Bellagio. Caesars Palace. MGM Grand. Rarely are hotels woven as closely into the fabric of a city as they are in Las Vegas. Then again, hotels in Vegas aren’t really hotels — they’re sprawling attractions, casinos-with-rooms, with shopping malls, restaurants, nightclubs, even theme parks all attached.
This is what the overwhelming majority of Sin City’s visitors come for, of course. As a road, Las Vegas Boulevard runs for miles through the Mojave desert, but the four-mile section nicknamed ‘the Strip’ — running, roughly speaking, from the MGM Grand to the Stratosphere — is where the fun has been centred since gangster Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo in 1946.
There are ways, of course, to play Vegas at its own game. There’s no high and low season, but prices do ramp up at weekends, so stay midweek and you can get an incredible deal. That is, if course, if you don’t lose it all on black.
For vibe: The Cromwell (£££)
Times have changed for the dive once known as Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, famed for its ‘Fat Elvis’ impersonator and late-night club, Drai’s. Stripped to the bone, it reopened in 2014 as The Cromwell, the Strip’s first standalone boutique hotel with a mere 188 rooms — impressively styled with Chesterfield sofas, damask wallpaper and backgammon-board coffee tables. Drai’s has doubled in size with a basement lounge and a rooftop day-and-nightclub (the Strip’s first). Room service is provided by celeb chef Giada de Laurentiis, whose restaurant sits downstairs, while the drinks list at bar Bound is curated by cocktail maestro Salvatore Calabrese.
Rooms: Doubles from £113, room only. thecromwell.com
For luxury: Bellagio (££)
There’s a reason why Bellagio was recently voted the best hotel in the world in a New World Wealth survey of millionaires: Vegas’s first modern luxury hotel keeps upping the ante. As well as large, plush rooms (all have been refurbished over the past four years to the tune of £125m), a sprawling pool deck and unparalleled views of those famous dancing fountains, new features include fountain-facing Italian restaurant Lago, farm-to-table food at Harvest, and world-class exhibitions at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art — Degas, Monet and Van Gogh all currently feature. If that wasn’t enough, it presently holds four Michelin stars split between three of its restaurants, and real Picassos on the walls at the restaurant of the same name.
Rooms: Doubles from £135, room only. bellagio.com
For Kitsch: New York New York (£)
For some, Vegas means one thing and one thing only: outrageously themed hotels. While they’re a dying breed, NYNY keeps the kitsch flag flying with aplomb, from its roller coaster curling round the ‘Manhattan’ skyline outside to the faux-cobbled streets, Irish pubs and brownstones that lie within. The rooms are decent, and all have been remodelled within the past year, so even the standard rooms have no nasty surprises. Right outside, meanwhile, is The Park, a brand new open-air mall that, along with its adjacent arena (Janet Jackson and Guns n’ Roses have already played) is injecting new verve into the southern Strip.
Rooms: Rooms from £58, room only. newyorknewyork.com
There’s nothing quite like the MGM Grand. The US’s largest hotel, it has 6,852 rooms, almost seven acres of pools, multiple restaurants and nightclubs (Calvin Harris is resident DJ at Hakkasan), the largest casino in town and an events arena where everyone from Elton to Floyd Mayweather has performed. Standard rooms could be better — instead, go for the mood-lit Stay Well rooms. Designed in conjunction with Deepak Chopra, they offer aromatherapy infusions and vitamin C showers. But you don’t stay here for the design: you stay because MGM Grand is Vegas.
Rooms: From £75, room only. mgmgrand.com
For exclusivity: Nobu (£££)
Not only the world’s first Nobu hotel, but also the first branded hotel-within-a-hotel in Vegas, this reinvention of the Centurion Tower at Caesars Palace was opened in 2013 by Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert De Niro. It’s a Norman Rockwell-designed oasis within the chaos of Caesars — in the middle of the resort, yet accessed via a separate lobby with check-in done on an iPad in your room. Everything in the zen rooms — from the meditative artwork to the minibar contents — has been curated by Nobu himself, while downstairs, the in-house restaurant also happens to be the largest Nobu restaurant in the world — and it even offers 24-hour room service.
Rooms: Doubles from £126, room only. nobucaesarspalace.com
For peace & quiet: Mandarin Oriental (£££)
No smoking, no gambling and a bar that’s best known for its tea — this isn’t your typical Vegas hotel. But for those more interested in the city than its sin, things don’t get better than this glass-fronted eyrie. Call it Vegas for grown-ups: Chinese art in the 23rd floor lobby, an S-Class Mercedes to shuttle guests around, and Twist, Pierre Gagnaire’s only US restaurant. Rooms are everything you’d expect: floor-to-ceiling windows, egg-shaped baths with separate showers, Frette bathrobes and 21st-century technology — use your bedside tablet to do everything from opening curtains to ordering room service.
Rooms: Doubles from £194, room only. mandarinoriental.com
For value: Stratosphere
It’s better known as a landmark than a hotel, but this huge tower dominating the north end of the Strip — the tallest free-standing observation tower in the US, no less — doubles as a great budget hotel, the accommodation blocks sitting either side of the tower. In the last few years, all rooms have been renovated to a high standard, while the views ogling the Strip from higher floors (which require an upgrade) can be spectacular, and the pool — on the eighth floor rooftop — takes some beating. The kicker? Guests get free access to the observation deck (normally $20/£15 per person) and discounts on the hair-raising rides up there.
Rooms: Doubles from £39, room only. stratospherehotel.com
Three of the best…
Hotels in Vegas tend to be casinos-with-rooms, but the SLS has forged a different path. A 2014 revamp of the iconic Sahara Hotel saw it downsize the casino to focus on the restaurants and rooms that made the name of this LA-based chain. Philippe Starck, no less, designed the rooms, and both main towers have a completely different look, from the urban entry-level Story tower to the grungy World tower.
Rooms: Doubles from £75, room only. slslasvegas.com
For hipsters: Oasis At Gold Spike (£)
Surrounded by the super-cool shops, restaurants and craft cocktail bars of the Fremont East district, this retro motel has been transformed into a hipster oasis — the rooms feature sofas and record players, while the adjacent building, once a casino, is now a smoke-free bar with real games (darts and Connect Four) instead of roulette wheels.
Rooms: Doubles from £46, room only. oasisatgoldspike.com
For pools: Red Rock (££)
This modern casino resort is where Las Vegans head for a staycation: sprawling across 70 acres of land, it overlooks the sandstone cliffs of Red Rock Canyon in Summerlin, 10 miles west of the Strip. Red Rock offers more bang for your buck, with a three-acre pool area, a top-notch spa, a casino with onyx-clad walls and some of the largest rooms in Vegas.
Rooms: Doubles from £103, room only. redrock.sclv.com
Published in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)