strip followed by miles of low-slung strip malls and tract housing in every direction and then the desert, the end.

That said, when it comes to the Strip, your mileage may vary. And if you're here for reasons other than Strip things, pursue other options. Airbnb listings are plentiful, but take note: Very few are going to be on/anywhere near the Strip or in/anywhere near Downtown, so be prepared to familiarize yourself with Vegas' dumb planned community culture of identical cardboard-constructed homes and patent lack of identifiable neighborhoods or walkable communities or interesting architecture or really anything to entice a sane person to want to live here, le sigh.

The Strip

About 99.9999999% of you want to stay on the Strip, if not entirely for reasons of THE STRIP, WOOOOOOOO then at least for reasons of practicality: If you're here for a conference on the Strip, or a wedding or bachelor/ette party on the Strip, or a weekend of Sin Citying on the Strip, or a golf getaway/spa retreat on the Strip, or whatever the hell brought you here that is probably on the Strip, then it stands to reason that you will want to stay… on the Strip. You have lots of options, but take note: They all charge resort fees, and most of them now charge for parking.

Go central for maximum walkability in this thoroughly unwalkable town. City Center is where you'll find the Mandarin Oriental, ARIA, Vdara, and Cosmopolitan clustered. These are all fantastic properties in their own respective ways, though The Cosmopolitan offers the most all-around I'M IN VEGAS AND I AM A FUCKING ROCK GOD experience. To stretch your dollar further (all the better to eat, drink, and play with), The LINQ is a steal, with recently overhauled rooms and rates starting at $30 per night. A bit further north on the Strip are Treasure Island, The Venetian, and The Palazzo, which you should consider staying at to reward them for not charging for parking.


Downtown Las Vegas, aka DTLV, aka Fremont St, is home to the oldest surviving casino-resorts in town, and most of them look the part. This is for the "grittier" Vegas experience (though many would argue it's more fun -- and Fremont is the closest thing to a walkable 'hood you're going to find). The El Cortez is more shaggy than chic, but the property makes up for it with low table minimums and great drink specials. It's an all-around value stay and still very comfortable if not "luxe." The Golden Nugget offers a little more of that gilded Old Vegas appeal, with the added advantage of being able to swim with sharks. Main Street Casino is another slightly dated property that's a great value, especially for anyone who's ever wanted to stay in a hotel that is also a brewery (and a pretty good one!). For the monied millennial set, Oasis at Gold Spike is basically Coachella in boutique hotel form.


People who stay in Summerlin are here either for golfing or hiking/climbing in the Red Rock Canton National Conservation Area. Those people may still want to experience a Vegas Lite version of resort life: The Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa is the move. You can gamble, eat well, and still enjoy the beautiful pool and spa. It is also the closest hotel of any kind to Red Rock, so you can roll out of bed and enjoy one of Vegas' better resort buffets before heading out to commune with nature. The non-gaming JW Marriott impresses with classic luxury, while the Suncoast Hotel & Casino brings the affordability. Both are ideally situated for visiting golfers.


If you're staying out on the east side of Vegas, you're probably planning to check out Lake Mead or the Hoover Dam, or you're just trying to avoid the Strip and save a few bucks. Either way, Green Valley Ranch is an outstanding deal with excellent dining, entertainment, and a shopping district -- called "The District" -- built around it. Rooms are typically a steal and the nicest on the east side. Further out towards Lake Mead and Boulder City, Fiesta Henderson doesn't have much in the way of amenities but does sit at the intersection of two very important freeways, and the rooms are nicer than most in the area. Even closer to Boulder City is the Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino, a dated hotel – which is to be expected, as it is the longest-operating casino in America -- with affordable, renovated rooms and a surprisingly great steakhouse that will put you back half of what any comparable place on the Strip would cost.

South Strip: Almost the Strip, but not quite

As you drive south from the Strip along Las Vegas Blvd, you'll encounter several "off-Strip" properties that are significantly cheaper. Some are not-so-secretly timeshare shills (looking at you, Tahiti Village), but others are comfortable "locals casinos" with cheap rooms and excellent buffets, pools, movie theaters, and live entertainment: touring stand-up comedians, live bands, equestrian shows. South Point is the standout here, especially for the cowboy set, with an exhibit hall that has hosted events like the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con. It's also known for DIRT-cheap drink and food specials. The Silverton is a local favorite and is also home to a badass mermaid bar and aquarium and the flagship megastore for Bass Pro Shops. The buffet is also worth seeking out, as it's a far better value than Strip buffets that often don't even meet it in quality. The M Resort is by far the most stylish of the bunch, for when you want the fancier Strip feel and aesthetic without the Strip prices.

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Throughout this year, Thrillist will be rolling out massive, comprehensive travel guides to great American cities, having tackled New OrleansSan DiegoMiami, Austin, Vegas, and now New York. Keep a lookout for a new travel guide coming soon.

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Editors: Sam Eifling, Keller Powell
Writers: Nicole Rupersburg, Rob Kachelriess, Dave Tzorfas, Sean Chaffin, Michael Kaplan
Art direction: Drew Swantak
Photographer: Mona Shield Payne
Graphics: Jason Hoffman, Evan Lockhart
Production: Pete Dombrosky, Amy Schulman
Video: Chas Truslow, Nezihe Soyalan, Emily Tufaro, Sarah Barry, Joe Orision, Zach Lapierre, David Monk, Dan Byrne
Special thanks: Bison Messink, Julie Cerick, Dan Reilly, Rachel Freeman, James Chrisman, Ben Maljevek, Alex Garofalo, Ben Robinson, Penn Jillette
No thanks: Rick. "Always bet on red," he said. Why.