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  • Overview

    Situated in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, America's Playground was created entirely to entertain and has been described as the world's largest theme park. This psychedelic city of sin welcomes around 40 million visitors each year to its lavish hotels and casinos. Visitors today are amazed that only 80 years ago this thriving metropolis was a backwater whose only guests were railway passengers on the long journey between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

    This changed in March 1931 when the State of Nevada legalised gambling; one month later the city issued six licenses. Then in 1946, Mafia don Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel opened the sensationally lavish Flamingo Hilton on Highway 91. Las Vegas Boulevard was born and the city would never be the same.

    Soon stars like Elvis, Liberace, and Sinatra were making the pilgrimage to what was fast becoming America's premier entertainment centre. In the early days the Mafia dominated the gambling industry but in the 1960s their influence waned and soon all the large hotels and casinos were controlled by big business.

    Walking down 'The Strip' is a truly an experiance where visitors can see the skylines of New York and Paris, discover the canals of Venice and the Pyramids of Egypt, and see many spectacular, extravagant shows. Despite these excesses, the room rates and restaurant bills are said to be some of the lowest in the Western world - all subsidised by gamblers intent on a free holiday.

    Although the principal draw card is still gambling, Las Vegas is now marketed as a family destination with no shortage of theme parks, shopping malls, and golf courses. However, the vast majority of visitors come to gamble or party and the incredible displays are mostly designed to lure passers-by into the casinos. Be careful, once there, it's hard to leave.

    Venetian Hotel and Casino

    No expense was spared building the Venetian Hotel, aimed to recreate the city of Venice in the Nevada Desert, and the result is fairly spectacular. Guests can travel around the hotel in a gondola - real canals run through the grounds - and a replica of St Mark's Square and the Basilica turns from night to day every three hours. Visitors have to look carefully to notice that the sky is actually a vast fresco. The only things missing are the pigeons and the backpackers. The casino itself is massive, featuring something like 2,500 slot machines and 125 gaming tables. For guests taking a break from the tables, there are five swimming pools, a fitness centre, and 17 restaurants - mostly pizzerias. One of the main attractions is Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, a wax museum presenting some of the world's biggest icons including stars, politicians, record-breaking athletes, and legends.

    Address: 3355 Las Vegas Boulevard
    A mural at The Venetian A mural at The Venetian Paulgokin
    Bellagio Hotel and Casino

    The Bellagio is one of Las Vegas's most opulent hotels and most popular casinos. With an Italian theme, the great bulk of the Bellagio sits in its own vast garden. It has more than 3,000 rooms and hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables. However, its best-known attraction is its amazing water show - a breath-taking union of water, music, and light. Between 3pm and midnight (from 12pm on weekends) the Bellagio's world-famous fountains 'dance' to opera, classical, or whimsical music with carefully choreographed movements. Beyond the Bellagio's gracious lobby lies the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, a magnificent garden abounding in fragrance, texture, and colour. The hotel also has a new fine arts gallery that hosts contemporary art exhibits.

    Address: 3600 S. Las Vegas Boulevard
    Bellagio Fountains Bellagio Fountains Photographersnature
    The Mirage

    Another MGM mega-casino, the showpiece at the Mirage is a volcano that shoots flames 100 feet (30m) into the night sky every 15 minutes (6pm to midnight), spewing smoke and transforming a tranquil waterfall into spectacular streams of molten lava. As you'd expect of Las Vegas, it's all quite kitsch, but great entertainment. Siegfried & Roy's White Tigers used to be one of the Mirage's signature attractions, but the show was cancelled in 2003 after Roy Horn was attacked by one of the tigers during a show. At any given time. However, there are a number of outrageous attractions at the casino. A popular feature is the aquarium located behind the Front Desk. This 20,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is home to angelfish, puffer fish, tangs, sharks and other exotic sea creatures.

