Las Vegas area guide

Our top pick of things to do in America’s shamelessly gaudy ‘Sin City’

Have a faux capital time
Many of the more preposterously themed resorts in Vegas pay tacky homage to other world cities. You want Paris, and the Eiffel Tower? Try Paris Las Vegas. Venice? There are gondolas and a St Mark’s Square at the Venetian. The Big Apple? New York New York has the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park and much, much more. Only in Vegas (or Legoland).

Go off-Strip for extreme kitsch
The Atomic Testing Museum, a one-of-a-kind, often terrifying, insight into the Nevada Test Site, once the country's principal weapons testing facility, makes room for some bizarrely cheesy exhibits. The gong for campest collection of all time, however, has to go to the Liberace Museum, with its sparkling cache of treasures left by the Glitter Man himself.

See the sights of the Strip for $5
How the Deuce do you do that? By riding one of the city's fleet of pimped-out double-decker buses that troll the Strip and all the way Downtown. Known as the Deuce, these buses come cheap at $2 a ride or $5 to hop on and off all day.

Follow the screams into the Stratosphere
There are two reasons to follow Las Vegas Boulevard South as far as Sahara Avenue. One is Bonanza Gifts, which claims to be the 'world's largest gift store', and offers a pleasantly kitschy ride back in time to the Route 66 era. A very different ride is in store if you go north along the Boulevard to the tower where the shrieks are coming from. Stratosphere, the tallest building in Nevada, has at its summit a trio of thrill rides: Big Shot, X Scream & Insanity: the Ride, all as white-knuckle as they sound.

Comfort eat when the shirt is lost
What better way to cheer the soul than soul food – chicken, short ribs, yams – at M&M's Soul Food, or burgers as big as your head at Hash House a-Go Go. For steaks, try the best barbecue in Vegas at Big Mama's Rib Shack. For a generous slice of Old Vegas, try the Bay City Diner, housed in a historic casino (Golden Gate), where no-nonsense waitresses like you see in the movies serve basic food for 20 hours a day.

Soak up the watery attractions
The most eye-catching attraction at the Bellagio, a supersized, all-American Italian villa, is the signature jumping fountain. It's a fine, free, appetiser for a rather more expensive attraction here. Cirque du Soleil's most sophisticated show, O, comprises more than 70 swimmers, divers, aerialists, contortionists and clowns performing acrobatic feats around a pool/stage containing 1.5 million gallons of water. If you see only one show, make it O.

Say och aye do
Weddings are the other industry in Las Vegas. The classic place for lightning-quick, starry hitching is the Little White Wedding Chapel, where Frank Sinatra married Mia Farrow. The tackiest, a favourite with Elvis impersonators, is the Viva Las Vegas Chapel. The dinkiest is undoubtedly Wee Kirk o' the Heather, for those who find the real Scotland a mite too chilly.

Love that frozen custard
It looks like ice-cream, it tastes a bit like ice-cream, but the richer, smoother confection at Luv-It Frozen Custard is better than anything we've had from Mr Whippy. We recommend the Western Sundae, but it's all good stuff.

Rome around the mall
Take your credit card for a spin around the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, where, if the faux Roman vibe doesn't defeat you, the legions of medium- and high-end designer outlets will. You have until midnight to make your choices at weekends. If you're thin and rich enough, shop at the Fashion Show Mall, whose one billion dollar Cloud, an amazing image projection screen hovering over the centre, provides entertainment enough when the credit runs out.

Go Off Strip for a reality check
Suffering from neon overload? Rancho Drive, north-west of town, offers a different taste of old Vegas. Take the bus as far as the US 95 to the historic Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a huge site given over to botanical gardens, nature trails and museum exhibits. It takes a while to adjust the eyes to the unwonted green.

Deal a soggy hand
The Hard Rock's pool is always buzzing, with its sandy beaches, waterfalls and swim-up blackjack. On summer Sunday evenings pop into your sequinned swimsuit for the raucous pool parties.

Discover your inner child
Bounce back to babydom at Skymania (www.skymaniafuncenters.com) – a room filled with an alluring grid of trampolines – where the walls and floor are padded and everyone jumps for joy.

Feast your eyes
At Nove (Palms), the seafood spaghetti is exemplary, at the Mix (Thehotel at Mandalay Bay), the signature French/American dishes is ambitious, at The Top of the World (Stratosphere), the cultured mix of American and European favourites are surprisingly good. In all three, however, the menu is secondary to the stupendous views. High end dining indeed.

Make like an Egyptian
The Venetian, which recreates the city of canals in the desert, may be the world's largest hotel but the Egyptian vibe evoked by the glass pyramid of the Luxor is more suited to the topography, and it's enjoyably silly. The high-intensity lights that shoot from its top at night can be seen from space and attracts bats during warmer months.

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