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First time visit to Las Vegas: must do, free & cheap!

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New York New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
New York New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

Like I have said a million times, I lose at gambling in Vegas, so I need things to do that are cheap and free besides gambling in Sin City. Of course, with the many casinos you can visit you will always be tempted to gamble, but visiting the casinos themselves have many attractions inside that are a must see. If you are a first timer, Las Vegas will give you so much to see and do that you will have to make several trips. I have done 5 myself and haven't done or seen everything yet.

This blog post covers everything, cheap and free things, casinos, attractions. Plus, a couple attractions that are off strip that have a cost but are well worth it. The tips and tricks in the blog are from years of visiting Las Vegas Boulevard and surrounding areas.

Las Vegas Attractions: First Time Visit Must Do!

For First time visitors I would check out this list below for cheap or free things to do on or near the Strip.

Free or cheap

welcome to Las Vegas sign
welcome to Las Vegas sign
  • Welcome to Vegas sign- free, on the south side of the strip closer to the airport.  Stop and take a pic, everyone seems to and there is plenty of parking, it is always crowded. First timers love coming to this place, I was one of them a few years back. Pro Tip: on the north side of the strip beside The Strat Hotel and Casino there is a welcome to Vegas sign that is great to see too.

  • Flamingo habitat-free- The Flamingo Casino and Hotel- Free, along with Flamingos they have other birds including swans and ducks.  Also, huge fish.  Verify with the hotel that they are there, during the bird flu they were taken off exhibit.

  • Bellagio Fountains- Bellagio Casino and Hotel- Free. In front of the Hotel is nice, but for a different view stand on the second level walking path leaving the Bellagio like you are going towards Aria, Its Free.  If you want to spend some money, watch the Fountain from the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel and Casino.  It offers a neat view and costs around $25 bucks. Cheaper if you stay at the Paris Hotel and casino. If you are walking by at night or day the fountains are great to see. The way that the fountains dance to the music is a sight to see.

  • Bellagio art installation, Free- Bellagio Hotel and Casino- Free, beautiful hanging glass sculpture, made by Chihuly.  (Side note when in Seattle, go to Chihuly Garden and Glass, beautiful, and another blog sometime.)

  • Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens- Free. beautiful plants and butterflies, they change the looks of it several times a year.  Free to walk through.

  • Volcano and waterfall-The Mirage- Free.  See it while you can, the hotel has been bought by Hard Rock, and it will be disappearing soon. As of right now the Mirage will be shutting down in July 2024 for major renovations as it becomes the Hard Rock Casino.

The Venetian outside gondola area
The Venetian outside gondola area
  • Walking through the Venetian and watching the Gondolas- The Venetian Hotel and Casino- Free.  They have the Gondola rides outside, but also inside on the upper floors where the shops are located, and it is absolutely beautiful inside.  If you want to ride Gondolas, it will cost you $34 unless you find a discount.  Sometimes you see it on Groupon cheaper.

  • The Sphere is just a sight to behold. Of course there are concerts you can book to go inside, but watching it light up with its display is neat to see. Located just one block north of the Venetian Hotel and Casino, you will spot it very easily. It can even be spotted from the airport. I was watching it while waiting at my gate when I was traveling home. Pro tip: If driving and want a free place to park close to the Sphere, park at the Fashion Mall on the strip and walk 2 blocks east.

  • Walking through Caeser's Palace- Free. plenty of statues and the shopping area has large fish tanks which are neat to see. It is a beautiful resort.

  • Ride the roller coaster at New York, New York, it is not free, but if you play My Vegas Slots, an app to download to play on your phone.  You get discount tickets for the roller coaster as long as you earn points from play time on the app.  (BTW there are lots of discounts you can take advantage of for Vegas)

  • Paris Hotel and Casino, you can up their version of the Eiffel Tower. If you stay at the hotel, you will get a discount. The tower gives a great view of the city.

The Strat
The Strat
  • The Strat, one of my favorite hotels and casinos in Vegas, visit the top of the Strat for an amazing view. You can dine in the restaurant at the top, or also ride the rides they have that will give you a thrill. Like most hotels in the area, if you are staying at The Strat, you will get discounts for those attractions.

  • Just 3 blocks south of the Strat is a huge souvenir shop, called Bonanza Gift Shop. They will have anything you would want to buy, and pretty cheap. So much cheaper than any other souvenir shop farther down the strip. 

