Leaving Las Vegas's strip

In this week's Lonely Planet 'Great Escape', why not gamble on experiencing something different from the usual slot machines and blackjack tables in Nevada's fabled desert city?

You know you want to. Anyone who had a  sandpit as a child would want to; anyone who’s driven past a building site and peered  inside would want to. And now here you are perched up in the cabin of a proper bulldozer, about to push some earth around. Serious earth, too – tons of it. Press a few buttons, pull a few levers. The big engine revs, the Caterpillar tracks start moving, the shovel digs into  the soil…

They say you can do just about anything  in Las Vegas, although when they say that they’re probably thinking more along the  lines of gambling and strippers than building a big mound of earth and then driving over it. But it takes all kinds in this place, and it’s only once you get away from that famous neon-lit Strip that you realise just how much there is  to do in Vegas. Forget the gambling and postpone the Elton John show. There’s work to  be done.

The bulldozer is part of Dig This, which has to be about the most bizarrely great attraction in Vegas. The idea is simple: drive a real bulldozer or excavator, and do all the work those big machines normally do. Dig trenches, move huge tyres around and drive over large mounds of dirt. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and the perfect salt-of-the-earth antidote to the glitzy fakery of the Strip.

It’s also just the beginning. Once you’re done playing in your giant sandpit, there’s plenty of amusement awaiting in Vegas that doesn’t involve cards and chips. Take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and combine it with dinner and wine-tasting at a vineyard. Play 3D dodgeball on trampolines. Race go-karts. Eat at Michelin-starred restaurants. Party in a pool. Drink at a dive bar.

And don’t gamble a cent.

The perfect getaway

Away from the Strip, away from the lure of all those neon lights and singing slot machines, there’s plenty to keep visitors to Las Vegas occupied. Dig This, the earth-moving theme park, is one of the more inventive attractions, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park is another place popular with overgrown children, where you can bounce around doing somersaults and try to avoid being hit by squishy balls. Makes a change  from blackjack.

Meanwhile, those who’ve hit the jackpot should get high with a helicopter joy-flight. Some tours soar over the Grand Canyon,  others take in the Hoover Dam and still  others go further afield, taking guests out to Pahrump Valley Winery, near the California state line. Have a meal, some wine and then fly back to Vegas.

Take in a little of the town’s history at the Boneyard. The Las Vegas Neon Museum’s  huge yard is strewn with old neon signs and billboards dating back as far as the 1930s, a monument to a city that outgrew itself several times over.

Another Vegas institution, and a must-visit for anyone jaded by all the glitz, is Double Down Saloon, a dive bar that’s proud to call itself as such. Dark and dingy, the bar is patronised by Vegas’s more interesting characters, and the live music borders on “experimental”, but the drinks are cheap.

Want to slow down? Pay a visit to the Mob Museum to learn about Vegas’s past. Want to speed things up? Leap into a go-kart at Pole Position Raceway. Finally, don’t miss Vegas’s famous pool parties. Be it Wet Republic, Encore or Rehab, the formula is basically the same: get thousands of partygoers in the pool, add a DJ, some drinks and see what happens. You’ve probably got a fair idea of the results.

Plan it

Summer is when Vegas is busiest, but attractions are open year-round. Accommodation in Las Vegas is relatively cheap; the casinos know they’ll recoup those losses. How much you decide to give back is up to you.

Detour

There’s no way you’ll stay clear of the Strip forever. So where to go and what to do? Top of the list has to be watching the fountains at the Bellagio hotel and casino, which is spectacular, crowded and doesn’t cost a cent.

Next up, wander the canals of Venice – or, at least, the canals of the Venetian Casino. Then step back a little further into fake Italian history with a stroll through the Roman-themed Caesars Palace. It’s all tropical-island dreaming over at the Mirage, while the Wynn is just pure luxury. Finish up with drinks at New York-New York, the casino that never sleeps (actually, that goes for all of them).

This is an extract from ‘Great Escapes’,  published by Lonely Planet (£29.99). To order a copy, go to shop.lonelyplanet.com.

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