Just thinking about a trip to Las Vegas gets our heart pumping and endorphins flowing. Sin City is highly regarded as one of the most popular, exciting, and iconic cities in the world, offering everything from around-the-clock gambling and jaw-dropping architecture to an epic club scene and gourmet restaurants. It's almost impossible to be bored here, and even the most frequent Las Vegas visitors find something new every time they visit. That said, there's a bit of an adjustment period for first-time visitors who may feel overwhelmed or surprised by the laws, offerings, and customs that differ greatly from most other U.S. cities. Read on for our list of 14 important things to know before you make your first (and definitely not your last) visit to Las Vegas.
1. You really should wait until you’re 21.
Over the years, Las Vegas has made valiant efforts to bill itself as a family-friendly destination. Though there are still many activities for the under 21 set, Sin City is still best enjoyed with a valid ID that proves you can legally drink. The city is very much geared towards adults and there’s a strictly enforced curfew: no unaccompanied minors on the streets after 9 p.m. Dealers, security guards, and bartenders check IDs on almost everyone, so it’s best to wait and visit Las Vegas when you’re old enough to participate in everything the city has to offer.
2. You can legally drink on the street.
Las Vegas is one of the few places in the United States where it’s perfectly legal to walk down the street with a cocktail (as long as it’s not in a glass container). You’ll definitely see revelers participating in this pastime as well as find bars that are little more than windows that sell enormous novelty drinks. That said, open containers are not allowed in cars, and if you act like a drunken fool on the street, a cop can charge you with disorderly conduct.
3. There’s a place to sleep for every budget.
Las Vegas caters to every budget with a huge range of hotel options at various price points. You can splash out with a two-story loft and Rolls Royce airport transfer at the Aria Sky Suites, or use a budget room at Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino as a convenient and clean place to shower and sleep. For something in the middle, we like the chic Delano Las Vegas. Regardless of which price point you want, we strongly suggest first-time visitors pick a hotel on the approximately four-mile Strip. It’s in the heart of the action and you’ll end up saving time and money in transportation costs.
4. The food scene is top-notch.
All-you-can-eat buffets are still alive and well in Las Vegas, as are cafeteria-style joints selling cheap hot dogs and pizza slices. But in the past 15 years, the restaurant scene in Las Vegas has become one of the best in the world. Every celebrity chef worth their salt has a Vegas outpost: Wolfgang Puck, Nobu Matsuhisa, José Andrés, and Joël Robuchon have all brought extreme fine-dining to the desert. And if you’ve seen them on the Food Network, they likely have a Vegas restaurant: Giada de Laurentiis (we spotted her reviewing photos of avocado toast on one flight to Vegas), Guy Fieri, and Bobby Flay all have namesake Vegas restaurants. Beloved Los Angeles eateries like In-N-Out Burger and Egg Slut have also moved east.
5. You can’t hail a taxi on the street.
It’s a rookie mistake to try and hail a cab on the street in Las Vegas. By law, taxis (and ride-sharing services) are only allowed to pick up and drop off passengers in designated areas (usually in front of a casino). That means you’ll have to join an often incredibly long queue of riders to get anywhere in the city. It’s a good idea to pad your transportation time by 30 minutes to get anywhere in Las Vegas, especially during peak dinner times and right after a show finishes, when crowds of people scramble for the taxi line at the same time.
6. Don’t get long-hauled.
If a cab driver asks if this is your first visit to Las Vegas, they’re likely not just making small talk. Long-hauling, taking passengers on a longer route than necessary to increase the fare, is not unusual in Vegas. The best way to avoid it is by mapping your destination before you get in the cab and by being specific about what route you want the driver to take. Long-hauling happens most often from the airport. There are two routes to the Las Vegas Strip — the longer route gets on the highway and will end up costing about $10 more than taking the shorter (and more scenic) local streets.
7. Go to the concierge desk before the nightclub.
Las Vegas has some of the most fun nightclubs (and pool parties) on the planet. Celebrity DJs, bottle service, dance parties, and light shows are just the tip of the party iceberg. But before you even think about strapping on your stilettos and standing in line, stop by your hotel’s concierge desk. Most of the hotels on the Strip partner with a handful of on- and off-property clubs, and the concierge staff is well-connected for recommendations, discounts, and getting guests on the often elusive list. Fifteen minutes with the concierge can save you a few hours of standing in line, and maybe get you VIP status.