  • The last thing I can tell you to do on the strip, people watch and just look at all the beautiful buildings.  Walk the streets during the day and look at the neon lights at night. There are showgirls on the Strip along with street performers to take pictures with. So many people are walking the strip, and that is what makes people watching so great.

Other places that people love that area off the Strip

Mountains surrounding Vegas
Mountains surrounding Vegas
  • Meow Wolf/Omega Mart- is a huge place, with a weird store, a maze, an interactive experience and so much more. It will cost $54 to enter and participate, which is pricey. I would not call this cheap. But if you do one splurge. This could be it. 

  • Pinball Hall of Fame- Free to enter, South side of strip close to Welcome to Vegas sign. You have a favorite pinball machine from your past, I bet they have it here, it just costs quarters to play them.  They have other old-time games to play too.

  • The Atomic Museum- learn about nuclear weapons and look at exhibits from testing's that happened in the past. Also, there is an exhibit about pop culture, atomic comics and so much more,

  • Springs Preserve is a wonderful place for a hike, look at their gardens, take a hike, and even look at their butterfly area. Right now, they have a dinosaur exhibit.

  • Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Park- This was the first permanent settlement in the area, built by Mormon Missionaries in 1855. Always worth a quick visit, when visiting La Vegas.

Other Attractions with a longer drive.

Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon
  • Red Rock Canyon- 30 minutes away (click here to read blog)

  • Hoover Dam- 30 minutes away (click here to read blog)

  • Grand Canyon West Rim, an all day trip 3 hours each way. (click here to read blog)

  • Lake Mead- less than 1 hour away.

  • Valley of Fire State Park- less than 1 hour away.

  • Mount Charleston- less than 2 hours away

  • Zion National Park in Utah- less than 3 hours away)- This is the most amazing national park I have ever seen. Click on this blog to learn more about it.

  • Primm Nevada-on the border with California 45 minutes away. Visit the old casinos down there and see the Bonnie and Clyde death car. On the drive back, stop by the Seven Magic Mountain for a picture.

  • Death Valley is about 2 hours away from Vegas and makes for a great day trip.

  • Fremont Street- 15 minutes north of the Strip, more on that later in this blog.

I thought I would touch on this, if you are a cannabis lover or not. You will smell marijuana here, just out on the street. It is legal, but not legal to be smoked in hotels or casinos. One thing I would suggest is visit a Cannabis shop. Even if you do not smoke, they are interesting to check out. My suggestion is Planet 13. It is located in a building with a couple other shops and a cafe, and the staff is really helpful. I am not a smoker, but it shocked me when I walked in all the things you can buy. Planet 13 is off of the strip but not too far. It is worth the trip just for a visit.

My favorite bakery in Chinatown
My favorite bakery in Chinatown

Chinatown is nearby, but not walkable. There are several restaurants and stores in the area. I tend to go to Shanghai Plaza every trip for their bakery and some good food.

Concerts, comedy acts, Cirque du Soleil, and other performances are everywhere in the city. Every casino seems to have someone performing. With so many to choose from, pick something you think you would like and splurge if you like. I went to a Magic Mike show a couple years ago at the Sahara and it was great.

Some people enjoy the helicopter rides over the city, they can be quite expensive, but you can get discounts with the My Vegas Slots app. You can even take a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon.

Las Vegas Tips and Tricks

Hot Stuff slot machine in Vegas
Hot Stuff slot machine in Vegas

First thing first, wherever you gamble sign up for a card, just by gambling you earn points with that casino, and it will help you earn deals.  Also, they all usually have a new sign-up offer that gets you more money to gamble on or a chance to win a great prize or perks.  My card at The Strat gave me a free 100 bucks to gamble on when I first signed up, and 2 weeks after I returned home, they were offering free night stays if used over the next few months.

Stay at a cheaper resort or hotel, this is beneficial because you do so much walking anyway, wandering in and out of the casinos. Use deals, promos and discounts to get a casino resort to become affordable. (My Vegas Slots) If walking is an issue, which at times it is for me, you can rent scooters to go up and down the strip. There are several places to choose from and prices start at 70 bucks for a whole day.   Luxor, Excalibur are on the south end and are cheaper, where Aria and Bellagio will be on the more expensive side of all the MGM resorts. 

All major hotels on the strip and even off the strip have about a $40 resort fee. I have a few listed in the Fremont Street part of this blog that does not have resort fees, but only 1 on the Strip doesn't have a resort fee, and that is the Best Western.

