We know, we know: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But if you're not savvy, this can include the contents of your wallet, checking account, and 401(k).
While accommodations come cheap in Sin City, expensive attractions ($14 to ride a roller coaster) and overpriced shows ($200 a pop) can eat up your budget and leave you with nothing. Don't break the bank on your Sin City trip. Here are 10 totally free attractions to discover in Las Vegas instead.
Fountains and Conservatory & Botanical Gardens at Bellagio
This watery attraction pops up in just about every Vegas movie ever made, including the iconic ending to Ocean's Eleven. Create your own crime caper or rom-com ending and catch the Fountains of Bellagio in action; the free show plays every 15 minutes or every half hour, depending on the time of day. Thrillingly synced to pop and classical music, hundreds of separate fountains and water features shoot up into the air with the Italianate hotel facade as their stunning backdrop. When you've had your fountain fill, take a leisurely stroll through Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, where horticulturalists maintain an ever-changing array of florals, gazebos, bridges, and ponds. The gardens are also free for visitors and provide a nice respite from the relentless desert sun.
Fremont Street Experience
Equal parts mall, concert venue, and light show, the Fremont Street Experience takes everything that Vegas is known for (glitter, lights, and gambling) and rolls it into one five-block area. The main attraction here is a barrel vault canopy aglow with 12.5 million LED lights that lead pedestrians to vintage casinos such as the Golden Nugget and the Four Queens. Guests can also enjoy free concerts from hard-rocking headliners (Fuel, Lit, Third Eye Blind, etc.) all summer long.
P3Studio at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
And you thought Las Vegas had no culture. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has amassed one of the most exclusive art collections in the country, providing a highbrow break from the Strip's bare skin and penny slots. In its posh third-floor P3Studio, The Cosmopolitan displays, commissions, and sells works by a rotating cadre of well-known artists in residence (think David LaChapelle and the toy retailer Kidrobot). You won't need a wallet, but bring your imagination -- these decidedly modern exhibitions are free. Afterward, take a spin around The Cosmopolitan's public spaces and exterior for new-media installations by Yoko Ono, T.J. Wilcox, and other big names in digital art.
CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand
You might not be a network exec, but you can still have your voice heard. At the CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand, you can sample brand-new TV shows and opine on potential pilots during free hour-long screenings. Pick up a ticket between 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. and head into one of the studios to sample program offerings by CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other Viacom-owned channels. Register your opinion on a test monitor and consider yourself part of television history before returning to your regularly scheduled vacation.
Circus Acts at Circus Circus Las Vegas
This family-approved spot on the Strip has long entertained guests with its Carnival Midway and countless circus acts. In fact, the resort contains the largest permanent circus in the world. A rotating cast of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, and roller-skating stuntmen delights kids of every age (and the cash-strapped parents toting their new carnival prizes). Cap off the entertainment with a rousing show from Circus Circus' resident clowns, Dave, Huel, Tonya, and Scotty, on the Midway's main stage or at the adjoining Adventuredome. Let the fact that all this entertainment is free assuage any lingering clown phobia.
First Friday in the Arts District
Every first Friday evening from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., the Arts District of downtown Las Vegas opens its streets for wallet- and family-friendly fun. Find a variety of artists and vendors hawking their wares, plus live music and activities that include the tyke-centric KidZone with free carnival games and an exotic petting zoo. Other attractions include an interactive science lab, live entertainment, and a fleet of food trucks for peckish revelers. Shuttle service from El Cortez and the Golden Nugget whisks visitors to the Arts District and back.
Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas
You'll likely encounter a variety of colorful creatures on the Las Vegas Strip, from partying bachelorettes with questionably shaped but anatomically correct lollipops to celebrities on their baddest behavior. Catch a glimpse of a different kind of flamboyance at Flamingo Las Vegas, with its habitat chock-full of the pink-hued birds. A flock (actually called a flamboyance) of Chilean flamingos is on view at the complimentary exhibit, which also features an array of swans, ducks, koi fish, and turtles who live among the foliage and waterfalls. The habitat is located next to the pool area and is open to guests and non-guests alike.
Volcano at The Mirage
Well, this spot has really blown up. With a soundtrack by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, this heart-pounding audio/visual attraction at the Polynesian-themed Mirage spews fire into the Vegas air beginning at 7 p.m. every night. The smoke that the volcano spouts more than 100 feet above the water is actually perfumed with a pleasant pina colada scent (to cover up the odor of natural gas). The spectacle rivals the well-known fountains at Bellagio, just a half mile up the Strip.
Pinball Hall of Fame
This nonprofit please-touch museum is actually the world's largest pinball-machine collection. In 10,000 square feet of space, find an assortment of more than 200 pinball machines and arcade games from a half century of gaming history. And every game is playable -- including an original Ms. Pac-Man from 1981 and Super Mario Bros. from 1985, plus the wooden 1947 Heavy Hitter. Admission is free, although the games are coin-op (25 or 50 cents per play). Just arm yourself with the knowledge that all excess revenue goes to charity. Who knew doing good could feel like such good old-fashioned fun?
Aquarium at Silverton Casino
The only sting here is from jellyfish. Consistently ranked one of the top free attractions in Las Vegas, the massive saltwater aquarium in Silverton Casino will transport you from the parched desert to a vast tropical oasis. Around 117,000 gallons of saltwater house 4,000-some fish and reef plants as well as six species of shark and stingray. Interactive feeding demonstrations and a mermaid show round out the offerings, while the hotel's colossal Bass Pro Shops outpost has more tanks to explore -- and Olympic-level window-shopping to undertake.
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