8. Avoid the biggest trade shows.
Thanks to hotels with massive event spaces and excellent rates for rooms purchased in bulk, Las Vegas is a mecca to trade shows and national events. The biggest events can bring an influx of several thousand travelers, filling up hotels, selling out shows, and creating themed mayhem. If you don’t believe us, visit Vegas the same weekend in December that 175,000 cowboys come for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. During this time, available dinner reservations get swallowed up by men and women in full denim and cowboy hats. It can be a lot of fun, but prices definitely jump, so it’s worth Googling your planned vacation days to see if they overlap with any major shows or events.
9. Budget time and money for a show.
First-time Vegas visitors often devote most of their trip to the casino floor. And while we’re all about gambling in Vegas, it would be a mistake to miss out on one of the world-class shows. Whether you see Britney Spears dance and lip-synch her hits at Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino, laugh along with Penn & Teller at Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino, or marvel at the acrobatics in any of the Cirque du Soleil shows, it’s going to be fun. There are also more affordable options, like Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas at The LINQ Hotel & Casino.
10. Stick to a gambling budget.
As we said before, gambling is one of the best aspects of a Las Vegas visit. However, it can get out of hand quickly. Make a budget of how much money you have to gamble (that is, how much money you’re prepared to lose) well before you hit the free drinks, pumping music, and siren sounds of the gaming floor. Once you arrive at that threshold, it’s time to walk. If you find yourself taking out more cash at the casino’s ATM (which comes with huge fees) or signing up for a credit card advance, you know you’ve gone too far.
11. Casino cocktails are free.
As an incentive to keep gamblers gambling, most casinos send out a small army of scantily-clad cocktail servers to take free drink orders. Of course, gaming tables with large minimum bet requirements and the dollar slots see a lot more waitress circulation than the penny machines, but tipping a few dollars per cocktail is a good way to keep the cocktails coming and your karma points high. However, drinks by the pool and at casino bars are often pricey.
12. Bring a sweater.
Las Vegas has a desert climate and temperatures can reach the triple digits in the summer. It’s vital to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, even for short walks and pool visits. That said, most indoor establishments can be freezing with their intense air conditioning systems. Bring a lightweight sweater or wrap with you to all restaurants, theaters, and casinos. It sounds counterintuitive, but you’ll thank us. And while we’re on the subject of dress codes, many restaurants and night clubs have strict rules regarding hats, shorts, sport jerseys, and open-toed shoes for men. Smarten up to be on the safe side.
13. Prostitution is not legal.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not legal to pay for sex in Las Vegas — or anywhere in Clark County for that matter. Nevada allows counties with a population below 700,000 to offer brothel prostitution, and there are around 20 legal brothels in the state. Illegal prostitution does happen in some Las Vegas hotel rooms, but many hospitality managers don’t mess around when it comes to breaking the law and will evict anyone suspected of engaging in illegal behavior.
14. Don’t stay too long.
Four nights is just about the right amount of time to spend in the high energy and heat of Las Vegas. Sure, there’s enough to see, do, and eat to fill an entire calendar year, but we’ve found that it’s best to visit Las Vegas several times, rather than trying to pack everything into one high intensity trip. Always leave a reason to come back (and some extra time to nurse a hangover).
Some of Our Favorite Las Vegas Hotels:
This three-tower, off-the-Strip hotel is known for its crazy parties and celebrity stopovers. It features over 700 sleek rooms with up-to-date technologies; numerous popular clubs, and two large pool areas.
When it comes to the 5,034-room MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, “grand” is the operative word. One of the biggest hotels (by room count) in Las Vegas also has many of the best restaurants in town, a massive casino, an enormous and fun pool complex, and a huge range of on-site entertainment options. This place is so big and diverse that everyone — yes, everyone — can find what they want, even if the service is unexceptional.
An elder statesman among the Strip’s mega-resorts, the upscale, 3,044-room Mirage Hotel & Casino relies less on thematics and a booze-fueled party scene for its appeal — opting instead to emphasize comfortable rooms, an enormous pool, diverse dining options, and plenty of entertainment.
Vegas is home to a pretty strict dress code. It’s a must for guys to pack a pair of dress shoes if they want to partake in any nightlife, a bouncer will never let you in with sneakers.
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