    Address: 3400 S. Las Vegas Boulevard
    Opening time: Daily 24 hours.
    Website: www.mirage.com
    Mirage Hotel Mirage Hotel Jim G
    The Luxor

    The Luxor Hotel, themed on ancient Egypt, is one of the most prominent sights on the Las Vegas Strip. It is a massive black-glass pyramid containing 36 floors of hotel rooms. Shining through it into the night sky is one of the world's most powerful light beams, which they claim can be seen by planes circling Los Angeles. The ground floor of the hotel is given over to a massive casino, which stands beneath a recreation of King Tut's Tomb. Other than gambling, entertainment at the hotel includes an IMAX theatre, gyms, swimming pools, and exhilarating shows by comedians, dancers and singers. The Luxor is a Vegas landmark and one of the most popular casinos and hotels in the city.

    Address: 3900 South Las Vegas Boulevard
    Opening time: Daily 24 hours.
    Website: www.luxor.com
    The Luxor The Luxor Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
    MGM Grand

    One of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1993 with more than 5,000 rooms. The complex also houses about 19 restaurants, many shops and nightclubs, a convention centre, and a spa. The MGM Grand's most famous attraction was, for many years, the glass-sided lion habitat; however, the casino closed this in early 2012 as part of an extensive renovation. Today, the MGM Grand is home to the Cirque du Soleil and many other exciting entertainment options. An iconic Vegas landmark, the MGM has been thrilling and entertaining visitors for many years.

    Address: 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    MGM Grand MGM Grand Nadavspi
    Mandalay Bay

    The 44-storey Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is among the largest on the Las Vegas Strip with more than 3,000 hotel rooms and a 135,000 square foot (12,500 sq m) casino. The tropical-themed resort has a number of popular family attractions, including the Shark Reef saltwater aquarium and large-scale stage shows ranging from Broadway musicals to Cirque du Soleil productions. The most popular attraction at Mandalay Bay however, is Mandalay Beach, an 11-acre pool area featuring three heated pools, a wave pool, lazy river, and children's pool. Voted Best Pool of Las Vegas many times by Las Vegas Review Journal readers, Mandalay Beach has its own bar and restaurants.

    Address: 3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Mandalay Bay Mandalay Bay Erin Khoo
    Imperial Palace Auto Collection

    With more than 250 classic antique cars on display, the Imperial Palace Auto Collection is an absolute must for car enthusiasts. It is actually part of a larger collection and cars are rotated in and out of the showroom on a regular basis. All cars are available for purchase, and once a car is sold it is replaced by another. Exhibited are rare models, race cars, muscle cars, touring roadsters, and dozens of vehicles once owned by the rich and famous. Claiming to be the one of the largest as well as the best collection of classic cars in the world, this vast showroom is heaven for petrol-heads and a very popular tourist attraction in Vegas.

    Address: Imperial Palace Casino, 3535 South Las Vegas Boulevard
    Opening time: Monday to Saturday 10am - 5pm. Closed Sundays.
    Imperial Palace Auto Collection Imperial Palace Auto Collection Tom Ipri
    Fremont Street Experience

    The downtown area of Las Vegas is where it all began and the Fremont Street Experience aims to celebrate this heritage. The street is also known as 'Glitter Gulch' for the bright neon signs and thousands of flashing lights that line the streets - this is where you'll find Vegas Vic and Sassy Sal, two of the nation's best-known neon icons. Some of the city's most famous vintage casinos are found here, including the Golden Nugget and the Gold Spike, as are most of its strip clubs and stage shows. Most entertainment is on, or close by the Freemont Street Experience Mall. The Fremont Street Experience encompasses the iconic Vegas experience, giving people exactly what they expect when they think of the glitzy casino city.

