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How to go Vegas

Harper's Bazaar (UK) logo Harper's Bazaar (UK) 5 days ago Ella Alexander

The ultimate guide to Las Vegas: How to do it with glamour © Las Vegas Tourism Board The ultimate guide to Las Vegas: How to do it with glamour If you want the best view of Las Vegas, the one that says the most about who and what it is, take a helicopter and fly to the Grand Canyon. If you're into metaphors, the journey to and from Sin City is telling of the fundamental ideals of America, its relentless can-do, anything is possible attitude, its ability to make something out of nothing and guts to give anything a go.

Out in the Mojave desert, it looks like a sci-fi film - in fact Star Wars was filmed near here. Vegas translates in Spanish as 'the meadows', after the natural spring water and wild grasses that used to grow here - both of which have long dried up and died. In the summer temperatures soar over 40 degrees when mountain lions, scorpions and coyotes scramble around vast expanses for food. The arid locale Vegas chose to call home is also among the driest areas in all of North America. It's not area you'd think was immediately conducive to glamour, hedonism and entertainment but that's Americans for you - so positive, ballsy and determined they built a glittering good time city in a desert, where even the fountains dance like showgirls.

a canyon with a mountain in the background © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)

What you should know

The first thing you should know about Vegas is that is has zero kitsch control. If you want restraint and minimalism, stick to Scandinavia. It looks like everything you've seen in the films, but bigger, brighter and glitzier - Vegas is all about the superlatives. This is a city that replicated Venice's Grand Canal in one of its hotels, complete with gondolas and singing rowers.

a boat parked on the side of a building © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Europeans tend to scoff a little when it comes to Americans, and is no place more scoffed at than Vegas. We accuse Americans of being less intelligent and refined, which is galling considering it was they who gave us electricity, modern democracy and Dorothy Parker. Vegas is guilty of many things, avarice and trashiness, but it's also non-judgmental, optimistic and relentlessly searching for fun. Even in the wake of the worst US shooting in modern history, this is a city that wants you to smile. That’s not to say it lacks compassion, but as a place whose livelihood is based on tourism, the show must go on. 

Away from the famous Strip, sits Downtown - a growing arts district where the local live, punctuated by street art and installations, museums, small galleries and the kind of bars that you wish your neighbourhood had. Vegas is what you make it, but the goal is to entertain you.

a fountain in front of a building © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)

Where to stay

If you’re going to Vegas, it makes sense to stay at one of the iconic hotels on The Strip even if just one night. Nothing can prepare you for the elaborate mock golden grandeur of Caesars Palace, one of the favourite haunts of the Rat Pack – it’s huge and Versace-style glamorous. Roman-Greek in theme, marble statues are peppered throughout the rooms, the sprawling casino never stops buzzing, a towering fountain stands in the lobby and the six-pool oasis, named the Garden of Gods, is as opulent as its name suggests. Even the breakfast buffet is a feat of extravagance – whether you want dim sum, fajitas, wagyu steak, truffle eggs or avocado on toast, Caesars has your back. Apollo himself would come away from a night here a stone heavier and with a few maximalist interiors ideas.

a tall glass building © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) The Palazzo-Venetian is equally adept at committing to a theme – if you can’t be bothered to walk (these hotels truly are gargantuan in size), then gondoliers will row you down its mock grand canal, surrounded by a replica of St Mark’s Square and its winding streets, complete even with a painted dappled sky. Inside the spacious Palazzo suites, press a button from your bed to open the blinds to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking The Strip and the ragged mountains – the sunset views are spectacular. Everything is considered here – from the softness of the luxe dressing gowns to the huge roman bathtub. If you want something a little more understated, stay at the SLS at the bottom of the Strip, which is the closest Vegas gets to boutique accommodation. Designed by Philippe Starck, these rooms have a more high design aesthetic, with rooms inspired by industrial loft spaces. There’s a clear contemporary, youthful edge – even the pool is presided over by a giant silver duck sculpture. 

What to do

The Strip

You’ll want to spend a lot of time on The Strip, which is understandable given that it serves as an adult Disneyworld. Do see a show – Cirque du Soleil’s O is spectacular. Hosted in the Bellagio, a surreal aquatic circus where performers resemble otherworldly sprites rather than earthly creatures. Their lithe bodies bend and fly through the water and air achieving acts that will make you gasp for 90 minutes solid.

a group of people on a stage © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Also worth seeing is Absinthe – the sort of show you wouldn’t expect to see at Vegas – it has a much more Edinburgh Fringe vibe such is its intimate in-the-round set up and politically incorrect humour. The acrobatics are still impressive, arguably more daring because of the close proximity to the audience. One of the requisites of Vegas is to watch the Bellagio Fountain, with performances set to music and light. High rollers can pick a song from a playlist and watch the fountain dance. It is mesmerising to watch. To spend all your time in Vegas by a pool or in a casino is to miss out. 

