I've visited Las Vegas several times over the years, but always for quick 24 or 48 hour stints. Basically, long enough to shop, see a show, enjoy the pool and dine at a couple of restaurants. This year I decided I wanted to stay longer and see what existed outside of the Vegas Strip. Armed with a rental car, I put together a five-day itinerary loaded with sights and activities that had been accumulating on my Pinterest board. I visited the colorful Seven Magic Mountains art installation, hiked in the Valley of Fire, explored Venetian canals, took a day trip to Zion National Park and feasted at loads of delicious restaurants. Below is a rundown of all my Vegas favorites - hotels, restaurants and things to do, and then my complete itinerary at the bottom.
Seven Magic Mountains is a colorful art installation that sits in the middle of the desert, a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas strip.
HOW MANY DAYS IN LAS VEGAS
For visitors with no plans to leave The Strip, then two days is plenty of time. If you're feeling ambitious and want to venture out for hikes and day trips, then I suggest four full days in Las Vegas to have enough time to explore a few gems from this list: the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, Zion National Park and Death Valley National Park.
GETTING AROUND LAS VEGAS
The 4.2-mile Las Vegas Strip is home to all the big hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants and tourist activities. If you're in town for a quick visit, then it's easy enough to get around on foot and by Uber. All the big hotels have ride share pick up zones, and the airport is less than 15-minutes from The Strip. For visitors with more ambitious plans to explore greater Las Vegas and the surrounding region, I recommend a rental car. All rental car companies are located in a hub close to the airport - there are buses that shuttle everyone over free of charge.
THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND LAS VEGAS
BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY & BOTANICAL GARDEN
This bright and airy botanical garden is located just past the lobby inside the Bellagio. Let your nose guide you to it - you'll be able to smell the thousands of flowers from the moment you step into the hotel. The 14,000-square foot garden changes seasonally to the themes of Lunar New Year, Spring Celebration, Summer Garden, Harvest and Holiday. The Botanical Garden is free to visit and open 24 hours.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
Las Vegas might as well be the Cirque du Soleil capital of the world. This modern day contemporary circus hosts a variety of shows at the biggest hotels on the strip - three of the best are Ka at the MGM Grand, O at the Bellagio and Mystère at Treasure Island.
DEATH VALLEY (DAY TRIP)
It's a long day trip, but if you start early it's possible to spent a full day exploring Death Valley. Some of my favorite stops include the Artist's Palette, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Dunes, Gold Canyon and Badwater Basin.
FOUNTAINS OF BELLAGIO
A fixture on The Strip for more than 20 years, the Fountains of Bellagio dazzle spectators with an elaborate water show that takes place daily. The show takes place every 30 minutes from 3 PM to 8 PM Monday through Friday, and every 15 minutes from 8 PM to midnight. Weekend is a similar schedule with a few extra shows.
GRAND CANAL SHOPPES AT THE VENETIAN
Inside the Grand Canal Shoppes you'll find a stunning recreation of Venice, Italy. Even if you're not in the mood to shop, it's worth a visit to see the beautifully designed Venetian facades, canal bridges and gondolas floating through the canals.
Home to the world's tallest observation wheel, the High Roller offers passengers spectacular 360-degree views from 550-ft. above The Strip. 28 spacious cabins hang from the Wheel, and the ride is 30 minutes long. The High Roller is located at The Linq.
RED ROCK CANYON (DAY TRIP)
One of the easiest daytrips in Las Vegas is to Red Rock Canyon. It’s a place that feels a world away with its dramatic canyons, blistering orange rocks and scenic hiking trails, but it’s only a 30-minute drive from the Strip. And one of the prettiest stops in Red Rock Canyon is Calico Hills, make sure to include it as part of your visit.
SEVEN MAGIC MOUNTAINS
I wouldn’t even call this a daytrip, it’s so quick and easy to visit. The colorful desert oasis is an art installation comprised of seven stacked boulder totems located 30 minutes from The Strip. Visit in the early morning to avoid crowds of people, or midday to see more vibrant colors in the boulders. I did both – at 7 AM there were 2 people, at 11 AM there were 50 people. Also, there's been rumors that Seven Magic Mountains will be removed at the end of the year. Not sure how much truth there is to it, but best to visit before it's gone.
