To the unmistakable tones of Elvis Presley the camera pans over The Strip, that most famous of avenues that begins and ends in the desert. It's night and in the lights below a replica of the Eiffel tower stands proud; a rippling stream of blue light flows from a black pyramid flanked by a huge sphinx; a seventy-metre roller coaster is dwarfed by the skyline of Manhattan; an artificial volcano vomits fire outside a golden hotel, and a spectacular choreography of dancing fountains welcomes visitors to the Bellagio.
Las Vegas is just like it's shown on screen. This scene from Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven is pretty much what you'll see for yourself if you take a nocturnal aerial tours over this, glitziest of destinations. And whether you see it from the sky or drive in from the desert, when you visit Sin City, you'll feel as if you, too, were an extra on a never-ending movie-set.
The Bellagio encapsulates all the tinsel glamour and eccentricity of the city. It was built in the late Nineties and the interior is almost as extravagant as its famous fountains. Glittering gold and crystal, ornate scrolls and plush carpets line the more than 35,000 square metres of rooms, and there in the background, there's the sound of clinking coins, the clamour of the slot machines and the calls of the croupiers and dealers. Despite the glamour and gambling, the Bellagio is witness to the fact that Vegas is not all about ostentation and excess: it boasts a fine art gallery with works by Monet and Chagall, and is host to 'O', one of the most fascinating Cirque du Soleil shows, a surreal spectacle of colour and acrobatic skill.
Across the city sprawl of Las Vegas, there are over 50 shows on offer every day. Most are musical performances with big-name stars that evoke the golden age of the city, when Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra sang to full houses night after night. Today, the city is a more family-focused destination with plenty of attractions for children as well as the show girls and kitsch marriage chapels for whirlwind weddings.
When to visit
Las Vegas really is located in the middle of the desert, so although all the facilities are air-conditioned and/or heated as appropriate, it's probably best to avoid the extreme temperatures of summer and winter.
A car is the best option for moving around the city, although you shouldn't miss taking a stroll along The Strip. Scenic flights of the city and surroundings by plane or helicopter are offered by companies such as Papillon and Maverick Helicopters.
Where to stay
The hotel-casinos are the biggest attraction in Las Vegas, and can be visited whether or not you are a guest. If you want to re-live the adventures of the Ocean's Eleven gang, then you should opt for the Italian inspired Bellagio . Equally luxurious are the Mirage, with its own personal volcano outside, and the MGM Grand, where the huge MGM lion guards the entrance. The Wynn is the best in town, with Manolo Blahnik and Oscar de La Renta boutiques inside, as well as a golf course and the spectacular aquatic show La Reve, which has its own specially designed theatre-pool. Other classic options include Caesar's Palace, the Venetian, and of course, the Flamingo, the original grand hotel of Las Vegas.
Where to eat
All the hotel-casinos offer a wide range of cuisine and dining options – Italian, Tex-Mex, steakhouses, grills... – but there are also exquisite haute cuisine restaurants: at the Bellagio's Picasso, the Spanish chef Julian Serrano heads the kitchen, at the MGM, it's Frenchman Joel Robuchon, while at the Wynn Hotel's Wing Lei restaurant, executive chef Ming Yu blends a masterful mix of refined Cantonese, Shanghai and Szechwan cooking styles; Las Vegas has its classy side and all three of these restaurants are Michelin starred.
You can hardly leave Las Vegas without trying your luck at the slot machines, roulette or blackjack tables, but there are many other attractions, too. Climb the Stratosphere Tower, whose 275 metres affords a breath-taking view of the surrounding desert. Visit one of the city's many museums or enjoy a theatrical or musical show – there are plenty to choose from including Les Folies Bergere, the oldest show in town at the Tropicana. Relax over a drink at MGM's Studio 54, a replica of the original New York studio, or at the new Cosmopolitan hotel-casino, which is right on-trend. Take a flight out to the Grand Canyon; it's under 500 kilometres away and many companies offer one-day excursions.
Las Vegas Tourism