Few destinations can match the unbridled hedonism of Las Vegas. Nevada’s pulsating desert city, a tangle of neon-lit casinos and roaring freeways, is one of the most unforgettable places on Earth. If you get it right, a weekend in this town can be the trip of a lifetime. If you don’t, Vegas can easily overwhelm and disappoint – not to mention empty your wallet. Here are our tips for making the most of the city.

Do take time to find the right hotel

The first step is choosing the right place to stay, and in Vegas the options are almost limitless. Start by thinking about what you want to get out of your trip. Which casinos and sights do you want to be near? How important for you is it to stay in one of big names? How far can you really afford to stretch your budget?

The city’s hotels run the gamut from slightly seedy to ridiculously extravagant, with a bewildering array of deals to draw you in. At the upper end of the scale, lavish mega-casinos such as the Venetian and Bellagio spoil you rotten with luxury facilities, shops and restaurants. More affordable are lovably kitsch stalwarts including Luxor and New York–New York, as well as modern casinos such as the Linq, where chic rooms make up for a lack of big-name attractions.

Check out our complete guide to the best places to stay before you book.

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Don’t spend your whole trip on the Strip

With a slew of things to do on your doorstep, it’s easy not to leave your hotel – let alone break away from the Strip. Make sure you venture further at least once, whether it’s to see a show at an off-Strip casino like the Rio or Hard Rock, or to indulge in one of the city’s more ridiculous attractions – try glow-in-the-dark, KISS-themed Monster Mini Golf for starters.

Fremont Street is one of the best places to head for a full day out. Comprising four covered blocks, this redeveloped corner of Downtown houses some pleasingly gritty casinos and an awesome indoor zipline, Slotzilla.

Do blow your budget on a buffet brunch

Where else in the world can you pick from hundreds of dishes and wash them down with limitless mimosas? Vegas does all-you-can-eat buffets like no other city, with highlights ranging from fresh seafood and dim sum to made-to-order pancakes and indulgent dessert bars. Buy the Pocket Rough Guide to Las Vegas for reviews of all the best, including Caesars’ legendary Bacchanal Buffet.

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Don’t expect to go to bed early

Even if you’re not here to hit the clubs, don’t expect to make it back to your room before the early hours. This is a city that really doesn’t sleep – and if the bars don’t tempt you in, the artificial light will have you convinced it’s barely past sundown. The Forum shops even have a false-sky ceiling that alternates hourly between day and night.

Do embrace the weird and wonderful

Take a ride in a Venetian gondola on the second-floor of the eponymous casino. Zip through the Manhattan skyline on New York–New York’s famous rollercoaster. Watch a volcano erupt at the Mirage. See “Elvis” in action in one of the Strip’s late-night bars. It’s these over-the-top experiences that you’ll remember long after your visit.

Don’t miss out on the shows

Vegas shows are simply some of the world’s best. Tickets might be pricey, but seeing at least one is well worth it, whether you want to be awed by Penn and Teller’s magic tricks, catch the inimitable Cirque du Soleil in action or dance the night away with Britney.

Do get high

No, not that kind of high. Vegas is best seen from above, and there are plenty of places from where you can take in the view. If your budget won’t stretch to a helicopter tour, hop into a capsule on the High Roller ferris wheel or head to the observation deck at the Stratosphere, the tallest building in the city.

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Do set yourself a gambling budget

If you choose to gamble – not everyone does – set yourself a budget. Drinks are on the house while you’re at the tables, and a couple of margaritas can quickly lead to spending more than you intended.

Don’t rent a car

Free drinks and driving do not mix – just don’t do it. Not only is the Strip generally safe and walkable (this is, after all, the city that installed escalators over intersections), but you’ll rarely need to wait more than a few minutes for an Uber or a cab.

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Do get outside

The hotels do their best to keep you indoors, spiriting you between casino floors and shopping arcades via a bewildering network of corridors and walkways. Break out once in awhile, whether it’s to eat a cafe-style breakfast beneath the Eiffel Tower in front of Paris Las Vegas or watch the Bellagio fountains perform their impressive display.

Don’t just visit in summer

Pool parties and palm trees might be quintessential Las Vegas, but there are plenty of reasons to visit in winter – not least the bearable temperatures. New Year is, unsurprisingly, a party like no other, while Christmas sees lights, festive shows and ice-rinks pop up across town.

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Don’t leave without taking a day-trip

Most people find around three consecutive days in Las Vegas is enough. More than that and you’ll start to become overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of sound, activity and colour. It would be a shame, however, to leave your trip at that; some of the Southwest’s most epic landscapes are just a short journey away.

Daily tours run to Red Rock Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Valley of the Fire and the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. If you’ve got a night or two to spare, you can reach the more remote Grand Canyon South Rim, glorious Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon’s fascinating hoodoos.

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