Ten Totally Free (And Mostly Family-Friendly) Things to do In Las Vegas
By Terrisa Meeks
Las Vegas Local Expert
At one time, the idea behind offering free entertainment in Las Vegas casinos was that people would be drawn in, captivated, and then stay to gamble. Today, people are still drawn to the free attractions, but they may stay to gamble, eat, or shop—or, if they're particularly budget-conscious, they can simply enjoy the free shows and then leave.
Curb-side shows became a staple along the Strip in the 1990s, and some of those original shows are still entertaining the crowds in front of the hotels. The Mirage volcano, the Bellagio's fountains, and the TI's sirens and pirates give totally free performances throughout the evening. You may also catch bits and pieces if you're driving by when the shows are happening—and exercise extra caution when you are driving past during a show because it's not unusual for people to simply stop their cars in the middle of the street to watch these shows.
Shopping malls in Las Vegas have emerged as a shopping-tainment experience, combining artfully done faux "skies" and building facades, wandering performers, and features like water-filled canals and rain storms. You don’t have to buy anything to enjoy the atmosphere these malls have created. For visitors traveling with kids, these malls offer a family-friendly experience free of the adults-only climate that permeates most of Las Vegas.
In Downtown Las Vegas, the major attraction, the Fremont Street Experience, combines a few totally free attractions: Viva Vision, the overhead light show; street performers; and the Neon Museum. As a bonus, for visitors looking for a deal, Downtown Las Vegas also offers generally less-expensive options overall, from accommodations to food.
Acrobats, trapeze artists, and magic acts are a few of the circus performers under the permanent Big Top of Circus Circus. Free performances start at 11 a.m. every day, and whether you're in the casino or on the Midway, you can watch these acts. Jugglers, contortionists, and specialty acts of all kinds give you plenty to watch. Circus Circus is both a budget hotel and one of the most kid-friendly hotels on the Strip, so be prepared for lot of kids, which is an uncommon thing to encounter in Las Vegas. This is a place for bargains and freebies, starting with the free circus acts. Limited seating is available for the short performances that occur regularly throughout the day. (702-734-0410)
Fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace Forum Shops
Inside Caesars Palace Forum Shops, one set of animatronic statues regularly comes to life and tell a story. Because it's Las Vegas, you can count on special lighting, including simulated lightning and thunder. The Fall of Atlantis, or talking statue show, is great fun for younger kids and kitschy entertainment for adults. Anyone who is up on their Greek and Roman mythology will recognize the characters. Arrive early to secure a good viewing position around the fountain. Taking pictures is allowed, but the dimmed lighting makes it difficult. Afterwards, you're close to a few restaurants—which aren't free, but also aren't super expensive. ((866) 227-5938)
Miracle Mile Indoor Rainstorm
Before it became Planet Hollywood, this building was the Aladdin and the shopping mall was the Desert Passage. The area around the indoor rainstorm still holds a few clues about the shopping mall's origins (check out the hull of the ship in the building façade). The rainstorm is a hold-over from the mall's previous life, when this area was supposed to represent North Africa along the coastline. The indoor rainstorm is especially nice during the hot summer months, but at any time of year it's fun to watch the fog, lighting, and indoor rain. A small pond, meant to replicate a dock, catches the burst of light rainfall. After you've observed the rain, you can get back to the more serious business at hand: shopping. (702.866.0703)
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
No one in Las Vegas really knew what a conservatory was before the Bellagio put one in. Of course, "conservatory" sounds much more posh than "elaborate indoor garden display," although the latter is an accurate description. As the seasons and holidays change, the staff of the Conservatory swoops in and adds everything from gigantic Christmas trees to rare flowers. This area of the Bellagio, which is directly off of the front desk, is frequently choked with visitors snapping pictures from every angle, especially during the Christmas season. It's also one of the few areas of the Bellagio receptive to visiting children. Visit early in the day to encounter the fewest people and get the best pictures. Open 24/7. (888-987-6667)
