Las Vegas Travel Guide

It's not possible to talk about Las Vegas without using the term 'world-class', cause so many hotels, restaurants and extravagant entertainment options are that. Step outside the neon environs and splendours surrounding Sin City are world beaters, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and the magnificent wind and water carved landscapesin the red rock desert of the southwest.

Las Vegas means glamour for its own sake, over-the-top hustle and flash as means and end. It's crowds of people in polyester pantsuits, gold chains and big hair, staring at neon signs, spinning lemons like deer hypnotised by headlights.

Las Vegas has too a serious side - billions are at stake on the tables and in the theme parks. But you're given enough distractions to ignore it. If you tire of tugging on the slot machine, the outside area has some region's most beautiful places.

Facts at a glance

Area: 293 sq km
Population: 478,400
Country: USA
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -8 (Pacific Time)
Telephone Area Code: 702



The only natural feature to account for the location of Las Vegas is a spring north of downtown. Once used by Paiute Indians on their seasonal visits to the area, it was rediscovered by Mexican scout Rafael Rivera in 1829. The area became known to overland travellers as las vegas - 'the meadows' - a place with reliable water and feed for horses. In the 1850s, Mormons built the town's first structures, a small mission and fort; the fort became a ranch house, but there was little development before the 20th century. It became a regular stop on the southern emigrant route to California, the Spanish Trail.

1902: the land on which Las Vegas now stands was sold to a railroad company. The area that is now downtown was subdivided when the tracks came through, with 1200 lots sold on 15 May 1905 alone, a date now celebrated as the city's birthday.

As a railroad town, Las Vegas had machine shops, an ice works and a good number of hotels, saloons and gambling houses. The huge Hoover Dam (known then as Boulder Dam) project commenced in 1931, providing jobs in the short term and water and power for the city's long-term growth.

The railroad laid off hundreds in the mid-1920s, but one Depression-era development gave the city a new life.

1931: Nevada legalised gambling and simplified its divorce laws, paving the way for the first big casino on the Strip, El Rancho, which was built by Los Angeles developers and opened in 1941. The next investors, also from out of town, were mobsters like Bugsy Siegel, who built the Flamingo in 1946 and set the tone for the new casinos, big and flashy, with glitzy entertainment laid on to attract high rollers.

Southern California provided a growing market for Las Vegas entertainment, and improvements in transport made it accessible to the rest of the country. The dazzle that brought in the more lavish cash-lashers also attracted smaller spenders. Thanks to air conditioning and reliable water supplies, Las Vegas became one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

In recent years, Vegas has bent over backwards to remake itself into a family resort destination, building theme parks inside its hotels. All of this, along with dozens of artificial lakes in the suburbs - has put a huge strain on the city's water supply, but it hasn't slowed the development juggernaut. Hotels have outdone each other with working volcanoes, million-gallon fishtanks and miniature Manhattans.

Today Las Vegas attracts 33 million visitors per year (100,000 of whom get married there), boasts 19 of the world's 20 largest hotels, and earns over 5250000000.00 in annual gaming revenue. A serious disruption to the city's well-honed reputation as a capital of low culture was the 2001 arrival of a Las Vegas branch of the Guggenheim museum. It's moved in, but it won't have truly arrived until the names Picasso and Cezanne go up in flashy lights on the Strip. There are much cities with big entertainment and gaming opportunities, but there is no place in the world like Las Vegas.

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