When asked to imagine what it would be like to visit Las Vegas, one of the first things most people picture first are the huge, glamorous casinos. And with good reason!
There are an awful lot of casinos in Las Vegas. All of the major hotels are also casinos, the largest pool complexes are attached to casinos, the big name shows are all found at casinos – conference centres, night clubs, restaurants, aquariums and shopping malls… They’re all carefully and deliberately located in such a way that it’s easiest to access them by passing through a casino floor.
It’s like being forced through an airport duty free area to reach a departure lounge or the circuitous route you have to forge through popular Swedish flat-pack furniture stores. It’s just how they ensure maximum exposure to what they’re offering – like an extended advert, but with the added promise of instant gratification if you choose to engage.
So what if you’d rather avoid engaging at all? Or what if you’ve just had enough of the casino floor after a couple of days? Well, the good news is that Las Vegas does have plenty more to offer beyond its mega hotel-casinos, especially if you extend your horizons beyond the Strip to other parts of the city or the beautiful county that surrounds it.
Downtown Las Vegas is just a few minutes taxi-ride from the Strip. Much of old Vegas has been redeveloped in recent years, breathing new life into this part of the city. This is most obvious in and around the Fremont Street Experience, a massive open air mall space with three stages for live performances and an illuminated “barrel-vaulted canopy” that stretches of 500 metres and displays intricate light and music shows all night long. You can also ride the Slotzilla zipline through the entire length of the concourse at speeds of up to 40 mph!
Other Fremont Street highlights include the Container Park with its giant slides and The Dome, an amazing 360 degree cinema and virtual concert venue. You might have already heard of the Heart Attack Grill, where all visitors are weighed on entry and anyone over 300lbs eats for free… Well that famous jumbo burger diner can be found on Fremont Street too! Walk off your meal afterwards with a stroll down Fremont East, a street with 18 bronze plaques embedded in the “sidewalk”, each one imprinted with a snapshot of the city’s “history” (just be aware that some artistic license has been taken in exaggerating the roles of certain individuals and institutions in this portrayal of the rise of Vegas).
If you’ve headed into this part of town you might be interested to know that the realty TV show Pawn Stars is filmed at the nearby “World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop”.
Now, Las Vegas is famous for its desert surroundings, which are perfect for off-road expeditions. Dune buggy rentals are an amazing way to race across a wide open, arid landscape that Hollywood would have us believe is littered with the corpses of unfortunate mobsters… Quad bikes on the other hand are great for traversing some of the more rocky, mountainous terrain you’ll find in the area.
Left feeling dried out from all that sand? Make your way to Lake Mead, about 35 minutes’ drive from the city centre. As well as watersports centres with kayaks and jet skis, there are boat tours of the lake, which is actually the enormous reservoir created by the construction of the Hoover Dam, which you’ll also find nearby. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even sign on to white water rafting tours down the Colorado river, which as we all know, eventually traverses down through the Grand Canyon.
Hit the road for a further hour and a half to reach the breathtaking Grand Canyon Skywalk – a large glass walkway that extends out over the canyon’s edge giving walkers a direct view of the vertical drop of more than 200 metres directly below their feet. Commissioned and owned by the people of the Hualapai Tribe, it offers truly awe-inspiring views that’ll leave you feeling a little more spiritual.
If all that road travel time isn’t for you, there are a host of helicopter tour companies that offer trips to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. You can also fly over the city after dark to see its famous lights from the air. And if you catch the bug for flying, then maybe you’d want to take a look at Sky Combat Aces, an aerobatic sports plane experience that allows you to take the stick and even compete in Top Gun style combat routines!
Speaking of guns… What could be more American than a trip to the gun show? Visit one of Vegas’ many gun clubs or ranges that specialise in giving visitors from abroad their first hands-on encounter with firearms and get blown away by the choice of weaponry including hand guns, pump-action shotguns and semi-automatic weapons. Battlefield Vegas might take the biscuit though with its 4,000 rpm mini-gun experience and the opportunity to crush a car with a real-life tank weighing 55-tons!
When’s the last time you saw that in a casino? Las Vegas is clearly much more than a gambling den in the desert – it’s an entertainment hub for anyone and everyone even if you’re determined to never set foot on a casino floor.