Before visiting the gambling capital of the world, I had heard that it was ugly during the day and not worth seeing unless you were into poker, slot machines and prostitutes. This could not have been more wrong. I enjoyed Las Vegas in the daylight even more so than I did when it was all lit up at night. If you aren’t into nightlife and/ or on a budget, rest assured there are plenty of cheap things to do in Las Vegas.
Though it is well known for its innumerable hotel casinos and vibrant nightlife, did you know you could travel around the world by visiting replicas of famous landmarks along the Las Vegas Strip? The Strip is the name given to the section of South Las Vegas Boulevard where you can find the highest concentration of luxury resorts and casinos. It is 4.2 miles (6.8 km) long, easy to walk and full of surprises.
How to get there?
You can easily reach downtown Las Vegas by plane. Unlike many airports that are far removed from the city center, the McCarran International Airport’s tarmac is located right on the Strip as you can see in the picture above. If you are driving into Las Vegas, I highly recommend parking your car and walking if you’re able. You truly do not need a car to get around Las Vegas if you are okay with walking a few miles every day.
When to go?
You can visit Las Vegas year round. However, I recommend against visiting in the summer months due to the intense heat. Instead, consider visiting in the fall, spring, or winter when temperatures are mild and crowds lower. We visited in March and November and enjoyed beautiful sunshine, warm days, and cool nights.
Where to park?
If you do not have time or do not want to walk the Strip, there is free complimentary parking currently available to all MGM resort guests. The first hour is free for non-guests, but will cost you $15-$18 beyond those free 60 minutes. Click here to check the parking fees at MGM resorts. Unfortunately, there are no cheap options for parking along the Las Vegas Strip, so for once, I do not recommend traveling with a car. Getting around is much easier on foot.
What to wear?
I recommend layering when visiting the Strip in the shoulder seasons, during fall and spring. While days are sunny and warm, evenings and nights can get quite chilly in the desert.
Where to eat?
You will find innumerable amounts of restaurants and fast foods in Las Vegas, but if walking the Strip tired you out, Café Zuppas is the perfect place for a cheap and yummy break! This small sandwich chain is much better than Panera Bread. You can choose from this small chain’s 6 Las Vegas locations for homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Their soups and infusions are to die for! I highly recommend the roasted red pepper and lobster bisque as well as the raspberry citrus infusion. So yummy I haven’t stopped dreaming about going back!
What to see?
Below you will find a list of the best things to do in Las Vegas on the cheap. You know I’m all about budget travel, so here’s how to explore Nevada’s #1 tourist destination without breaking the bank.
- Seven Magic Mountains
- Jean Roach Dry Lake Bed
- El Dorado Canyon
- Las Vegas Sign
- New York New York
- M&M World
- Paris Las Vegas
- Bellagio Conservatory
- Bellagio Fountains
- Real Bodies at Bally’s
- National Atomic Testing Museum
- The Mirage
- Trevi Fountain
- The Venetian
- Neon Museum
- Valley of Fire State Park
- Joshua Trees
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Seven Magic Mountains
Before taking a stroll down the Strip, we headed south to pay a visit to the Seven Magic Mountains, a free art installation in the middle of the desert near Jean, NV. This artwork by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone is one of the best cheap things to do in Las Vegas. It was originally scheduled to be on display for only two years starting in 2016, but the exhibit was so popular that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to extend its stay for several years into the future. Each column is made of colorfully painted stacked rocks towering over 30ft/ 10m high.
If you want to avoid the crowds for beautiful pictures, I suggest getting there early in the morning. We arrived for sunrise and had the place entirely to ourselves. The twilight rendered the rock colors even more vibrant. The first visitors arrived right as we were leaving about 15-20 minutes later. We drove by the installation later that week around 10am, and it was full of tourists already. Be advised that temperatures can be freezing in the desert during early morning, so come prepared!
Jean Roach Dry Lake Bed
Seven Magic Mountains is situated less than 10 minutes from Jean Roach Dry Lake Bed – a free boon docking zone on BLM land. Finding cheap accommodations in Las Vegas is no easy feat. If you are traveling in a van, camper, other recreational vehicle, or if you are looking for a place to legally park your car and sleep, Jean Roach Dry Lake Bed is the perfect location. It offers breathtaking views of the desert at sunrise and is free of charge. We saw very few campers on the road to Jean Roach Dry Lake Bed, so privacy is nice as well.
El Dorado Canyon
On the internet, you will see that this old mining town is a ghost town, but it isn’t exactly true. The owners who purchased the land and turned it into an open-air museum in 1994 do live on the premises. This now popular location has seen an influx of tourists in recent years, and the owners have suffered the consequences. Near the town buildings, you’ll see lots of signs stating that this isn’t Disneyland and people live there. I think the Werlys are fed up with idiots trying to capture the perfect Instagram photo without any respect for others’ property.
