There’s more to Las Vegas than nightlife. Venture out by day and you’ll find history and art, as well as thrilling adventures and awe-inspiring scenery in the surrounding desert
Las Vegas is world-renowned for its myriad indulgent attractions that come alive at night. Celebrity chef-helmed restaurants tempt gourmands, sensational performances take centre stage, casinos thrill with high-stakes gambling, and the Vegas Strip, lit up, is bright, flashy and showy. Travellers from all corners of the globe are lured here, fuelled by the desire to capture Sin City at its best time: after hours.
While Las Vegas thrives brilliantly at night, the daytime activities on offer are just as extraordinary. In fact, there’s no better place to start your planning than with the concierge team at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, who are experts in curating the perfect itinerary. Concierge Joe Moracco is a Les Clefs d’Or member, one of the highest recognitions for his profession, and he and six other concierge staff have 70 years’ experience combined.
‘We do everything possible to make the guest experience a memorable one, by finding out what they really want and what their expectations are,’ says Moracco. ‘It’s about providing the “wow” factor that they cannot get anywhere else.’ So, whether it is a restaurant table with views, a private helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, or an exhilarating daytime excursion, the concierge can make things happen.
Vintage lights at the Neon Museum
For the best start, and to get a sense of Las Vegas through the decades, begin the day with a visit to the Neon Museum, where you can embrace all things bright, big and nostalgic. The museum’s intriguing outdoor space exhibits vintage neon Vegas signs dating back to the Thirties. Among the collection of more than 150 iconic pieces are signs from old-school motels and legendary casino resorts like the Desert Inn, the Stardust, and the Horseshoe. Tours are available, and of architectural note is the museum’s recently restored La Concha visitor’s centre, which, designed by the renowned architect Paul Revere Williams, nods to the Space or Jet Age buildings of the early Sixties.
The Mob Museum is another cultural institution that offers visitors a slice of local history, as much of the Mob activity carried out by infamous figures such as Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel was centred in and around Las Vegas. Some of the mobsters even built and ran the early resort hotels and casinos. Recently opened in downtown Las Vegas and housed in a beautiful building – a former federal courthouse and post office, now listed on the national register of Historic Places – the museum features three comprehensive floors of insight into Mob culture throughout American history. Compelling, interactive exhibits make browsing far from ho-hum, and the artefacts, from wiretaps to government surveillance photographs of mobsters in action, are fascinating.
Ancient red sandstone formations in the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s state park
If you want to experience Nevada even further back in time, spend an afternoon exploring the Valley of Fire, less than an hour’s drive from the Vegas Strip. Nevada’s oldest and largest state park is millions of years old, and indigenous Native American petroglyphs can still be seen today within the ancient rock formations. The desert landscape here is surreal and picturesque, and chock-full of limestone rock and red sandstone formations. If it feels like a Hollywood set, you have the right hunch, as the Valley of Fire has served as the backdrop for many films, including scenes from Transformers, Domino starring Keira Knightley, and the ever-famous episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk fell to his death.
Perform thrilling aerobatics with a Sky Combat Ace flight
But not all the fun in Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World, is bound to the ground. Visitors looking to reach great heights can book a helicopter tour with Sundance Helicopters. From helipads near the Strip, the helicopters are seasoned in whisking away VIPs for private, awe-inspiring aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, about 45 minutes away. The panorama of the formidable, natural landscape is phenomenal and accompanied by narration from the pilot, who takes passengers some 900 metres below the rim for even more spectacular viewing.
Thirties Engineering masterpiece the Hoover Dam
Continue the exciting aerial adventure with Sky Combat Ace, which offers an opportunity to climb inside the cockpit of an aerobatic fighter plane and soar through the expansive sky with a certified pilot (who rides shotgun). It’s perfectly safe and guarantees the exhilarating time that many affluent travellers to Vegas seek. Another popular sky-high adventure that defies gravity is Zero-G, provided by the only company in the world to offer completely weightless flights to the public. Zero-G replicates the levels of weightlessness experienced in space using a modified Boeing 727. During flight, you can fly the length of the cabin like Superman, leap high like an Olympic gymnast, pour water that never drips, or pop M&M’s in the air as they magically float.
Closer to ground, Flightlinez offers outdoor enthusiasts several ziplines in Bootleg Canyon, which is located 10 minutes from the Hoover Dam and 30 minutes from the Strip. The area is known for its great biking trails, though Flightlinez takes visitors to the skies on a series of zip lines through picture-perfect canyons, with some zips as high as 335 metres.
The Frank Gehry-designed façade of the Lou Ruvo Center
Back on land, head to the Hoover Dam – an iconic American landmark that merges history and science. It is such a progressive World Wonder that the American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. The dam was dedicated in 1935, harnessing the power of the Colorado River to generate hydroelectric power for use in Nevada, Arizona and California. Explore it on a one-hour guided tour, taking in the power plant and the passageways within the dam, as well as the visitor centre. It’s also worth exploring the Hoover Dam Bypass, formally known as the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which opened in 2010. About 600 metres long, the bridge creates an alternative crossing over the Colorado River, relieving the traffic on the Hoover Dam. Take a leisurely walk along the bridge for commanding, scenic views of the dam.
For viewings indoors, art aficionados will find great pieces in and around the casinos. The Bellagio is no stranger to art, and its Gallery of Fine Art puts on temporary shows – in recent times displaying works by Andy Warhol and major female figures in American art such as Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe. Frank Gehry fans can appreciate his architectural mastermind at the $70 million Lou Ruvo Center, a medical centre with an art space that opened in 2010. And celebrating its 25th anniversary is the Contemporary Arts Center, which features rotating exhibitions and art programmes for adults and children.
Luxury stores at CityCenter, home of Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
The CityCenter complex is also a public space that displays a collection of highbrow art, as well as being the home of Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. Internationally renowned names have shown their works here, with some pieces commissioned for site-specific installations. Among the participating visionaries, sculptors and artists are Nancy Rubins, Julian Schnabel, Richard Long, Jenny Holzer and Maya Lin, who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.
While perusing the art, you can also take the opportunity for some high-end shopping. Unrivalled in Vegas, the glamorous Shops at Crystals, which is adjacent to Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, has an impressive selection of luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari, Tom Ford and Tiffany & Co.
Return to the hotel for a pampering treatment at the 2,500-square-metre spa, which spans two levels and is awash with natural daylight thanks to the expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests feel worlds away here, but still attain a sense of place as they look out to the Strip while relaxing. Afterwards, get ready for cocktails at the stylish Mandarin Bar on the 23rd floor. Arrive just before sunset, order a signature Golden Leaf cocktail (a take on the Cosmopolitan) and watch the extraordinary display of lights begin to flicker on the Strip and beyond, marking the end of an adventurous day in Vegas.