The NME guide to Las Vegas

Believe it or not, there’s more to do in Las Vegas than win or lose big in the casinos, or hit up clubs and dance to EDM all night. There’s also a ton of culture, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, incredible food, and more to discover. Vegas might be known as Sin City for its hedonistic reputation but the biggest offence you could commit is not digging a little bit deeper and getting to know another side to the city. Here are our tips for what to do, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and more.

Things to do

The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil

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All you need is love.

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Most of the time, the only way you can experience The Beatles’ music is by going to watch a tribute band, or, if you’re fast enough to beat the internet crowds, by grabbing tickets to see Paul or Ringo. Vegas has an experience that’s almost as awe-inspiring as the latter – Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed show. There, you’ll find performers dressed in mop top wigs, Sgt. Pepper uniforms, and ’60s garb flying around the room on trapezes, pulling off mind-flipping acrobatics and more, all while some of the Fab Four’s best songs soundtrack the whole thing. Your jaw will be on the floor the entire time.

Grand Canyon helicopter flight

What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, but that doesn’t mean you have to be there the whole time. Book a helicopter to the Grand Canyon, just over the state line in Arizona, and marvel at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. If you fly with Sundance Helicopters, as we did, you’ll get some pre-recorded narration played through your headset, a friendly pilot to answer any questions and share facts along the way, and some music to soundtrack the bits in between. We regret to inform you this includes Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2, but you might find yourself tearing up to them as you fly over one of the best sights you’ll ever see (not that we did. Not at all). Once you get to the canyon, you’ll land on a bluff in the Hualapai reservation, be able to take all the stunning pics you want, and have a little snack and glass of champagne as you take in the views.

Shark Reef Aquarium

If you’re feeling a little worse for wear, head over to Mandalay Bay’s aquarium, where you can recover watching all kinds of fish, reptiles, and – yes – sharks. It’s wholesome enough to rebalance your equilibrium after days of indulging in the great food and drink on offer in the city, and very soothing to stand and watch sharks swimming over you in a glass tunnel or stroke a ray in the petting pool.

Neon Museum

What happens to all of Vegas’ big, flashy, neon signs once they’re replaced or fall into disrepair? Some of them end up in a sandy, outdoor area, where they sit as a tribute to the city’s hotels, casinos, bars, and more over the years. You can visit day or night, but we’d recommend taking a tour after sunset so you can really get the full effect of the dazzling lights. Once you’re done with the tour, head across the street for the museum’s new ‘Brilliant’ exhibit, where you’ll find even more beautiful signs brought to life via a projection mapping extravaganza.

Seven Magic Mountains

Pockets feeling a bit empty after indulging in all Vegas has to offer? Head out into the desert and check out the Seven Magic Mountains art installation. You’ll have to pay for an Uber out there but, when you get there, it’s totally free. Created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, the installation features seven lots of brightly coloured boulders, with the rocks stacked one on top of the other to form eye-catching towers in the middle of the Ivanpah Valley. Surrounded by Joshua trees and with dusty mountains in the distance, they make for a stunning burst of colour and a great Instagram moment.

Where to eat

Rose. Rabbit. Lie

At Rose. Rabbit. Lie, entertainment sneaks up on you as you eat. All of a sudden, what looks like a sturdy wall will be lifted, revealing a band behind it, ready to soundtrack your meal. Sometimes their singer will roam the room and serenade you at your table, which can be a little distracting, but certainly makes for a memorable experience. As for the menu, there’s plenty here to really indulge in, from oysters and caviar, to foie gras and steak. If you can’t choose between it all, opt for the Rose Rabbit Lie Experience, which hands control over to your server, who will deliver you the dishes they think will best suit your tastes.Β 

