Amid all the high rollers and glitz of the Las Vegas Strip are a surprising number of things to do that won't cost you a thing. The casinos alone are a sensory tour de force, with lights, fountains, shows, and music—much of it free. Use this guide to explore some of the other no-cost opportunities in Vegas and save your money for the blackjack table.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, Ethel M Chocolate Factory offers free self-guided tours of the chocolate factory and access to wander the botanical cactus gardens located on site. Store is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; factory tours and gardens available Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Ethel M Chocolate Factory is located in Henderson, Nevada, about 15 minutes by car from the Las Vegas Strip.
Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas is home to many of the city's original casinos, as well as to the Fremont Street Experience, a seven-block, open-air pedestrian mall featuring daily shows, concerts, and the nightly Viva Vision. Comprised of 12.5 million LED bulbs, Viva Vision is a state-of-the-art light and sound show splashed onto a 1,500-foot-long video screen above the mall. Shows are every night starting at dusk.
A shrine to M&M's candy, M&M's World features exhibits like an M&M's color mood analyzer, a replica of the M&M's NASCAR race car, and a 3-D movie. Occasionally, the store in M&M's World will hand out free samples of new products.
Walking up to a craps, blackjack, or roulette table can be intimidating for rookie gamblers, which is why many casinos, such as Circus Circus, Luxor, and Excalibur, offer free gaming lessons. Learn basic rules, strategy, jargon, and etiquette to avoid embarrassing gaffes (tip: When playing craps, roll the dice so they hit the end of the table). The tutorials are popular, so arrive early to ensure hands-on practice; latecomers may be relegated to observer status.
The Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens showcase an elaborate seasonal display of plants, flowers, and trees. Open 24 hours daily with live musical performances from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. “Mr. and Mrs. Green Thumb” make a daily appearance from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to answer gardening questions.
The Auto Collections, the world's largest collection of antique, muscle, and special-interest cars, is attached to the Quad Resort & Casino. Admission to view the collection is free. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Have you ever wanted to give Hollywood television executives a piece of your mind? Get your chance at the CBS Television City Research Center, located in the MGM Grand. Visitors watch programming from Viacom networks and offer their opinions afterward.
The Silverton's huge, 117,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is home to more than 4,000 tropical fish—and several "mermaids." Watch one of the interactive feeding shows at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily, and don’t miss the mermaid swims on Thursdays between 2:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays between 2:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.; and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Every day the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian comes alive with Carnevale di Venezia, a 15-minute performance of opera and Italian folk music by an elaborately costumed troupe. Gondoliers, living statues, and jugglers on stilts add to the fun. Catch the carnival in St. Mark’s Square on the hour from noon to 6 p.m., and in front of Barney’s New York at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 5 p.m., 5:15 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. The Gondolier March takes place daily at 9:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.
After a long day of gaming, you'll be ready for a break and some entertainment. And you don't even have to leave the casino property to find some great free shows. Step outside of Bally's to see the light, water, and sound show held every 20 minutes nightly after dusk. The show takes place on Las Vegas Boulevard just outside the hotel entrance.
Immortalized in the remake of Ocean's 11, the Fountains of Bellagio are a quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) of water, light, and music visible on the Las Vegas Strip outside of the Bellagio hotel. Shows occur every half hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 7 p.m. until midnight.
Caesars Palace's version of the water show uses lifelike animatronic figures to act out the myth of Atlantis in the Fall of Atlantis Fountain Show. The shows take place every hour starting at 11 a.m. After the show, check out the 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium behind the fountains that is home to more than 300 fish.
See re-creations of some of Paris's greatest landmarks right on the Las Vegas Strip. Replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Paris Opera House, and the Hôtel de Ville can all be seen at Paris casino.
The days of the Rat Pack members mingling with guests after their casino lounge performances are gone, but you can still find some great live music free in the casinos:
Bally's newly renovated Indigo Lounge is a nice place to sit and enjoy the live piano music. Visit the Bellagio's Baccarat Bar in the evenings for live music from David Osbourne, Shelly Taylor, and other regulars. Baccarat Bar is open 24 hours a day. Cleopatra's Barge in Caesars Palace is open nightly and features DJs and various performers. The Flamingo's Caribbean-themed Margaritaville is a great place to hear live music nightly.
Revelers tend to dance the night away at Harrah's no-cover Carnaval Court. The bar opens at noon, but the music doesn't usually start until the evenings. Or become part of the show during dueling pianos at Harrah's Piano Bar at 9 p.m. nightly. Or head over to the country-themed I Love This Bar and Grill for live country music nightly at 9 p.m.
Look out over the casino floor at Addison's Lounge in the Rampart Casino at the Resort at Summerlin while listening to live music Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. Also check out the nightly piano music at the Round Bar.
Learn all about Las Vegas's history or the history of gaming and gambling at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas's Lied Library Special Collections. Special Collections are located on the third floor of the library on UNLV's main campus east of the Strip and are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Closed on weekends.
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History offers impressive displays about the history of American Indian cultures in the southwestern United States, desert life, and the history of ancient Mexico. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested. The museum is located on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus east of the Strip and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Closed Sundays.
Or if Americana/kitsch is more your thing, be sure to stop by the Neon Museum. This open-air museum is dedicated to preserving neon signs from Las Vegas's past. The organization restores the signs and has them displayed along Fremont Street.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Stop by the Anderson Dairy for a free barnyard tour of the dairy processing plant. The guided tour is complete with animatronic animals, farm scenery, and colored lights to explain the history of the dairy and of Las Vegas. Suitable for children aged 2-11, the tour must be scheduled in advance by calling +1 702 642 7507, extension 264.
Take a walk through the Arboretum and Xeric Garden on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas's campus, located east of the Strip. The Arboretum covers the entire 335-acre campus, showcasing trees and plants native to the area. The Xeric Garden is a two-acre plot located at the entrance to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History and is designed to show how dry-climate plants and a water-efficient irrigation system can work together to create an attractive landscape while conserving water. Both plots are open to the public all the time.
An information center and nature preserve run by volunteers shows visitors the importance of the local wetlands and the plants and animals that live there at the Clark County Wetlands Park. Enjoy the hiking trails, bird viewing blind, ponds, and scenic views in this hundred-acre wetlands park. The information center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the preserve is open from dawn until dusk.
Dubbed one of the seven wonders of modern engineering and ranked as the second-highest dam in the United States, Hoover Dam is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on the Nevada-Arizona border and worth the 30-minute drive. Most parking on the Arizona side of the structure is free, but be prepared for a walk (you can walk across during daylight hours). Tours inside the power plant cost extra, but there is no charge to stop by the visitors center, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Las Vegas's downtown 18b Arts District is filled with cultural activities. The Arts Factory is home to many artists' studios and galleries. These are free and open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Arts Factory is one of many places open during First Friday, a street festival held in the Arts District on the first Friday night of each month from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Bands perform in the streets, galleries are open to all, artists display their works, children draw on the sidewalks with chalk, and street performers entertain. The city provides free rides on trolleys from parking lots.