Before I get fully stuck into this post I have to explain this isn’t a guide as any sort of expert – more of a first impressions/things to do based on my experience. My recent visit to Vegas was my first time in the city, I was there for around three days and loved some of it and didn’t love other bits. But the one thing I took away immediately from Vegas was that it’s is 100% a place where there’s something for everyone. Well, nearly everyone, maybe… for what it’s worth, this is my first timers guide to Vegas!
Vegas is one of those places that before you go, you feel like you know it. It comes with a whole reputation of it’s own. Ironic in a way for a place that ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…’. It’s known as a crazy party town, an ‘Adult Disney World’ in many ways. Full of drinking, parties, gambling, pool parties, fancy food, lights, shows and beyond. Basically if you can dream it up, then you can probably find it in Vegas.
My first visit was for a few days of pre-wedding celebrating for my good friends Zoe & George who were getting married out in the desert near Joshua Tree. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, ahead of Labour Day on the Monday and we headed out to the desert on Wednesday. So whilst my experience of Vegas is limited, I definitely have a few recommendations to share for anyone planning a trip. Mostly thing’s I’d love to do again if I ever go back – which I really hope to!
Where to stay:
I LOVED the hotel I stayed in – the Vdara – it’s centrally located on the strip. Just behind The Cosmopolitan. Connected to both the Bellagio and the Aria so easy to get around from there. The rooms are all spacious (apparently it was built in 2008 as an apartment block, but couldn’t sell so it was converted into a Hotel). Location wise, it’s great as so close to everything. But it’s also that touch set back so you get a feeling of peace away from the madness of the strip. It’s also one of very few hotels (possibly the only one) that doesn’t have a casino and is non-smoking. It also has a Spa, that I would have loved to use but didn’t get chance. Maybe next time.
My tip for this hotel is book a fountain view room – being able to the the Bellagio Fountains from my room was amazing and I could have stared at that view for hours.
Where to eat:
Eating in Vegas is almost as competitive as the gambling… there’s an endless list of places to eat and indulge. From the ‘Heart Attack Grill’ where you eat for free if you’re over 350lbs (there’s a set of scales outside to check if you think you might be close…) to the endless hotel buffet breakfasts where you can load up a plate with waffles, sushi, burgers, and gumbo all in one sitting. Should that combination tempt you… I didn’t eat there but have heard that The Wynn is the best of the hotel buffets to get stuck into. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to go to any of these by the way, you can just pay on the day to eat there.
However, the places I ate that I would recommend:
PF Changs in Planet Hollywood
Yes, it’s a chain but the food was delicious and really reasonable value for Vegas. The portions are large so I’d recommend sharing rather than ordering per person. The cocktails here are delicious too so definitely try those too.
Beauty & Essex in The Cosmopolitan
Random fact for you, but I’ve now eaten at all three of the Beauty & Essex locations and whilst the original New York one still feels like the most genuine of the bunch, the food is incredible at all of them. All set up with the ‘pawn shop’ frontage that you go through to reach the main dining area and bar. The dining room here was dark and moody as you would expect from Beauty & Essex. The menu is a bit unusual as it’s a real mix of dishes that are perfect for sharing and ones that work great as a dish on it’s own. Personally in a group I’d recommend sharing. We ate relatively early in the evening and it was just getting busy as we headed off (we did this as we were going to see a show) so if you have flexibility I’d eat a little later on – but then day/night – anything goes in Vegas!
Mon Ami Gabi in Paris
A Parisienne themed restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the Bellagio fountains. Great for a luxe brunch, the Bloody Mary was a meal in iteself and the Eggs Benedict was great. Sometimes a bit of a wait to be seated outside but always passes faster than they say it will be! But the setting, food and meal-like breakfast cocktail meant it was a great choice for my first morning in Vegas and would definitely recommend. It’s a great spot for some people-watching too…
The Henry in The Cosmopolitan
I wasn’t going to include this as it’s a fairly low-key place, but actually for the first dinner after arriving it was perfect. Great comfort food – tomato soup with a side of toasted cheese – plus a wine list with one of my favourites (Reisling). It was ideal for a tired/jet lagged dinner. Good simple menu and not too intense a location, a nice way to ease into Vegas crazy.
