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50+ Las Vegas Travel Tips: What to do for a First Time Visit

This article is all about making your first visit to Las Vegas an amazing experience and learning what you must do in Vegas for a first-time trip.

Getting around in Las Vegas depends on a lot of things, but primarily is dictated by what hotel you choose. Every move you make, every vow you break is centered around where you lay your head at night. This is just one of many Las Vegas Travel Tips For First Timers.

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Las Vegas Sign

Las Vegas Travel Tips

Here are some of the basics you need to know about getting around in Las Vegas that go way beyond Las Vegas Discount Tickets and walking the strip.


When you de-plane at McCarran Airport, you most likely will take a (free) two-minute monorail ride to the baggage claim area, which is about the size of an airplane hangar and a half. You are now one of about 40 million people a year who look for their bags and a way to get to the Strip. Enjoy this ride because this may be the only time when transportation will not dent your wallet.

The monorail ride will take you near the cavernous baggage claim area, which is roughly the size of the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are about 20 carrousels and your luggage could be on any of them. To get to the right one, check monitors at the entrance.

If the person updating the monitors is taking a cigarette break, hung over, or is ticked off because of an argument with his or her significant other, it may take a while for him (or her) to match your flight number with the right carrousel.

Feel free to wander around aimlessly while you wait, or gawk at the huge billboard trying to get you to buy tickets to Phantom of the Opera. If you feel like an Italian immigrant at Ellis Island in the late-1800s, you’re not alone.

Hopefully, your friendly airline didn’t inadvertently send your luggage to Cameroon (last year in the United States about 31 million bags, or 1.4 percent, were lost). And most likely you paid extra (that annoying bag fee) for the privilege.

Most eventually get back to the right place, but the last thing you need as a Vegas first-timer is the location of the closest Wal-Mart, because who wants to use gambling money to buy clothes!



All rental companies are in a single location, several miles from McCarran Airport. Grab what’s left of your luggage and look for the van that has your car rental company on it.

If you screwed up and didn’t rent a car in advance, just get on the first one you see. They all go to the same place.

On the ride to the car rental facility, get a few $1 bills from your wallet. If you didn’t take the advice of your next-door neighbor, over packed and find it hard lugging around that 75-pound suitcase, you might need help from the driver when you get there. Toke him a few bucks so you don’t feel cheap. It will also get you used to tipping, which helps feed a lot of kids in Vegas.

Assuming you’ve made your car reservation online and haven’t left the paperwork on the kitchen table as you ran out of the house in a mad dash to the airport five hours earlier, you can take luggage, paperwork and cranky spouse right to the elevator and up a story to where they actually keep the cars. All the companies have kiosks there.

If you haven’t made reservations, go to a desk on the main floor and be prepared for at least a half-hour – 15 minutes of paperwork and 15 minutes of the company trying to sell you insurance you don’t need. Then you can take the paperwork upstairs and get your car.

From the time you turn on the ignition, it’s about a 10-minute ride to the Strip. If it’s your first time in Vegas it might be a good idea to pick up the Strip at its most southern point (Mandalay Bay) and then gawk your way from property to property. If your hotel is North Strip, it’s 3-plus miles of stoplight after stoplight. Center Strip, two miles. South Strip, about a mile.

Unless you are on an air-tight budget, for the love of everything you hold dear, use valet parking. There is free parking at every facility, for the $2 tip, valet is worth the convenience. If you are patience-deficient, call from your room when you want your car and it’ll be waiting for you.


  • Cabs are everywhere, especially at the airport. Just look for the signs inside the baggage terminal.
  • Most of the drivers are decent people, trying to make a living. But …..
  • DO NOT LET THEM TAKE YOU TO THE STRIP BY USING THE TUNNEL. It will add $10 to $15 to your fare. You don’t have to threaten to report them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office; just ask that they take Tropicana Ave. Typical fares (not including a 20 percent tip): South Strip $12-$14, Middle Strip $15 to $20, North Strip $20.
  • Every driver has a ride-from-hell story. A few years back one told me about the cheapest celebrity he had ever driven – the notoriously high-pocketed Michael Jordan. Jordan, the cabbie claimed, told him that just driving him around should be an honor in itself. Jordan, the story went, offered a $2 tip on a $30 ride, but the driver refused the toke out of principle.
  • Cabs will drop you off at the front door of your hotel. Make a mental note of this, because this is the only place on the Strip where you will be able to get a cab when you squeeze into those tight pants and dresses and head out later for a night on the town. Cabbies are not allowed to pick up customers on the Strip.