However, don’t let this deter you from visiting this beautiful site. I had found very little information online before our visit, so I gathered everything you need to know right here.
- Opening hours are 8am – 6pm Monday through Friday
- Do NOT arrive outside of these opening hours
- There is a $2 fee for walking around the premises
- To take photos, you must check in at the main office and pay a fee
- $10 for personal photos
- $20 for professional photos
- Weddings and larger photography jobs require special permission. Call (702) 291-0026
- For Techatticup Mine tours, call (702) 291-0026
- Daily at 9am, 12pm, and 2pm
- $15 for adults and $10 for children 5-12
- Accommodate a minimum of 4 people
- Last for about 1 hour
- There is very little cell phone service in the area
- Located about 45 minutes south of Las Vegas
To read more about the history of Nelson Ghost Town, click here. After leaving Old Nelson, head to Nelson Landing for gorgeous views of the Colorado River and surrounding Mojave Desert.
Las Vegas Sign
The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is conveniently located right outside the McCarran International Airport. When standing under the vintage sign, you can even see airplanes on the tarmac nearby. There is a small parking lot right in front of the sign. Be aware that it is only accessible from the left side when heading south on Las Vegas Boulevard. I highly recommend arriving early as the line can get quite long in the afternoon.
Walking along the Strip is one of the best and cheapest things to do in Vegas. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money to have a good time, just looking around at all the exuberant hotels and casinos is a show in itself. The Luxor is your go-to place for an Egyptian feel on the Strip. The imposing 30-story pyramid and Sphinx tower over palm trees and statues of mythological creatures and hieroglyphics. The BODIES exhibit is currently on display at the Luxor. It features 13 preserved human bodies and 260 organs. The exhibition is open Thursday-Sunday 11am-6pm. I am a science nerd, but we chose to visit Real Bodies instead for reasons I detail below, so keep reading to find out why.
As you continue to make your way up the Strip, you’ll find more unique structures. If you are a hopeless romantic or medieval fanatic, you’ll love Excalibur. This fairytale princess castle hotel gets its name from King Arthur’s eponym legendary sword.
New York New York
New York New York is one of my favorite views on The Strip. You can easily photograph it from the road. It depicts a very realistic replica of Lady Liberty, the Empire State Building as well as a functioning Big Apple Roller Coaster.
Who doesn’t love M&Ms? The sweet staple has been around since the 1940s, and the colorful characters embodying the candy brand have been entertaining generations of sugar-craved children and adults around the world. The M&M World in Las Vegas is one of only 7 around the world. It features 4 floors of apparel, candy dispensers, kitchenware, souvenirs, limited-edition flavors, personalized M&Ms, character merchandise, and so much more. Expect a line at the entrance of the store during weekends but know that it moves quickly. Visiting the store almost feels like walking around an M&M museum. Though entering the M&M store in Vegas may be free, strolling by the M&M wall probably won’t end up being cheap. During our visit, Garrett loaded up on candies of all colors and flavors, which cost us a pretty penny. At $7.95 for a half pound, you better choose your flavors wisely. My personal favorites are: crispy, sugar cookie, fudge brownie, and peanut butter.
Located right next to the Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan arguably offers the best views of the Strip and a front-row seat to the fountain show. Treat yourself to a terrace studio with views of the Bellagio fountains. I highly recommend booking your stay at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas during the week for surprisingly cheap prices. Click here to book your luxurious stay with terrace views at the Cosmopolitan.
Paris Las Vegas
Let yourself be transported to the romantic city of Paris, France with a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas features a restaurant and an observation deck 460 ft/ 137 m high open daily from 2-10pm. The Paris Las Vegas Hotel offers gorgeous European-style rooms and French cuisine as well as a spa and close proximity to the Strip.
Impossible to miss at the heart of the lobby are the enchanting flower arrangements of the Bellagio Conservatory, which is free of charge and decorated in accordance with each season. It takes the Bellagio Conservatory team approximately five days to install the new display each season, so make sure to check the schedule of the botanical garden to avoid visiting during those times. The Bellagio Conservatory is accessible day and night with equal beauty. We visited twice and saw both the spring and winter displays. Displays change each season and each year, making the Bellagio conservatory one of the best cheap outings in Vegas.
Before reaching the pool of the Bellagio to admire the light show, we took the elevator from the parking lot into the hotel lobby, which is full of surprises. I was mesmerized by the luxurious mosaic tile work on the floors and walls as well as the beautiful blown-glass flowers adorning the ceiling by the check-in desks. The installation is the work of Dale Chihuly, an American glass sculptor, and features over 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers weighing over 40,000 pounds or 18,000 kg.
The Bellagio Hotel is most well known for its beautiful fountain show. The fountains and lights move in synch to the music every 30 minutes Monday through Friday 3:00pm-8:00pm and every 15 minutes Monday through Friday 8:00pm to midnight. During the weekend and holidays, the light show begins at noon and follows the same schedule. Click here to check the Bellagio Fountain schedule. Better than cheap, this Las Vegas show is free to watch daily!
