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Downtown Vegas is not the seedy and dangerous place it once was.
The last 5 years has seen the beginnings of change and exciting revitalization. It has so many parallels to Downtown LA which was once a dangerous place but is now, I think, one of the most exciting and unknown US city destinations.
Downtown Vegas is on the cusp of that greatness. Just remember you heard it here first.
Old downtown Las Vegas as it’s also known was the original town site and gambling district and historic center of Vegas. It’s the Central Business District but offers much for tourists to enjoy.
Visitors to DTLV used to confine themselves to the boundaries of the covered Fremont St, but now they are walking beyond Fremont to discover more.
We uncovered many few cool things to do Downtown Las Vegas like the Downtown East section and Container Park, axe throwing, $12 buffets and $2.50 beers.
If you want to visit Vegas on the cheap, then don’t miss downtown. As it’s so centralized, it has a more of an upbeat vibe than the sprawling Strip offers.
The slot machines here also have a higher payout percentage. Find an old machine in a dark corner somewhere – ding ding ding!
We visited with the kids so a lot of the fun stuff we discovered, we couldn’t do, but here are all the Downtown Vegas attractions we can recommend.
Things to Do on Fremont Street
While Old Town Las Vegas is so much more than Fremont Street, this street is the area you’ll wander in and out of the most. It’s the Las Vegas Strip of the downtown area.
We do recommend if you are visiting Vegas with kids to get them off Fremont St in the evening hours, when Old Las Vegas turns into world class crazy and gives a true insight as to why it’s called Sin City.
During the day they’ll enjoy the buskers and live music as you walk by.
Here are a few of the Fremont Street attractions.
1. Start with a Downtown Vegas Walking Tour
Why not start your things to do in Downtown Las Vegas with an overview on a guided walking tour?
This was the tour that flipped me from thinking upon first stepping onto Fremont St, “Geez, I think we’d better get out of here. I’m not sure of this place”, to thinking…
“OMG. This place is so cool. I can’t wait to come back and explore more.
This is why I travel. To be surprised and find those America Unplugged secrets!
We learned so much more about the stories of this gambling town than we ever would have just wandering around on our own. It made Vegas come alive for us. Even our girls loved it.
We learned about the birthplace of Vegas which is near the Plaza Hotel at the beginning of Fremont St – the Old Vegas Strip), how and why the casinos go up and down so much, the history behind its growth and allure, and the revitalization of Fremont St, the surrounding area, and the very cool local Downtown East.
Another reason to make this your first stop in DTLV is your guide will point out the best places to return and explore more AND will give you a print out of his recommended places to eat and drink and when you can find the cheap prices.
This tour was included on our Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass. You can get yours here.
2. Fly over Fremont St on the Slotzilla Zip Line
Another great overview of Fremont St comes from above with the Slotzilla zip line.
If you don’t want to take to the skies, you will enjoy looking up at the faces of joy and terror as they soar above you! This is a fantastic family-friendly attraction in downtown Las Vegas.
The beginning of the zip line is true Vegas style out of a 12-story slot machine. Adventurous, but less tame than throwing yourself off The Stratosphere.
3. Take in the Fremont St Experience and Viva Vision Light Shows
Fremont Street Experiences is one of the most popular things to do in Downtown Las Vegas and one of the best free things to do in Vegas.
It involves a light and music show (and lots of advertising) imagery on the roof or Viva Vision, the largest video screen in the world.
They often have live bands playing on one of the three stages on Fremont Street.
We’ve pretty much missed it each time we visited the downtown Vegas area. the kids were either losing it because it was crazy people hour, or we’d had too many drinks to notice (when the kids weren’t with us).
Viva Vision light shows last approximately six minutes, and run every hour, usually starting at 6pm depending on season.
This tour of DTLV will take in the Fremont St lights as well as happy hour drinks and a tour of the Arts District.
4. Find your Gold at the Golden Nugget Saloon
It doesn’t get more Old Vegas than the Golden Nugget Saloon. It’s on my list of places to stay in Vegas when we return.
Even if you don’t stay here, it is an iconic Vegas casino to come and play the slot machines or check out the elaborate swimming pool.
The Golden Nugget pool has the Tank, a 200,000-gallon aquarium in middle that water slide that goes through it. It’s been named as one of the top 10 pools in the world by Travel & Leisure.
My friend Rina and I had an evening out in Downtown Las Vegas and had a blast. We spent most of our time in the Golden Nugget saloon.
