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Visiting Las Vegas for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

From pool parties to poker tables and desert parks, Vegas has the power to surprise first-time visitors.

The famous Las Vegas sign in Nevada
Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

Between supersized resorts, wild parties, and world-famous national parks, it’s hard to know where to start on your first Las Vegas trip. And while there’s no wrong way to Vegas, a little bit of planning does come in handy—and helps ensure you make the most of every minute in Sin City. So whether your Las Vegas dreams involve sunrise helicopter flights, a straight flush, or dancing until dawn, use these best-of tips to map out your own perfect escape.

1. Enjoy Las Vegas' legendary nightlife

Partiers celebrate on the Strip at night in Las Vegas in Nevada.
Parties in Vegas are legendary, and unmissable.Foto: Eustacio Humphrey / Viator

Pick your party of choice.

The nightlife in Las Vegas is legendary, featuring a seemingly endless list of sleek, cavernous bars and clubs that cater to celebrities, locals, and anyone looking for an unforgettable night out. Get the VIP experience and learn where the hottest spots are on a nightclub tour that gets you past the ropes. Or, cruise the Strip in style with a limo ride. Keep in mind that not all the parties happen after dark in Las Vegas—pool parties rage all day at clubs where revelers swim, dance, and lounge in the desert sunshine.

2. Catch a Vegas show

Wayne Newton performs on stage in Las Vegas in Nevada.
See Wayne Newton perform at his Vegas show.Foto: Eustacio Humphrey / Viator

See magic shows and mega-stars.

Las Vegas shows are in a class of their own. Options range from the massive productions staged by Cirque du Soleil to magic, impersonators, and tributes to Sin City’s swinging Rat Pack era. Big names set up residencies here, entertaining huge crowds every night of the week, while some smaller venues have tables and booths facing compact stages. Buy your tickets well in advance, and if you’ve purchased general admission passes, come early to score the best possible seats.

3. Get some great views

A family enjoys the views of Las Vegas in Nevada from High Roller Observation Wheel.
Enjoy aerial views of Vegas from the High Roller Observation Wheel.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

Experience Vegas from above.

Sometimes, we can all use a little perspective. Seeing Vegas from above showcases the city’s over-the-top scale and glitter, whether you’re flying above the strip on a VIP helicopter tour or gliding on the High Roller Observation Wheel. Find more fantastic views from the STRAT Tower Observation Deck, Stratosphere Tower, and even an open-top, double-decker tour bus. Or you could go the high-adrenaline route and leap from SkyJump Las Vegas, which sits 829 feet (253 meters) above the Las Vegas Strip.

4. Go play outdoors

Hikers check out the Grand Canyon views in Arizona near Vegas in Nevada.
The Grand Canyon isn't so far away.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

Gorgeous desert scenery lies just beyond city limits.

While it might come as a surprise to some visitors, Las Vegas is one of America’s best outdoorsy cities. Try hiking and e-biking in nearby Red Rock Canyon, or head to the Colorado River for kayaking at Emerald Cave. There’s also off-roading on sand dunes, desert horseback riding, and a lot of seriously challenging rock climbing. Some of the US’ most famous national parks are also within day-tripping distance, including Death Valley National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce National Park, and Zion National Park.

5. See some wild art

Tourists walk the bright floors of Omega Mart in Las Vegas in Nevada.
Omega Mart is an experience to remember.Foto: Kit Leong / Shutterstock

From murals to interactive museums.

Recent years have brought a burgeoning street art scene to Las Vegas. Check out brightly colored murals on your own or take a guided walking tour of downtown. A recent arrival worth booking ahead is Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart at AREA15, a surreal and interactive “grocery story” that’s packed with quirky design and is made for exploring. There are also a handful of fun art museums, which range from the rotating exhibits at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to the digital art museum Perception.

6. Hit the casinos

The casinos of Las Vegas in Nevada all lit up at night.
If there's one thing Vegas is known for, it's the casinos.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

Hop from slots to blackjack.

There’s more to Las Vegas than casinos, of course. But casinos are classic Vegas. If you’re a novice player, you can learn the ropes by booking a tutorial with an experienced gambler. Or, simply set a firm budget and go casino-hopping, joining a game or two as you make your way along the Strip. Bonus points: most casinos provide free drinks and snacks as you play. Be sure to tip the servers well to keep the freebies flowing, and remember that it’s common practice to tip dealers, as well.

Related: 10 Things to Do in Vegas—Besides Gambling

7. Visit the Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam and its blue waters in Nevada near Las Vegas.
A trip to the Hoover Dam is always worth it.Foto: Viator

See this marvel of engineering on a day trip.

The massive dam that created Lake Mead was the largest on earth when it was built in the 1930s, and Hoover Dam is still a grandiose sight. It’s close enough to Las Vegas you can visit on a quick, half-day jaunt. Or combine it with a visit to the Grand Canyon for a full day of exploring both manmade and natural wonders. Flightseeing trips to the Grand Canyon also generally take in Hoover Dam—seeing the dam from the air gives a true sense of its overwhelming size.

8. Get the Fremont Street Experience

The Fremont East District in Las Vegas.
Head to Fremont Street for some over-the-top bling.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

Bright lights equal big fun.

Welcome to the heart of the action: Packing a lineup of light shows, concerts, and casinos into a 4-block stretch, the Fremont Street Experience is Vegas bling on an over-the-top scale. There’s also more to the Fremont Street Experience than meets the eye. History tours showcase the area’s fascinating past, mob-themed walking tours explore Sin City’s dangerous side, while foodie experiences highlight local flavors and treats you’ll only find in Vegas.

9. Snap the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

The Las Vegas welcome sign.
Take a photo in front of this infamous sign or it didn't happen.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

It’s selfie time in Sin City.

Nothing says “I did Vegas” like a snap of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign, whose retro neon has glimmered over Las Vegas Boulevard since 1959. A photo op with the sign is a sought-after experience—lines form as visitors wait to snap their own—and the sign is a key stop on many tours of Las Vegas, from hop-on hop-off buses to photo-themed tours featuring the best backdrops in town.

Insider tip: For even more cool vintage signs, head over to the Neon Museum, which has hundreds of old-school finds in their open-air neon boneyard.

10. Watch the Fountains of Bellagio erupt

The dancing fountains of the Bellagio Hotel.
The dancing fountains of the Bellagio are a Vegas classic.Foto: blvdone / Shutterstock

Some of the best things in Vegas are free.

More than 1,000 feet (305 meters) of fountains front the Bellagio, regularly erupting into elaborate displays with musical themes ranging from pop to classical. Some rooms and dining areas have views of the Fountains of Bellagio, but you don’t need a reservation to catch the show. In the afternoon and early evening, the fountains erupt every 30 minutes, then go off four times an hour until midnight. Many Las Vegas tours feature the Fountains of Bellagio, too—you can even visit with a professional photographer for a personalized photo shoot.

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