When the Mirage put a regularly erupting volcano in front of its main entrance, an era of fun and free curb-side shows on the Strip took off. Some of those original shows are still entertaining the crowds in front of the hotels, like the Mirage Volcano and the Fountains of Bellagio. If you’re lucky enough to be driving by when either of those shows happen, be careful: it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road with fireballs or dancing waters going off. 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 offer more than just stores--they’re destinations in themselves. Artful interiors with elaborate building facades, wandering performers, and features like water-filled canals and rain storms make these malls worth a visit even if you don’t buy anything. For visitors traveling with kids, malls can 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 a major attraction. The canopy that covers the pedestrian walkway features the free overhead light show Viva Vision. On the street level, busker-style performers bring their own brand of cheap entertainment (tips are expected).
For a little bit of nature, parks, picnic areas and hiking trails are free or very low cost and give people a chance to see another side of Las Vegas.
More than 2,000 visitors per day flock to this chocolate production facility where truffles, cremes, cherry cordials, peanut brittle, and other sweet treats are made. After seeing how these confectionery delights are created, pick up a free sample or a hand-dipped ice cream cone. Visitors can also enjoy the on-site "Living Machine," where 100 percent of the plant's waste water is recycled for the benefit of a 2.5-acre cactus garden.
This small burst of greenery in the middle of the bustling Las Vegas 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.
The Park is a three acre area between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York, adjacent to the T-Mobile Arena. While it functions as a walkway and has a variety of restaurants, it's also meant as a place to get a break from the Strip. The landscaping was carefully designed from drought-tolerant plants that are reflective of the Mojave Desert, and you'll find plenty of seating as well as free public WiFi. Features like giant shade structures are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Free outdoor entertainment includes acoustic guitarists and performance artists, but you won't find any street performers like the ones seen along the Strip. The Bliss Dance sculpture and water walls are two of The Park's signature features, both representative of much of the public art in this area of the Strip.
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 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. Arrive early in the day to encounter the fewest people and get the best pictures. Open 24/7.
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 take place in St. Mark's Square.
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 found all along 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 and over the heads of the people 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.
The Red Rock National Conservation Area is most well-known for its scenic drive, but the lesser-known area of Calico Basin has picnic tables, a board walk, hiking trails and requires no entry fee. Located off State Route 159 just west of where the city ends, Calico Basin is home to a small community and two areas where explorers and nature lovers can check out the unique area. Fragile and rare springs are found throughout the area, which is filled with giant sandstone formations, hills and mountains. At the main picnic area by Red Springs, a raised boardwalk protects the delicate desert meadow and includes information signs about the wildlife and environment. Trails run throughout the desert here, and at Ash Canyon hikers can enjoy both seasonal streams and rock scrambling. Summer temperatures can be very high, so check ahead before attempting any hikes during that time of the year.
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.
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.
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, the landmark sign 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.