A trip to Las Vegas is not complete without walking the Vegas Strip, seeing the fountain show at Bellagio, dancing with Lady Luck in the casinos, and maybe even partying all night long at a rooftop pool party—right? Everyone in the know knows the real fun to be had is actually in Downtown Las Vegas, or Vintage Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas has all of the flashiness and glaring neon lights of the Strip, but without all of the pretension. In short: it’s an alternative Vegas with more soul and a whole lot of character.
Here’s why you should head to Downtown Las Vegas.
1. The Fremont East District
Las Vegas may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of ‘culture’, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find in Downtown Las Vegas in the Fremont East District. Fremont Street is a cultural hot bed of cafes, bars and restaurants, which springs to life on the weekends. Make your way to the speakeasy cocktail bar, Laundry Room, hidden away in the Commonwealth, or head to popular dive bar, The Griffin, a favourite among locals.
2. The Fremont Street Experience
Although the Fremont Street Experience is technically a five-block entertainment district in Downtown Las Vegas, the magnum opus is the dazzling Viva Vision light show that runs every hour in the evenings from 6 pm. The screen is suspended above the pedestrian mall, so don’t forget to look up—although it is kind of hard to miss with its 12.5 million LED lights.
3. The SlotZilla Zip Line
While you’re busy being mesmerised by the light show, don’t be surprised if you see people suspended on wire flying past you from above. Yep, there’s a zip line that runs through the pedestrian mall: the lower ‘zip line’ is approximately 24 metres high and done in a traditional seated position; and the higher ‘zoom line’ is approximately 35 metres high and can be done in the ‘superman’ style. Here’s some advice: book the zoom line in advance, especially if you want to go in the evening! (A discount is offered during the day.)
4. The Downtown Container Bar
The Downtown Container Bar is a shopping centre made out of stacked shipping containers and houses boutique shops and eateries. To be honest, it was pretty quiet when I was there, but special events are occasionally held here, such as concerts and movie nights.
5. The First Friday Monthly Art Festival
If you happen to be visiting on the first weekend of the month, make sure to check out the First Friday Art Celebration in the 18b Arts District (you can catch a bus from the Fremont Street Experience or it’s about a 15-minute walk). The First Friday Art celebration features the works of local artists, an array of food trucks and live entertainment. It definitely had a ‘local’ feel about it and it was probably the one time in Las Vegas when I felt surrounded by residents rather than tourists. If you’re an arts aficionado, drop by the Arts Factory, an artists’ collective, and check out the galleries in Art Square, before enjoying a drink at Artifice Bar.
6. The street art
One thing I love to do is to check out the street art in other cities, and often the best way to do this is to walk around aimlessly—you’ll never know what you might uncover! While meandering around Downtown Las Vegas, you’re bound to stumble upon some quirky street art and installations, which are particularly concentrated in the Fremont East and 18b Art districts.
7. The museums
Even the museums in Vegas come with a distinct Vegas twist: you won’t find any boring museum tours here. Head on over to the Neon Museum, which collects and houses vintage Las Vegas signs—pretty cool, huh? Visitors can only visit the Neon Boneyard through a one-hour guided tour. Again, this is a popular activity, so book in advance. Alternatively, if you’re into the underbelly scene, make your way to the Mob Museum, which gives you a fascinating insight into Vegas’s seedy past.
8. The coffee
Okay, let’s get serious now. I struggled to find a cup of good coffee in Las Vegas, so you can imagine my delight when I stumbled into the neighbourhood cafe PublicUs—it almost felt like I was at home! It took a bus ride downtown to get my much-needed dose of caffeine, but a coffee lover has to do what a coffee lover has to do. Make sure to drop into The Writer’s Block, a super cute bookstore located near PublicUs. There is also meant to be good coffee at Makers & Finders Coffee, which is located in the 18b Arts District.
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