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Fabulous Las Vegas

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Fabulous Las Vegas
The new Las Vegas is about more than casinos and nightclubs. These days, a weekend in Sin City means seeing a renowned show, visiting an interactive museum, and drinking at least one classic cocktail.

By Abby Tegnelia, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Abby Tegnelia
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    The Biggest Concerts in Vegas
    Venues such as T-Mobile Arena, MGM Grand Garden Arena, and Mandalay Events Center have made Las Vegas a hot spot for concerts. Shows range from the Zac Brown Band to televised blowouts like the iHeartRadio Music Festival. Then there’s the mother of all concert halls, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, where Celine Dion and Elton John do frequent performances as resident artists. Pop diva Britney Spears currently takes top billing at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino's Axis Theater for her show Britney: Piece of Me. Huge music festivals are also held in Vegas, such as Electric Daisy Carnival, Life Is Beautiful, and Route 91 Harvest.
    Photo by Abby Tegnelia
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    Desert Thrills
    Think the Strip has all the action? Some of the most adrenaline-pumping adventures are actually based in the nearby desert. Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon provides more than a mile's worth of zip lines to fly down. If you're looking for something more extreme, join an off-road tour with VORE (Vegas Off-Road Experience) and ride in a high-flying vehicle from the Mint 400 (made famous in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). You can also compete with your friends at Vegas Mini Baja Chase. Not fast enough? Exotics Racing and Dream Racing offer a chance to drive real race cars. And once you’ve built up maximum courage, book Sky Combat Ace, which lets wannabe pilots attempt daredevil stunts in the sky. The desert is the site of other kinds of thrills, too. A hike or bike ride along the River Mountains Loop Trail or one of the paths that crisscross Springs Preserve can help you appreciate the stark beauty of this region.
    Photo by Abby Tegnelia
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    Art and History in Vegas
    This city holds a lot of stories, some of which stretch back to prehistoric age and some of which are being created by artists and makers active today. For a dive into the long history of the region, check out the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, a hotbed of dinosaur fossils. On the human side of history, learn about the love-hate relationship between the city and the country’s most notorious outlaws at the interactive Mob Museum. At one of Sin City's most popular attractions, the Neon Museum, retired advertising signs of all shapes and in many vivid colors are immortalized. Along the Strip, art can be found in the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, and in the public collections of both the Aria and the Cosmopolitan. For a real treat, head south of town to experience Seven Magic Mountains, a desert installation of totems built from rainbow-colored boulders.
    Photo by Kirsten Alana
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    The Best Places to Drink and Lounge
    Modern Vegas is seeing a huge influx of bars and lounges—especially ones serving craft cocktails. The Cosmopolitan Hotel houses the Chandelier bar, which offers a different beverage list on each of its three floors, as well as two more bars, Vesper and Bond, which specialize in old-fashioned cocktails. The divey Velveteen Rabbit offers libations made with seasonal ingredients. And check out Downtown Cocktail Lounge, where knowledgeable bartenders teach patrons the secrets of their favorite concoctions. In-the-know locals head to Frankie's Tiki Room or Atomic Liquors for both history and stiff drinks.
    Photo by Thomas Stankiewicz/age fotostock
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    Curtain Call
    Vegas raises the curtain on acts for every taste. Start with a behemoth Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip; first-timers won't be disappointed by O, The Beatles LOVE, or Michael Jackson ONE—which includes all the MJ hits, along with a dancing Michael hologram that will make your heart stop. Absinthe, which is performed in a tent in front of Caesars Palace, wins points for both creativity and raunchiness. For an all-male revue, check out Thunder from Down Under, at Excalibur, or Magic Mike Live, at the Hard Rock. Downtown has a lot going on, too, from old-school acts to the packed lineup at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
    Photo courtesy of Tomas Muscionico/Cirque du Soleil
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    Viva Las Vegas
    Thanks to world-famous DJs such as Kaskade, Tiësto, and Calvin Harris, as well as constant media coverage of Vegas-loving celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, the city's nightclubs are among the best in the world. Excellence doesn't come easy, though. The cost of a table near the dance floor can run upwards of $10,000 at hot spots, and Vegas’s door strategy is unique: Since so many customers come from out of town and don’t know the people at the door, everyone stands in line and pays the price. Arrive by 10 p.m. on big nights, and aim for a three-to-one female-to-male ratio for your party, even if boosting your numbers means buying drinks or paying the cover for new friends made at the bar.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Sinfully Good Spas
    If you're a Vegas visitor in need of rejuvenation, enter the spa. Even the more moderately priced casinos offer the very best in massages, facials, and body treatments. The Hard Rock Hotel's Reliquary Spa boasts an acupuncture-inspired massage and coed Roman bathhouse; Caesars Palace's Qua features a snow room, Roman baths, and Nobu Hotel signature treatments; and the opulent Encore Spa at the Wynn comes complete with gold Buddha statues and garden villas. Book an appointment, show up early to take advantage of the spa facilities, get comfy in your robe, and relax in the hands of your therapist.
    Photo courtesy of Caesars Palace
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    Sightseeing on the Strip
    For a Vegas first-timer, exploring the casinos—from the whimsical Wynn to themed wonderlands like the Venetian and the Paris—may take a few days. Everyone's Las Vegas bucket list should include watching the fountain show at Bellagio. The fountains start up at 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, noon on Saturdays and holidays, and at 11 a.m. on Sundays; head to the Hyde lounge for a cocktail and a front-row seat. Another must-see spectacle is the volcano eruption at the Mirage. Animal lovers will want to make time for Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage and Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium. And don’t forget the most famous landmark of all: the WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS sign.
    Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International
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    Test Your Luck
    Much of the can-do spirit in Las Vegas is rooted in its history as a gambling mecca—a win means a person could reinvent themselves, right? The town is full of people hoping for a break: Slots devotees know their machines (and exactly where in each hotel they are located), while card-table fans go from casino to casino based on the bet minimums. Crowds around the tables grow as visitors pour out of nightclubs, and depending on how the liquor is flowing and the luck is running, the games can get boisterous. Most dealers are as friendly as you are, and are willing to help new players learn. If you're a complete newbie it's best to pick a game that moves slowly, and where your actions won't affect other players—think pai gow rather than blackjack.
    Photo by John Greim/age fotostock