Walking a lot is part of Vegas, you will easily get 22,000 steps a day while here. Going in and out of all the casinos, walking the strip and everything else. So be sure to pack comfortable shoes. As someone who feels the aches of her age, I would suggest splitting up portions of the strip over a few days.

Flamingo's at The Flamingo Casino and Hotel
Flamingo's at The Flamingo Casino and Hotel

For example, The Las Vegas Strip for first-time visitors

  • Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur New York-New York, and MGM Grand in one day.

  • Park MGM, Aria, Cosmopolitan, Bellagio Paris, and Planet Hollywood another day

  • Caesars Palace, The Flamingo, LINQ, Harrah's, Treasure Island, and Venetian another day. (I would include Mirage in this group but it will be shut down July 2024 for rebranding to Hard Rock Casino.)

Drive to or uber to outlying casinos like.

The Strat, Sahara, Circus Circus, Westgate, South Point, Rio and the new Fontainebleau Casino and Hotel. Even with this list, there are still so many more.

Cheap hotels

Oyo Hotel- located 1 block behind the strip beside the MGM Grand is cheap and has free parking. If you gamble, sign up for a card and get extra bet match money for table games, or free money for slots. This will not have all the bells and whistles, but it is cheap. I have stayed there once and it was fine for what I needed, as I walked across the street to MGM Grand all the time.

Picture of the Paris
Picture of the Paris

Best Western on the strip- best location of any cheap hotel, and you don't have to pay resort fees there. The only downside I have with it, loud hallways. You will be in your room and hear so much noise in the hallway. 

As mentioned before, The Strat, it is a cheap resort, but you will have to pay a resort fee. It is on the Strip but a good bit north, and honestly that section of the strip is not the best, it is a rougher area on the side streets behind the Strat, but walking at night from the Sahara I was not scared. Just be aware it is not in the best area. I still stay here very often for the price, and I like the casino.

Planet Hollywood is in a great location- and at the back of the resort you can access the Shops at Crystals for some great shopping and decent food places. This is still considered a cheaper hotel, but far from the cheapest.

Monorail/ tram tips

Inside Caeser's Palace
Inside Caeser's Palace

Save those feet some more and use the monorail.  It takes you from MGM Grand to the Sahara, with plenty of stops in between. You can buy daily passes, or up to a 7-day pass.  Keep reading this article and I will tell you how to get them cheaper, buy 1 get 1 half off (My Vegas Slots).  Now the monorail is located at the back of all those casino stops, so you will have to do some walking to get back through the casino to the strip. But if you have specific places you want to visit it is great.  Save those feet, do a few casinos each day,

Here are some videos from the tram ride

There are also free trams to a few casinos which is helpful also.  Visit Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay by a tram, and Treasure Island to The Mirage has a tram.  (Go check The Mirage before it is gone, Hard Rock bought it out). The last tram is Park MGM to Aria to Bellagio.

Rental car info

If you have rented a car, or plan to rent a car.  I use deals to rent them also.  My go to when I am not finding anything cheap enough is Fox car rental.  They are the cheapest, and as long as you don't have to have a car in perfect condition it is great. If you have flown into the airport, take the shuttle to the rental car pickup area, but don't go inside, out front is another shuttle pick up that will take you to Fox car rental that is up the road a little bit farther.  Sometimes deals can be found with other rental car companies that are located at the main rental car pick up area, like Thrifty rental.

Rental cars have their benefits when using casinos because there are several casinos with free parking. The Sahara, Circus Circus, and  Treasure Island, are casinos that will let you park for free. As mentioned earlier, Oyo Hotel which offers cheap table games, but they also have free parking and gets you the closest to the MGM Grand and monorail that's behind MGM Grand. MGM properties offer 3-hour free parking for locals, but that's it. Other places to park for free are the Shops at Crystals, Fashion Show Mall and the Shops at Mandalay Palace. Fontainebleau also has free parking for the frist couple hours of your visit.

Las Vegas Cheap Eats

Cheap eats, almost every casino has a food court area, or at least 1 fast food place that is cheaper.  But it is also good to escape the strip to find cheap eats.  Now don't get me wrong I suggest a splurge or 2 on food here. There are several I highly recommend, but this is my list of cheap eats.

