Popular Non-Gambling Activities in Las Vegas
"Why would anyone visit Las Vegas without gambling?"
You've probably heard that line a few times if you're planning a non-gambling trip to Sin City.
Whatever your reason for choosing to avoid the casinos, you're not alone. The crowds of people (and piles of tourist dollars) that flow into Las Vegas these days have less to do with roulette wheels and blackjack tables than ever before. These days, just 36% of all income on the Strip comes from gambling. Compare that to the mid-80s, when bets made up 60% or more of total Strip revenue.
The city is doing well, in spite of the reduced cash-flow at the casinos. Home prices are up – surprising news for a city hit hard by the burst of the housing bubble less than a decade ago. Unemployment is down – another surprise, especially considering casinos haven't been in a hiring mood. The New York Times reported on this phenomenon last year.
Have we reached peak Vegas? It looks like the city is becoming less of a gambling hotspot and more of a plain old tourist destination. Of the 40 million visitors last year, a significant portion are said to have avoided casinos altogether. According to the city, 1 in 4 visitors were in town for a conference, meeting, or other work or school-related event, and spent not one penny at a casino.
On this page are some tips to help you pick a non-gambling activity. We've also included a list of gambling-free activities that we recommend to Vegas visitors. These are divided into the four categories you can see below. If you'd like to go straight to any of these categories, you can just click on the relevant button.
Picking a Non-Gambling Vegas Activity
Any visitor to the city will have to decide whether they're going to gamble or not at some point. You've already made that decision, so picking something to do won't be hard. The good news is, an entire tourist industry has popped up in Las Vegas to entertain and serve guests who don't want to gamble.
Las Vegas is a metropolis with all the trappings of a great city. It has a burgeoning art and music scene, its home to several semi-professional sports teams, and the city's built-in tourist draw in the forms of casinos also brings entertainers, musicians, and live shows all year long. If you don't want to gamble but you complain that there's nothing to do in Las Vegas, you're just not doing it right.
When it's time to pick something to do in town that's not in a casino, start by answering the questions below. You'll be able to narrow down all your choices to just a few based on your answers.
- What time of year is it?
- How many people are involved?
- What's the age range of your group?
- What's your budget?
- What's the purpose of your activity?
Now let's look at how the answers to these questions can help you decide what to do.
The part of Nevada where Bugsy Siegel and his cronies chose to construct a gambling haven is not exactly an easy place to live. Vegas is miserably hot for six months of the year, and since this is the desert, it can get annoyingly-cold in the winter, or even in the evenings in the summer.
Once you start considering all the ins and outs of the timing of your trip, from the weather to the crowds to the availability of certain activities, you'll realize how important this step is.
Depending on the weather, you may prefer an indoor activity or one that's (at least partially) outside. The Spring Mountains and Carpenter Canyon nearby are a great retreat from the city for outdoors types, but not if it's 112 degrees or below freezing. At the same time, if you're in Vegas on one of those rare perfect desert days, with clear, dry air and a bright blue sky, it'd be a shame to sit inside all day.
We usually choose to visit the city between the months of March-May (average high 78 degrees) or October-November (average low 52 degrees). That gives us twenty weeks out of the year when we can expect weather that's at least bearable. Why do we shy away during the winter? Believe it or not, more tourists visit between December and February than any other month, and we find activities a lot more enjoyable when they're not over-crowded.
The facelifts that saved Las Vegas tourism in the 80s and 90s went a long way to turning a once-seedy gambling town into a family vacation spot. But Vegas is also a natural setting for romance, so lots of activities for couples are available, too. Then again, you may be alone, at a boring sales conference or team-building weekend, looking for something to do by yourself to kill time.
For example, a stroll down the Strip to see the sights and do some people-watching is a great couple's activity, and it can even work with a small group of friends. We wouldn't recommend that a group of fifteen school children and their five chaperones attempt it, though. Vegas is crowded and you'll spend more time trying to keep your group together than enjoying the scenery.
Knowing the exact size of the group that's taking part in an activity is more than just good planning – you'll probably need to know it when making reservations or buying tickets anyway. There are plenty of things to do in Vegas that don't involve gambling, but it's still a tourist town, so prepare to pay by the head for certain activities.
Whether you're one person looking to kill a few hours between meetings or a large multi-family reunion touring the town together, it's important to consider activities appropriate for the people in your group, and one way to consider that is by their age.
