Amid all the high rollers gambling in the casinos and world-famous artists getting paid mega-bucks to fill huge venues, there’s a surprising number of Las Vegas activities you can do for free. This may be a city fuelled by money, but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy yourself without betting it all on the roulette wheel.
1) Check out the hotels
Just walking down the strip is an experience in itself. On one side of the street it's the New York skyline. On the other there’s the Eiffel Tower. Pop into The Venetian and check out the full-size canal that runs though the hotel, complete with gondolas. Many of the major hotels are themed, and seemingly compete to be the most over-the-top. With no entry fee, you're free to explore the Luxor, the Bellagio, the MGM Grand and many more.
2) Learn to play for free
Intimidated by the tables or simply confused by the rules? Then why not have some free lessons? A number of the major casinos, including the Luxor and the Excalibur, offer free classes. Learn the basic rules, the terminology and strategy – and get some all-important hands-on experience. All without spending a cent. What you do with your newfound knowledge is entirely up to you, but at least you'll know what to expect!
3) Water features
Considering you’re in the middle of the desert, there’s an awful lot of water around. The Fountains of Bellagio stretch for a quarter mile (0.4 kilometres) along the front of the hotel, and every half hour in the afternoon they erupt in a blaze of color, light and music. At Caesars Palace they have animatronic models acting out the Fall of Atlantis Fountain Show, at the Wynn they have dynamic fountains synced to music, and at Silverton’s there’s even a colossal salt-water aquarium to check out.
4) Explore Las Vegas’ cultural side
Believe it or not, it’s not all about gambling and brash showmanship in sin city. Las Vegas is a unique place with a rich cultural history. Learn more about the native indigenous cultures of the north American southwest through exhibitions at the Marjorie Barrick Museum. You can also take a trip to the Neon Museum and enjoy the visual feast that is the 'neon boneyard', which offers ample opportunities for creative photos, and an illuminating perspective on the development of Las Vegas and it's neon sign industry.
5) Kids activities
The hotels of Las Vegas offer a banquet of themes that will delight the kids and have you pulling out your camera. You've heard about the water features, but don't miss the Mirage Hotel Volcano, where you might be lucky enough to see an eruption, or visit The Flamingo, which boasts its own tropical wildlife park, complete with leggy pink Chilean flamingos. The Anderson Dairy offers free barnyard tours where your little ones can learn about how farms work and what it takes to put milk on the table. You can even see free circus acts at Circus Circus Hotel (daily between 11:00am - 7:00pm).
Once you’ve been inside a casino for a few hours, you might start to yearn for a bit of outside time. It might not seem like it on the strip, but you are in the middle of a huge expanse of desert. Visit the Clark County Wetlands Park and enjoy the hiking trails, ponds, birdlife and stunning views on offer. The Hoover Dam, one of the world’s great engineering projects, is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away and well worth a visit.
7) Appreciate some art
There is some great public art on display at the City Center campus, with a number of pieces by artists such as Nancy Rubin and Claes Oldenburg. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is also home to a series of installations called Wallworks. The downtown Arts District is a cultural hub, with the Arts Factory featuring a number of galleries and studio spaces, including Trifecta Gallery - home to emerging artists and creatively staged openings. The Majorie Barrick Museum has also built up a strong focus on rotating exhibitions, having featured artists like the famous monochrome landscape photographer Ansel Adams.
8) Love chocolate?
Both M&M’s World and Hershey’s Chocolate World can be found on the strip. Inside you’ll find multiple floors of chocolate heaven and a replica Statue of Liberty made from…well, you can probably guess. You can also venture a bit further out of town to Ethel M Chocolates and Cactus Garden. Established by the founder of Mars Inc. in tribute to his mother, the attraction offers free self-guided tours through the chocolate-making facility, with free samples at the end. Don't miss the opportunity to take a walk through the garden - it's the largest cactus garden in Nevada, with over 300 different plant specimens.