A skeptic's budget guide to visiting Las Vegas
Can you visit Vegas on a budget? Yes! Some friends and I wanted to go on a short trip, and being Canadian, we wanted our destination to be warm. So Vegas it was.
With a strict budget our options were limited...And so? Las Vegas packages. From Toronto, Canada we could fly direct and stay five days in Vegas for 370.00 USD. The hotel we were to stay in had Vegas’s “largest shark tank in all of Vegas.” Sharks? We were sold. Despite our underwhelming impressions of Vegas we figured we would make it fun. We were Vegas skeptics and we were going to visit Vegas on a budget.
Las Vegas was originally named in 1821, and founded as a settlement in 1905. By the 1930s urbanization had taken hold, and work was begun on the Hoover Dam. In 1941 the El Rancho Vegas resort opened on a section of U.S. 91 just outside the city’s jurisdiction. This section of highway would soon become known as “The Strip”, filled with hotel-casinos that were built around “Old West” themes. During the 1950s and 1960s the hotels were largely funded by mobsters and organized crime. But, in 1966 Howard Hughes checked into the penthouse of the Desert Inn and refusing to leave, ended up buying the hotel. This purchase was the first of many changes that would shift ownership from mobsters, to corporate investors. In 1989 the first mega-resort, the Mirage was built, and in the following two decades more massive casino-hotel complexes would be built, using themes of glamorous world locations such as Paris, Venice and Egypt.
The attraction to Vegas today, we would learn, is its excessive excess. It is not known as a budget destination. The city is an adult playground in which you can indulge in all of your vices, including the ones you didn’t know you had: gambling, pool parties, all-night clubs, strip clubs, limousines, buffets, and extravagant shows. With its risque reputation, Vegas is the kind of city where smoking inside and burlesque girls posing on the streets is not a surprise. In Vegas, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, Venetian canals, and Egyptian pyramids all in a day.
But behind this excess is a regular, American city that holds a fascinating history. Off-strip you will find typical city neighborhoods: Chinatown, the place for Asian groceries, sushi, dim-sum and ramen shops. The Arts District is home to vintage and thrift shops, as well as quirky bars and restaurants. Other parts of the city are wholly suburban, with schools, parks and Walmarts. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a tourist attraction, but it’s also where locals go for their early morning jog. Vegas’s outward facade of excess but underbelly of normalcy is what made the city so interesting. And luckily for us budget travelers, it’s what makes it an accessible travel destination. I went into Vegas a budget-obsessed skeptic, and left incredibly smitten. The city is what you make of it. Go with the right people, embrace the excess, and have fun.
Where to stay in Vegas on a budget
If you live within Canada or USA, the best option for a Vegas budget hotel is to look at package deals that include flight and hotel. From Toronto, Canada, my group snagged a budget package that included direct flights and 5 nights at the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel, for approximately $370.00 USD. We had a couple budget hotel choices, but ultimately chose the Golden Nugget because of its pool facilities, and location: Fremont Street.
Fremont Street is in North Vegas, and is considered off-strip. The street has historical significance in the city because it was Las Vegas’s first paved road. The street is home to the “Fremont Experience,” a pedestrian mall that features a canopy of lights and hosts street performances and free concerts regularly. The area is lively and fun, and has its own “hotel corridor.” Because this area is off-strip, the hotels in Fremont are often cheaper than on the Strip. I would argue that this area is better to stay in, especially if you are visiting Vegas on a budget, because from the hotels in Fremont many shops, bars, and casinos are within walking distance. This is more convenient and wallet-friendly than the Strip, which is long and spread out. From the Golden Nugget, we had access to small restaurants, convenience stores, and local bars, which ultimately saved us money!
Cheap things to do in Vegas
There is tons to do in Vegas, but how do you do it on a budget? There are plenty of free attractions, small museums, and walkable neighborhoods to keep you busy. Cheap things to do in Vegas include:
Casino hop - The Vegas casinos are an attraction themselves. We devoted an entire day (!) to visiting the famous Strip casinos, from Circus Circus to the Venetian. At each casino we did some slot gambling, only a dollar or two, to see how lucky we would be. The 25 cent slots are the designated spot for budget travelers! From chatting with locals, we learned that the best luck is always at off-strip casinos. We did visit one such casino, but it lacked the energy of the on-strip casinos.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame - This registered educational non-profit is a small, off-strip museum that houses an incredible collection of donated items which relate to the history of exoctic dance in Las Vegas. It focuses on the “living legacy of burlesque as an artform and cultural phenomenon.” The museum seeks to teach visitors about the history of, and social impact of, the art of tease. Entry is $15 USD, ($10 USD for students, seniors, children) and the museum’s guides are knowledgeable, warm and friendly. Our visit was heaps of fun, affordable in our budget, and finished with some burlesque dress up and photos!