    Address: 425 Fremont Street, Downtown Las Vegas
    Opening time: Open 24 hours 7 days a week.
    Fremont Street Fremont Street Michael Pead
    Adventuredome

    The glass-encased theme park of Adventuredome is the perfect attraction for thrill-seeking kids on holiday in Las Vegas. Its loop roller-coaster and other gut-wrenching rides are not to be missed. If this adrenalin rush is a bit too extreme, there are also shows by magicians and jugglers on offer, as well as plenty of treats like ice-cream, popcorn, and candy. There are also rides and activities designed for younger kids who may not be old enough to ride the main attractions. The fact that the theme park is indoors is an extra bonus, protecting visitors from the sometimes inhospitable Nevada climate.

    Address: Circus Circus Hotel, 2880 South Las Vegas Boulevard
    Opening time: Generally 10am - 6pm. Opening times vary according to season and day of the week and it is best to check the calendar on the website to avoid disappointment.
    Canyon Blaster, Adventuredome Canyon Blaster, Adventuredome Nast89
    Buffalo Bills

    The Buffalo Bill's amusement park is an excellent holiday attraction for children, offering everything from earth-plunging rides that defy gravity or end with a huge splash, to log rides on a fantasy lake. Kids will also love the Frog Hopper, bouncing around the park on the back of Buffalo Bill's life-like amphibian. Buffalo Bill's Resort & Casino is a great choice of travel base in Las Vegas for families travelling with children as the resort caters equally to adults and kids, and is known for its high-energy live shows as well as its amusement park and gambling facilities. Youngsters will be kept happy and busy as adults explore the more grown-up attractions of the resort.

    Address: 31900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Opening time: Opening times vary. Check out the availability of different attractions on the official website.
    Buffalo Bill's Resort Buffalo Bill's Resort Shawn Jipp
    Grand Canyon Helicopter and Ranch Adventure

    Kids will revel in the exciting experience of flying through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter and landing at the Grand Canyon Western Ranch. Once at the ranch, children are thoroughly enthralled by horse-drawn wagon rides and the cowboys putting on a show. The western-style meal served at the ranch also goes down a treat. This family-friendly excursion across the border to Arizona is a great break from the casinos and resorts of Las Vegas itself, giving visitors the chance to experience some of the natural splendour of the region and partake in the pioneer and cowboy culture so well-loved in the US.

    Address: 3750 E. Diamond Bar Ranch Rd, Meadview, Arizona
    Modern Cowboys Modern Cowboys Pschemp
    Treasure Island

    No longer the family-friendly pirate hangout it once was, Treasure Island has revamped itself as an adult-oriented contemporary resort. The free Sirens of TI show is a special effects-laden production that is a must-see on the Las Vegas Strip, with music, explosions and beautiful women. Treasure Island is also home to a Cirque du Soleil show, and offers a number of restaurants and nightclubs. Famous comedians and musicians regularly perform at the resort. Although not a family resort, Treasure Island is an exciting adult destination in Vegas and one of the city's enduring favourites.

    Address: 3300 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Treasure Island Treasure Island Kris Ziel
    Dig This

    Dig This is a wildly popular attraction in Las Vegas that allows you to operate enormous vehicles like bulldozers and excavators under the supervision of trained instructors. While the price tag is high, the experience is unforgettable as you team up with other participants to complete tasks. You must be at least 14 to operate the machines. Dig This has been voted the number one Las Vegas attraction on tourist review sites like Tripadvisor. People of all ages get super excited by the chance to experience the power of massive machinery.

    Address: 3012 South Rancho Drive
    Opening time: Daily 8am-5pm
    Digger! Digger! Terinea IT Support

    At first Las Vegas may seem brash and sleazy, but this fun and fantasy-filled city is described as the world's largest theme park and massively appeals to kids. The city has been making an effort to attract families and it certainly has much to lure them with. Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, this vibrant holiday destination offers everything from wildlife viewing to theme parks and shopping malls. Naturally there are many places in Vegas that are not suitable for children, but a concerted effort has been made to accommodate families, with family-friendly resorts springing up in and around the city.

