Las Vegas is a complicated beast of a city if you aren’t properly organised. The often chaotic sea of neon lights and hedonism can become a blur between the whirlwind of bars, shows and high-end restaurants, but as long as you play your cards right, a weekend stomping around Vegas could very well be the best decision you’ve ever made.
And playing your cards right means that Las Vegas’ iconic strip, so frequented that it’s often misidentified as the entire city itself, will be much more than that slog of bars, shows and high-end restaurants. You’ll discover secret pockets of serenity, rewarding natural wonders, remarkable hotels, and pure adrenaline. These are the things that will keep you coming back to Vegas long after you’ve gotten the requisite bachelor/bachelorette parties and sinfully indulgent weekends out of the way.
Smack Your Lips Around This Foodie Tour
Getting an actual seat, straight away, at such an impeccable Greek restaurant as Estiatorio Milos is alone worth booking a “Savors of the Strip” tour by Lip Smacking Foodie Tours.
The restaurants that this walking tour takes you to may occasionally rotate, but the feeling of strutting into a high-end Vegas eatery and getting seated straight away is invaluable whatever the destination.
This should be the first thing you book as soon as you arrive into Vegas as well, especially for people who have never been there before. Not only do you get a knowledgeable guide ready and willing to highlight Vegas’ coveted secret spots, but you get to try three signature dishes at four of the strip’s most buzz-worthy restaurants. And these are ones you’d only find after extensive research, so the time-poor (or just Google illiterate) will get plenty of value out of this.
The local knowledge from this three-or-so hour tour can then be used to make the most of the rest of your time in Vegas. So not only is this tour delicious, it’s a strategic way to ensure your few days exploring this neon wonderland isn’t wasted on poor choices.
If that gives you a taste of the high-end, start putting together a list of things to try over the following days. One particular standout to me was L’Atelier by Joël Robuchon, a French fine-diner located in the MGM Grand serving everything from Maine lobster to caramelised quail in some very interesting dishes.
Website: L’Atalier by Joël Robuchon.
Scope Out the Best Cocktail Bars
Head on over to The Palazzo – part of The Venetian – and make a bee-line for the gaming floor. Not to gamble of course (unless that’s your thing), but to hop between two of The Strip’s newest and most exciting cocktail bars.
A big reason why Vegas is such a complicated city to navigate is the fact that some of the best bars and venues are located on the casino floor. These casinos don’t want their guests to go outside after all, so a lot of stock is put into finessing these spaces to ensure they are more than just a few cuts above average.
The casino’s new twin bars couldn’t be any more different. Almost directly opposite each other, they are escapes from the flashes and dings of poker machines and buzzing high-rollers.
Rosina is the slickest (and my pick) of the two. The luxurious cocktail bar sticks to classics done incredibly well (including possibly the best Old Fashioned I’ve had in the USA), and is crafted with a low-key, intimate jazz age feel. Gold, black and pearl are the main stripes here, throwing it back to old-school speakeasy vibes with low cocktail tables and creamy leather chairs.
If you’re by yourself, grab a seat at the bar because these highly experienced mixologists are expert conversationalists. Or if you’re in a group, snag a booth and make quick use of that “Press for Champagne” call button, then sit back and soak up the mellow R&B (they seem to love Maxwell in Vegas; which scores major points with me) soundtrack while you wait for some bubbly.
After you’ve loaded up on the laid-back vibes of Rosita, walk on over to Electra which is the more playful, ostentatious younger sister with a bit of a nightclub feel going on. It’s not big enough to be a nightclub of course (and plus, you’ll know when you’re in a Vegas nightclub), but the futuristic design and energy that bounces from the mesmerising digital canvas to the action-packed long bar sure feels like a party.
This decidedly louder and more kinetic atmosphere is complemented by sensory cocktails that take on a modern twist, opening up fruitier and brighter flavours while DJs let loose with hip hop and contemporary rock.
Spend Some Time with The Gazillionaire
Absinthe just may be the best show to ever hit the Vegas strip. Though I’ve only been to Sin City twice in my life, that much has been echoed by people who are far more experienced with the city than I am. And I’m not just taking their word for it.
The raunchy alt-circus is an uproarious round of performances that defy gravity, logic, and often all kinds of sensitivities. It’s offensive by design, especially as host The Gazillionaire bounces around the stage in a drunken stupor, insulting both himself, his colleagues, and the audience. But it’s all brilliantly written, and cheap shocks aren’t at all part of the schtick as this genuinely hilarious, and even inspiring, time spent inside an intimate Spiegeltent is full of dazzling, highly polished acts.
You can read my full review of the show HERE.
Dive Headfirst Into Some Live Music
Vegas has such a long and illustrious history when it comes to the world’s greatest musicians that it would be downright criminal (and it probably is; I wouldn’t know, I’ve always obeyed this law) not to see a concert in Las Vegas.
The Vegas Residency has become such an indelible part of a veteran artist’s career, even when they are still in their prime. Take Lady Gaga for example, who has not at all left her best years behind. She’s currently running through with Sin City’s big-ticket residency, now that Celine Deon has wrapped up with her megastar run.
You’ll also spot billboards up and down the strip advertising residencies or one-off concerts from some of the biggest names in the industry. I saw everyone from Meek Mill and Migos to Backstreet Boys and Calvin Harris being hyped up, which indicates that residences have gone far beyond the divas and big-song legends to catch up with modern times. Vegas’ music scene has never been more diverse.