VALLEY OF FIRE (DAY TRIP)
They call it a geologic wonderland in the Mojave Desert, and it’s pretty clear why from the moment you pull into the park. The red sandstone formations are spectacular. My favorite hikes and viewpoints (all of which can be done in a single day) include the First Wave, White Domes, Petroglyph Canyon and Pink Canyon. It’s about an hour to get the park entrance from Las Vegas, and another 20-30 minutes to get to the trails inside the park.
WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS SIGN
Yes, it's touristy, but's the most iconic photo to take in Las Vegas. The sign is located at the start of The Strip, there's a small parking lot for cars and ride share drop offs. Best time to visit is sunset when the sky is colorful and the lights turn on, but be prepared to wait in a long line. If you'd rather visit without the crowds, the sign is pretty empty at 7 AM.
ZION NATIONAL PARL (DAY TRIP)
That’s right! If you’re feeling ambitious, Zion National Park is less than three hours driving from Las Vegas. Early risers can be inside the park at sunrise, spend the day hiking Angel's Landing and then be back on The Strip in time for an early dinner.
The Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon are absolutely surreal. Wearing lace-up boots linked here.
For the ambitious travelers out there, Zion National Park is a three-hour drive from Las Vegas. I visited as a long day trip and hiked Angel's Landing. Wearing Free People Sports Brad (my favorite for hiking), linked here.
PLACES TO STAY IN LAS VEGAS
Many consider the Bellagio to be the crème de la crème of Las Vegas. The Bellagio has been around for more than 20 years, but she has aged well. It's one of the most popular luxury stays on The Strip, home to beautiful suites, fabulous restaurants, an incredible indoor Conservatory & Botanical Garden and the iconic Cirque du Soleil O Show.
I've stayed at The Cosmopolitan on my last few trips to Las Vegas - it's modern, it's clean and it's central location on The Strip is ideal for bouncing around to nearby hotels. For room type, I recommend the Terrace One Bedroom with a fountain view.
The Four Seasons is always a solid choice, no matter what city or country you are in. The Las Vegas location is no different - a luxurious, upscale oasis that occupies floors 35-39 of the Mandalay Bay (there are a lot of hotels within hotels in Las Vegas).
Guests looking for something a bit more luxurious than Park MGM might consider The Nomad. It's located on the same property, and in the same building, in fact. The Nomad occupies the upper floors, and Park MGM the lower floors of the former Monte Carlo Resort, but the guest experience is completely unique to each property. The Nomad has its own lobby, casino, pool and rooms.
Set to open in June 2021, the $4.3 billion Resorts World will be the first ground-up resort to open on The Strip in more than 10 years. The mega resort will house three Hilton properties, each with a separate entrance and lobby - Las Vegas Hilton, Conrad Las Vegas and Crockfords Las Vegas. Guests will be treated to the largest pool deck in the city, a 27,000-square foot spa and more than 40 food + drink options including the much-anticipated Famous Foods Street Eats.
The Venetian is by far my favorite hotel in Las Vegas. The Italy-inspired design is unparalleled by anything else on The Strip, recreating Venice in the Rialtto Bridge, the Campanile, gondola rides on the canals and St. Mark's Square. The Venetian also houses a shopping mall, a nightclub and some of the best restaurants on The Strip. If you can't get a room at The Venetian, its sister property The Palazzo is just next door.
THE WYNN AND THE ENCORE
A favorite amongst visitors that frequent The Strip for its upscale elegance, The Wynn and its sister property The Encore are located next to The Venetian at the far end of The Strip.
The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign is located at the start of The Strip. It's prettiest in the evenings, just be prepared to wait in a long line.
WHERE TO EAT IN LAS VEGAS
Cut is high-end steakhouse located inside The Palazzo, and it might be Wolfgang Puck's best restaurant in Vegas. Menu includes chilled shellfish, fresh seafood, salads and fixin's, but it's the steaks and sirloins cooked over burning coals and glowing embers of hard white oak and mesquite wood that make the restaurant so famous.