    Kids on holiday in Las Vegas will immediately be impressed by the re-created New York and Paris skylines, seen from The Strip, and revel in the adventurous notion of exploring the canals of Venice or the Egyptian pyramids.

    In an attempt to lure gamblers to the casinos to squander all their cash, Las Vegas accommodation and restaurants are surprisingly affordable - a real benefit for families on holiday. The pursuit of pleasure by both parents and children alike is possible year-round; the summers in Las Vegas are extremely hot, but everything is air-conditioned.

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    English Pronounciation

    Located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is hot and dry during summer with mild winters, and plenty of sunshine all year round. In the height of summer, during July and August, the mercury often soars above 100ºF (38ºC). Winters (December to February) are cooler and bring winds and cold nights, with daytime highs of around 60ºF (16ºC) and chilly nights averaging 40ºF (4ºC). What little rain there is usually falls in winter, between January and March. In summer there are sometimes late afternoon thunderstorms that move in from Mexico.

    There was a time when Las Vegas' restaurants were known more for quantity than cuisine. This was due to the legendary casino buffets which offered mountains of food for modest prices on the well-calculated assumption that diners would hit the tables or slots machines to work off their meal, and would stay longer in the casinos if lavishly well fed.

    Today, however, Las Vegas has a large selection of world-class eateries, with Italian trattoria, classic French fine-dining and luxury steakhouses especially well represented. Some of the country's top chefs are now based in Las Vegas and exciting new restaurants open weekly. In addition, Vegas is home to several world-class sommeliers. Eating out has definitely become one of the many entertainment options in Vegas, with restaurants competing for attention and many novelty eateries.

    All this increasing activity and greater competition means that Vegas offers decent value for money compared to other large cities. The net result is that the former capital of the 99-cent shrimp cocktail is now regarded as a global cuisine capital. When it comes to eating at least, the odds are really in your favour. Don't panic though, the enormous buffets are still available!

    Pamplemousse

    Just 500 yards from 'The Strip', Pamplemousse provides a quiet dining oasis reminiscent of a cosy French country inn, with soft orchestral music in the background to accompany the gourmet fare. There is no menu. Instead, waiters knowledgably recite the special of the day, which usually include the renowned Hobo Steak, Norwegian salmon, roast duckling, veal medallions, filet mignon, and spring lamb. The appetisers and desserts are just as mouth-watering, including the famous trademark Basket of Crudités. Reservations are essential. Open daily for dinner. Dress smart casual, no jackets required, but appreciated.

    Address: 400 East Sahara Avenue
    Golden Steer Steakhouse

    The Steer, about a mile from 'The Strip', is the oldest steak house in Las Vegas. Being in business in the same spot since 1958, and still a favourite with thousands of loyal diners. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley frequented the Steer to enjoy the large and perfectly grilled traditional steaks, especially the Diamond Jim cut of prime rib. Fish, chicken, and some Italian dishes are on offer too, and a selection of interesting appetisers, particularly the seafood stuffed mushrooms. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, dinner Saturdays, and Sundays.

    Address: 308 W. Sahara Avenue
    Marrakech

    Exotic and exciting dining is offered in a cosy Middle-Eastern tent where diners lounge on cushions on the floor, or on low couches, to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal. Robed waiters explain the six-course fixed-price menus, while belly dancers dance around. The meals are accompanied by homemade Moroccan bread. Be sure to try the filet mignon, marinated and grilled in Moroccan spices. Algerian wines are available. Open for dinner nightly. Reservations required.