We absolutely LOVED Real Bodies. You might already know that Garrett is a paramedic, so this was right up his alley. Though I don’t work in the medical field, I have been immersed in it my entire life and love anything medically related. Walking through all 11 exhibits typically takes about an hour, but I’m a true nerd and stayed about 3 hours admiring the anatomical specimens and reading the commentary.
Located within the Horseshoe Las Vegas Hotel and Casino complex, Real Bodies features 20 full bodies and over 200 organs. I expected the venue to be cold in order to preserve the bodies, but they are actually preserved through an innovative technique using rubber silicone injections. The precision of the dissections is beyond impressive and allows visitors to get a glimpse of what the inside of their body looks like.
The exhibit is open 7 days a week from 10am to 8pm. Tickets cost $29.50 per adult and $19.50 for children 4 to 14. I recommend booking online to get the best prices.
There is another Bodies exhibit at the Luxor, but we chose this one because it allowed visitors to take photos throughout and focused not only on the anatomical aspect of human bodies but also included an anthropological approach to human physiology.
WHERE DO THE BODIES COME FROM?The bodies featured in real bodies are unclaimed bodies that were donated to medical universities in china. these bodies were all obtained legally. were never prisoners, showed no signs of trauma or injury, were free of infectious disease and all deaths OCCURRED naturally.
National Atomic Testing Museum
Located right behind X is the National Atomic Testing Museum. I teach a large amount of Marshallese students and thought it would be interesting to learn about the United States’ nuclear testing program while in Sin City. After all, our Marshallese communities here in the US have become our neighbors as a result of the devastating consequences of nuclear testing near Bikini Atoll. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we were there, so our visit will have to wait for another Southwest road trip. The National Atomic Testing Museum is open every day 9am to 5pm, and tickets are $29 for adults and $15 for anyone 7-17. There are discounts available for seniors, military/ first responders, and Nevada residents.
The Mirage Hotel features over 3,000 rooms set in a Polynesian décor along with a free nightly volcanic eruption show taking place every hour between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. The hotel also offers guests the opportunity to swim with dolphins at the Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Though this exhibit received a humane certification for animal welfare, I am doubting the ethics behind keeping dolphins in captivity in the middle of the desert.
Contrary to what you may believe (I did) the Trevi Fountain is not located near the Venetian. Yes, I know, the canals of the Venetian depict the streets of Venice, whereas the Trevi Fountain is located in Rome. I still figured they would all be in a central location Little Italy style. Wrong! Don’t worry though, it is very easy to find and located at the Trevi Italian restaurant in the forum of Ceasar’s Palace. This replica of the famous Italian fountain -though much smaller- strikingly resembles the original in intricate details.
The Venetian resort offers a maze of shops and eateries. I don’t use the term maze lightly… We actually wandered along the indoor canals for a while before finally figuring out how to exit the building. The canals were very quiet on that brisk Tuesday morning, but gondola rides are offered both indoors and outdoors from mid morning to late at night. Click here to view ride hours and prices.
The Neon Museum is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization located on Las Vegas Boulevard, just 2.5 miles north of the strip. In its boneyard, the museum salvages the old neon signs of Las Vegas and preserves their history. I recommend visiting this unique outdoor museum around dusk, so you can enjoy it in both daylight and when the signs are lit up at night. The museum is open during afternoons only and until 11pm or midnight depending on the time of year. Tickets are $20 per adult and $10 for children 7-17. Nevada residents, military members, seniors, and students get a discounted entrance fee of $16. Reservations are highly recommended.
I found prices to be relatively cheap for a fun and educational outing in Vegas.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best things to do near Vegas, and it’s cheap, too. There is a $10 fee per vehicle, but you could easily spend a whole day here exploring around the red rocks. If you arrive in the late afternoon or early evening after the fee station has closed, make sure to pay via envelope as there are cameras monitoring traffic and license plates, and you will be fined for entering without paying.
The Valley of Fire State Parks is one of Nevada’s 23 state parks located in Overton, NV in the Mojave Desert. The best time to visit is at either sunrise or sunset when fiery red light shines brightly on the red Aztec sandstone. Perhaps the most popular trail in the park is the Fire Wave Trail situated along the White Domes Scenic Byway. The Fire Wave Trail is an easy 1.5 mi/ 2.4 km out and back trail good for hikers of all ages.
If you enjoy admiring indigenous species during your travels like I do, you will be happy to know that Joshua trees can be found all along Interstate 15 in Nevada. They are particularly abundant by mile marker 104 going south. We stopped for a quick photo on our way to Valley of Fire. If this did not fulfill your appetite for Joshua Trees, check out Joshua Tree National Landmark in Southwest Utah or drive Highway 164 also called Joshua Tree Highway about an hour south of Vegas.