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USA & Canada: Las Vegas | Glitzy Shows, Lavish Spas & Desert Retreats

The streets of this neon-lit Nevada city offer much more than a quick buck and Elvis-blessed elopement. A recent renaissance has made Las Vegas, which means The Meadows in Spanish, the one-stop spot to get it all: Broadway-style shows, big-name restaurants, luxurious spas, thrill rides, and themed hotels. The city's location also makes it the perfect jumping-off point for the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and other reality-check wonders of the West.

In a Word: Hotels

Home to more than a dozen of the largest hotels in the world, Vegas is the capital of themed monstrosities and luxury lairs. You could spend days just doing a hotel-casino crawl up both sides of Las Vegas Blvd. South, otherwise known as the Strip. This blinking netherworld features cannon battles between pirates and sailors (Treasure Island) next to an erupting volcano (The Mirage) and across the street from singing gondoliers on a Grand Canal (Venetian). Experiencing deja vu? Yes, that's the Eiffel Tower at Paris and the Statue of Liberty at New York-New York. Is nothing sacred?!

good to know

  • Hotel tax: 9%
  • Getting around: Strip bus (runs along The Strip, you don't have to strip), monorail, taxi, car
  • Homework: Watch Viva Las Vegas, or Honeymoon in Vegas.
  • More info: Las Vegas Visitor Information Center, (702) 892-7573

Don't Miss

  • Casinos: Ka-ching! Tempt Lady Luck at baccarat, blackjack, slot machines, keno, roulette, craps, video poker, wheel of fortune, and a whole mess of other money-munching games. The largest casinos are the MGM Grand, Bellagio, and Riviera. High stakes reign supreme at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton (where the infamous Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? show was taped), The Mirage, Bellagio, and MGM Grand. Go to Circus Circus -- under a pink-and-white big top -- or the medieval-themed Excalibur for raucous revelry. And remember to walk tall: You are so money, baby.
  • Eating: Vegas is famous for its gigantic buffets, but big-name chefs have also been rolling out the red carpet.
  • Showtime!: From big-name comedians and magicians to Fosse-esque extravaganzas, cabarets, boxing, roller hockey, concerts, and topless showgirls, there are so many shows in this town that you won't know where to start or stop. Cirque Du Soleil tonight? The Judds tomorrow? Free shows -- if you don't include people watching at 4 a.m. -- range from the Fremont Street Experience (see below) to the choreographed dancing-waters show on an eight-acre lake at Bellagio.
  • Lite Brites: Check out the psychedelic light-and-sound show at the Fremont Street Experience, a downtown outdoor mall covered by a four-block, arched, 100-foot-high awning illuminated by two million lightbulbs. Give your neck a rest at the glitzy Golden Nugget (don't miss the 61-lb. glittering rock in the lobby).
  • Shopping: Spending money was never so much fun. Hop a gondola to one of 90 stores along the Grand Canal at the Venetian, see the sun set (every hour) and watch Atlantis sink at Caesar's Forum Shops, or blow your freshly minted nest egg at the exclusive shops along "Via" Bellagio.
  • Weddings: More than 100,000 couples tie the knot in Vegas each year. The allure? It's inexpensive and easy and the options are limitless. There's no waiting period or blood test required and there are nearly 100 wedding chapels, some open 24/7. The whole town is one big wedding location: People marry atop the Stratosphere or nearby Mt. Charleston, on a roller coaster, in a helicopter, during a bungee jump, skydiving, or at a drive-through window! Brides and grooms are everywhere -- even gambling in their gowns and tuxes at casinos. (For more lowdown on tying the knot in Vegas, see our eloping tips.)
  • Art: Hotel as art museum? The Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio displays paintings by Monet, Miro, Degas, Renoir, Giacometti, Cezanne, Lichtenstein, de Kooning, Pollock, Warhol, Matisse (including the recently added Odalisque), and Van Gogh. (Modern art can be found at the Las Vegas Art Museum, which features whimsical works by Red Grooms.) Car lovers should visit the Imperial Palace's huge auto collection, including wheels owned by Adolf Hitler and Al Capone.
  • Kitsch: No cultural tour would be complete without a stop at the Liberace Museum, (702) 798-5595, which displays the great piano-playing, poofy one's costumes, cars, and miniature piano collection. The Elvis-A-Rama Museum, (702) 309-7200, features the King's purple Lincoln, two of his limos, and Vegas jumpsuits. The Guinness World of Records Museum, (702) 792-3766, has videos of some records being set, and Madame Tussaud's Celebrity Encounter wax figures reside at the Venetian.
  • Great outdoors: Some of our country's most amazing spots are within driving distance of Vegas, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire State Park, and Red Rock Canyon. Sign up for an aerial tour, a rafting trip, or a cruise.

Where to Stay

Las Vegas has more than 120,000 hotel rooms, ranging from lavish suites to simple digs. Start your search by deciding whether you want to stay in the center of the action or off-Strip, steeped in nearby nature's bounty, the blinking lights of casino central a distant glow.

Knot note: Check out the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's website for all the latest and greatest attractions in this ever-evolving city. Also, always reserve ahead if possible.

When to Go

  • Best weather: November to April
  • Best prices: Weekdays, the week before New Year's
  • Festival highlights: The Las Vegas Street Fair & San Gennaro Feast runs from September 20 to 24 and features Italian food and a carnival; Laughlin Cool River Nites, a tribute to the '50s and '60s with classic cars and live music, happens the last weekend in October. Check www.travelnevada.com for more festivals and millennium events.

-- Lori Seto

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