Explore. Experience. Engage.

Powered by our sister site, Family Vacation Critic

Las Vegas

casino roulette wheel gamble gambling las vegas The Strip is a 4.5-mile, often traffic-clogged stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South (north of Sahara Avenue). Some of the world's largest hotels -- including the Venetian/Palazzo duo -- are on this stretch. Head outside after dark and you'll be treated to a show that includes volcanic eruptions (Mirage), dramatic dancing fountains (Bellagio), an illuminated Eiffel Tower replica in half-scale (Paris) and the sexy Sirens of Treasure Island. Yes, it's tacky. But you won't see anything like it anywhere else.

We suggest that walkers start at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, which is pretty much the center of the action. Head toward the Egyptian-themed Luxor and you'll pass iconic eye-catchers like CityCenter (which includes the Aria Resort & Casino, the breathtaking Cosmopolitan hotel, the Crystals mall and a host of other properties), Caesars, Bellagio, Bally's Paris, New York-New York and the MGM Grand. Put on your walking shoes, as the trek is 1.95 miles. Or head in the opposite direction to the Wynn Las Vegas and its Encore sib, and in just under a mile you'll pass by properties including Harrah's, the Mirage, the Venetian and Treasure Island. Another popular route is from the Wynn Las Vegas to the Bellagio (or the reverse), a distance of just over a mile.

Downtown is home to the Fremont Street Experience, an entertainment area located where the state's first gaming license was issued. In 1995, the seven-block pedestrian mall was revamped with performance stages and a four-block-long, 90-foot LED canopy for sound and light displays. You'll also find a collection of neon signs, courtesy of the Neon Museum, and food and trinket kiosks.

Thrill seekers will find plenty of attractions to get their adrenaline pumping, including the 144-foot Roller Coaster at New York-New York and the Adventuredome indoor theme park at Circus Circus. But literally none top the Stratosphere Tower, which is home to the world's highest thrill rides. Take a trip up the 1,149-foot tower for the view -- it's the tallest building west of the Mississippi -- and spin over the edge on Insanity, dangle over the Strip on the X-Scream or get catapulted upward on the Big Shot. The latest high-falutin' heart-stopper is the SkyJump, an 855-foot controlled freefall over the edge.

For high-speed thrills, head over to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where there are four tracks and always some kind of race going on.

On the more serious side, visit the Atomic Testing Museum to learn about the history of Nevada's atomic test sites and its famous mushroom clouds. You can explore re-creations of the test sites and see and hear first-person accounts about them.

If you've got kids in tow (or if you're a kid at heart), the hands-on Lied Discovery Children's Museum is the perfect place to pilot a spacecraft or stand in a giant bubble.

Animal lovers can get close up and personal with critters at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo and the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay.

Get Hitched
wedding chapel las vegas heartLas Vegas calls itself the marriage capital of the world for good reason: It's an easy place to tie the knot, and lots of people do it here -- a total of about 100,000 happy couples each year. If you want to hear wedding bells of your own, here's what you need to know:

There are no blood tests needed to obtain a marriage license in Las Vegas, and there is no waiting period. Applicants need to be a male and a female at least 18 years old, and not nearer of kin than second cousins or cousins of half blood. If you are divorced or under 18, be prepared for extra paperwork. All of the guidelines are available online.

Both the bride and groom will need to fill out a marriage license application, which can be downloaded and printed in advance. To obtain the license, you will need to provide your social security number and legal proof of identification (government-issued ID or passport). Marriage licenses are issued at the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau (201 East Clark Avenue).

After a license is issued, you must have a ceremony performed in the state of Nevada within a year from the date of issuance. The ceremony can be performed in any wedding chapel (they're everywhere, and many are open 24 hours) or church, or at the Office of Civil Marriages, located at 309 South Third Street. Call 702-671-0577 for an appointment. Wherever the ceremony is performed, you'll need one witness. If you don't have one of your own, chapels often can provide one, while the Office of Civil Marriages won't. But you can always trade witness duties with another couple -- with an average of more than 300 weddings a day, you're sure to run into at least one.

A Very Vegas Christmas

That's Entertainment
If it's magic and humor you like, you can't beat Penn & Teller, who entertain audiences at the Rio Hotel. Other resident headliners around town include Terry Fator (of "America's Got Talent" fame) at the Mirage and impressionist Gordie Brown at the Golden Nugget. Grab an in-room magazine when you arrive to check out a full roster. To save some money, consider an afternoon show (e.g. Bally's "Price Is Right -- Live"), or check out one of the numerous Tix 4 Tonight discount ticket kiosks scattered about town.

For mesmerizing performance art, head to one of the Cirque du Soleil shows playing across town. The latest is "Zarkana" at the Aria. Other Cirque offerings include "Mystere," a dream-like presentation at Treasure Island; "O," performed in and around a 1.5-million gallon pool of water at Bellagio; and "Love," a transporting ode to the Beatles.

The family-friendly Blue Man Group continues to entertain crowds at the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino. Three painted-blue men make music with PVC pipe, create laughs with scrolling LED message boards, and entertain with paint, marshmallows and toilet paper -- all without saying a word. Another New York City transplant attracting crowds is "Jersey Boys" at Paris.

Nothing says "Vegas" more than a tribute show, and the city is teeming with 'em. Top contenders include "The Rat Pack Is Back" (Frank, Sammy, Dino, etc.) downtown at the Rio Hotel and "Legends in Concert" (when you need a little faux Liza in your life) at Harrah's.

Seven Places Not to Take Your Mother

Get Outta Town
If you need a break from the all the excitement, consider a day trip to the Hoover Dam, a 30-mile drive southeast of Las Vegas (many tour companies offer bus trips if you don't have a car). An elevator takes guests 500 feet down into the Black Canyon, where you walk through a tunnel drilled through the rock to view the 650-foot-long Nevada wing of the power plant with its eight enormous generators.

Take a trip back to the Wild West at Bonnie Springs Ranch, about 24 miles west of the Strip. The 115-acre ranch has creaky boarded sidewalks, saloons and a show in which visitors help track down the bad guy. And Red Rock Canyon is on the way to Bonnie Springs; it's a perfect spot to grab some fresh air, take in the scenery or stop for a picnic.

Farther afield but well worth the effort are Death Valley National Park (about 135 miles northwest of Vegas), featuring stunning topography and the lowest point below sea level in North America, and the Grand Canyon (about 300 miles east). Many visitors book helicopter tours of the latter from Vegas, but savvier sorts bank a little time and spend the night to get the most out of a visit.

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add news@independenttraveler.com to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our privacy policy and Terms of Use.