Though exceptions exist for every rule, grandma is probably not going to enjoy the same activity as a teenager. A newlywed couple is unlikely to appreciate the finer points of the birding tour favored by an elderly couple. And almost none of them would appreciate the same kind of entertainment as a toddler.
One trick to get around this problem is to look for activities that are enjoyable for a wide range of different ages. A day at Lake Mead could include a variety of activities to suit every person in your group. An evening playing in a video game arcade, on the other hand, would only be of interest to kids, unless there was an activity nearby that would interest adults.
Obviously you'll need to prepare a budget for your trip, whether that's $1 million or $1,000. Sticking to your budget is easier when you don't involve gambling, but trust me, you can still spend a ton of cash on non-gaming activities in Sin City.
Vegas is a luxury-oriented city, so you'll find plenty of high-dollar activities that cater to guests with deep pockets. But thanks to increased visitation by families with kids, the city is also great for families who don't have high roller budgets. Believe it or not, you can even find plenty of free activities, thanks to the growing native population and local support for the arts.
Yes, this is the home of the $1,000 martini and the $40,000-per-night hotel suite, but it's also the home of the free Bellagio Conservatory and the $4 shrimp cocktail. Given a little planning and an understanding of your budget, you can plan an amazing non-gaming adventure in Las Vegas without breaking the bank.
This one's important. Different people are looking for Vegas activities for different reasons. Are you killing time? Do you want to find an educational activity for the kids? Just looking for some classic Las Vegas entertainment? We can think of a million reasons why a person would be looking for something to do besides gambling, and probably a million different activities that are perfect for it.
Let's say we're looking for an activity for a group of high school students in town for a science fair. Clearly they're looking for an experience that's at least a little bit educational. Sending them to Brooklyn Bowl would be a popular but ridiculous choice – we'd probably suggest they check out the Mob Museum instead. Still fun, still educational, and still in line with the purpose of their visit.
Armed with the answers to the above questions, look through the rest of this page and find out which non-gaming activities we regularly recommend to tourists who visit the city. Decide which activity might be right for you, based on the size and makeup of your group, the time of year, your budget, and your purpose for the activity.
Best Luxury Activities
We'll offer some budget-friendly recommendations later, but we want to get the ritzy stuff out of the way. Let's face it, a ton of people visit Vegas for a little taste of the high-roller lifestyle. The activities below have nothing to do with gaming, and everything to do with experiencing the best of the best. Though these activities aren't budget-friendly, they will likely lead to some excellent vacation memories.
OMNIA is the hottest club in Vegas - it just opened (to rave reviews) so it still has that sheen of novelty that Vegas visitors love, and it features live and sometimes interactive performances by the biggest DJs in the EDM scene. If you want to rent one of the venue's booths for the night, the least you'll pay is $2,000, plus another couple of thousand for bottle service and liquor. The 20k price tag for booths at the top-end is all about prestige - from your booth perch you can see and be seen in the hottest dance spot in the country.
Address: 3570 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 785-6200
At Sweet Surrender they serve a very special cupcake, called Decadence D'Or. It's one of the most expensive pastries in the world, at $750 each. Why so expensive? It's chock full of fancy ingredients, like century-old Louis XIII de Remy Martin cognac, a special single-estate chocolate that's unavailable in the United States, French butter with a name we can't pronounce, oh, and don't forget the gold flakes and ultra-rare Tahitian Gold Vanilla Bean caviar. We've seen the thing in person before – it's good for two or three bites total, perfect for sharing on a luxurious date night.
Address: Sweet Surrender, Inside the Palazzo
Phone: (702) 607-0753
This one's way over-the-top. Not only can you rent Mandalay Beach for yourself and your friends, but when you shell out $15,000, the hotel will cook you a barbecue dinner and project the movie of your choice in an outdoor cinema. If you want to get totally nuts, you can book a pop star to serenade you during the festivities – we read that Bruno Mars did one last year for $100,000. One song by an A-list performer, one awesome barbecue with your friends, and a whole beach (in Las Vegas?) to yourself – that could be the definition of luxury.
Address: 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Phone: (877) 632-7900
The High Roller Wheel at Caesar's is the world's tallest observation wheel. The wheel tops out at 550 feet, and each pod contains room for forty people. Since it takes a half-hour for one revolution of the wheel, you have just enough time for a memorable Vegas wedding. Packages available through Caesar's range from about $900 up to $7,000. The latter price includes a reception and dance party (with a live DJ) that goes on all night as the wheel spins.