    Address: 3900 Paradise Road
    Mon Ami Gabi

    Mon Ami Gabi, emulating a Paris brasserie, claims a sidewalk space on the famous Las Vegas Strip with not only an outdoor section, but a glass conservatory and several indoor dining rooms as well. The cuisine on offer is mainly classic French steak frites and fruits de mêr with flavoursome sauces. Their braised pork shank, and the steak with blue cheese sauce, are sublime. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Address: 3655 S. Las Vegas Boulevard
    Chicago Joes

    Italian restaurants abound in Las Vegas, both on and off The Strip. But for really good home-cooked food and excellent value, the unimposing brick building housing Chicago Joe's, in the residential downtown area, is a sure bet. The pasta sauces are renowned among locals, all recipes handed down by the owner's family through generations. Try the pasta with eggplant (aubergine/brinjal) or white clam sauce, or perhaps the Lobster Joe. Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Friday; Saturday dinner only.

    Address: 820 South 4th Street
    Gonzalez y Gonzalez

    With just about as much Mexican flair and spice that can be conjured up, Gonzalez y Gonzalez is the perfect place to knock back a few margaritas, dive into a plate of tacos, tamales, or quesadillas and enjoy the Mexican energy in the outdoor dining courtyard decked with lanterns and piñatas. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.

    Address: New York-New York Hotel and Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Wicked Spoon Buffet

    Amid the sea of $5 lobster that is buffet dining in Las Vegas, Wicked Spoon Buffet comes out tops. The restaurant serves a huge selection of dishes ranging from pizza and tacos to sushi and pad thai, all portioned out in attractive single-serving dishes rather than scooped from serving bowls. Make sure to save some room for dessert, which is highlighted by a fully-staffed gelato bar.

    Address: 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Roy’s

    It's well worth leaving the Strip for dinner at Roy's, considered the best seafood restaurant in Las Vegas. The menu is Hawaiian fusion, with mouth-watering options like Crunchy Golden Lobster Potstickers and Boursin Cheese-Stuffed Chicken. There are a few sushi choices, and Roy's even has special vegetarian and gluten-free menus.

    Address: 620 East Flamingo Road
    Le Cirque

    Le Cirque, which is located in the luxurious Bellagio Hotel and winner of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond rating, is decked in vivid orange, reds and pinks with elaborate and colourful artworks, conjuring a unique and accurate feel of what it must be like to dine under a big top. Boasting a world-class wine list of more than 900 international selections highlighting wines from France's best wine regions, you can be sure the food is just as mouth-watering. Try the Coeur de Filet de Boeuf served with sautéed foie-gras, smoked serrano potato Croquette and sweet onion compote, while those with a sweet tooth will love the classic Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulée. Open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner only. Bookings essential.

    Address: Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
    Mr Luckys

    If there's one place in Vegas you're going to find a Rock 'n Roll themed restaurant, it'll be in the Hard Rock Hotel. Diners can enjoy a good, old-fashioned American hamburger while gazing at the restaurant's 50s and 60s rock memorabilia. A good place to grab a greasy bite to eat, like the Sirloin Burger, after a long night at the slots or tables. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Address: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 4455 Paradise Road
    Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
    Location: McCarran airport is located five miles (8km) south of the Las Vegas Strip.
    Time: GMT -8 (GMT -7 from March to November).
    Transfer Between Terminals: Terminals 1 and 3 are connected by free shuttle buses.
    Getting to the city: There are regular buses going to and from the airport, downtown Las Vegas and The Strip, dropping off at most hotels; buses 108 and 109 connect to the Downtown Transportation Center and the South Strip Transfer Terminal. Shuttle services are available on the west side of the baggage claim area of Terminal 1, outside exits 7-13.
    Car Rental: Car hire companies represented at the airport include Avis, Budget, Dollar, National, Enterprise, Advantage, Thrifty, Payless, Rent-a-Car, Alamo, and Hertz. Rental agencies provide free transportation between their parking lots and the terminal buildings.
    Airport Taxis: There are taxis available outside Arrivals at Las Vegas McCarran Airport, on the east side of baggage claim outside door exits 1-4. The meter starts at $2 when departing the airport. Taxis do not generally accept credit cards.
    Fascilities: Las Vegas airport has a number of shops, bars and restaurants, and of course lots of slot machines. There are ATMs, a full-service bank, and currency exchange facilities in Arrivals and Departures. There is also a children's play area, shoe-shiners and information booths.
    Parking Short-term parking at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport starts at $2 per hour for the first three hours, then increases to $3 per hour up to a daily limit of $36. Long-term parking is $3 for the first hour and $1 per hour thereafter up to $16 per day. A free shuttle bus links the remote car park with the terminals.

