Photograph by Will van Overbeek
Amid all the high rollers and glitz of the Las Vegas Strip are a surprising number of things to do that won't cost you a thing. The casinos alone are a sensory tour de force, with lights, fountains, shows, and music—much of it free. Use this guide to explore some of the other no-cost opportunities in Vegas and save your money for the blackjack table.
Las Vegas's downtown Arts District is filled with cultural activities. The Arts Factory is home to many artists' studios and galleries. These are free and open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Arts Factory is one of many places open during First Friday, a street festival held in the Arts District on the first Friday night of each month from 6 until 10 p.m. Bands perform in the streets, galleries are open to all, artists display their works, children draw on the sidewalks with chalk, and street performers entertain. The city provides free rides on trolleys between First Friday stops.
Stop in at the Don Pablo Cigar Company and watch workers roll cigars by hand. Open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, Ethel M Chocolate Factory offers free self-guided tours of the chocolate factory and access to wander the botanical cactus gardens located on site. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Ethel M Chocolate Factory is located in Henderson, Nevada, about 15 minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip by car.
Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas is home to many of the original casinos in the city, and it's also home to the Fremont Street Experience, a seven-block, open-air pedestrian mall featuring daily shows and concerts and the nightly Viva Vision with big-screen films shown to all using 12 million LED bulbs and sound. Shows are every night from dusk until midnight.
The Hawaiian Marketplace features daily animatronic bird shows and Hawaiian dancers. The birds sing, dance, and tell Hawaiian folklore stories at 1 and 3 p.m. Friday-Tuesday, and the Hawaiian dancers perform daily between 4 and 9 p.m.
A shrine to M&M's candy, M&M's World features exhibits like an M&M's color mood analyzer, a replica of the M&M's NASCAR race car, and a 3D movie. Occasionally, the store in M&M's World will hand out free samples of new products.
Las Vegas's casinos are a spectacle in themselves, and just wandering through them can provide hours of entertainment. On your wanderings, be sure to check out these free attractions inside.
The Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens showcase an elaborate display of exotic plants and flowers. Open 24 hours daily. Also stop by the Chocolate Fountain to view the 27-foot-tall (8-meter) cascade of liquid chocolate located in the Jean-Philippe Patisserie inside the Bellagio. Open Sunday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 7 a.m.-midnight.
The Auto Collections, the world's largest collection of antique, muscle, and special-interest cars, is attached to the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. Admission to view the collection is free. Open 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. daily.
Have you ever wanted to give Hollywood television executives a piece of your mind? Get your chance at the CBS Television City Research Center, located in the MGM Grand. Visitors watch programming from Viacom networks and offer their opinions afterward. The MGM Grand is also home to the Lion Habitat, which features some of the casino's 31 lions. Sometimes you can see a feeding or demonstration. Open daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
While you're in the Venetian, be sure to see living statues, gondolas, street performers, and music inside the courtyard of the Grand Canal Shoppes. The Gondolier March takes place daily at 9:45 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., and the street performers entertain daily from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
After a long day of gaming, you'll be ready for a break and some entertainment. And you don't even have to leave the casino property to find some great free shows. Step outside of Bally's to see the light, water, and sound show held every 20 minutes nightly after dusk. The show takes place on Las Vegas Boulevard just outside the hotel entrance.
Immortalized in the remake of Ocean's 11, the Fountains of Bellagio are a quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) of water, light, and music visible on the Las Vegas Strip outside of the Bellagio hotel. Shows occur every half hour from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. until midnight.
Caesars Palace's version of the water show uses lifelike animatronic figures to act out the myth of Atlantis in the Fall of Atlantis Fountain Show. The shows take place every hour from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until midnight. on Friday and Saturday. After the show, check out the 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium behind the fountains that is home to more than 100 species of fish.
The world's largest permanent circus performs daily at Circus Circus. Different acts such as flying trapezes, jugglers on stilts, clowns, and contortionists take place every day from 11 a.m. to midnight.
A nightly display of fire, smoke, and "lava" shoots out of the 54-foot-tall (16.5-meter) volcano in front of the Mirage. Shows occur nightly on the hour beginning at 7 p.m. in the spring, 8 in the summer, and 6 in the winter. The last show is at midnight.
See re-creations of some of Paris's greatest landmarks right on the Las Vegas Strip. Replicas of Parisian landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Paris Opera House, and Hotel de Ville are all at Paris casino. Mimes and other performers also wander the grounds offering free performances.
The days of the Rat Pack members mingling with guests after their casino lounge performances are gone, but you can still find some great live music free in the casinos:
Revelers tend to dance the night away at Harrah's Carnaval Court Bar and Grill. The bar opens at noon, but the music doesn't usually start until the evenings. Or become part of the show at Harrah's Piano Bar for the dueling pianos show at 9 p.m. nightly. Also at Harrah's, be sure to check out the nightly music at the Range Steakhouse Lounge. The lounge opens at 5:30 p.m. Or head over to the country-themed I Love This Bar and Grill for live music Wednesday-Sunday by Las Vegas local, Tony Marques. The music starts at 9 p.m.
Look out over the casino floor at Addison's Lounge in the Rampart Casino at the Resort at Summerlin while listening to live music Friday and Saturday nights at 8. Also check out the nightly music at the Round Bar.
Learn all about Las Vegas's history or the history of gaming and gambling at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas's Lied Library Special Collections. Special Collections are located on the third floor of the library on UNLV's main campus east of the Strip and are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. It is closed on weekends.
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History offers impressive displays about the history of American Indian cultures in the southwestern United States, desert life, and the history of ancient Mexico. The museum is located on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas's campus east of the Strip and is open from 8 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.
Or if Americana/kitsch is more your thing, be sure to stop by the Neon Museum. This open-air museum is dedicated to preserving neon signs from Las Vegas's past. The organization restores the signs and has them displayed along Fremont Street.
Stop by the Anderson Dairy for a free barnyard tour of the dairy processing plant. The guided tour is complete with animatronic animals, farm scenery, and colored lights to explain the history of the dairy and of Las Vegas. Suitable for children aged 2-11, the tour must be scheduled in advance by calling +1 702 642 7507, extension 264.
Take a walk through the Arboretum and Xeric Garden on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas's campus, located east of the Strip. The Arboretum covers the entire 335-acre (135.5-hectare) campus, showcasing trees and plants native to the area. The Xeric Garden is a 1.5-acre (0.6-hectare) plot located at the entrance to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History and is designed to show how dry-climate plants and a water-efficient irrigation system can work together to create a attractive landscape while conserving water. Both plots are open to the public all the time.
An information center and nature preserve run by volunteers show visitors the importance of the local wetlands and the plants and animals that live there at the Clark County Wetlands Park. Enjoy the hiking trails, bird viewing blind, ponds, and scenic views in this 100-acre (40.5-hectare) wetlands park. The information center is open daily from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and the preserve is open from dawn until dusk.
Dubbed one of the seven wonders of modern engineering and ranked as the second-highest dam in the United States, Hoover Dam is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Las Vegas on the Nevada-Arizona border and worth the 30-minute drive. Parking on the Arizona side of the structure is free, and you can walk across during daylight hours. Tours inside the power plant cost extra, but there is no charge to stop by the visitors center, which is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Biking, hiking, camping, and climbing are just some of the popular activities offered at Red Rock Canyon National Preservation Area. It's free to visit the visitors center, scenic overlook, or to bike or hike into this conservation area located in the Mojave Desert just a few miles west of Las Vegas. The visitors center is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
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