CrunCheese Korean Hot Dog
CrunCheese Korean Hot Dog

Mall in Las Vegas
Mall in Las Vegas

There are many celebrity chefs with restaurants in the casinos on the strip. Most are not considered cheap, but you will have a wonderful meal. From Bobby Flay’s Amalfi to Gordon Ramsey’s Hell's Kitchen that is in front of Caesars Palace. Bobby Flay does have a burger place that is a little bit better priced for a celebrity chef restaurant, but still an expensive burger. It has 3 locations: Harrah's, Paris, and Caesars.

If you are looking for buffets, many hotels have them. The best by far is the most expensive. 

  • Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet at $86.99 a person, but here are 250 items on buffet including crab legs

  • Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino- Brunch is $54.99 and the Seafood Dinner is $74.99, with 120 dishes plus many more dessert items on top of that.

Other buffets have lower prices, but they are not as great as the 2 listed above. It is a good idea to make reservations ahead of time.

My Vegas Slots Discounts

Pinkbox Donuts
Pinkbox Donuts

Now as I mentioned before My Vegas Slots, I downloaded this app and played for about 20 minutes a day and earned points to use in Vegas and other places around the world.  This is a free app, you do not have to put money into it to earn points, and you earn quickly. Discounts on monorail, and MGM affiliated hotel stays as mentioned before.  Also discounts on shows, attractions and gambling perks if you are staying at that resort.

Check it out the list of all hotels that fall into this category

  • Mandalay Bay-aquarium

  • Luxor- many exhibits, like King Tut and Titanic

  • Excalibur- great food court

  • Aria- has a nightclub that is one of the best in Vegas.

  • Bellagio fountains, art, and conservatory

  • MGM Grand- has a large casino floor

  • Park MGM- has a great spa

  • The Cosmopolitan- find the secret spots in this place, including secret pizza

  • New York New York- Big Apple Coaster

Below are 2 videos of rooms booked with my points on My Vegas Slots

Always glance and see what is available on the app, it changes all the time. From buy one get one off buffets, match play at the casino and free rooms. It all changes regularly. This is one of the best things to use to get discounts or freebies.

Fremont Street- Downtown Las Vegas

Old town, Fremont Street, Glitter Gulch, Downtown Vegas, whatever you want to call it, go and explore this area of Las Vegas. The downtown area is a wonderful place, especially at night, with all the live music and dancing. But daytime isn't shabby at all. So, either way, take some time to visit Fremont Street, as long as you watch your gambling there are plenty of things to see and do on a budget.

Fremont Street Las Vegas, what I do

Play Keno at the D on Fremont
Play Keno at the D on Fremont

Parking can cost if you park in the parking building, or lots that are close by. But there are several free parking areas nearby you can walk from. My favorite is a Main Street Casino. It is an old casino with a few old relics from the past that are neat to see. Plus, they have a decent buffet with the best fried chicken in Vegas. In the men's bathroom you can see part of the Berlin Wall. Real neat for history buffs, and women can go in and see it, just ask to go inside so you don't get another free show. lol. I typically leave Main Street Station and walk across the street and enter the side of The California Hotel and Casino (you can enter from the back also) to rub Happy Buddha's Belly for good luck. If you are superstitious, Buddha Belly is a great way to strike it rich, this is what one woman did when she hit the jackpot on my last visit. While visiting take a look at the plaques on the wall, of the big winners in Vegas. Then walk out the front of the hotel and you are 1 block away from Fremont Street or look left and you will see Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino.

Fremont Street- Old town Vegas, with many casinos and activities this place is great. Lights at night, ziplining, music, plus each casino has something interesting. 

Gambling tips for downtown/ Fremont Street.

I do not have any gambling tips really, but I do have ways for you to get free money or match play money while in Vegas. 

  • EL Cortez Hotel and Casino- if you fly in on any airplane and show your boarding pass, you can get $25 in match play, a free drink and play a game that will give you a chance to win anywhere between $10-$1000 free play called Luck of The Draw.

  • The D Casino and Hotel- in downtown Fremont Street area-If you fly Spirit or Southwest and show your boarding pass at the casino within 24 hours of landing, you will get $50 in match play. 

  • Golden Gate Casino - If you fly Allegiant Airlines, show your boarding pass and receive $50 in match play.

Attractions on Fremont Street Las Vegas

There are several things to see and explore on Fremont. Go to Fremont during the day or night. The night life is the busiest, with the best people watching and it is a party.

Cowboy Vic
Cowboy Vic
  • Concerts and music, the Viva Vision Light Show is free, and you can do the SlotZilla Zip line down the street, if interested but it is not free, costing $54, but one of the fun things to do in this area. My favorite thing is the people watching, it's free.