    Useful Contacts:

    City of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival

    The annual Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival takes place at the Clark County Government Amphitheater, where festivalgoers can enjoy getting out into the Nevada heat to listen to some good old rhythm and blues.

    Those looking for a good time should pack a camping chair, their sun hat, some snacks, and refreshments, and head on down to see live acts such as Will Downing, Euge Groove, Karen Briggs' Soulchestra, and Fattburger. Craft and food stalls are also available. For a full programme and more details, check out the official website listed below.

    Venue: Clark county Government Amphitheater.
    Bauhaus Walstein Saxaphone Bauhaus Walstein Saxaphone Tom Oates
    Rock n Roll Las Vegas Marathon

    The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon takes place along the Strip where runners can enjoy the sights and sounds of Sin City, and spectators get into the swing of things with live entertainment, including music, cheerleaders, and Vegas-inspired fanfare.

    Runners and spectators alike can expect a high-energy run and afterparty which channels the wild spirit of Vegas. The half marathon has a wave start, allowing runners plenty of elbow room to enjoy the run and the sideline entertainment along the way.

    For more details check out the official website listed below.

    Venue: Start and finish at Mandalay Bay resort and Casino
    Rock n Roll Marathon Rock n Roll Marathon Travis Wise
    National Finals Rodeo

    Referred to as the 'Superbowl of Rodeos', cowboys and cowgirls from across America and Canada prepare all year in the hope of being one of the top 15 to qualify for the NFR and to compete for prize money. Events include bull riding, calf roping, team roping, saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, and barrel racing.

    There is no better place to experience the still resilient cowboy culture of the US. The competition includes food stalls and funfair attractions and should be fun for the whole family. Check out the official website listed below for more details.

    Venue: Thomas & Mack Center
    National Finals Rodeo National Finals Rodeo Cpl. Matt Millham
    Burning Man

    The Festival of the Burning Man is one of the most unique festivals in the world. Drawing crowds of more than 20,000 each year from all over the world, the celebration is of art, creativity, and humanity. Unlike most other festivals in the world, this one has no commerce, no shops, no rock stars, no rollercoasters. It is simply a gathering, albeit a very large one. The Black Rock Desert, two or three hours north of Reno is the setting. The serenity of the area allows festival goers to feel uninhibited. The emphasis is on community and people helping one another. On the last day, the bonfire of the Burning Man takes place, setting the skies alight in fire while the community dances around. Due to the non-commercial nature of the festival, those attending are advised to bring everything they might need with them. Check the official website for details.

    Venue: Black Rock Desert
    The Burning Man The Burning Man Aaron Logan

    There's a reason they say 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas'. With bars, clubs, strip clubs, casinos, and world-class international shows running for years at a time, it's little wonder that Las Vegas has earned itself fame, and often infamy, as one of the world's party capitals.

    The world-famous Strip can be bland and dingy-looking during the day, but the minute the sun sets this desert oasis springs to life. The real problem when heading out for a night on The Strip is choosing where to begin.

    There are always headline comedy or music acts and large-scale Broadway productions on show, all of which can be seen at the main hotels throughout town. World-famous magicians like David Copperfield and Criss Angel, singers like Celine Dion, Bette Midler and Cher, and renowned acts like the Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group all call Las Vegas home.

    Hotels in Las Vegas offering great entertainment include the Bellagio, the Venetian, Caesar's Palace, Mandalay Bay, Treasure Island, and the MGM Grand. Las Vegas casinos are also the best place to go for nightclubs and bars, with famous clubs throwing celebrity-hosted parties nearly every weekend.