Address: 3535 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (866) 328-1888
The company's tagline is: "Be in a band with rock stars." You can spend three nights and four days getting lessons from world-class musicians and jamming with A-list rock stars. During your stay, you'll write, perform, and record an original song written with your celebrity bandmates. Recent counselors include David Crosby, Ginger Baker, and Roger Daltrey. If you think about it, five grand is a pretty fair price for the chance to write and record a song with a rock legend.
Address: 3485 West Harmon Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89103
Phone: (888) 762-2263
Best Activities for Couples
It's easy to get married in Las Vegas. Unlike other states, Nevada doesn't require a blood test or a waiting period. City laws in Las Vegas make the process even easier – you fill out a form, pay $60 cash, show your ID, and within minutes you can get married. This led to a huge wedding industry in the city, one which tourists have fueled ever since.
But it's not just newlyweds who hit the city together – people have glommed on to the idea of the city as a hotspot for romance. Romantic activities abound. Here are some of my favorites.
New York New York is the home of Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil's adults-only Las Vegas show. The show's website says you should expect "sensual acts, sexual humor, and sultry acrobatics," but trust me, there's plenty of humor in the show, too. The tickets are $70 each, but during the Valentine's Day season they're known to run lots of specials. Call ahead to see if you can get a reduced rate during the week.
Address: Inside New York New York Hotel & Casino
Phone: (702) 740-6969
Located on the ground of the JW Marriott Resort, Aquae Sulis is a 50,000 square foot fitness center, sauna, and pool and spa complex. The venue includes a co-ed area, a water therapy pool, hot and cold fitness and relaxation pools, and full-service spa treatments. Aquae Sulis is one of the newest spa properties in Las Vegas and has tons of packages perfect for couples.
Address: 221 N Rampart Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89145
Phone: (702) 869-7807
Could there be anything more romantic than a trip down the hotel's Grand Canal on an authentic Venetian gondola? A private two-person gondola trip (including pictures) will set you back about $100, but it's a classic Vegas couple's thing-to-do, and the photos will be part of your memories for years to come. Pro-tip: come during the spring or summer months and your trip will be even longer, as the gondola heads outdoors to take in the warm air and sunshine.
Address: 3355 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 414.4300
The largest and most accurate recreation of the Eiffel Tower is at Paris casino – it's tough to miss the monstrous tower from anywhere near the Strip or Las Vegas Boulevard. Here's a tip that most tourists don't know – there's an amazing and cozy little French bistro halfway up the Vegas version of the Tower that does couple specials and offers totally intimate dining, at about the same price as you'd pay elsewhere in town. Be sure to ask for one of their couples tables, all of which have awesome views of the Strip.
Address: 3655 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Paris Hotel and Casino
Phone: (702) 414-4300
Planet Hollywood is home to the Sugar Factory, the premiere candy and sweets shop in all of Nevada. This place is stocked floor to ceiling with classic and artisan candies – but the big draw for couples should be the Sugar Factory Café, where they can share a handmade milkshake or decadent chocolate dessert for very little scratch.
Address: 3663 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 866-0777
Best Activities for Families
It's never been easier to find activities for the whole family in Las Vegas than it is these days. Thanks to changes in the demographics of visitors to the city, you can spend a week in the city with your family without even realizing that legal gambling is going on. Here are some awesome family-friendly activities to consider on your next non-gambling trip.
This unique comedy-magic show starring household pets and other animals has been running inside the Aladdin since the mid-90s. It was one of the first major family-friendly (read: Kid-friendly) shows in Las Vegas, and it's still going strong. We can't describe the show to you without ruining it – imagine an upbeat magic show aimed at both toddlers and adults but with dogs, cats, and other critters performing the roles of the magician's helpers and volunteers. It's weird, it's unique to Vegas, and it's fun for kids of all ages.
Address: V Theater at the Aladdin Resort
Phone: (702) 260-7200
The Barrick Museum is probably not as stuffy of a trip as you think. You can actually access six different art, science, and photography galleries as well as the entire natural history museum at this site, located on the campus of UNLV. Three restaurants (and a bar at night) serve food and drinks all day. Besides the ancient artifacts of the Southwest, you and your family or friends can take in an IMAX film. One day per month, the museum offers free entrance.