  • Circa Resort and Casino is a newer and exciting hotel with an amazing outdoor pool area. Definitely worth checking out if having a lazy poolside day. Reserve a time and date and pay online for these pools, but a warning it is expensive. Also, Circa also has the largest sportsbook screen in history.

  • Golden Nugget, a Vegas Classic, with their huge shark tank. The view is free from the casino area. And if interested in a closer look at the sharks you can slide down a 3-story water slide that gets you up close to the sharks, but not too close. lol. Reserve a time and pay online to set up time in the pool area, it's amazing, but expensive.

  • The Plaza Hotel and Casino. When this hotel opened it was the largest in the world. Check out the pictures of the past 50 years of Vegas, and there are memorabilia of Mayor Oscar Goodman. You can easily figure out which hotel this one is by the Murals on the building. In the future they will have a Pinkbox donut, and they are working on a new smoke free casino area.

  • The D Hotel and Casino has the world's largest Keno board. While there, check out the sexy dancing dealer, just look up. lol. Also, Sigma derby racing. which is my favorite thing to do. You don't have to bet, you can just cheer on your favorite plastic horse. And rumor has it, part of the Blarney Stone is here, so check it out, it's free.

  • The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino has interesting artifacts also, like gaming ledgers from the early 1900's, vintage chips and so much more. This is the oldest casino in Las Vegas. The history of this hotel is great, it opened in 1906.

  • The Fremont which is a sister hotel to The California has an area of plaques for people who had a hot roll with the dice in craps. It is neat to see.

  • Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel. What a wild and crazy history this casino has had. Check out the free spin slot machine, you can win goodies. The hotel part of Binion's is Hotel Apache as a nod to the original Hotel Apache in the area. This is also a NO RESORT FEE hotel!!!!!!! Check it out, it will remind you of the past.

  • Four Queens Hotel and Casino, NO RESORT FEE!!! I repeat, NO RESORT FEE!!! lol. Save some money. This is the sister hotel to Binion's/Hotel Apache, and right in the middle of all the action. Check out the free spin slot machine, you can win big.

  • Take a pic of Cowboy Vic, you can't miss him. My pic is below.

  • Heart Attack Grill is also located here, it is an experience, waitresses are nurses, and be prepared to be spanked by them if you don't finish your meal. Burgers can have 40 pieces of bacon if you want. It will definitely be an unhealthy experience, but fun, and we all need some fat in our lives from time to time.

Attractions near Fremont Street Las Vegas

The Flamingo at night
The Flamingo at night
  • Evil Knievel Pizza Joint, across the street (Las Vegas Blvd) from Heart Attack Grill. Check out the statue of Evil Knievel and also a stuffed bighorn sheep, it's free and the pizza is good too.

  • The Mob Museum is amazing, so much to see. It will take you back to the days the mob ruled Vegas, but it has so much more than just Vegas mob related items. The cost is $29.95, but on their website, it will be cheapest, and walkable from Fremont, just 3 blocks north, or if you park at Main Street Station, just walk down to the opposite end of Stewart St. There is parking closer to the Museum if the walk is not for you.

  • Neon Museum, stroll through the old sign graveyard. There are so many old signs, it is a neat look at Vegas history. Buy tickets on their website, General admission during the day is $20 and just a little bit more for night tickets. They also have guided tours too. In my opinion this is not walkable from Fremont, it's about 8 or 9 blocks away, and you have to walk under the interstate.

  • Container Park, located on Fremont Street, but 3 blocks east of the Fremont Street Experience. It's a shopping area, made from shipping containers. Quite cool to look at, Plus the giant Metal Praying Mantis that shoots flames out its antennas.... So cool, and free.

  • Giant working Fire Hydrant, 2 more blocks east and across the street from Container Park. You can even pull the lever and cool yourself off. It's free. This area is very close to the arts district.

As you can tell, there is so much more to Las Vegas than gambling. I hope you have enjoyed this long blog, as you can tell I know so much about Sin City and will be going back again in the future. So, if this is your first trip or a seasoned Las Vegas traveler, I wish you luck on those slot machines and hope you win big. But if you lose, I hope you enjoy Vegas more than the gambling. It will share so much beauty, history and neon lights that will keep your eyes twinkling for more.

This post contains affiliate links, that means if you click on them, & buy that I might get a commission, at no cost to you.


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