Keep a look out when you’re there, not only will you get to see a superstar musician in action, but you’ll get to see them in some of America’s best indoor music venues.
Gaga has her current residency at Park Theatre which is inside Park MGM. You can grab tickets and more information at mgmresorts.com.
Uncover Vegas’ Rich Wellness Scene
Contrary to popular belief, time spent on The Strip doesn’t have to be loud and rambunctious all of the time. Tucked away in the best casinos are luxury spas that offer complete serenity and escape, zoning in on that slice of wellness tourism you never expected to find in Vegas.
Two of the best are quite close to each other.
The Sahra Spa, Salon & Hammam at The Cosmopolitan not only features one of the best and most attractive baths you’ll find in Vegas, the design has an infectiously calm connection to Nevada’s enchanting natural landscape, said to draw deeply on the desert’s expansive beauty and stillness.
It’s all slow and steady pace here, perhaps even more so in an intentional contrast to pretty much everything happening outside the spa walls. And as for the treatments – they are as tightly finessed and held to a high standard as everything else in The Cosmo.
ARIA Resort & Casino is where you’ll want to go for variety. The property’s signature The Spa & Salon takes a worldly, inspired approach to wellness with options like a Himalayan salt stone massage and gemstone facials. Though the spaces don’t look as fancy as The Sahra, the immaculate area is made up of a restorative Shio salt room, a Fireside lounge, and a room with Ganbanyoku heated stone beds intended to rid the body of toxins. And given that it is Vegas, there will probably be plenty of toxins for this heat to squeeze out of you.
Shine Bright Like a Diamond
You’ll find shops all over The Strip, but there’s nothing quite like The Shops at Crystals. The mall, better described as a shopping precinct, is unapologetically, exclusively luxurious with all the top brands (Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabann, Bulgari, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Sisley etc) claiming boutique flagships, exquisitely shaped into the building’s gorgeous architecture.
There’s a requisite Starbucks, but everything else is top-line stuff, with 56 total boutiques touting some of the finest major couture goods you’ll find in the entire city. And there are plenty of exclusives as well.
Various gourmet restaurants break up the eye-popping price tags, as well as a few art galleries. Though many of the luxury boutiques are like art galleries themselves, like the two-floor Hermes store which beautifully showcases the brand’s scarves and silk accessories alongside other products.
As the price tags are quite scary, the precinct is relatively quiet compared to many places around Vegas. And it’s because of this level of privacy that you’re most likely to spot some big name celebrities carrying more bags (of clothes) then they physically should be able to, alongside their assistants carrying even more bags of limited edition and exclusive releases.
But just because you may not be able to justify spending some hard-earned income here, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop by. There’s plenty of exclusive art installations giving The Shops some life, including a hidden, free, and by-appointment-only James Turrell installation on the third floor of the enormous Louis Vuitton flagship. Call ahead, make a booking, and you’ll be whisked up to a massive immersive series of glowing chambers that pulsate as they change colour. It’s called “Akhob” and you should definitely only do it while sober.
Website: The Shops at Crystals
Lunch Over the Dancing Fountain
After you’ve seen The Bellagio’s iconic dancing fountain a dozen or so times, actually go inside an explore the casino. It’s one of the most elaborate as well, particularly the entrance which is defined by Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como, composed of over 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers dancing across the ceiling. It’s one of Vegas’ most essential Instagram spots.
After you’re done taking a million and one photos, take a short walk to Spago by Wolfgang Puck, which left Ceasers Palace last year after almost three decades of culinary dominance. It’s now in a much more picturesque location at The Bellagio, with an outdoor dining terrace overlooking the clear blue waters of the fountain. You can’t get a better lunch view than this.
Get Up Close With the Grand Canyon
Nothing beats looking down on Vegas from the sky, admiring what looks like a futuristic Monopoly board as you take off to explore one of the landscape’s most famous sites: the Grand Canyon. Hit up Sundance Helicopters and book into a tour of the immense canyon, which takes you straight into the belly of the beast, passing the Mojave, Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead before landing on a private bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Set up for a small picnic and a glass of Champagne while you admire one of the world’s seven natural wonders from the inside. It’s not much in the way of food, so load up beforehand.
Speed Around in Luxury Cars
And the winner for smartest Bachelor Party choice goes to…Dream Racing. If you’re in charge of organising a stag’s weekend and you overlook this outpost 20 minutes outside of Vegas, then you better hope the groom doesn’t eventually find out this place exists.
Speed demons are able to pick from an enormous collection of high-end cars and take them out for a spin around a simple, but fun, racecourse. Either as a passenger or a driver, you’re looking at least five laps in some incredible beauties, including a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, a Mclaren 720S, and an Aston Martin Vantage. Drift away, my friend.
Where to Stay: NoMad
New York’s acclaimed NoMad brand has really carved its own identity in Vegas, managing to bring some extra class with 293 design-forward guest rooms across the top four floors of Park MGM. One need only walk into the retro NoMad Restaurant to get a sense of what they’re going for here, stylish New York 60’s supper club aesthetics that transport you right out of Vegas state of mind and into a world that feels entirely contained.
And then there are the super comfortable rooms, generous in size and amenities with ultra-soft linens and an unusual design which has a free-standing tub right next to the bed.
You can check out my full review of the hotel HERE.
This article was made possible by the support of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.