A helicopter tour of Las Vegas is a must

Julia Buckley finds that Sin City has more to offer than gambling

There's never a bad time to visit Las Vegas; but now, when the brutal summer heat fades into pool-friendly temperatures, is the perfect season. Sin City is, of course, a gambling town. But while the majority of visitors stick to Las Vegas Boulevard – the famous Strip – there's far more to it than casinos. From the burgeoning hipster Downtown area to the great outdoors, it's easy to see this city sin-free. And for Scottish travellers, getting there has, for the moment, become more convenient; starting tomorrow Virgin Atlantic (0344 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) is operating direct flights from Glasgow, but only until 1 October, so this is the time to go.

Downtown funk

For a city that effectively runs on booze, Vegas's drinking options are surprisingly limited on the Strip. If weak casino cocktails and frozen margaritas aren't your thing, spend an evening in Downtown Vegas (six miles north of the Strip proper), where the bar scene has exploded in recent years. The small Fremont East district – gradually expanding block by block below the pedestrianised Fremont Street Experience – is wall-to-wall hipster bars. For cocktails, you can't do better than Downtown Cocktail Room (001 702 880 3696; thedowntownlv.com) which kick-started the area's regeneration.

Over in Chinatown the Golden Tiki (001 702 222 3196; thegoldentiki.com), which opened last month, is an outré tiki bar, while towards the airport, the Double Down Saloon (001 702 791 5775, doubledownsaloon.com) remains Vegas's best dive bar. Its signature drink? A shot called "Ass Juice", served in a mini china toilet.

Neon Boneyard reflects the city's past (Rex)

Fly by

The best Vegas vantage point is from on high; but give the viewing platforms on the various towers and rides a miss in favour of an evening helicopter tour of the Strip, as the neon lights blaze in the night sky. Sundance Helicopters (001 702 736 0606; sundancehelicopters.com) operates exhilarating 12-minute City Lights loops of the Strip, circling the Stratosphere tower and returning past the Luxor pyramid's celebrated beam. Flights are every 15 minutes and cost £65.

Neon lights

The Strip today is all about the newest, flashiest casinos, but for a taste of vintage Vegas glamour, head to the Neon Boneyard (001 702 387 6366; neonmuseum.org) in Downtown Vegas. A two-acre outdoor lot filled with 150 original signs – from laundromats and liquor stores to motels and defunct casinos, including the Moulin Rouge and Sahara – its guided tours cost $28 (£18), or $25 at night, and are a great introduction to Sin City history.

Art attack

Technically, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (001 702 693 7871; bellagio.com; $19) is in a casino, but it's tucked away so discreetly, down a quiet corridor by the pool, that it's a world apart from the cacophony of slot machines. A small gallery with just two rooms, it punches well above its weight with first-rate exhibitions. The current offering, Picasso: Creatures and Creativity, runs until 10 January, pulling together 45 of the artist's works from 1930 to 1970.

The great outdoors

Most visitors use Vegas as the base point for a Grand Canyon trip, but a lesser-known national park is just on the outskirts of the city: Red Rock Canyon (001 702 515 5367; redrockcanyonlv.org) in Summerlin, a suburb west of the Strip, combines snaggletoothed mountain peaks with rumpled orange cliffs (petrified prehistoric sand dunes). It's one of the best places in the western US for rock-climbing, but if that's too much effort, a 13-mile scenic loop drive threads round the cliffs, with panoramic views over the Vegas valley. Entry $7 per vehicle.