Las Vegas is one of my favorite budget destinations and quick weekend getaway spots. In fact, I really don’t recommend people stay much longer than 48 hours, when the gilded edges of Sin City start to show their wear. That said, it’s well worth visiting over and over again as you can really tailor your trip to any interest, whether it’s spa, or food, or straight-up gambling.
I used to go about 4 times a year, just for an overnight stay or quick In-N-Out stop enroute to either California or Colorado, and I never got bored. That said, as a broke college student, I couldn’t really afford the high-roller lifestyle, so I scoped out all the cheap and free things to do in Las Vegas. Here’s my list of faves, but feel free to add your own in the comments.
- Bellagio Fountain. I don’t care how many times I hear “Time to Say Goodbye” or Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” (better known to Americans as the “beef” song), but I love watching the free fountain and light show every time I’m in town. During the holiday times, they’ll switch out the playlist to jollier tunes like “Sleigh Ride” and “Carol of the Bells.” The fountains run every half hour during the day, and every 15 minutes at night. I always stick around for at least a few at night. Useless trivia: The longest fountain song is Ole Blue Eyes’ “Luck Be a Lady” at 5 minutes and 14 seconds.
- Venetian Performers. These Carnivale-inspired shows aren’t heavily advertised, but there’s always some kind of performance going on near the Grand Canale Shoppes in the Venetian. I’ve seen singers, stilt-performers, and living statues. Grab a scoop of gelato and people-watch until the party starts.
- Volcano and Aquarium at the Mirage. The aquarium behind the reception desk isn’t so much of an attraction as an amazing engineering feat. The sprawling 53-ft long aquarium takes up 20,000 gallons of salt water and houses around 450 tropical fish. After taking that in, grab a spot in front to watch the Mirage volcanos erupt in blasts of heat along with music from the Grateful Dead. Not quite as cool as the fountains, but for the pyros out there, definitely worth seeing. The schedule supposedly starts at 7 p.m. and goes on the hour after, but I’ve found it can be strange depending on the season, so check the front desk to be sure it’s running.
- Sirens of TI. OK, this one is actually kind of lame, but I think you HAVE to see it once just for the pure camp factor. Basically, the outdoor show at the Treasure Island Hotel involves a not-so-complex plot of pirates getting shipwrecked and tormented by a crew of sexy sirens. While the Treasure Island show used to be kid-friendly, this one is definitely bordering on softcorn porn, so perfect for cheapass friends of the bachelor. It’s so bad, it’s good.
- Great Views of Vegas from theHotel. Mix Lounge is 64 floors high, and since theHotel within Mandalay Bay sits at the far south end of the strip, you can take in stunning views of the whole city. This one’s definitely best at night–ladies and guests of the hotel are always free, but visitors of the male persuasion will pay a $10 or $15 cover—worth it for the views and awesome elevator ride alone.
Bonus tip: Finding a cheap meal can be tough anymore on the strip–so if you have a car, drive over to the In-n-Out on Tropicana Ave for a $2.50 Double-Double (I’m drooling just thinking about it)–I order it with no Thousands Island dressing and with onion, but I take the onion off before eating, which gives the meat good flavor without the harsh bite. If burgers aren’t your thing or you can’t drive, walk to the Paris casino and spend the $10 on an indulgent (and huge) crepe at La Creperie. I always get the Fresh Berry if I’m feeling sweet, and the Tomato Mozzarella if I want savory.