  • Besides hitchhiking, the cheapest way to get from the airport to your hotel is by van. They hold 15-20 people, and the cost is around $7 per person (plus a tip).
  • Do some math here. If there are two of you traveling together, it would cost just about the same amount for a taxi, and there is one thing a taxi does that the shuttle might not do, that is . . .
  • Take you to your hotel right away. Each van delivers to 5 or 6 properties, and if you’re last on the list, you could be sitting in a van for an hour while the couple you made small talk with at O’Hare was already at the pool sipping on margaritas and checking out the eye candy.


Getting married in Vegas? Want to impress the hell out of her? You can grab a limo (near the taxi stand) to get you from the airport to the hotel. It’ll set you back about $100, but don’t think that the dark glass between you and the driver will give you an opportunity for a What Happens in Vegas moment. There’s not much time, and you’ll be at the hotel in 15 minutes anyway.


Must do in Vegas for first timers
  • Depends on what you’re interested in and how long it’s been since you’ve had solid food, but the best way to get around is by using your own two feet. Leave the heels and dress shoes in the suitcase and throw on sneakers.
  • If you do any amount of leg work on the Strip, you’ll notice small people who want to hand you little cards with the photos and phone numbers of very attractive women who would like to welcome you to Las Vegas. These women are not employees of the city’s Visitors and Tourism Bureau. And guys, if you understand two things about your trip, it should be these: 1. Prostitution is illegal in Clark County. 2. Las Vegas is located in Clark County. If you are foolish enough to call up one of those girls on the card and invite her to your room for a game of Yahtzee on your Smartphone, be aware that social diseases that happen in Vegas don’t stay here.
  • If you happen to be from Boston, like me, or any other city in which pedestrians ignore stoplights, be aware that studies have shown that in collisions with cars, people usually come out second-best. Especially people carrying 36 ounces of Heineken beer in their bellies. Do yourself a huge favor and don’t jaywalk. Huge signs destroy all sense of proportion on the Strip, and drivers become very impatient due to long stays at red lights and gun it when they can.
  • As you walk the Strip, you’ll notice lots of people carrying drinks around, and we’re not talking about Diet Coke. In fact, there are kiosks that will sell you beer and mixed drinks to go. It may freak you out if you grew up in Waukeegan, but it’s legal to drink on the street in Vegas – and you don’t need a paper bag around your beverage. Especially popular are 36-ounce, 18-inch chutes of margaritas, although football-shaped containers of beer are a close second.
  • Here’s a tip you can take or leave, but it’s worked for me: Use the 3-to-1 Plan (don’t confuse this with Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan; it’s completely different). For every three beers, which can dehydrate you in the desert, choke down one bottle of water. You’ll find locomotion on the Strip a little more comfortable, especially if the temps are over 100 degrees.


  • The Las Vegas Monorail runs on the East side of the Strip from the MGM Grand all the way to the old Las Vegas Hilton (now called LVH). If you don’t like cabs or want to save a few bucks, it’s a decent transportation alternative. But there are a few things to be aware of, namely . . .
  • If you’re young, this is not the place to check out hot members of the opposite sex. The clientele is a mix of sometimes-grumpy casino workers and middle-aged visitors.
  • Just getting to the Monorail can take time. For example, at the massive MGM Grand it’s a solid 10-minute walk to the entrance from the check-in desk.
  • The scenery along the Monorail route is breathtaking, if you like bricks, mortar and employee parking lots. But there is a golf course, which is part of Wynn Las Vegas. It’s available only to hotel guests, and the greens fee is $500.
  • It might not be around too long. The Monorail is owned and run by a private company, and has been in bankruptcy. Not extending it from the airport to downtown has been a big mistake.


  1. Mandalay Bay is a bit isolated, but a monorail connects it to the Luxor (big pyramid) and the cheesy Excalibur. Unlike the LV Monorail, this one is free and runs regularly.
  2. One drawback: If you’re getting on or off at Luxor, the entrance is a bit of a hike from the main part of the casino.


When MGM Mirage owned both the Mirage and Treasure Island, they kept visitors on both properties by operating a (free) monorail between the two hotels. It’s still running, even though Treasure Island was re-branded as TI and then sold to pay some bills during the recession. At the Mirage, it drops you off at the front door; at TI, it’s in the rear of the casino.


  • Since crossing the Strip can be hazardous to your health, the city has erected several massive pedestrian escalator overpasses, located every few blocks. This has greatly reduced the amount of hospital visits by tourists. One question: How come when an escalator is broken, it’s always the one going up?
  • These overpasses have created somewhat of a cottage industry. Homeless folks find they are great places to hang out because they are city-run and therefore hotel security can’t roust them. And in warm weather, small-businessmen sell water and beer at cut-rate prices.


