Las Vegas began life as nothing more than a remote outpost on a rail track. It was standard railroad practice in the early 1900’s to designate a series of service-stop locations along rail routes. The Los Angeles to Salt Lake City route traversed rugged, mostly unpopulated desert terrain, a desolate place where temperatures soared above 40 degrees! Everyone agreed a depot was needed in the desert – but getting anyone to re-locate and work out there …well that was going to take some serious persuasion. Cue the introduction of a host of saloons offering legalised gambling, boozing and pretty girls for luck. It didn’t take long before workers began flocking to the area from neighbouring California and other American states – the Las Vegas ‘boom’ had begun. During the years of prohibition the mafia came to town, keeping saloons stocked with an endless supply of under the counter alcohol. They quickly realised big money could be made (and laundered) here, so began buying up the town. If you owned a business and didn’t want to sell, let’s just say the mob would make you an offer you couldn’t refuse! Following a crackdown on organised crime by the federal government the Mafia’s stronghold on the city was eventually broken and now all that remains of their dubious past is the ‘Mob Museum’ on Stewart Avenue.
That’s pretty much the story of how Las Vegas became the city we know today, of course it’s no longer the small desert community it once was. Today the city bills itself as The Entertainment Capital of the World, famous for its mega casino–hotels and associated activities. It is a top three destination in the United States for business conventions and a global leader in the hospitality industry, claiming more AAA Five Diamond hotels than any other city in the world.
There is a plethora of ways to experience and explore Las Vegas. We have compiled a list of just some of the many incredible things we got to do during our recent trip to Sin City ...and gambling didn’t even make our Top 10!
1. Take a downtown walking tour to discover the birthplace of Las Vegas and learn more about the cities infamous past. Find out about the people who made Las Vegas the place it is today, following in the footsteps of gangsters and celebrities. Stroll down Freemont Street while your guide brings the city to life in a way no guidebook ever could. A fascinating nostalgic journey that covers just 4 blocks and more than a hundred years of history. We explored the city with the help of Las Vegas Walking Tours. Group tours operate daily and private small group tours can be arranged on request.
2. Las Vegas boasts some of the hottest night clubs in the world. Getting in can be pricey and often involves waiting in long lines. But don’t despair! There is a quicker, more economical way to get your groove on in Las Vegas! Party Tours will pre-book you entry in up to 3 clubs. A host meets you at the entrance of each venue, ensuring you are fast-tracked into the club, like the VIP that you are. Transport is provided from club to club in a specially adapted party bus, which includes a complimentary bar to keep you in high spirits – quite literally! Clubs vary but tours generally start at the Foundation Room in Mandalay Bay, which has a panoramic terrace offering arguably one of the best views in the whole of Las Vegas – be sure to bring your camera and dress to impress, you never know who you might end up meeting when you party in Vegas. Private tours can be arranged and specific clubs can be pre-selected by contacting Party Tours directly.
3. Leave the fast paced frenzy of the strip behind. Enjoy a relaxing cruise down the mighty Colorado River, the perfect way to witness the colossal feat of 20thCentury engineering that is the Hoover Dam. Your river journey starts when you board the comfortable, open-sided motorised raft at the base of the gargantuan concrete structure. Spend the day floating lazily down the Colorado, a river that encompasses seven U.S states and two Mexican states. Enjoy beautiful scenery, explore hidden coves and hot-springs, before stopping for lunch at an idyllic riverside spot. Each raft is captained by a knowledgeable guide and includes commentary throughout the tour. We explored with the help of Black Canyon and Willow Beach River Adventures. With return transfers from your Las Vegas hotel, this is the ideal way to explore the river responsible for carving out the Grand Canyon. Private group charters can be arranged.
4. Over four million people visit the spectacular Grand Canyon annually. The south rim is the most visited region and is accessible year round. The West rim has gained popularity since the introduction of the Sky-Walk, a glass bottomed viewing platform, cantilevered over the edge of the canyon. The north rim is harder to reach from Las Vegas and therefore one of the lesser visited areas, for that reason alone we would recommend taking the Scenic Airlines tour from Boulder City Airport. The Airport is approximately 35minutes outside of Las Vegas and return door to door transfers can be included in your tour. Experience an exhilarating 45 minute flight over the Canyon. Large panoramic viewing windows enable you to marvel at the awesome vastness of this natural wonder of the world. Only from the air can the full glory of the Grand Canyon be appreciated. You will land at an exclusive airstrip close to the Bar 10 Ranch where an air conditioned transfer van will be waiting to take you up to the ranch. Once there you can choose to ride along with a guide in an open-sided all terrane vehicle, or follow the tour on an ATV quadbike. We chose to take the ATV quadbike option which was great fun. The ATV’s were simple to operate and easy to ride. Our tour included trails that took us off the beaten track and offered views of the canyon very few have seen. This tour turns a trip to Vegas into a trip of a lifetime. Private charters available on request. For full details of all tours visit Scenic Airlines
5. Visitors with less time to spare can still get up-close and personal with the Grand Canyon. Papillion Helicopter Tours offer a 45 minute scenic helicopter flight from Boulder City Airport. State of the art helicopters with panoramic viewing windows give all passengers a birds eye view of the breathtaking scenery, no matter where you are seated. We took the ‘Golden Eagle Tour’. Fly over Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and onwards into the Grand Canyon, passing the crater of an extinct volcano along the way. Descend into the canyon and follow its path. The changing light transforms the canyon walls into an artist’s palate of colour. If you have more time Papillon offer sightseeing flights that include Canyon landings – enjoy a champagne lunch on the floor of the canyon. However you choose to explore this incredible landscape Papillon Helicopter Tours will make it an unforgettable experience.