Block 16

On The Strip and in need of a delicious but affordable lunch? Head to Block 16 in The Cosmopolitan, an urban food hall offering food from five different vendors (a sixth will be added soon) from across America. Head to Pok Pok Wing, originally based in Portland, for chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, Thai curry noodle soup, coconut rice with sweet pork, and more (some vegan alternatives are available). At Nashville’sΒ  Hattie B’s Hot Chicken you’ll find hearty sandwiches and comforting Southern sides like collard greens and pimento mac and cheese, while New Orleans-based District serves up sliders and biscuits, plus heavenly tasting donuts. If you’re famished, one of Lardo’s stuffed sandwiches will sort you out, and Japanese restaurant Tekka Bar lets you watch its friendly chefs make your sushi and handrolls to order from your seat at the counter. Make sure you grab a dish of the yuzukosho and tekka dipping sauces to add some citrusy flavours and spicy heat to your meal.

Hell’s Kitchen by Gordon Ramsey

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You might see the name Gordon Ramsey and think Hell’s Kitchen is just a tacky restaurant on the Strip designed to pull in fans of the TV show of the same name, but you’d be wrong. The food is incredible, from the creamy lobster risotto to the crispy skin salmon, served with a zesty shaved fennel salad. Get the chocolate mousse cake for a rich, tart dessert, while you can’t go wrong with any of the cocktails.

DW Bistro

DW Bistro might not be in the thick of things, located in the southwest of the city, but its mix of Jamaican and Mexican food is well worth spending a little longer in an Uber for (plus, you get the added benefit of watching the desert and mountains loom larger on the drive). Head there for brunch and, as well as feasting on great food like the delicious chilaquiles or variety-filled pastry basket, make the most of some tasty and deceptively strong cocktails. The GT & T is a take on a classic gin and tonic, with added pink ting grapefruit soda, while the Jamaican mojito mixes strawberries and ginger beer with the expected minty flavours.

Send Noodles

Ramen mac and cheese might sound like a trendy food mash-up that people queue for hours to eat but, in reality, it’s a delicious fusion and one of Send Noodles’ (located in the Palms Casino Resort) standout dishes. The restaurant mixes Mandarin, Cantonese, Szechuan, Japanese, Korean, and Thai influences on items like bao buns, braised oxtail, ramen, and pad Thai, while the casual setting and relaxed atmosphere make it a great place to stop off to take a break from Vegas’ more extra attractions.

Spago

Spago, the flagship restaurant from Wolfgang Puck, is distinctive for two reasons – divine dishes and a view of the Bellagio fountain while you eat. The latter is almost enough to distract you from your meal but the likes of the smoked salmon pizza, spicy tuna tartare, prime New York steak, and the silky yukon gold potato puree will put up a strong fight for your attention. Dessert is where things really get heated, though. The spiked lemon is a combination of Japanese yuzu cream, chiffon cake, and citrus mousse that’s light but rich and will make you feel extra fancy thanks to it being decorated with edible flakes of gold leaf.

Primrose

Stepping into Primrose is like stepping into the countryside home of an old relative – cosy, warm, and homely. The food is simple but stunning – we went for breakfast and had our fill of the bakery basket and the fluffy garden omelette, as well as some recharging juice blends. The rest of the menu looks just as tasty, though, from a French onion cheeseburger to king salmon glazed with honey mustard.

Evel Pie

If you’ve ever watched old US sitcoms and felt pangs of jealousy at the cool pizza shops the characters hang out in, you need to head to Evel Pie in downtown Vegas. The walls are lined with Evel Knievel memorabilia, the staff warm and welcoming, and the pizza good enough to stun you into silence while you eat. Grab a side of the garlic deez knots to go with your slice (we’d recommend the Greek-inspired pie), sit back, and hang to your heart’s content. Evel Pie is also home to three other very cool things. One: the best gluten free pizza you will ever eat that feels airy and light, unlike some more cardboard-y pies. Two: a backyard that plays host to local punk bands. Three: a vintage motorcycle ride where you can bring out your own Evel Knievel (look out for owner Corey’s tricks if you need some more inspiration).