The Neon Museum - This open-air museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, history, arts and cultural enrichment. You can visit the museum with the option for guided tours or exploring at your own leisure. Entry prices vary, starting at $15.00, based on whether you have a guide, come during the day or at night. We visited during the day (cheaper!), but night-time visits mean you will get to see the iconic signs lit up! From Fremont we were able to walk to the museum, otherwise it is a short bus or car ride away.
See a Vegas show - Vegas is of course famous for its shows, and they aren’t cheap. Your best way around the pricing of the shows is to be flexible. Booking same-day tickets will often save you up to 50% off. On the Strip there are booths called “Tix4Tonight” where you can pick up these discounted tickets for the same night.
Spend the day at a Vegas pool - The hotel pools of Vegas are excessively fancy, and loads of fun. Your hotel will offer free entry to its pools. The Golden Nugget, where we stayed, featured a massive slide, a shark tank (yes, real sharks) and an adults only area. If you tire of your own pool, check out others. Most pools have an entry fee ranging from $20 to $30 USD. But there’s a way around this ...it is possible to sneak into some. If you aren’t a fan of sneaking around, head to the pools towards the end of the day. We had free entry to the beautiful Caesars Palace pool because we arrived in the evening. It was a great time to visit because it wasn’t as hot, and the pool was no longer as busy. If you’re on a budget, this is a great way to experience the pools without dropping the money on an entry fee.
Vegas nightlife is always vibrant and lively. There are many exclusive clubs with high entry fees, but you can opt to go to an off-strip bar, or to the Fremont Experience. At night, Fremont Street becomes bustling with live music and street bars, so this is one option for nightlife. Otherwise, grab a cab (or Uber, or Lyft) to a more local spot, such as Oddfellows. This video night club is free entry before 11:00pm and serves $1 drinks up until midnight! The club has different themes every night.
Food and drink in Vegas on a budget
Buffets are the famous eating practice in Las Vegas. Did we go to one? No. The buffets are very expensive, and so we opted for other choices, and were not disappointed. Note that cheap eats on the Las Vegas strip are hard to come by. To find meals in Vegas on a budget, you’ll need to venture off-strip.
AmeriBrunch - This little brunch café is a short walk from Fremont Street and serves delicious, inexpensive breakfasts and coffee. We loved this place so much that we went there for breakfast every single day. The owners are a lovely young couple, and we enjoyed chatting with them about our adventures around the city. This was the best budget-friendly breakfast spot we found!
Mexican food - There are Mexican restaurants all over Vegas and they tend to be a bit cheaper than other options! We went to La Comida (near Fremont), and it was great.
Chinatown - This area is by far your best option for budget eats. There are tons of options to choose from, but we became obsessed with Monta Noodle House. This ramen restaurant is tiny, and well-reviewed. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a couple minutes before getting a seat. This dinner option is delicious, and will cost you less than $10.00.
Snacks from Walgreens! This store is an American staple and a great option for picking up snacks, beer, water, sandwiches, fruit, and more. Prices at Walgreens will vary around the city - off-strip is always more budget-friendly.
Budget Las Vegas: Day trips
If you book in advance, you can absolutely snag a car rental in Vegas on a budget. There are many locations near Vegas that are worth driving to!
Seven Magic Mountains are a public art installation, just outside Las Vegas. Best to go in the morning or evening, as midday gets very hot.
Red Rock Canyon is only 30 minutes away. For a small entry fee you can do a driving tour of the park, with the option to stop for pictures, or stop for a hike. This day trip can vary from just a drive to a longer day of hiking.
Death Valley National Park is a longer drive from Las Vegas, about one hour. This park was more impressive than Red Rock, so worth the drive. Like Red Rock, you can hike, or choose to enjoy the sights from the comfort of a car.
A road trip from Las Vegas to the tiny town of Rachel along the Extraterrestrial Highway is a great opportunity to get out of the city, enjoy the desert landscape, meet some quirky people, and pick up unique alien paraphernalia. But most of all, road-tripping the extra-terrestrial highway is guaranteed to spur lots of laughs and memorable photos. Overall, road and day trips out of Vegas can be budget friendly if you pack your own meals and split the cost of fuel.
BUDGET LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
Flight prices will vary - depends on which city you fly to Vegas from. Large, North American cities tend to be the best for budget flights to Vegas.
Hotel prices range, but a basic room in a typical “Vegas” hotel (ie. mega large, with pools and gambling) will start at around 90 USD. If you split the room with co-travelers, this is relatively budget friendly.
Your daily budget will depend on how excessive you’d like to be. My average daily spend in Vegas was 60 USD. This included meals, drinks, transport (Uber, cabs, busses), entertainment, and a $10 per day gambling allowance.
If you want to read more of my generalized tips on budgeting trips, click here!