    Las Vegas is one of the mall shopping capitals of the world. There are more than 20 mega malls, each uniquely themed and each offering prices that retailers in other cities struggle to compete with.

    Town Square Las Vegas's stores are mostly outside so you can enjoy a pedestrian friendly village atmosphere while exploring a comprehensive range of stores. Town Square also offers an eclectic range of restaurants, a newly built day-spa, and a wonderful interactive children's park.

    Caesars Palace is home to the hugely popular Forum Shops, with more than 700,000 square feet (220,000 sq/m) of retail space. The Fashion Show Mall at 3200 Las Vegas Boulevard is worth a visit for its incredible bargains. The recently revamped Boulevard Mall, offering more than 170 stores, is also a good option.

    If you like your mall shopping with a healthy dose of kitsch then don't miss The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. This indoor shopping area is built as an authentic reproduction of Venice's Grand Canal complete with gondolas and a replica of Piazza San Marco as the extravagant centre piece.

    The Strip is known for designer boutiques and haute couture, and all the big names are represented here. Away from The Strip and the opulent malls you can find more individual stores selling Las Vegas collectibles such as old gambling chips, esoteric books, and kooky clothing. Two markets that are really worth visiting are Broadacres Swap Meet and the Fantastic Indoor Swapmeet.

    Sales tax is built into the price of goods. Because states set their own sales tax the US government has no system for refunding you as a non-US visitor.

    Most visits to Las Vegas are confined to the Strip and downtown, so it is not necessary to hire a car as both are easily navigable by foot and there are several forms of transport that can be used. Local buses run the length of the Strip and into downtown and operate 24 hours a day with a flat fare including transfers. The old-fashioned Las Vegas Strip Trolley also runs the length of the Strip from 8.30am to midnight, and the Downtown Trolley circles between the Stratosphere and downtown at the same time. A state-of-the-art monorail runs above the streets, operating (depending on the day) from 7am to 3am between the Sahara Hotel and the MGM Grand. Taxis are plentiful and can be found lined up outside every hotel and casino and at taxi stands. Cars are the most practical way to explore outside Las Vegas, although there are bus tours offered to Hoover Dam.

    When you visit Las Vegas you quickly realise that the city itself is the biggest attraction. You can simply walk The Strip and bask in the fluorescent lights, traffic hooting, pinging slot machines, and absorb the incredible energy of this improbably fascinating city in the desert. A century ago there was nothing much here, but since then Las Vegas has bloomed into one of the world's fastest growing cities.

    The key sites are naturally the extravagant casinos that line The Strip, all competing to attract passers-by with lavish displays and performances. Check out the MGM-themed Mirage, the Egyptian fantasy of the Luxor, and the opulence of the Bellagio. Most people come to Vegas to gamble and party or perhaps to get married in one of the famous chapels, but the city is also an entertainment hub, offering theme parks, incredible swimming pools, giant shopping malls, and much more, which will easily occupy the whole family. Music fans should head for the Liberace museum and the many grand shows, while automobile nuts won't want to miss the world-class Imperial Palace Automobile Collection.

    If exploring on foot, do so at night when the lights make their biggest impact and the temperature is cooler. During the day make the most of the city buses which run the length of The Strip.

    Valley of Fire State Park

    The Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada's oldest park, and is so named because of its red sandstone formations which look like they're on fire when the sun reflects off them. The rocks were shaped over 150-milllion years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the area. Apart from the rugged beauty of the surrounding Mojave Desert, the main attractions in the park are the well preserved petroglyphs that adorn many of the red sandstone structures, left there by the ancient Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi. This rock art dates variously from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Visitors should head to Atlatl Rock for some of the finest examples of ancient Indian rock art or petroglyphs, including a depiction of the atlatl, which was a notched stick used to propel spears, a predecessor to the bow and arrow. Other activities here include hiking, camping, and picnicking.

