Take a stroll along South Las Vegas Boulevard and you're likely to hop between New York and Paris to Egypt and Rome in the space of minutes. Well, sort of. The Strip, as its famously known, is arguable one of the most famous roads in America. Stretching an impressive 4.2 miles, it's lined with dancing fountains, swanky casinos and glitzy hotels including several modelled on iconic destinations around the world.
And while The Strip is rightfully the epicentre of this brash and brilliant entertainment hub, there’s much more to Sin City than this one long, neon-drenched thoroughfare. Venture beyond The Strip and you're in for a surprise or two. Here are our picks of the absolute best...
Bathe under a giant canopy of lights
Here’s something that might come as a surprise – one of Vegas’ best, brightest and most expensive lights displays is actually over in the Downtown area, a 10-minute drive away from the iconic Strip. If you’ve been wanting to visit the Gambling Capital of the World for a while, you’ve probably already seen Instagram videos of the Freemont Street Experience and its 600,000-watt Viva Vision light displays. However, there’s nothing quite like enjoying one of these glittering, fully immersive light shows in the flesh.
Once part of the historic centre of Las Vegas, Freemont Street has had to up its game in recent decades to compete with the ever-expanding Strip, which is why it originally launched “the world’s largest video screen” back in 1995. After countless renovations, today’s epic display features an astonishing 49.3 million energy-efficient LED lights and takes the shape of a 1,375-ft canopy suspended high in the sky. This unique audiovisual experience is completely free to visit, has its own official car park and is kitted out with concert-quality speakers that play a diverse range of tunes to suit almost all tastes, ranging from The Killers and Linkin Park to Tiesto and Steve Aoki. The giant canopy-screen is open all day long, but we recommend visiting at night, for obvious reasons.
Visit the ultra-green Springs Preserve
If Nevada’s barren desert landscapes have you wishing you’d booked a trip to somewhere a little greener, head down the US Route 95 and follow signs for the Springs Preserve – a lush botanical garden that gives the Bellagio Hotel’s greenery displays a real run for their money.
The Springs Preserve spans an impressive 180-acres, which take in not just beautiful botanical gardens, but wetland habitats, an outdoor concert venue and a fascinating local history museum. Bring your hiking boots to check out the two miles of trails that wind their way around the uber-green grounds, visit the on-site Nevada State Museum to discover the glamorous backstory behind how Las Vegas came to be, ogle locally-found fossils and even step inside a stalactite cave. The range of attractions here is seemingly endless – and admission to the museum comes included with each general entry ticket to the Preserve. Keep an eye-out for concerts and other events if you’d like to time your visit strategically.
Discover aliens and atomic bombs
Want to visit somewhere a little more offbeat during your time in Vegas? The National Atomic Testing Museum over on East Flamingo Road pairs those two disaster movie classics, atom bombs and UFO sightings, to deliver an informative science museum experience unlike any other. This local oddity, which operates as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, houses more than 12,000 utterly unique artefacts and exhibits dedicated to these strange two subjects.
For the most part, the museum focuses on the history of the development and testing of the nuclear bomb, uncovering the secrets of nearby test sites, the Cold War and Nevada’s role in nuclear weapons programmes. However, if alien invasions are more your kind of thing, you can also discover the British Mosquito night fighter pilot that found himself in hot pursuit of what appeared to be an alien spacecraft in 1947, alongside tens of other eerie stories and exhibits. We’d recommended checking out at least one of the museum’s two “simulated atmospheric bomb blast” experiences. General admission costs $22.
Mourn once-bright lights at a neon graveyard
If the gleaming lights of Las Vegas are beginning to hurt your eyes, why not venture seven miles or so outside the city to explore the dusty, disconnected road signs of days gone by? Affectionately dubbed the “Neon Boneyard” by Vegas locals, the Neon Museum over on Las Vegas Boulevard North is home to more than 200 fallen city landmarks – a truly astonishing collection documenting the faded splendour of yesteryear.
First set up in 1996 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to collecting and studying the once-bright remnants of Vegas’ past, the museum today stretches a whopping 2.62 acres of relics, each eerily more desolate and nostalgic than the last. A $30 ticket will gain you access to the site for an hour, but the museum has a strict film and photography policy, so make sure you stick to the rules and take static pics only (on phones, not cameras) unless you have special permission. Don’t miss the public art displays and ultra-cool “refurbished signs” that the museum revamped as part of an arts project in 2009. The glistening giant Silver Slipper, which looks exactly as you’d expect it to, is particularly impressive.
Take a road trip to Red Rock Canyon
Las Vegas is situated right in the middle of the Nevada desert – so it only makes sense to escape the big city and take in some of that desert air, right? Red Rock Canyon is just 17 miles away from The Strip, making this rocky, rugged area of natural beauty a fantastic alternative to paying for a pricey trip to the much more touristy Grand Canyon – which, by way of comparison, is a weary three-hour drive outside of Vegas.
We recommend hiring a car from either your hotel concierge or McCarran International Airport (which is practically on The Strip) and taking the Co Road 215 West for the quickest route to Red Rock. Once you arrive, it costs just $15 per car to enter the park – and there’s a 13-mile-long winding road inside that passes by many of its best sights. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Visitor Centre for information on the best hiking trails, mountains and more. Don’t miss the Keystone Thrust Fault, a 65-million-year-old fracture in the ground that stretches all the way from here to Canada.
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Image: 272447 from Pixabay