Gambling really is not my thing, but the free drinks you get with it is!
You MUST have cash to gamble in the hotels casinos. It’s against the law to use credit cards so be sure you have plenty of cash – or don’t to keep your bank balance safe.
While here be sure to check out the Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget on public display in the world today, weighing in at 61 pounds, 11 ounces.
Non-hotel guests can swim in the The Tank pool with a day pass that costs $35 per person (children 2 and under are free). If you want to save money in Vegas, perhaps looking is better!
5. Get Spanked at Heart Attack Grill
This was the funniest and most bizarre thing we found in Vegas. The Heart Attack Grill looks like a normal burger milk shake bar until you peak through the windows.
Patrons are dressed in hospital gowns drinking wine out of IV drips, shots out of syringes and chowing down on heart attack style burgers.
If you take on the challenge to eat Octuple Bypass Burger – eight burger patties topped with forty slices of bacon and enough cheese for a heart attack – and fail the mission, you are legitimately taken to the spanking platform and spanked pretty hard with a by the waitress!!
I’m pretty sure you’ll be begging for it after the first bite of that burger. I’ll take the IV line of red wine instead please!
I’m not sure it’s a place you want to visit with kids. My friend, Rina and I ducked in for a look, a giggle, and a hospital gown photo.
6. Taste Local Passion at Banger Brewing
Tucked in between the flashing neon lights and kitschy vibe of Old Vegas, is a modern invention – crafty brewing.
Five local friends who worked at the Bellagio together came up with the idea to fill a void in the alcohol offerings in the highest drinking city in the world. Enter delicious, classy, locally made beer at Banger Brewing.
No kids allowed. Ours kids watched a busker show just outside the window while we quickly threw a pint down. You can’t come to Vegas and not sample a home brew. Be warned – they are strong!
You can bring outside food in here though as they don’t have a kitchen.
7. Enjoy Happy Hour views in a Glass Dome at Oscar’s Steakhouse
Oscar’s Steakhouse located in the Plaza hotel’s iconic glass dome has become a must see attraction in Downtown Las Vegas due to its classic views of the lights of Fremont St. that has been featured in movies like Casino.
It’s named in honor of former mayor and mob boss Oscar Goodman.
We started our downtown walking tour underneath this restaurant and our guide told us happy hour from 5-7pm is where you’ll find great deals on drinks and oysters!
What to Do in Downtown Las Vegas Beyond Fremont St.
8. Go Gangster at The Mob Museum
What a fantastic Downtown Vegas attraction. It’s important to learn about the stories behind destinations and you know Vegas has a rich Mobster tale to tell.
I’ve always had a weird kind of fascination and fear of the Mob. What with the Godfather, Donnie Brasco and Al Capone how can you not be?
Whereas Chicago tries to hide their checkered Gangster past, Vegas is like, hey baby this was part of our growth and look at how we overcame it.
Put aside a couple of hours at the Mob Museum. It was a quick whirlwind tour through as we had our walking tour booked in. But, the quick ended up being good for the girls.
They were okay with learning about the Mob until expectantly coming across some gruesome footage and then we quickly escorted them out.
So, perhaps it’s not the best place for your kids. It definitely opened up a good conversation about organized crime. I think I can trust that neither of them will ever get mixed up in it. I think I made them promise me several times!
The museum is three floors of exhibits and stories, films and photos. One section will warn you of the gruesomeness to come.
The Mob Museum was also part of our Sightseeing Pass, which also included two special exhibits: The Crime Lab and the Use of Force.
I was disappointed we ran out of time for the 30-minute crime lab. Craig and I had to tag team as there is an age limit. But the Use of Force was a quick and very interesting 15-minute insight into the stainless steel nerves and quick thinking police officers have.
We were given guns (without bullets) and were taken through a few scenarios of crimes in action. As the police officer we had to respond accordingly.
It did involve shooting a few of the criminals. I was shot first once and the second time I got the guy. No innocents were harmed in my scenario – Craig’s was a different story.
We even had a real life drunk we had to encounter and disarm. I wouldn’t be a cop for anything!
9. Learn The Stories Behind the Neon at The Neon Museum
Well, we all know Las Vegas is the city of neon lights. The Neon Museum is a unique Vegas attraction.
Since 1996, the Neon Museum has been collecting and exhibiting Las Vegas neon signs for historical and cultural enrichment. It’s a cool way to preserve the stories and unique history of the city.