OK, not all the time. But it is the desert, and between November and April the nights range from cool to cold. If that’s your visit time frame, bring at least a light jacket or sweater.


First off, don’t even think about walking there. The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is located a few blocks north of the Stratosphere, and you’ll go past sleazy wedding chapels and by-the-hour motels. The chances of seeing the Old Man, Chumlee, Rick or Hoss are pretty slim, anyway. If you insist, take a cab.


Las Vegas
  • About a dozen hotel-casinos are wedged into a two-block area on Fremont Street in the downtown area of the city, about 3 miles from the Strip. If you’re not staying downtown, don’t have a rental and want to check it out, the best option is to bite the bullet and take a cab.
  • If you have a rental, there are (paid) parking lots that ring the Fremont Street area and there is on-street parking, but the best option is to valet park and tell the attendant at one of the hotels and tell the attendant you’ve come for dinner. Lie if you have to.
  • Once you get downtown, your options are walking (sober) and crawling (not so sober). No cars allowed along casino row, anyway.


Vegas is a very safe city. There is security everywhere, though most of it is not out in the open. Still, there are certain areas to avoid walking:

  • North Strip at night. Not much there and it’s a quarter-mile hike from the Riviera to the Stratosphere. If you insist, keep two words in mind: Pepper spray.
  • Don’t even think about walking the mile from the Strip to the Rio. It looks close, but isn’t, and you’ll have to navigate without sidewalks and through a major highway interchange. If you think this is something you want to try, make sure your life insurance premiums are up to date. A better option is a free shuttle that runs between Harrah’s and the Rio.
  • Avoid the buses. They cost only a few bucks, but they’re really, really slow and make stops every 30 seconds or so. Also, creepy people tend to brush up against you. I took the bus from the Strip to downtown one year. Never again.
  • Don’t keep walking around until you see someone famous. They have their own private places where they don’t have to mingle with you and me. In 17 trips I’ve seen only three celebrities – Sinbad (in the airport monorail), Ben Stiller (at the Monte Carlo while he was filming the movie Dodgeball), and Steve Schirrippa (Bobby from the Sopranos), at a bar at the Paris. Elvis impersonators don’t count.

Fun Things to do in Las Vegas

On one of my first trips to Las Vegas a cab driver gave me some decent advice:
“Remember,” she said with a half-smile, “a little Vegas goes a long way.”

It’s not hard to get caught up in the energy of Vegas, as a friend of mine did when he averaged three hours of a sleep a night for the good part of a week. Read Full Story

If you haven’t been to Vegas in the last 10 or 15 years, you haven’t been there at all. Enjoy your first day, with this taking-it-“kind-of-easy”guide for your first 12 hours in the real city that never sleeps.

Breakfast Get a good meal in your belly, especially if alcohol is in your future. A nice place to start is at the Planet Hollywood buffet. Planet Hollywood is a remake of the old Aladdin, which was built on the footprint of the old Aladdin, where Elvis played after he got drugged out and obese. The Aladdin was known to have the best buffet prime rib in town, and the Planet Hollywood folks have kept up the tradition of good food.

Where else can you head from breakfast or brunch straight to cocktails? Take a short hike next store to the Paris, and find the bar just inside the main entrance and adjacent to the check-in area called Lecentral Bar.

It’s one of the premier indoor people-watching spots on the Strip – a few years back I was at the bar when Steve Schirripa (he played Bobby on the Sopranos) came by with his entourage. The waitress who brought me my Heineken also told me that a few months earlier, basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird and friends ran up a $300 bar tab and stuck her with a $5 tip. Truth or Vegas gossip? I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

If slots are your game, you can find them anywhere and everywhere. If it’s been a while since you sat down at a machine, you’ll be surprised to learn that coins no longer drop down into the tray when you win. Your credits just go up or down depending how you’re doing, and when you cash out, you’ll need to print out your ticket and get paid at either a kiosk or the cashier window.

If you prefer table games, head out of the Paris north past the Flamingo, over the escalator bridge at Flamingo Road and into the Imperial Palace. Near the back of the casino the blackjack dealers are dressed as celebrities (Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson etc.) and they sing and dance and take your mind off the fact that your bankroll might be dwindling.

Take in a Show

Las Vegas Mack King Show

Next to the Imperial Palace is Harrah’s, home of the best comedy/magician in the city, Mac King. If you scrounge around a bit you can usually get a half-off coupon, but even at full price (less than $20) it’s worth it. Comes with a drink too. Slip the usher a five and you can get a seat down front, which helps to get a good look at the close-up special effects. Shows are Tuesday through Saturday at 1pm and 3pm.

Since Mac King’s show will keep you away from the slot machines and tables for a couple of hours, there should be money left for a decent meal. There are hundreds of options, but you might want to give Bouchon at the Venetian a good look. When you get to the massive Venetian, you’ll have to ask directions (it’s down a corridor, up an elevator and down another corridor), but worth the cardio-beneficial walk.

Many of the top restaurants in Vegas have diva chefs.  Bouchon’s is Thomas Keller, who was named the country’s No. 1 chef by Time Magazine, has enough best-chef plaques to sink one of the gondolas at the fake canal that surrounds and winds through the Venetian.

Dueling Piano Bar
A great way to end your evening is at Harrah’s dueling piano show. It’s located just inside the door that leads to the outdoor Carnival Court that separates Harrah’s and the Imperial Palace. The at-times raucous show doesn’t get rolling until 9 and lasts until 2 a.m., but you can come and go as you please. There’s no cover on weekends, but the drinks are a bit pricey.

Unless you’re an exhibitionist who doesn’t mind taking off some of your clothes in front of a few hundred people hooting at you, it’s a good idea to keep it to yourself if you happen to be celebrating your birthday.


  1. On the Strip, everything is further away than it seems. Big signs make locations appear a lot closer than they really are.
  2. If you don’t mind moving around a little bit and exploring, you never have to do things twice
  3. It’s dry. Duh, take away all the hotels and it’s a big desert. Drink some water. If you’re a Global Warming denier, spend an August afternoon in Las Vegas.
  4. If you get the urge, get off the Strip. You’ll soon realize that Vegas is a working city, with schools, police, firefighters, retail workers.
  5. Don’t bring your kids to Vegas, unless they’re over 21. Vegas is what it is, and it’s not a place for children. Suck it up and head for Disney World if you have young kids.
  6. Locomotion along the Strip can sometimes be slow, especially on weekend nights. Be patient. You’ll get where you’re going. Enjoy the people watching as you inch your way along the sidewalk.
  7. If it’s your first in Vegas, it won’t be long before you experience your first OMG moment. I once saw a man dressed as Tinker Bell and . . . well, let’s leave it there.
  8. Take it easy. Your body needs more than three hours of sleep a night. A little Vegas goes a long way. Try to squeeze in 7.5, even if it’s 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  9. Avoid the Bellagio Fountain water show if you are under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Sensory overload.
  10. And finally, on the flight home– the Ultimate Las Vegas Travel Tip is to plan your next trip.

Have you seen the The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas yet? Or Click here for great Las Vegas guide books.

Vegas Tickets


The best time to visit Las Vegas is from March to May and from September to November. While you’ll find plenty of travel deals throughout the year, the spring and fall shoulder seasons offer the most moderate weather.

If you enjoyed this article about Las Vegas Travel Tips: Must Do In Vegas For First Timers, you’ll also love
Hoover Dam & Historic Boulder City: Take a Break From Your Las Vegas Getaway.


Traveling To Las Vegas Soon? Here are a few tips:

Where to stay: There are many places to stay in Las Vegas, Nevada. There is a wide range of hotels, from budget to luxury. For a luxury hotel that won’t break the bank, I recommend the Wynn Las Vegas, which is currently the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor. For a mid-level hotel, I suggest the Aria Resort & Casino.  Finally, for a budget hotel, try the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. You can also check HotelsCombined for the best Las Vegas Hotel Rates.

Hotels in Las Vegas: Check Trip Advisor reviews for Wynn Las Vegas or Aria Resort & Casino

What to pack: In Las Vegas, seasons can change pretty fast. It’s hot in summer and can drop into the low 30’s in the winter. Number one– you’ll want a good pair of walking shoes. You can easily walk miles daily. Just getting from one casino to another can be a trek (I love Keen).  Vegas gets cold in Winter, you’ll want to pack layers including a light sweater or scarf.

Las Vegas Trip Essentials

6 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Las Vegas Vacation

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  1. Your take on the airport is so true and so funny. We have lost our luggage more than once on the way Vegas, and we’ve also gotten lost in the huge rental car complex.

    We do, however, bring our kids to Vegas fairly often. There’s lots to do for families, as long as you stay away from Fremont Street.

  2. This has been on our travel list for a few years now. I went once as a teenager which is, really, no fun at all, lol. I will for sure be sharing this with my husband – you put so much info in one spot!! I love it! I especially love the “don’t go here” section, which seems more important to me than to him haha.

  3. This is an awesome information, I have never been in Las Vegas but I would like to do it. I have a couple of friends that they are interested in doing the same too, so this information is really useful !!

  4. My sister has been considering going to Las Vegas for her engagement party. It is good to know that she will want to consider making reservations well in advance and getting a professional to help her with that. It does seem like a professional could help her save some money as well.

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