Downtown

© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Don’t miss out on Downtown, which is fast becoming an unlikely arts district. Having undergone a huge revitalisation, the area has become popular with young locals who have cultural interests that go beyond gambling and steak. The Writer’s Block is a delightful independent book store (one of the few in Nevada) with a studio that hosts readings, signings, seminars, clubs and workshops.

a tractor in a room © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Visit 11th Street Records where the Killers recorded their most recent album, a mecca for vinyl, both old and new. Neon lights still line the streets, but they have a more retro, almost hipster appeal here. Downtown Container Park, constructed using more than 40 shipping containers, offers boutique shops, art and restaurants, as well as an adult tree house. At night, a giant 40-foot praying mantis spews fire outside its entrance (its flames can reach six stories high). Make a stop off at The Neon Museum, a boneyard for the city’s most iconic neon lights and signs going back to the 30s (it’s only perfect Instagram fodder). 

a cake made to look like a boat © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) For a truly unique way of seeing Downtown, try the Slotzilla Zipline – in which you fly over Fremont Street on your stomach at 114 feet high and at 35 miles an hour. It’s worth being scared (and the queues) to feel like Peter Pan meets Superman. 

Outside Vegas

a view of a canyon © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) If you only do one thing in Vegas splash out on getting an early morning helicopter ride to the Canyon with Sundance Helicopters. The experience starts with a limo arriving to collect you from your hotel to the private helipad. Next, you’ll be flown over the dessert while a pilot will talk you through points of interest and the history, before landing inside the Grand Canyon where you’ll be given a champagne breakfast. The views are overwhelming – to describe the Grand Canyon is, as geologist Jack Schmitt said, like remembering “your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like”. Its scale and majesty is truly mindblowing.

While visiting the Grand Canyon might be an obvious choice, Vegas Glass Kayaking is perhaps a more secret find. Tour the Colorado River in a clear kayak led by an instructor who will tell you about the history of the area and the surrounding Black Canyon, before stopping off for a gourmet lunch and a quick dip in the clear waters. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the Emerald Cave where, at the right time of the day, the sun lights the interior a beautiful shade of green. It’s scenery this beautiful that helps you understand why only 30 percent of Americans have passports.

Where to drink

a lit up city at night © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) There are no shortage of bars in Vegas, but our favourites included the Dorsey at the Venetian, in which guests sip cocktails in front of a fire amid shelves upon shelves of books – it’s a refined alternative to the city’s flashier drinking options. Head to Downtown for more laid-back, glitz-free bars – The Velveteen Rabbit, ran by two sisters, is a dimly-lit, original establishment filled with Victorian furniture. DJs play outside as guests dance under the stars. We visited on Ladies Night, which meant local women creative set up stalls on the terrace selling art and fashion, while a female DJ hit the decks. With its expansive cocktail list and warm, lively atmosphere, this is the type of neighbourhood bar everyone wishes that they lived near. 

a table that has a sign on the side of a building © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Back on Fremont Street, Corduroy is another good spot to try. Its 70s-inspired interior and rock n’ roll soundtrack make it an unconventional Vegas watering hole. Its Met Gala-inspired selfie booth towards the back offers the perfect evening souvenir. Those searching for a relaxed pint should try Beerhaus, an informal beer hall with an impressive array of locally sourced beers with knowledgeable, friendly staff who are happy to help you choose from the lengthy menu.

Where to eat

Vegas is no place for diets. Go big or go home is definitely the mantra here; portion sizes are huge and when the food is this good it’s hard not to finish your plate. Mr Chow at Caesars Palace is a must – a high-end favourite of Jennifer Lopez, with carpets so plush your feet will sink into them. This is Chinese food like no other – delicious hand-pulled noodles (a Mr Chow signature), spicy pork with chilli and succulent Beijing duck.

a plate of food © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) Bazaar Meat, helmed by award-winning chef José Andrés, will go down as one of the best culinary experiences you’ve ever tried. Opt for the tasting menu and prepare to eat the most juicy steak imaginable, flavoursome oysters, beautifully fresh steak tartar, buttery mash and fois gras served within candyfloss. The staff have an enthusiasm for food and drink that’s impossible not to be charmed by. Carnivores should also try the Jean Georges Steakhouse at the Aria hotel, a glamorous, dimly-lit restaurant filled with high-rollers. Giada at the Cromwell, is a great lunchtime spot, a laid-back Italian restaurant with views overlooking the Bellagio fountain. The Barrymore, positioned just off the Strip, is an unassuming gem popular with locals. Its pared-down exterior means it’s an unlikely looking place to host an incredible steakhouse, which somehow made the food taste better. Choose the creamed spinach and lean steak and enjoy the intimate, friendly ambience. 

Pampering

This is a city designed for indulgence, so follow a night of fine dining and cocktails with a treatment at the Espa spa in the Vdara hotel. Spoil yourself and opt for the Desert Rose Treatment – 110 minutes of pure bliss, involving a personalised full-body massage, a salt scrub rounded off with a head massage. Ask for Natalie, whose voice alone will make you feel infinitely calmer. Everything has been artfully chosen with tranquility in mind, from the décor and luxe bath robes to the relaxing music and natural products.

Getting around

If you want to venture further than The Strip, you will need to hire a car. In fact, walking from one end of this lengthy road to the other is quite the marathon in itself. AWG Ambassadors come recommended. Drivers see themselves as chauffeurs, so expect a high level of professionalism, pristine cars and excellent customer service. There's nothing AWG don't know about Vegas whether nightlife, restaurants or the history of the city. If you want three steps up from a standard taxi (and when in Vegas, why wouldn't you?), this is the way to do it.

Virgin Atlantic flies from London Gatwick to Las Vegas daily.

Related: You can kayak in Canada's remote glaciers (provided by INSIDER)

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