Things to do
Things to do in Vegas could be an endless list. There’s honestly SO much and if you’re every feeling bored, then it might just be you rather than the lack of options. From roller coasters, zip lines, to shows and 24-7 casinos. There’s and endless choice of things to do in Vegas. I barely scratched the surface of options!
Have a little gamble
Of course be responsible, don’t flush your life savings down the drain. But having a little flutter is fun. Although I still have no clue what the machines mean and if I win, how or why… I just set myself a pretty modest limit of $20 and if I lose I was out and if I won I could keep going… I didn’t last long, but glad I had a go! The thought of being a high-roller makes it fun… just make sure you cash out before you lose the lot!
See a show
There’s a huge amount of shows on in Vegas. From A-List stars (Hello Mariah Carey…) to classics (Donnie & Marie Osmond) or the down-and-dirty (Thunder from Down Under)… Well, we were there pre-wedding and having a Vegas Hen…so you can guess what tone we went for. It was down and dirty and whilst I felt like a bit of a perv… it was funny! If you’ve ever seen Magic Mike, it is basically the original show the Mike performs in before they get all jazzy. So a bit cheesy, a bit grimy… very funny and some beefy blokes pulling some moves. Top tip – don’t sit anywhere obvious or you risk being dragged to the front/on stage… or do, if that’s what floats your boat…
The Piano Bar in New York New York
I loved this bar, we went there after the show and they had two great pianists playing off against each other. Great atmosphere (even on a random Tuesday) playing great music. If you love belting out a power ballad (think Toto, Africa…) then this place will be right up your street. It does get busy, so you can expect a wait to get in at busy times! But worth it, especially with a group!
Ok, so I don’t say this based on experience but I have it on good authority that a pool party (or even just general chilled pool day) is a great way to spend time in Vegas. I am personally a big fan of any form of drinking/party where I can still be in bed at a reasonable hour so this does appeal to me. I just didn’t get chance this time around. But next time, Wet Republic…me and my post-baby bod are coming for you. And we’re looking for a jug of margaritas….
Views of downtown will probably really vary depending on the time you spend there and what you expect. I don’t think anyone would deny the fact that downtown Vegas (Freemont street and surrounding area) are a touch less polished than The Strip…to say the least. And the strip is hardly all gloss and glamour… However, there’s a lot to see and do there. There’s regular live performers plus a zip line that goes the length of the street. We had plans to do this but a lightening storm in the area thwarted our plans. I would still recommend it. It’s on my list to do next time.
The Vegas Sign
Any first timer trip isn’t complete without a visit to the iconic Vegas sign. We stopped off there on our way out to the desert and it was great to see in person. Top tip – you can easily get a great snap by standing just off to the side of the sign. Rather than waiting in the line for the straight-on view (without blocking anyone else’s who has waited of course!). I’d rather take one at a jaunty angle than bake in that Vegas heat for the front-on one!
Things I would do next time (and I hope there’s a next time):
A few things I was keen to do, but didn’t manage to squeeze in this time around but are firmly on the list for the next visit.
The Neon Boneyard – a massive ‘graveyard’ for the old neon signs of Vegas. Looks incredible and I am a sucker for anything colourful so this would be right up my street.
The Mob Museum – I know, who goes to Vegas to go to a museum eh!? Well, me given half a chance. This sounds fascinating as it’s all about what ‘created’ Vegas in the first place and definitely one I’d love to find out more about.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour – One of my life-long (well, adult life-long) goals is to see the Grand Canyon. I could have done so on this trip, but I wanted to experience it with Ollie so I held off. Perfect excuse to go back right?! I’d also love to see the Hoover Damn in real life too. We flew right over it according to the flight map but I was on the wrong side of the plane to spot it!
Whole trip paid for by me FYI. Flights booked direct with Virgin Atlantic & Hotel booked via Hotels.com