Never did a city shine so artificially brightly as Las Vegas. Whatever sinful gluttony you seek, find it under the 24-hour neon glare of The Strip. The St Mark Square replica at the Venetian hotel, complete with motorised gondolas; the half-scale Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas casino; this city is all one big bluff. But it does put on one hell of a show and half the fun is smiling at the ridiculousness of it all.
It began as a stopping post for those on the trail to the surrounding gold mining towns, and despite its ups and downs, bling is still what visitors rush to see. Construction on the Hoover Dam began in 1928 and with that, thousands of workers descended on the area now known as Boulder City. Gambling was legalised throughout Nevada in 1931 and with the concentration of entertainment-deprived dam workers in this desert area, casinos flourished.
In a city that specialises in tickling any, and I mean any, fancy, it’s hard to know where to begin. The four-mile long Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) deals a straight flush of big casinos. The white turrets and jousting tournaments of the Excalibur, the manmade beach at Mandalay and the erupting volcano at the Mirage, all delivering free drinks to gamblers, it’s an adult Disneyland. Alternatively, Freemont Street in the downtown area is home to local favourites Binion’s, Four Queens and El Cortez. Here, Las Vegas shows its personality hand with chatty bartenders, affordable tables and bets as low as 50 cents accepted.
When you decide to fold, life does exist away from the Las Vegas gambling tables. But it is no less surreal. Prepare for the worst and kit yourself out at the Zombie Apocalypse Store from practice target sheets, stun guns and emergency food rationing kits. The Mobster Museum, housed in an old federal courthouse, celebrates the city’s gangster history with a collection of murder weapons and mugshots of notorious mob members. Nurses at the Heart Attack Grill claim the triple or quadruple heart bypass burger is ‘to die for’. The Goldwell Open Museum is well removed from the highway and a chance to see avant-garde sculptural work in the open-air desert exhibit. Get the impression that Las Vegas architecture is always trying to tell you something? The Neon Museum and Boneyard is a collection of vintage casino signage. Forget throwing a dice; throw yourself off the 350 metre Stratosphere Tower in a controlled free-fall at midnight.
Don’t forget, the Grand Canyon is an easy 40-minute drive from Las Vegas. Try kayaking on the Colorado River, a tour of the Hoover Dam, biking in Red Rock Canyon, and believe it or not, you can ski in the desert near Mount Charleston.