Despite many cynical visitors’ impressions that everything at Las Vegas hotels is expensive, truth is, you don’t need to bleed money in order to have a good time here. In fact, all around town — and on the Strip in particular — there’s an excess of free fun attractions, for families, couples, or anyone else.
Prove it, you say? OK, I will:
10) Circus Circus midway: One of the first free attractions on the Strip, the CC presents a rotating cast of classic circus performers every hour from 11 a.m. to midnight daily.
9) Flamingo wildlife habitat: Over the property’s 15 acres of tropical gardens roam multiple bird species (flamingos, swans, cranes, penguins, etc.), while schools of fish swim in the ponds. Every morning at 11 a.m., curators offer a free presentation.
8) Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Gardens: The ever-changing floral displays here are always a thing of magnificent wonder, entirely changed 4-5 times a year by over a dozen horticulturalists. Bellagio’s Dale Chiluly glass ceiling in the adjacent hotel reception, and the free Richard Macdonald art exhibit in the lobby of O Theatre are also both worth your time.
7) Silverton Lodge aquarium: Featuring 4000 tropical fish (plus stingrays and sharks) in 117,000 gallons of salt water, the octagonal tank presents afternoon/evening interactive shows with mermaids and scuba divers. There are also jellyfish in the Mermaid lounge and a few more tanks in the adjoining Bass Pro Shops…Another impressive 50,000 gallon salt water aquarium can be found behind the animatronic Fall of Atlantis statues (a bit clunky themselves, but worth seeing once perhaps) inside Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. And if you happen to be at the Mirage or Mandalay Bay, both have nice fish tanks in their reception areas.
6) MGM Grand lion habitat: This enclosed habitat inside the casino must be seen (from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily) — first, just to believe that there are actually real lions in there, and then to catch their handlers at play with the fearsome cats (usually more awake at night).
5) Fremont Street Experience’s VivaVision: The 1500-foot-long video “ceiling” running along downtown Vegas’ five-block casino corridor presents six different shows on the hour from dusk to midnight, including tributes to Queen and Kiss. There are also other free shows along the pedestrian-only street.
4) Treasure Island’s Sirens of T.I.: Another Vegas institution, the Strip-side performance (nightly: 5:30, 7, 8:30 and 10) combines acrobatics, pyrotechnics, drama and a bit of sex appeal atop battling pirate ships.
3) WYNN Resort’s Lake of Dreams (across from the Parasol Down bar): A unique nightly multimedia show combining music, lighting, special effects, huge animatronic puppetry, and more.
2) Mirage Volcano: After a $22 million revamp, the iconic Mirage volcano has been reborn as a massive, explosive fire and water display (visible from the Strip nightly from dusk to midnight) with a soundtrack by Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart. Definitely worth 7.5 minutes of your time.
1) Bellagio Fountains: No trip to Vegas would be complete without taking in the moving Fountains of Bellagio on the 8-acre Strip-side lake. Computer choreographed to a changing repertoire of music, their revamped water cannons can now shoot water as high as 460 feet! They “perform” every half hour from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. (starting at noon on weekends), then every 15 minutes until midnight. So, no excuses.
Honorable mentions: The Rio’s Show in the Sky (hourly 7 to midnight, Thurs. through Sun.) …watching The Venetian’s Grand Canal gondoliers as they serenade their passengers, and seeing the “streetmosphere” operatic performances and human statues in St. Mark’s Square … runway fashion shows at the Fashion Show Mall…the Ethel M Chocolate Factory free self-guided tour & botanical cactus garden.
Insider tip: If you know who to ask, or where to look, it isn’t impossible to find free passes to The Quad’s Auto Collection, a truly impressive array of cars from thepast 100 years that is even worth paying for, if you have to!
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E.C. Gladstone is a former editor for AOLVegas, and interviews top Strip entertainers, restaurateurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for VEGAS Magazine. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.