Streetmosphere at the Venetian
The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian aren't satisfied with just having miniature Venetian canals, a recreation of St. Mark's square, or top-notch shops and restaurants. They felt it necessary to add street performers, which they've dubbed "Streetmosphere." The living statues are sure to catch a few people off-guard (parents, be forewarned, you won't be able to stop yourself from sending your unsuspecting kids up to the "statues," who are more than happy to move and scare the children silly). Costumed singers regularly wander through the streets, serenading visitors. Several times a day, from noon until 6 p.m. scheduled performances of singers, jugglers, and other entertainers takes place in St. Mark's Square. ((702) 414-4500)
Fremont Street Experience
Mostly known for its overhead light show, Viva Vision, Fremont Street Experience is actually far more than just an eye-popping visual spectacle. Wandering performers, impersonators and artists known as buskers are thickly concentrated on Fremont Street, making a walk up and down the few blocks under the canopy feel like an adult carnival that's spun just a little out of control. A zip line ride, SlotZilla, zooms riders under the canopy, over the heads of the crowds below. The Neon Museum's vintage Vegas signs adorn sidewalks and the sides of buildings. And, of course, every hour after dark the overhead canopy explodes into images and music. During the day, the FSE is a bit more sedate. Pedestrians can stroll from casino to casino and check out the wares at the shopping kiosks. Prices for everything from food to souvenirs are lower here than on the Strip. (702-678-5777)
Every hour on the hour, the Mirage's volcano rumbles into life, spewing flames and imitating lava. Crowds gather early to get a glimpse of this iconic curb-side attraction—when it first appeared on the Strip, it was the first Vegas exterior entertainment of its kind. The entire lagoon area in front of the Mirage comes to life when the volcano does its thing. If you've ever seen real lava, you're in no danger of mistaking the special effects at the Mirage for the real thing—but it is a Hollywood-worthy spectacle, and plenty of fun to watch. The firm that designed the Bellagio's famous fountains helped give the volcano a makeover in 2008, adding more fire and drama. An exclusive soundtrack also accompanies the volcano's regular eruption. (702-791-7111)
Fountains of Bellagio
The Fountains of Bellagio is one of Las Vegas' most iconic attraction. It seems like a simple idea, really, when you consider the concept of moving water around to music, but in actual execution it's a complex process. Jets of water shoot hundreds of feet into the air, sway gracefully and race around in patterns on the surface of Lake Bellagio. All that aquatic movement is choreographed to music you're probably familiar with. The fountain's elaborate show captivates audiences, and it's a Las Vegas attraction that's appropriate for all ages. Performances run every half an hour until 7 p.m. and every 15 minutes after that until midnight. (702-693-7111)
The Aquarium at The Mirage
Located behind the hotel's front desk, the aquarium at The Mirage holds roughly 20,000 gallons of saltwater and is home to approximately 400 fish from 85 different species. Some of the highlighted species include a 5-foot green moray eel, a 5-foot honeycomb moray eel, buffalo trunkfish, lionfish, porcupine pufferfish, an emperor snapper, clownfish and several species of angelfish and tangs. (702-791-7111)
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign
No trip to Las Vegas is complete without visiting this landmark. Designed by Betty Willis in 1959, the famous neon sign welcomes millions of visitors to Las Vegas each year. On May 1, 2009, it was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. (n/a)
About Terrisa Meeks
Terrisa Meeks is a native born, life-long resident of Las Vegas. She became a traveler long before she could walk. Terrisa has traveled throughout the United States, from Maine to Hawaii, but she especially enjoys exploring the Southwestern United States. Las Vegas is a place she's watched grow and change. While she always enjoys visiting the Strip, Terrisa's true passion is for exploring the lightly-visited Mojave Desert. She gets giddy over hard-to-find back roads, quirky museums, and ghost towns. Her happiest travel moments involve vast expanses of wilderness and a good map.
Read more about Terrisa Meeks here.