6. If you have already visited the Grand Canyon and want more incredible experiences in the great outdoors, Death Valley provides visitors with spectacular vistas and a variety of stunning photo opportunities. Bindlestiff Tours offer fully escorted trips to Death Valley from Las Vegas. They also offer a whole host of other pre-bookable excursions to help you explore and experience the best of the National Parks. Private tours are available on request, subject to availability.
7. Another alternative outdoor spot worth a visit is the old ‘El Dorado’ gold mine, still not depleted, but no longer mined. The mine gives visitors an insight into the days of the Gold Rush and explains how gold was extracted back when miners worked by candle light, using nothing but axes and picks. Explore passageways and chambers that extend into the extensive mountain range and look for glistening specks of gold in the white veins of quartz still running through them. After your trip underground you can visit the remains of the original old mining cabins and villages left behind. Travel by ATV, following the original mule trails and newer tracks that make for a fun filled day out. For more details visit Awesome Adventures
8. Las Vegas is home to some of the world’s biggest all-you-can-eat buffets, you’d be hard pressed to leave Vegas feeling hungry! Restaurants abound, from fast food to fine dining. Huge generic buffets are not for everyone, which is why Vegas Valley Food Tours offer small group tours offering authentic local dining experiences in a host of venues. If you enjoy locally sourced and freshly prepared produce, you will love this tour. Enjoy delicious entrees from a menu prepared by celebrity chef Scott Comings (Hell’s Kitchen season 12 winner) at the Freedom Beat restaurant, before moving on to enjoy more mouthwatering offerings from local award winning eateries such as Rachel’s and The Donut Bar. If you still have room for more the tour continues to an urban oasis known locally as the container park, here you can enjoy handmade chocolates, old fashioned American soda pops and retro-style sweets. Tours can be tailored to suit various dietary requirements and are offered year round. Private tours for groups can be arranged by contacting Vegas Valley Tours directly.
9. For thrill-seekers, adrenalin junkies and petrol-heads heading to Vegas we have found the perfect way to combine all of your favourite things into one action packed experience. Dream Racing Las Vegas offers the opportunity to race around tracks at the Las Vegas Speedway in a choice of supercars. Will you choose a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, an Aston Martin, a Porsche, or one of the many other exotic vehicles on offer - Dream Racing Las Vegas has the largest collection of supercars in the world! Cant choose, why not book a package that allows you to combine a selection of supercars. After a short introduction to the track and some expert tuition on how to drive the vehicles using state of the art simulators it’s time to get suited up and unleash your inner Lewis Hamilton! Zoom around twists and turns with a professional racing driver in the passenger seat providing expert tips on how to complete each lap faster than the previous one. All timings and speeds are recorded, so you can monitor your progress and see how you compare to other drivers out on the circuit. Dream Racing Las Vegas even offer packages for non-drivers. Their ride along experiences enable you to fly around the course at hair raising speeds with one of their racing champions. Experience what it feels like to take corners at competition speeds and enjoy the sideways slide of ‘the drift’. Your workday commute to the office will never be the same again. In addition to individual experiences Dream Racing Las Vegas can also host groups and large corporate events, perfect for team building, bonding and incentive events.
10. It’s probably the most famous sign in the city and yet many tourists search for it in vain. The ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign is located at the South end of Las Vegas boulevard near the Mandalay Bay Resort. If you only have your photo taken once in the city be sure to have it taken here! The sign was designed by Betty Willis in 1959 and was never copyrighted as she declared it her gift to the city. When Betty died in her home in 2015 aged 91 city commissioners declared May 5th ‘Betty Willis Day’. The Sign features on almost every Las Vegas souvenir, it is estimated that if Betty had copyrighted the design her estate would have been worth over 100 million dollars when she died.