Address: 4505 S Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV 89154
Phone: (702) 895-3381
Built during the 1930s, the Hoover Dam is a marvel of modern construction, and a major historic site. The dam provides power for much of the surrounding area, and created Lake Mead, itself a major recreation spot. Visiting the Hoover Dam is sort of a rite of passage for Americans, especially those fond of road trips. Fun fact: the dam is built of 4.5 million cubic yards of concrete, enough to fill 11,000 Olympic-size pools to the brim.
Address: The dam has no street address.
Phone: (702) 494-2517
Inside the larger Town Square commercial center is Children's Park, a little-known gem for kids in the middle of Sin City. This is a huge playground, including a mini-water park and a ton of different cool places for kids to play. It's known for being spacious, clean, and safe. Your kids can play in a giant tree house, a hedge maze, a whole complex of slides and other fun diversions.
Address: 6605 S. Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Phone: (702) 269-5001
Families with kids may want to skip the "swimming with live sharks" feature at this amazing aquarium experience – but then again, maybe your kids are into near-death experiences! Kidding aside, Shark Reef is more than just another casino aquarium. Shark Reef is an immersive aquarium, with exotic animals and the opportunity for all sorts of encounters and sensory experiences. Don't miss the 1.3 million-gallon shipwreck exhibit, featuring more than 2,000 types of marine life, including vicious sharks and gigantic rays.
Address: 3950 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV
Phone: (702) 632-4555
Best Free Activities
You don't have to be broke to look for a free activity. The suggestions below are great time-killers, but many of them are also classic tourist sites that are on our personal "can't-miss" list. You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time in Las Vegas – in fact, you don't have to spend any at all.
Don't knock this totally-obvious Vegas activity. Not only is it free, the shows are set to music, so it's a complete audio and visual experience. If you're lucky, you'll walk up just as Frank Sinatra kicks off one of his hits. But no matter the accompaniment, the visual spectacle of explosive water features hundreds of feet in the air is a great way to kill time without spending money AND entertain your friends and family. You can expect a new show every fifteen minutes during the evenings.
Address: 3600 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (888) 987-6667
Red Rock Canyon is just twenty minutes from the Strip by car. You'll need decent hiking clothes, a supply of water, and the right shoes, but other than that, this activity is totally-free. If you visit in the mornings or late afternoons, you'll avoid the worst of the desert heat. Sunsets in Red Rock Canyon aren't just free, they're romantic. Your date won't even realize that you're a cheapskate. Don't overlook the fact that you're getting an up-close look at Nevada's oldest conservation site for no cover charge.
Address: 3205 State Route 159, Las Vegas, NV 89161
Phone: (775) 861-6400
People-watching on Fremont St. is an experience all on its own. But if you want to extend a few minutes' diversion into an evening of fun, wander to the Fremont Street Experience to take in the amazing Viva Vision LED light show under a 1,500 foot-long canopy. Most nights, you'll hear local bands, comedians, and other performers on one of three free stages. You may even luck out and catch a headlining act, especially during the summer. Sure, you can spend money on Fremont St., but you don't have to.
Address: 425 Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Phone: (702) 678-5600
On the first Friday of every month in Las Vegas Downtown Arts District, locals come out to share music, art, food, and fun with anyone who wanders by. You may need a little scratch to buy a snack or a souvenir, but you can get away with just wandering through. It's basically a big open-air bazaar, and it will give you an insider's look at the real Las Vegas, not the tourist's version.
Address: Along Casino Center Blvd. between Colorado St. and California St.
This is another must-do activity that won't cost you a dime. Located just south of the Strip, the sign is the perfect opportunity for a selfie or (even better) a group photo. This 25-foot tall pole is an icon, listed on the register of historic places, and a symbol of Las Vegas for six decades. To pass up the opportunity to take a (free) photo with this beautiful sign is a huge Vegas no-no.
Address: 5200 Las Vegas Blvd South Paradise, Nevada, 89119
Some Final Words
Las Vegas has become a hotspot for trade meetings, conferences, concerts, and school trips. Sure, legal gambling is huge business in the metro area, and in the state of Nevada, but it's becoming less and less important to the local economy.
As the city changes to meet the needs of travelers, the availability of non-gambling activities increases. These days, you can plan any sort of trip you'd like, from an educational family visit to a museum all the way to high-dollar entertainment and spa services. The kind of activity you take part in while visiting Las Vegas depends on the needs of the group you're in. We hope the tips above have helped you find something sin-free to do on your stay in Sin City.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: November 2015
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