Scotch 80 Prime

If you’ve never had someone make ice cream at your table with liquid nitrogen, then you’re missing out. That’s what you get when you order the showstopping banana split at Palms’ Scotch 80 Prime, because there’s no such thing as a dull meal in Vegas. The rest of the menu might not provide as much of a giddy, visual thrill but your tastebuds will be just as satisfied with what’s on offer, right down to the complimentary basket of experimental breads.

Where to drink

Corduroy

There are many reasons why downtown’s Corduroy should be on your must-hit list when in Vegas. Its classy-retro decor gives it a dive bar feel but without the lurking dread that when you visit the bathroom you’ll be faced with a health and safety nightmare. Their Moscow Mules are apparently the best on the west coast – we’ll have to try them all before we can confirm for sure but they are extremely delicious – and they have the cocktail on tap so you don’t have to wait around for ages while it gets made. Some drinks, like Sex On The Beach, come in Capri Sun-esque pouches, which is a fun novelty. The piece de resistance, though, is the photo booth. We’re not talking your usual cram-as-many-friends-into-a-tiny-metal-box booth either. This is a whole (small) room where you can take via a device on the wall and have sent straight to your phone. Its big selling point? The bars of lighting that make for the perfect flattering selfie to rack up those Instagram likes.

Juniper

Situated in the Park MGM, Juniper boasts the largest gin collection in Las Vegas. Whether you opt for something gin-based or not, though, its cocktails are a refreshing treat served in an elegant but casual setting. Try the No Judging for something a little minty, or a Little Birdie for a berry kick. The bartenders are well-versed in all things boozy so don’t be afraid to ask them to concoct something based on your taste. Our request to do just that was rewarded with a vodka-based watermelon shot that was fresh, crisp, and went down without so much as a wince.

Where to stay

Palms Casino Resort

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ART.

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The newly refurbished Palms is more than just a place to rest after a long day and night making the most of all Vegas has to offer. Inside, you’ll find a club (Apex), restaurants (Scotch 80 Prime, Send Noodles, and more), a venue (Pearl, where Blink 182 held their residency), the Vegas-required casino, and a ton of art to brighten up your dining experience, walk to and from your room, or even checking in and out. There’s plenty of Instagrammable pieces, like the hotel’s name in Mylar balloon-style sculptures by Adam Parker Smith, or Olivia Steele’s neon signage at the front desk. There are also art icons aplenty, from the Damien Hirst shark in the bar in the centre of the hotel’s foyer to the Andy Warhol prints dotted around the complex.

More importantly are the rooms. They’re spacious and luxurious, even in the most basic range, while if you’re heading into town for a hen or stag do and fancy splashing some cash, the villa or penthouse will make you feel like a true baller, with your own bar, dressing rooms and, in the villa, even a balcony pool.

Park MGM

If you’re planning a trip to Vegas for Lady Gaga’s residency next year, make things convenient and stay at the Park MGM. It’s home to the Park Theater, where she’ll perform, as well as many other spots that will make it hard to leave your hotel. Restaurants and bars, like Primrose and Juniper, offer plenty of culinary goodies, while the outdoor pool is the perfect place to recover the morning after the night before. The rooms themselves are classy and comfortable, and will make you wish you could live in them, Gossip Girl style.

Where to get pampered

Violet Hour

If you’ve got a big night out planned, let the pros at Violet Hour in The Cosmopolitan work their magic on you and get you looking Vegas ready. Get your hair, make up, nails, or all three done in the relaxing salon, where the friendly staff will design a look to fit your style and give you a day off of trying to get the perfectly even winged eyeliner.

Spa Mandalay

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A wise man once said: Treat yo self.

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After all the partying, exploring, eating, shopping, and everything else, you’ll be in need of a good rest. Don’t wait until you get home – head to Spa Mandalay at Mandalay Bay and indulge in the facilities, from heated whirlpools, a eucalyptus steam room, cold plunge, relaxation lounge and more. Make sure you book in for a massage – we’d recommend the Aroma Bliss And Balance full body treatment, which makes use of aromatherapy oils and will leave you feeling more zen than you ever thought possible.