A trend started in Las Vegas when the Mirage put a regularly erupting volcano in front of its main entrance—that’s when the era of fun and free curb-side shows took off. Some of those original shows are still entertaining the crowds in front of the hotels. The Mirage Volcano and the Fountains of Bellagio still dazzle the crowds. If you’re lucky enough to be driving by when either show happens, be careful: it’s hard to keep your eyes off what’s going on, and it's not unusual for people to simply stop their cars in the middle of the street to watch the shows.
Shopping malls in Las Vegas have emerged as experiences that combine shopping and excellent restaurants with entertainment. Artfully done interiors with elaborate building facades, wandering performers, and features like water-filled canals and rain storms are an entertaining backdrop. You don’t have to buy anything to wander through these shopping experiences and enjoy the atmosphere. For visitors traveling with kids, these malls offer a family-friendly experience free of the adults-only climate prevalent in most of Las Vegas.
In Downtown Las Vegas, the Fremont Street Experience is the major attraction. The canopy that covers the pedestrian walkway features the free overhead light show Viva Vision. Down on the walkway, street performers bring their own brand of cheap entertainment (tips are expected). Visitors looking for cheap and free things to do in Las Vegas will find a Downtown Las Vegas full of great deals.
Fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace Forum Shops
Inside Caesars Palace Forum Shops, one collection of statues regularly comes to life in a free show. Because it's Las Vegas, you can count on special lighting and sound effects, including thunder, and a fireball or two. The Fall of Atlantis (often informally called "the talking statue show") is great fun for younger kids and bit of cheesy entertainment for adults. Arrive early at the Fall of Atlantis to secure a good viewing position around the fountain. Taking pictures is allowed, but the dimmed lighting makes it difficult. A stroll through the Forum Shops is already an entertaining activity all by itself, considering the abundance of re-created ancient statues and the great window shopping, and this free show fits in perfectly. ((866) 227-5938)
Flamingo Wildlife Habitat
This oasis in the middle of the bustling Strip may surprise some visitors. Who knew that a secluded and lush escape was just a short walk away from the giant neon signs and sidewalk performers on Las Vegas Boulevard? The Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat is home to (naturally) flamingos, but you'll also find swans, ducks, koi, turtles and even two rescued pelicans. Lush landscaping makes for great pictures: think waterfalls, palms trees, and plenty of places to sit. The habitat is family-friendly, and it's free. Walking paths allow you to wander throughout the area, and if you've got kids with you, it's a nice place to stop for a very un-Vegasy break. (702-733-3111)
Miracle Mile Indoor Rainstorm
The Miracle Mile's 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. Visitors will find a big selection of retailers, restaurants, and even a theater in the Miracle Mile mall. The rainstorm arrives every hour, from mid-day until the mall's closing--so in between all the other things you'll find to do here, you can come back to enjoy the rainstorm as many times as you like. (702.866.0703)
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
Before the Bellagio, not many people in Las Vegas really knew what a conservatory was. Then everyone learned that "conservatory" is another way to say "fascinating elaborate indoor garden display," and the Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens have been captivating visitors ever since. 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 holiday 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 decided to add street performers, which they've dubbed "Streetmosphere." Singers, performers, and living statues regularly entertain people, who are often caught off-guard, especially by the living statues. (Parents, be forewarned, you probably won't be able to stop yourself from sending your unsuspecting kids up to the "statues," who are will move when your children least expect it--have your camera ready). Costumed singers regularly wander through the streets, serenading visitors. Several times a day, scheduled performances of singers, jugglers, and other entertainers takes place in St. Mark's Square. ((702) 414-4500)
Fremont Street Experience
The Fremont Street Experience is mostly known for its overhead light show, Viva Vision, which is an eye-popping visual spectacle. Street performers, impersonators and artists known as buskers are thickly concentrated at the street level on Fremont Street, making a walk up and down the few blocks under the canopy feel like an adult carnival. A zip line ride, SlotZilla, zooms riders under the canopy, over the heads of the crowds below. 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. If you're shopping for souvenirs, several places along the FSE feature inexpensive trinkets and tee-shirts. (702-678-5777)
The Aquarium at The Mirage
The Mirage's aquarium is an immense display of aquatic life that's been around since the hotel opened. Its technology is impressively advanced--when it was renovated, experts from California's Monterey Bay Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Baltimore worked on it. The 53-by-8 foot, 20,000 aquarium uses artificial coral was used in the colorful display, which replicates the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Look for sharks, stingrays, porcupine fish, eels, sea bass and puffer fish. Almost 1,000 sea creatures call the Mirage's aquarium home. It's definitely worth a stop to check out while you're in the area, especially if you're also taking in the free volcano show. (702-791-7111)
Two or three times a day, the Mirage's volcano rumbles into life, spewing flames and doing a great impersonation of the real thing. 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 is erupting. 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 for the eruptions was created by Mickey Hart of the The Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart and Indian musician Zakir Hussain. (702-791-7111)
Fountains of Bellagio
The dancing waters of the Fountains of Bellagio have become one of Las Vegas' most iconic attractions. 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 popular music, some of it very Vegas-y (think Sinatra and Elvis), but you'll hear plenty of classical, romantic and toe-tapping tunes as well. The fountain's elaborate show captivates audiences, plus it's a free Las Vegas attraction that's appropriate for all ages. Once you've seen the show, be assured that you'll want to see it again--the show is enchanting, no matter how many times you've seen it. (702-693-7111)
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. Willis never copyrighted the sign's design, and consequently the sign has become synonymous with Las Vegas and appears on all kinds of souvenirs and in artwork. On May 1, 2009, it was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. For many years, the sign was on the outskirts of town and stood in the median to greet drivers, but now it's surrounded by hotels and has become popular enough that a parking lot was built just for it. (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.
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