While we did not get time to visit this museum we really wanted to and had many people recommend it as a Vegas beyond the Strip highlight.
10. Explore Family-Friendly Fremont East District
Fremont East District lies at the eastern edge of Fremont St and is the vision of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos.
He launched this Downtown Project as a $350 million downtown Las Vegas initiative to redevelop a section of downtown from Fremont Street Experience to Maryland Parkway along the Fremont Street corridor.
He decided that he was going to bring 5,000 jobs to this region and revitalize it into a local’s neighborhood with cool restaurants, breweries and places to hang out.
He has certainly done this.
It started with him starting all the restaurants etc. himself and bringing the headquarters of Zappos to downtown, but hey when you have vision, you find the solution.
We didn’t get to eat here, but apparently there are some outstanding dining experiences to be had. Some recommendations were Le Thai, Therapy and Carson Kitchen.
11. Eat and Shop at the Funky Downtown Container Park
The Downtown Container Park is a wonderful family-friendly area for locals to hang out with cafes, boutiques stores, craft-whiskey cocktail bar, bars, and outdoor stage and tree house playground for the kids.
It features more than 40 repurposed shipping containers that house retail shops and restaurants.
The center is intended to be a starting place for promising entrepreneurs who have longed to open a shop or restaurant.
The entrance is marked by a giant metal sculpture of a praying mantis, which shoots jets of fire from its antennae at night. It’s a Burning Man creation so you can just imagine it’s creative flair.
Oak & Ivy, Bin 702 and The Perch are places to check out for drinks and food.
12. Get Arty at the Free First Friday in the Las Vegas Arts District
On the first Friday of the month, Downtown Las Vegas has a First Friday art event just south of Fremont St at the Las Vegas Arts District.
Over 100 local artists display and sell their work on the streets and there’s also live music, street performers, food carts and art lessons for kids. Another one of those things to do in Vegas for cheap.
You can continue the fun down on Fremont St for their First Friday block party – no kids allowed!
13. Find the Cheapest Happy Hour at Main Street Station
Another place we discovered in DTLV thanks to our walking tour was Main Street Station.
It showcases the splendor of the Victorian era with dozens of rare antiques and curiosities, award-winning restaurants – and even a slab of the Berlin Wall in the men’s urinals.
Check it out, play the machines, and stop in at Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery.
You want to visit weekdays 3pm – 6pm and 11pm – 3am for $2 draft beers and $3 appetizers during happy hour. Probably the best happy hour deal in Vegas!
We missed the happy hour prices, but enjoyed our meal! You can get free parking if you eat here too!
14. Eat at Hash House a Go Go
For big tasty meals at affordable prices, a great family-friendly restaurant is the Hash House a Go Go inside the Plaza Hotel.
Our walking tour guide suggested this as a budget-friendly place to eat with a good menu selection for all ages, and so did many others in our online community!
Stay at an Iconic Vegas Casino
Golden Nugget Saloon
As mentioned above, this is one cool Vegas casino. It as probably my favorite and it’s high on my list of places to stay in Vegas when I return.
Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino
This is not your typical Vegas style casino and hotel. It’s a boutique hotel with an industrial-chic vibe. You’ll find a ground floor casino, restaurants, including the famous and much loved Pizza Rock, and a rooftop pool.
El Cortez Hotel & Casino
If you’re looking for nostalgia on your Vegas vacation, you’ll find it at Las Vegas’ oldest running casino (since 1941) – a pretty impressive feat once you learn how quickly these casinos crash and burn.
The infamous mobster, Bugsy Seigel once owned this hotel, but the retro look from his era remains.
Golden Gate Hotel
The Golden Gate Hotel is also a century old casino that has plenty of history and vintage decorations to check out, as well as their Prohibition Bar serving up cocktails out of coffee mugs. Got to be discreet about these things.
Getting to Downtown Las Vegas
If you are not staying in the Downtown Las Vegas area, your best option is to catch an Uber.
If you are driving, you can get free parking at some of the hotel casinos – if you eat or play there. Research before hand otherwise it can be expensive.
You can catch the Duece, which is a double deck bus that goes up an down the Las Vegas strip 24 hours a day.
Note that the bus takes a long time to go a short distance. You are probably better off getting an Uber. Our friends jumped in an Uber to meet us in Downtown from the New York, New York hotel after learning the bus would take two hours!!
- 2-Hour all-access pass – $6
- 24-Hour all-access pass – $8
- 3-Day all-access pass – $20