48 Hours In: Las Vegas

High-rolling Simon Calder stacks the odds in your favour with this neon-lit attempt to beat the midwinter gloom in the heat of the Nevada desert

Travel Essentials

Why go now?

Las Vegas is one of the sunniest places on the planet, which makes it the perfect antidote to midwinter gloom in Britain. The party will be at its most intense over Christmas – or you could resolve to indulge yourself in the new year.

Touch down

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com)  and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com) compete with non-stop 747 flights: BA from Heathrow and Gatwick, Virgin from Gatwick and Manchester. You touch down at the shiny  new Terminal 3 of McCarran airport (1). The Nevada Taxi Authority says a taxi to the closest hotels, such as the MGM Grand (2), should cost around $16 (£10), while the downtown area is likely to be around $29 (£18). Bus 108 from Terminal 1 runs downtown in about half an hour for $2 (£1.30).

Get your bearings

Las Vegas does not resemble any traditional city. What would pass for the centre is where Las Vegas Boulevard meets Fremont Street – marked by one of the iconic neon signs, the Hacienda Horse and Rider (3). Las Vegas Boulevard – better known as the Strip – runs south from here, flanked by hotels, casinos and malls on its seven-mile run towards the airport. For more information, see visitlasvegas.com

With Paris located just opposite New York and Mandalay Bay along the road from Luxor, the geography of Las Vegas can get confusing. Maverick (0800 098 8515; maverickhelicopter.co.uk) offers an instant geography lesson on the 15-minute, $119 (£74) aerial tour from McCarran airport (1).

Check in

El Cortez (4) at 600 Fremont Street (001 702 385 5200; elcortezhotelcasino.com) is the great survivor – a downtown landmark since 1941. The management has refreshed a tired old motel across the street into El Cortez Cabana Suites, which bring boutique chic to downtown: double rooms are still available next week for $45 (£28), room only.

You might prefer to check in on the Strip to North America’s biggest single hotel, the mammoth MGM Grand (2) (001 702 891 7777; mgmgrand.com) – where you could stay in a different room or suite every night for nearly 14 years. If you plan a shorter stay, the City View Suites are available for as little as $204 (£127).

Day One

Take a view

To see how this city is carved out of the middle of the Mojave Desert, take the lift 108 floors up to the top of the Stratosphere Tower (5) (001 702 380 7777; stratospherehotel.com; $18/£11). For an express alternative to the 37-second lift down to ground level, try the SkyJump (skyjumplasvegas.com). All you need do is don an attractive jumpsuit, step off of a platform 855ft above ground into thin air and let gravity – plus a steel rope – do the rest. All for a $110 (£69) fee.

Take a hike

To shed some light on the city’s neon history, walk through the pedestrianised Fremont Street Experience – location for Las Vegas’s first neon sign, installed in 1929. Start by the Golden Gate (6), and walk east – taking a couple of diversions. Dip into Binion’s Casino to see the stack of banknotes totalling $1m. The 1961 sign for the Flame restaurant has been rescued and stands beside a parking lot on Third Street. Back on Fremont Street, the Anderson Dairy mascot, Andy Anderson, marches along close to the Heart Attack Grill – where a “quadruple bypass burger” is served free to anyone weighing more than 350lb. (Scales are located outside.)

Acquire some altitude by taking the parking lot lift and walking on to the pedestrian bridge. The neon continues beyond the covered mall: besides the Horse and Rider (3), look out for Oscar’s martini and a scarlet slipper.

Six weeks ago, a reason to extend the walk was born: the Neon Museum (7) Visitors’ Center at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North (001 702 387 6366; neonmuseum.org; 9.30am-5.30pm daily except Sunday, $15/£9) opens up a vast collection that peels back the decades.

Lunch on the run

Le Thai (8) at 523 Fremont Street (001 702 778 0888; lethaivegas.com) serves a swift, tasty lunch daily except Sunday: the beef and vegetable stir fry, along with a lemonade, comes to under $10/£6.

Cultural afternoon

The Mob Museum (9), aka the National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, is the new arrival at the former federal courthouse at 300 East Stewart Avenue (001 702 229 2734; themobmuseum.org; 10am-7pm daily, to 8pm Fri/Sat, $20/£13). Organised crime helped to build Las Vegas; the wall against which seven mobsters were shot in Chicago’s 1929 St Valentine’s Day massacre provides a bloody reminder of the Mob’s brutal history.

An aperitif

Take a glass elevator to the 64th floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (10), where the Mix Lounge offers the best possible after-dark view indulgence. During the 5-8pm happy hour, a beer costs only $5 (£3).

Dining with the locals

Also at THEhotel (10), you can feast on a happy-hour menu in the Upstairs Lounge at RM Seafood – created by the chef and campaigner for sustainable seafood, Rick Moonen. From 5-10pm daily except Sunday and Monday, you pay only $10 (£6) for an Oyster Sampler.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

You’ve struck lucky with a holiday romance and decided to tie the knot? All you need to obtain a Las Vegas marriage licence is your passport or driving licence and $60 (£38). Then shop around for the best wedding venue – such as the clapboard Special Memory Wedding Chapel (11) at the corner of South 4th Street and Lovers’ Lane (001 702 384 2211; aspecialmemory.com).

Walk in the park

Las Vegas is in the middle of raw, magnificent desert. To experience it without leaving the city limits, visit the Springs Preserve (12) at 333 South Valley View Boulevard (001 702 822 7700; springspreserve.org; 10am-4pm daily, $19/£12). Just three miles west of downtown (and accessible on bus 206), you can explore several miles of trails.

Out to brunch

The eat-what-you-like buffet is an essential part of the Las Vegas dining experience, but for a cut above the average visit the Wicked Spoon at the  Cosmopolitan (13) (001 702 698 7000;  cosmopolitanlasvegas.com). The chef de cuisine, Gerald Chin, says “We like to serve tapas-style dishes”, which means you can sample everything from sushi to steak without being overwhelmed. Brunch is served 8am-3pm at weekends ($32/£20), 8am-2pm ($23/£14) on other days.

Window shopping

For ultra-high-end shopping, visit The Crystals (14) – whose dramatic exterior was designed by Daniel Libeskind and the interior by David Rockwell, so it feels more like a gallery than a mall. Open 10am-11pm (to midnight Fri/Sat).

Take a ride

The resort hotel with its very own roller coaster cruised into Vegas in 1997 in the shape of New York New York (15). It costs $14 (£9) to see what the Vegas skyline looks like upside-down; 11am-11pm daily.

Icing on the cake

A free sound-and-light show, Viva Vision,  infuses the Fremont Street Experience on the hour, every hour, 6pm-midnight. Then, take the Flightlinez zipwire, which reopened this week. The final thrill in the gravity-defying city costs $20 (£12).

 

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines