You don’t need to stay long in Vegas to get the full experience. There’s no need to fossick for hidden gems – all you need to do to find the best of the city is follow the neon signs that guide you there.
Still, just because you’ll leave your fate up to the gods on the blackjack table doesn’t mean you should do the same with your holiday planning. Here’s everything you need to know to have the kind of Las Vegas adventure you’ll be bragging about for years to come (without waking up to find a tiger in the bathroom, à la The Hangover).
From Australia’s east coast to Las Vegas it’s about 18 hours in the air with a connection in Los Angeles. From Adelaide it’s closer to 22 hours; from Perth is around 25 hours.
Entering the United States
Australia is a participant in America’s Visa Waiver Program, meaning eligible Australians don’t need a visa for visits of 90 days or less. We must, however, obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) through the Department of Homeland Security site. Approvals can take up to 72 hours so apply with plenty of lead time in case there’s an issue. Approved ESTAs are valid for two years and multiple entries. ESTA-approved travellers also need a (machine-readable) ePassport. Check the Smart Traveller website for detailed entry and exit requirements.
If you overstay, the American government could arrest, deport or even bar you from returning to the States.
Landing at McCarran International Airport
Las Vegas’s main airport is situated eight kilometres south of downtown. A taxi or Uber is the simplest way to get to your hotel. There are buses servicing the main tourist areas – follow the signs for ground transportation after collecting your bags.
At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying around US$0.72 but consult a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date foreign-exchange rates.
Check with your bank that you won’t be hit with extra fees when using your credit card in the US. Your Australian bank and American ATMs will each charge you for withdrawing money from your debit card, too, so it might be worth organising a travel card (most banks have one) with low or no fees to use while you’re away.
Always inform your bank of travel plans, just in case overseas purchases are thought to be fraud and your account is frozen, putting an end to any shopping spree plans.
Tipping in the US is so complex it needs its own guide, which you’ll find here.
Hitting the casinos
Whether you want to hit the slot machines or embrace your inner card shark at the blackjack table, there are a myriad of ways to gamble in Vegas – hey, it’s why most people go.
Avoid losing a small fortune by setting a budget for how much you’re preparing to gamble and stick to it – it’s easy to get swept up in the free drinks and buzzy atmosphere around the tables.
Casino ATMs come with whopping fees of about US$5 per transaction so try not to avoid frequently getting cash out.
Remember, it’s good etiquette to tip your dealer.
You can continue the party as you stroll between casinos – it’s actually legal to drink alcohol on The Strip so long as your drink isn’t in a glass container. Remember, the legal drinking age in the US is 21.
Free cocktails circulate around the gaming floors of most casinos to encourage people to play for longer so keep an eye of your intake.
American hospitals are of a similar standard to those in Australia but costs can add up. It’s essential to take out comprehensive travel insurance before a trip to the US, and fill any prescriptions before you leave.
If you need to see a doctor but it’s not an emergency, find an Urgent Care, the American equivalent of a medical centre. The costs will still be higher than seeing a GP in Australia but it should be quicker and cheaper than going to hospital.
No vaccinations are required for visitors to the US. Check the Center for Disease Control website for up-to-date information on any current outbreaks.
While walking The Strip is a must-do, you’ll probably only want to do it once: Vegas is hot and the road is far longer than it seems.
Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber are the most popular way to get around, with a line of taxis waiting outside most hotels and casinos. You can’t hail a taxi on the street in Vegas as they are only allowed to pick up in designated areas.
In terms of public transport, the Las Vegas Monorail stops at seven points on The Strip: MGM Grand, Bally’s/Paris, Flamingo/Caesars Palace, Harrah’s/The LINQ, the Las Vegas Convention Center, Westgate and SLS Las Vegas. A single ride costs US$5 per person or a one-day unlimited pass is US$13.
