Las Vegas' 10 Best Attractions & Activities Beyond the Casino

Photo courtesy of The Venetian Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of Neon Museum
Photo courtesy of Laurent Vu
Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau
Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Land Management
By Terrisa Meeks, Las Vegas Local Expert

The Strip’s major attraction is its casinos, but there are plenty of things to do in Las Vegas that don’t involve gambling. When you need a break from the tables, you’ll find there’s no shortage of choices for sightseeing, exploring and having fun.

On the Strip, you’ll find fountains, volcanoes, fabulous shows and even gondola rides. Downtown, you can get a glimpse into the checkered history of Las Vegas at The Mob Museum, one of the city’s unique museums. The Neon Museum is another place to find unusual Vegas history–it’s the place where old neon signs are retired.

The weather in Las Vegas is terrific for most of the year, which makes outside activities an option most of the time. Take a drive out of town to see historic Hoover Dam, or hike over the red sandstone in Red Rock Canyon. Las Vegas isn't the only thing in the Mojave Desert, and you'll find plenty of options for day trips into the surrounding area. Outdoor sports like hiking, golf and tennis are popular.

For the adrenaline junkies in the crowd, thrill rides may be just the ticket. Adventure-seekers will find zip lines and roller coasters, and some of those rides are at the top of very tall buildings.

Still wondering what to do when you’re tired of the tables? Check out our list of the best things to do in Vegas.

10. Fountains of Bellagio
Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International

The iconic Fountains of Bellagio have been attracting and mesmerizing people since the shows began. The dancing, swaying waters draw a crowd every time they go off. Streams of water shoot into the air, dissipate into a mist and gracefully arch into curves--all while perfectly choreographed to music. The accompanying music is broadcast throughout the area, so everyone can hear Sinatra while watching the magical dancing waters. A list of songs that play during the shows is posted online, in case you're hoping to catch a specific song. Shows begin daily at 3 p.m. (noon on Saturdays and holidays, and 11 a.m. on Sundays--just in time for brunch). Performances are totally free and are appropriate for all ages. While some of the best Fountain watching is right in front of the Bellagio, there are several excellent vantage points nearby.

9. Gondola Rides at The Venetian
Photo courtesy of The Venetian Las Vegas

Old Venice has been miniaturized at the Venetian's Grand Canal Shoppes, and tops it off with authentic Venetian gondolas and singing gondoliers. Private two-person gondolas are available, or you can share with another two people for the short ride through the Shoppes. It's not Italy, but it's a fun break from shopping or gambling, and the gondoliers are talented singers. If the weather's nice, outdoor gondola rides are available from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., offering guests incredible views of the resort's striking architecture and the Las Vegas Strip. Although a professional photographer will also be on hand to snap a few quick photos of you before your voyage, you'll undoubtedly want to take a few pictures of your own.

8. Stratosphere Tower
Photo courtesy of Joao Carlos Medau

The Stratosphere is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States, but taking in the view isn't the only thing you can do at 1,149 feet. The thrill rides at the top give daredevils the chance to be dangled off the side of the building or shot skyward. If those rides are too sedate, you can literally jump off the building at the Sky Jump, one of the world's highest freefalls where the controlled descent will take you over 800 feet down in a hurry. The Stratosphere offers four rides: the Big Shot (perhaps the most popular), Insanity, X-Scream, and the Sky Jump. The view from here is incredible, whether you're enjoying it from the observation deck or as you're contemplating just how sturdy the equipment is.

7. The Neon Museum
Photo courtesy of Neon Museum

Las Vegas is known for lots of things, including its wealth of colorful neon. But where do old signs end up? If they're lucky, in the possession of the Neon Museum. Founded in 1996, the Neon Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic and cultural enrichment. In addition to an approximately two-acre Neon Museum campus, which includes the outdoor exhibition space known as the Neon Boneyard, the museum also encompasses a visitors' center housed inside the former La Concha Motel lobby as well as several restored signs installed as public art throughout downtown Las Vegas. If you haven't visited in a while, be sure to check out the Neon Boneyard, which now features some electrified signs as part of its permanent collection.