GORDON RAMSAY FISH & CHIPS
A tasty fish & chips spot on The Linq Promenade. This place is a quick stop - nothing fancy, but absolutely delicious.
LOTUS OF SIAM
Hands-down the most popular Thai restaurant in Las Vegas. There are two locations - one on Sahara Ave and the other on Flamingo Rd., but both serve up the same dishes, and specialize in northern Thai cuisine. Lotus of Siam is frequented by celebrities - the lobby walls are plastered with photos of everyone from Drew Barrymore to Anderson Cooper dining at the restaurant. Reservations are a must, especially at the slightly more modern E. Flamingo Rd. location.
MON AMI GABI
Solid choice for breakfast on The Strip, located inside The Paris.
OYSTER BAR AT PALACE STATION
Oyster Bar is a must for foodies visiting Las Vegas. This unassuming bar sits in the middle of the Palace Station casino. It's open 24 hours a day, and there is always a wait (one hour if you're lucky, usually longer). The menu is one for seafood lovers, filled with steamers, chowders, cioppino, and shellfish pasta. But it's the signature pan roasts, a creamy tomato seafood stew with a hint of brandy, that Oyster Bar is most famous for.
Raku is on almost all Las Vegas foodie lists. It's a tiny place that sits in an unassuming strip mall, but this izakaya serves up the best Japanese small plates in town. Reservations are a must.
For years Scarpetta was one of my favorite Italian spots in Manhattan, and then Scott Contant opened a Las Vegas location inside The Cosmopolitan. Menu includes fresh signature pastas, crisp salads, seafood and steaks.
SPARROW + WOLF
A gem of a restaurant located off The Strip, Sparrow + Wolf serves up delicious cocktails, as well as a variety of Asian-inspired dishes including Albacore sunomono with marinated cucumbers, crispy garlic and tosazu; King crab dumplings with xo butter, chive & lemon; Japanese sweet potato in umeboshi creme fraiche, lap cheong and scallions; and Shitake crusted Alaskan halibut with sugar snap peas and hon-shimeji mushroom. Good vibes, good drinks and good food here.
TACOS EL GORDO
Popular spot for cheap, delicious tacos. The location on South Las Vegas Boulevard is difficult to access (not easy to park, and a long walk from the main hotels on The Strip), but the other locations have drive thru's and plenty of strip mall parking.
Found the best view of The Strip from the Chelsea Tower pool deck of The Cosmopolitan.
Adventure calls in Red Rock Canyon. Wearing lace-up boots linked here.
Did you know there is a rotating restaurant at the top of The Strat, on floor 107?
MY 5-DAY ITINERARY
Below is my 5-day itinerary for Las Vegas. It could probably be condensed down into four days, it would just be exhausting with very little down time.
Breakfast at Eggslut (food)
The Luxor's Great Sphynx (sightseeing)
The Venetian (sightseeing)
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden (sightseeing)
Bellagio Water Show (sightseeing)
Lunch at Eataly (food)
Seven Magic Mountains (sightseeing)
Welcome to Las Vegas Sign (sightseeing)
Dinner at CUT (food)
Valley of Fire (hiking)
Lunch + Treats at MRS COCO (food)
Cosmopolitan Pool (relax)
Dinner at Sparrow + Wolf (food)
Zion National Park (hiking)
Dinner at Lotus of Siam (food)
Breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi (food)
The Paris (sightseeing + photos)
Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian (sightseeing)
The Linq Promenade + High Roller (sightseeing)
Lunch at Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips (food)
Caesar's Palace (shopping)
Dinner at Scarpetta (food)
Breakfast at MTO Cafe (food)
Red Rock Canyon (hiking)
Lunch at Tacos El Gordo (food)
Cosmopolitan Pool (relax)
Dinner at Palace Station (food)
MRS. COCO is an Insta-famous cafe located in Henderson, about 30-minutes from Las Vegas.
The cafe has the cutest pink decor, and equally cute drinks and desserts.