Somewhere between glitz, glamour and over-the-top showmanship, you’ll find the heart of Las Vegas. This neon-studded jewel, set improbably in the middle of a never-ending expanse of empty desert in Nevada, draws in visitors not by the thousands, but by the millions. A staggering 39 million people visit the city each year, and for good reason: This is the kind of place that everyone should see at least once.
Known as “Sin City,” Vegas has a well-earned reputation as an anything-goes, live-it-up party destination. This is an adult playground that never sleeps, and promises that “what happens here stays here.”
Part Wild West, part entertainment mecca, Vegas has long attracted thrill and fortune-seekers, as well as those looking for a respite on their way to somewhere else. But this city isn’t all about vice and transience. There is a wealth of history and culture to be explored here, as well as entertainment that’s fun for the whole family.
Las Vegas was discovered largely by accident. While Native Americans did inhabit the region, the first European to stumble upon the area was a scout named Rafael Rivera in 1829. Rivera noted that the area was surprisingly lush with grass and had a reliable water source. This revelation eventually led to the city’s name, which means “the meadows.”
The discovery was largely forgotten about until 1944, when another sojourner by the name of John C. Fremont happened upon the same spot. He set up camp, and described the location and its two springs in detail in his journals. His writings intrigued others, who came to scope out the area.
In 1855, members of the Mormon Church build a fort on the site to allow for provisions on the way from Salt Lake City, Utah to California. The fort was eventually abandoned, but its remnants can still be seen.
With the discovery of minerals and precious metals in Nevada, the Las Vegas area became more and more popular. Once the railroad connecting Salt Lake City and California was built, Las Vegas’s abundance of water and supplies made it a perfect choice for a railroad town.
Las Vegas was founded as a city in 1905. It remained a somewhat small, industrial city until after World War II, when the population boomed and luxury hotels and casinos began springing up, eventually leading to the Vegas that’s familiar to us today.
From the beginning Las Vegas has been a place for those in transition. It’s been a stopover for those who wanted rest from the desert heat, a quickie divorce or a chance to try their luck at the poker tables. It’s also been a place that’s lured people seeking work, whether it was building the Hoover Dam, mining precious metals or helping to craft defense weapons for World War II. But this is part of its charm and its allure: The bright lights, flashy shows and chance to change your luck takes you out of your real life and into a kind of fantasy, if only for a little while.
Array of Attractions
Featured in numerous movies and TV shows, the Bellagio Fountains are one of Las Vegas’s most iconic attractions. After dark, they put on a performance every 15 minutes, “dancing” in time to music in a dramatic and delightful show of color and light.
Visiting Las Vegas without visiting the Strip is like visiting New York City without seeing Times Square. The Strip is where Vegas gets real: There are colorful characters, intriguing shops, welcoming bars and beckoning lights everywhere you look. And there’s something new to see every time you come. Be prepared to walk as distance stretches between each enormous hotel and casino.
If you’re up for some boisterous and colorful nighttime fun, head to the Fremont Street Experience. This five-block pedestrian mall features a nightly light and sound show that’s a bit chaotic, but worth seeing at least once.
Las Vegas’s museums are exactly what you might expect: eclectic, intriguing and thoroughly “Vegas.” From the Neon Museum, to the Mob Museum, to the Pinball Hall of Fame, there are quirky surprises and fun tidbits that help visitors piece together this unique place. There are also opportunities to learn some fascinating things: Visit the Titanic Museum to learn more about the ship’s doomed maiden voyage, or tour Bodies to get a shocking glimpse at how we are all made.
Vegas is a show lover’s paradise, and there are almost as many different types of shows as there are visitors. From shows featuring powerhouse performers like Elton John and Celine Dion to niche performers like Boyz II Men and Frankie Moreno, there is a show for everyone to see here. Tribute bands to everyone from Prince to the Beatles to Sinatra belt out the classics, while magicians like Mike Hammer and Carrot Top mystify and entertain. Then, of course, there are breathtaking and dramatic shows like Cirque du Soleil and Absinthe, which delight viewers with their powerful acrobatics and artistry.
Lavish Hotels and Casinos
Of course, you would be remiss to visit Vegas and not explore its famed hotels and casinos. Each one has a different theme, and they are all worth seeing, from the cartoonish royal Excalibur, to the opulent Bellagio, to the tropical Treasure Island. Themed entertainment, restaurants and shopping are available at many of the different hotels. See a different show and dine in a different spot every night if you like. It’s your trip, and there’s no wrong way to experience Vegas.
Planning a trip to Vegas? Check out SmartFares for hassle-free travel plans and the best travel rates.