6. The Mob Museum
Photo courtesy of The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum tells the story of organized crime in America. The museum's location in Las Vegas is appropriate, considering Sin City's early history as an outpost of the Mafia. Located in a historic Downtown Las Vegas building which originally a federal courthouse, The Mob Museum presents a rounded view of this chapter of American history on three floors of engaging exhibits, including high-tech theater presentations, iconic one-of-a-kind artifacts and interactive, themed environments. These are names that many people recognize from the movies, but The Mob Museum tells the true stories. You'll learn about Al Capone, Tony Spilotro and Whitey Bulger, among other infamous men who once played important roles in American organized crime. Visitors also learn about law enforcement agents like Joe Pistone, who went undercover as Donnie Brasco, to help bring down the Mob.

5. Exotics Racing
Photo courtesy of Laurent Vu

Car and racing enthusiasts can indulge themselves at Exotics Racing, where the need for speed is a serious daily pursuit. Exotics Racing offers the world's largest fleet of exotic super cars with an inventory of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Audis, Porsches, Aston Martins, Mercedes and Corvettes. Guests receive professional racing instructions at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway before taking the wheel. The driving experience integrates classroom education, familiarization laps and one-on-one coaching from a racing instructor into one comprehensive, safe and exciting driving experience. Drivers do not need to know how to drive a manual transmission. You can also choose to skip the driving and instead let one of the professionals take you around the track.

4. Hoover Dam
Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

What's appealing about a gigantic wedge of concrete in a remote desert canyon? As it turns out, quite a lot. Hoover Dam was a groundbreaking engineering feat in the 1930s when it was built--even today, it's not easy to pour that much concrete and divert a river. This massive dam created one of North America's largest reservoirs, Lake Mead, and was built during the Great Depression. Hoover Dam played a major role in development throughout much of the Southwest United States, a history that's explained in the displays at the Visitor Center, where you can also learn about its fascinating construction. Now that regular traffic has been re-routed around the dam to the bypass bridge (also an amazing engineering accomplishment), it's easier to wander along the top of the dam and appreciate its Art Deco details. Tours are also available to see inside the massive structure.

3. SlotZilla
Photo courtesy of Slotzilla at Fremont Street Experience

Before you get to "fly" over Fremont Street on the Slotzilla zip line, you'll probably get to see several groups of people zoom out of the giant slot machine while you're waiting. The anticipation is part of the fun (and perhaps the cause of a little anxiety). If you're an adrenaline junkie, the moments before takeoff will be a thrill as the workers check all the straps and prepare to send you speeding down the zip line. At speeds of up to 40 m.p.h., the ride may seem to go all to quickly--chances are good you'll want to do it again as soon as possible. Riders who choose the highest zip line (the "zoom line") fly Superman-style, while those who pick the lower line are seated. Weight minimums and maximums apply.

2. Cirque du Soleil's 'O'
Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil has several shows throughout Las Vegas, but "O" has something the others don't: water. "O" bills itself as "An aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance," which is apt description. Acrobats, swimmers and divers perform the kind of jaw-dropping feats the Cirque troupe is known for. The show is performed in a theater designed like an opera house, a perfect setting for the grand and whimsical production of "O." Some seats are "wet seats" since they're close to the stage, and lists of those sections, as well as the sections with limited views, are available online. VIP box suites offer the very best views of the stage and include champagne, red or white wine, private cocktail service and tasty gourmet goodies.

1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is an easy escape from the fast pace of the Las Vegas Strip. Located west of the city just outside the edge of the housing developments, this chunk of the Mojave Desert is loaded with hiking, biking and nature watching opportunities. Red Rock's spectacular scenery features sandstone cliffs, rugged red rock formations, desert vegetation and open vistas. The rare desert springs throughout the area are home to several rare and endemic species of plants and animals, as well as archaeological sites likes petroglyphs, ancient rock art. First-time visitors shouldn't miss the interactive visitor center to learn more about the area. A 13-mile scenic road twists and turns through the NCA's desert hills, with numerous spots to stop for photographs and hikes, and returns you to the highway so you can turn back toward town (thus its nickname, "the Loop").