    Address: 29450 Valley of Fire Highway
    Opening time: Daily 6.30am-7pm
    Petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire State
Park Petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire State Park MrSilva
    The Grand Canyon

    A mile deep, 277 miles (446km) long and up to 18 miles (29km) wide, the breath-taking grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive that words simply cannot do it justice. One of the great natural wonders of the world, it was formed by the cutting action of the Colorado River over millions of years, the harder rock formations remaining as great cliffs, pinnacles and buttes, and the different layers of rock possessing colours that range from purple, fiery red and pastel pink, to yellow, brown, grey and soft tones of blue.

    Whether by foot or on horseback, from a plane or helicopter, aboard a raft down the mighty Colorado River or by merely gazing in awe from the rim, the canyon's seemingly infinite depths can be experienced in a variety of ways. The park receives hordes of visitors from around the world, who cannot fail to be transfixed by the sculpted rock shapes, the shifting colours that change with the light and a tiny glimpse of the Colorado River far below.

    The Grand Canyon National Park comprises two separate areas, the South Rim and the more remote North Rim. Separated by the 10-mile (16km) width of the canyon, it is a 215-mile (346km) drive from one visitor centre to the other and the South Rim, being the most accessible with more facilities, sees about 90 percent of the park visitors. The North Rim is higher in elevation and wetter, with thicker surrounding forests; it is farther to get to and is usually closed due to snow between mid-October and mid-May, but many people prefer the comparative peacefulness of its less crowded lookouts.

    At both rims there are several drives and walkways along the edge with numerous lookout points for views from different angles, as well as a few hikes down into the canyon where one can overnight at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. The impact of millions of visitors a year to the South Rim, especially during the busy summer months, has a negative influence on the park, with overcrowding and traffic congestion common. Despite the hoards it is a memorable experience to have visited one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world.

    Transport: It is possible to explore the Grand Canyon in one day from Las Vegas, but ideally travellers should stay overnight unless flying there.
    Opening time: South Rim is open 24 hours daily, all year round. The Information Plaza is generally open 8am-5pm. The North Rim is open from mid-May to mid-October 8am-6pm.
    Grand Canyon Grand Canyon Judith Duk
    Hoover Dam

    Stretching 1,247 feet (380m) across the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam holds back the waters of Lake Mead and is a fine example of the engineering of its time. One of the world's most famous dams, the Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression in the 1930s - one of many vast public works projects commissioned by the US government to get people back to work. The dam employed thousands of men from all over the country, and its hydroelectric power generator continues to supply Nevada and its neighbouring states with electricity. Engineering feats aside, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is popular with water sports enthusiasts as well as those just after a bit of sun and relaxation.

    Transport: The Hoover Dam is an hours drive from Las Vegas. Coach tours can be arranged through most hotels and tour operators.
    Opening time: Open daily 9am-5pm
    Hoover Dam Hoover Dam Raquel Baranow
    Red Rock Canyon

    Red Rock Canyon is a dramatic valley 10 miles (16km) west of Las Vegas, and is a good excursion to escape the neon lights of the slot machines. Its defining feature is the steep Red Rock escarpment, which rises 3,000 feet (914m) on its western edge. Today, the dramatic landscape is peppered with cacti and Joshua trees and is a good spot for walking, rock climbing, cycling, or simply a scenic drive. The Mojave Desert is not as barren as you might think; it teems with rare life and beauty - waterfalls cascade into the canyons and high above red tailed hawks search for their next meal. For a taste of Nevada's natural beauty there is no better place to explore.

    Address: State Highway 159
    Transport: The park has a 13-mile (21km) scenic drive. Coach tours can be organised through most hotels.
    Calico Basin, Red Rock Calico Basin, Red Rock Fred Morledge
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