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Best of Gary Trask

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Top-10 free attractions in Las Vegas

19 January 2009

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS – When you're on vacation, it's a foregone conclusion that you are going to do things differently than you would while you're at home – especially if your place of choice is Las Vegas. Sin City presents a visitor plenty of options to spend their time. In addition to gambling, shows and restaurants there are also a fair share of tourist attractions.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not one of these people that would suggest you spend your vacation acting and looking like a tourist the entire time. In fact, I'm usually the last person who would suggest any kind of guided tour or a visit to a museum that is going to eat up any valuable vacation time. But in Las Vegas, there are certain attractions that you can visit almost by accident. They're in convenient spots, they won't take up a lot of your time and – best of all – they're free.

So, with those conditions firmly in place, we present Casino City's Top-10 Free Las Vegas Attractions. If you're methodical enough there's no reason why you can't hit all ten the next time you visit the Strip.

10. 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign
Much like the famous "Hollywood" sign that sits in the hills of Los Angeles, the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign is a world famous landmark that you have seen hundreds of times online, in magazines or on TV. So while you're in town, why not seek it out and get a picture of everyone in your group standing there like dorks in front of it?

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The historic 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign at the south end of the Strip.

There's even a new parking lot for the sign that is designed to improve pedestrian safety. At the very least, a trip to the south end of the strip where the sign resides will give you the perfect excuse to visit Mandalay Bay, one of the most underrated hotels in Las Vegas.

9. Wynn Conservatory
Sure, you may not be into floral displays, but this won't take long to see and it is indeed a thing of beauty. The conservatory is conveniently located just inside the main entrance of Wynn Las Vegas so it's not like you have to search and find it. It's open 24 hours – although its exquisiteness is accentuated during the day as the sun shines down – and the display changes on a regular basis. And like the Las Vegas sign suggestion above, you can really make this trip worth your while by spending some time in the Wynn Sports & Race Book – one of the best on the Strip – or by making your way over to the stunning new Encore Las Vegas resort that just opened in December. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

8. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
If you have even the slightest appreciation for music, a trip off the main strip to one of the hippest venues that Vegas offers is a must. The casino is virtually a museum with actual memorabilia from many of music's past and present legends (e.g. leather jackets from Aerosmith, a guitar from Jimi Hendrix). There is usually a big-name concert on the docket at the 1800-seat concert-hall, the pool is spectacular and just a few months ago the Hard Rock opened one of the coolest poker lounges you'll ever experience. Not to mention the voguish Body English nightclub that is classic Vegas all the way. Do yourself a favor and block off at least one night of your trip and spend it here.

7. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
If you've never been to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, you simply must visit this classic Vegas landmark the next time you're in town. The best way to lure the other people in your group – particularly if they're women – is to tell them about the Forum Shops. With 160 specialty stores and restaurants, this is a great spot for everyone to enjoy. It is designed to look like an Italian street scene and there are two separate free shows at each of the mall, complete statutes that come to life and a laser show. There are also plenty of great vistas to sit down and enjoy a cocktail, which comes in handy if the wife decides to disappear with your credit card. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this spot and if you happen to be in town during the summer, it's a great place to escape the 100-degree heat for a while.

6. Treasure Island Pirate Show
As cheesy as some of the items on this list may be, the truth is that you won't be able to walk by them if they come alive as you stroll down the Strip. That's especially true for the new show outside Treasure Island called "Sirens," a pirate battle in Buccaneers Bay that features female performers swinging around in skimpy pirate garb. The two ships fire fake cannons at each other that explode in the air. The show is free and takes place outside the hotel six times a day beginning at 4 p.m., weather permitting. Get your video camera ready. The kids at home will love it.

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The Bellagio fountains light up at night.

5. Mirage Volcano
If it's good enough for the kin of Evel Knievel, it's good enough for me. That's right, in case you missed it, Robbie Knievel, the 46-year-old son of the late daredevil, helped ring in the New Year at The Mirage Hotel-Casino on New Year's Eve by staging a 200-foot jump over the volcano, which just recently went through a $25-million redesign. The volcano erupts every hour on the hour from dusk until 11 p.m. on a daily basis. The flame-shooting show lasts three to five minutes and one of the new features of the volcano is the accompanying soundtrack that was produced by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian musician Zakir Hussain.

4. Bellagio Fountains
Every half hour it happens. And when it does, most of the people in the vicinity simply stop in their tracks. Simply put, the water fountain show outside the lavish Bellagio is a Las Vegas icon. The show is a choreographed performance set to lights and music. The fountains sit in a nine-acre man-made lake that cost $50 million to build. And the best place to watch the show is…

3. Eiffel Tower restaurant at Paris
The Eiffel Tower restaurant is located on the 11th floor of the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris. Guests are whisked up to the restaurant level by an all-glass elevator located inside the scenic Paris casino. Once you step inside the romantic, dimly lit restaurant you will find a stunning panoramic view of the Las Vegas Strip. This is an upscale experience (no shorts allowed) but even if you can't fit a full dinner into the budget, take 30 minutes from your evening and sit at the bar and have one drink. It is, by far, the best vantage point to watch the Bellagio fountains.

2. MGM Grand Lion Habitat
If you're the type of person who always seems to land on Discovery while surfing the TV channels in your living room, you'll love the MGM Grand Lion Habitat. You're simply not going to get any closer to the king of the jungle than you are here, where only one and a half inches of glass separate you and the playful, 500-pound lions. The lions are in the habitat two at the time, but there are more than 30 different ones that make it their home in six-hour stints. When they are not in the habitat, the lions spend their time on an 8.5-acre ranch 12 miles outside the Strip. The habitat is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., but be sure to time your visit so you can see the human workers go in the habitat and play fetch with the lions as if they were Golden Retrievers. Also, if you need a souvenir for a young cub back home, you'll find plenty of decent options in the Lion Habitat gift shop.

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A shot of the Viva Vision canopy during the day. (photo by Mike Russell)

1. Fremont Street Experience
Jump in a cab and put a little "old school" into your next trip to Vegas and check out Fremont Street. This is where Las Vegas saw its first paved street, first gaming license, first elevator and first traffic light. Today it is home to a $70-million, seven-block, open-air pedestrian mall that was built in 1995. There's live entertainment, more than 60 festive bars and restaurants and, of course, the 90-foot high Viva Vision canopy that features 12 million lights and 550,000 watts of concert-quality sound for its incredible light and laser show.

The shows take place every night on the hour from dusk to midnight. And if you're a poker fan, you simply have to stop by the historic Binion's Gambling Hall and check out the newly revamped poker room and poker Hall of fame. Playing a few hours here is akin to an avid golfer playing a round at Pebble Beach.

Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

Gary Trask Websites:

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