There’s also the Deuce, a bus network that runs throughout The Strip and downtown Las Vegas. A two-hour pass is US$6; a 24-hour pass is U$8; and a three-day pass is US$20. Buy two-hour and day tickets when you get on the bus; a three-day pass can only be purchased at select ticket machines.
Rainy days are rare in Las Vegas. The arid desert climate means it experiences more than 300 days of sunshine a year and winter (December to February) is shorter and milder than much of the US – it’s comparable to winter in Sydney or Brisbane.
Summer is a scorcher, with the average daily high hitting between 32°C and 40°C from May to September. But don’t worry – air-conditioning and pools are plentiful.
When to go
It’s a never a bad time to visit Vegas, since the sun is almost always shining and the fun never stops. However, March to May or September to November are the best times to visit if you’re after perfect weather. It’s not too hot or cold so outdoor activities like horseback riding in the canyons will be more pleasant. There are deals to be found year-round but generally the cheapest times to visit are December (except New Year’s Eve) when many people are too busy in the lead-up to Christmas for a vacation, and August, when it’s super-hot. Prices spike around public holidays.
Las Vegas is generally a safe place for tourists. The Strip and downtown are well-lit and patrolled by police 24 hours a day. Potential dangers mainly involve being intoxicated – if you don’t keep your wits about you, you could step in front of a car or be seen as a vulnerable target by scammers and petty thieves. Stay alert and aware.
It is safe to drink the tap water in Las Vegas, although some people dislike the taste and smell. Most hotels offer filtered water for guests to fill their drink bottle with.
When in Las Vegas, it’s worth dressing up to ensure you don’t get stopped at the door when trying to enter a casino, nightclub or restaurant for not looking the part. Casual clothing is fine during the day but when the sun dips, men should don a collared shirt and closed-toe shoes and women should skip the thongs and active wear. Some restaurants require men to wear a dinner jacket.
Wear your nicest threads and you’re likely to get better service from wait staff, too. Of course, if you’re at a daytime pool-side rave, anything goes.
Purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you leave for the US to ensure you’re covered for medical bills, cancelled flights and other unexpected events.
Where to stay
The Strip, aka the most famous 6.8 kilometres of Las Vegas Boulevard, is where you’ll find most hotels in Las Vegas. You don’t want to go any further south than the Mandalay Bay hotel or any further north than Stratosphere Hotel & Casino.
While there is boutique-style accommodation, such as the Cabana Suites downtown, staying at one of the iconic, over-the-top hotels is part of the fun. Well known- digs include The Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan, Caesers Palace, The Palazzo and The Venetian.
Phone calls and mobile data
Before you land, disable data roaming and don’t answer incoming calls on your mobile phone if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. Invest in a prepaid travel SIM card if keeping in touch with home is important.
If you need to make calls in Las Vegas, buy a US SIM card for local calls and mobile data. Remember, this will only work if your phone is not locked to your Australian carrier. Also note that Australian mobile phones operate on a GSM network. In America, both GSM and CDMA networks are in operation. This means that your Australian handset won’t work on a CDMA network such as Verizon.
See WhistleOut for more in-depth information on using your mobile phone overseas.
Consider buying a cheap handset from one of the US’s many big-box stores, such as Walmart. It will come with credit preloaded but keep in mind that in America you’re charged not just for making calls and sending texts but also receiving them.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a Sydney landline telephone, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
Power sockets in the US (120V) have a lower voltage than those in Australia (230V) and a higher frequency (60Hz compared with Australia’s 50Hz). Most gadgets are designed to work on a range of frequencies and voltages but double-check if you’re in doubt. Power plugs and sockets also have a different configuration so an adaptor will come in handy.
Handy apps and websites
Smart Traveller for safety information.
XE for currency conversion.
McCarran International Airport for information on flights, weather, traffic, parking, terminal locations and airport shuttles.
Citymapper for public transport and walking directions and trip durations.
Visit Las Vegas for things to do and specialised itineraries.