The perennial adult playground of the USA, Las Vegas is famous for its bright lights, dice and indulgences. But there is more to this jewel in the Nevada desert than bling and slot machines.

Locals have created individual neighborhoods with cultural offerings beyond the usual Vegas tropes. Take your time to explore each one rather than rush through at a hectic pace – Las Vegas's neighborhoods have a lot to offer and are worth your time.

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Neon signs of Atomic Liquors bar in Downtown, Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street is the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas. © Greg Thillmont/Lonely Planet

Downtown

Best neighborhood for vintage Vegas

With its retro casinos, the vibrant Arts and Fremont East Entertainment districts, cool museums and free entertainment galore, a visit or stay Downtown is the antidote for all Strip-related maladies. It's is a great place to base yourself if the Strip doesn't appeal. The area's clutch of old-school casinos usually have good-quality rooms at ridiculously good rates that will make you never want to stay in a hostel again.

Walking west on Fremont takes you along the Fremont Street Experience; you can't miss Slotzilla greeting you upon arrival. South of here is the loosely organized Arts District. Walking east, you'll immediately be in the Fremont Street East Entertainment Precinct, chock full of interesting bars, restaurants and community galleries. If you're a fan of vintage shopping, racks of bowling shirts, gold-rimmed martini glasses and neon signs on the myriad shops on Main St await you. Another retro must-see is the Mob Museum – Las Vegas' old federal courthouse that has been repurposed to house a cutting-edge collection of mob memorabilia and the history of organised crime in early America.

Steer clear of the area east of the Container Park and north of the Interstate (you have to walk underneath it, so you'll know) at night instances of street crime are not uncommon. Stick to the well-lit tourist areas, and you should be just fine.

Rocky desert landscape at sunset, Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, Las, Vegas, Nevada, USA
Rocky desert landscape at sunset, Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area. © Dean Pennalad/500px

Summerlin

Best neighborhood for outdoor adventures

If you're excited by Las Vegas, but everything about the Strip makes you a little anxious, Summerlin is for you. Consider making Red Rock Casino or the area around Downtown Summerlin your base, less than 10 minutes' drive from spectacular Red Rock Canyon, the star of the Las Vegas Valley.

This part of town has a selection of comfortable and stylish accommodations, and a wealth of great restaurants spanning a range of genres and tastes, in settings from smart casual alfresco to high-end country club.

Summerlin might not be your bag for your entire stay in Vegas, but it's worth considering spending a night here, especially when the rowdiness of the Strip starts to wear you down and you need a fix of nature, or a meal you can actually savor without dreading the bill (or the song and dance of choosing which celebrity chef). If it's comfort you seek, without the hype, Summerlin will deliver – it doesn't skimp on fine dining, high-end shopping, quality accommodations or natural beauty.

Illuminated Las Vegas Strip against the night sky
The Las Vegas strip photographed at night with streaks of white and the Caesar's Palace Sign lit up © Dennis Hohl/Getty Images/EyeEm

The Strip

The best neighborhood for sensory overload

It's Vegas' entertainment central, the epicenter in a vortex of limitless potential, where almost anything goes and time becomes elastic. Heads spin at the endless sales pitches: some get lucky, many have such an unspeakably good time they don't seem to mind incinerating their hard-earned cash. Magic dwells in this 4.2-mile garden of earthly delights, but finding yours can be tricky: the Strip excels at distraction.

Vegas is famous for its shameless re-creations of famous sights: Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, Venetian canals. Jet from Europe to Polynesia and back without changing time zones – or even leaving the Strip. Start at the Big Daddy, Caesars Palace, on the center Strip and you'll know straight away that you're in Vegas, baby! Linger a little in Ancient Rome, then cross over to the slightly more chilled LINQ Promenade, where you can take a breather, down a beer, a cupcake, fish and chips or a sushirrito (sushi burrito), then decide: north via Venice to the Stratosphere (Nevada's tallest building) for more views, thrills and spills, or south to Mandalay Bay, the something-for-everyone tropical oasis in the desert, via Paris, a pyramid and New York?

If you throw a lucky dice or two on your world tour of the Strip, move on to retail therapy. Shopping here ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, with almost any human luxury you can imagine available somewhere. That said, luxury comes with a price tag. If you didn't win big on the floor, check out the excellent selection of discount merch at the not-on-the-Strip, but not far from it, Las Vegas Premium Outlets North and South.

Two male friends play pinball in the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas
Two guys play pinball at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas © Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

East of the Strip

The best neighborhood for a local experience

Visits east reward explorers with a deeper understanding of what makes Vegas tick. You won't find many typical Vegas-style sights here, but instead there are collections of vintage pinball machines, rock-and-roll memorabilia and a glimpse into the city's dark atomic past. You'll also find cheap eats, bars where bartenders drink and a vibrant LGBTIQ+ scene.

This is locals' Vegas, home for many of the folks whose hard work makes the Strip tick: the 'anything goes' mentality that passes on the Strip isn't kosher here.

Aside from the Pinball Hall of Fame and the National Atomic Testing Museum, sights east of the Strip are few. This is where you come to get a sense of 'real life' Las Vegas – how things are for the majority of Las Vegans. You'll likely find the working-class neighborhoods of this big desert city have a very different feel to other parts of the US, or where you call home. Keep an open mind and have a friendly demeanour – there's much to discover.

The sign of the Rio Hotel and Casino against the night sky in Las Vegas
Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. © Ray Laskowitz/Lonely Planet

West of the Strip

The best neighborhood for oases in the desert

It's really hard to define the area west of the Strip, but the easiest way to get a handle on it is to head to Rio in the daytime and ride the elevators up to the patio of the VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub. It probably won't be open for food and beverage service, but you can still enjoy the incredible views of the Strip and the Las Vegas Valley, and make a plan.

A good place to start is the legendary Palms Casino, which has undergone a serious makeover, featuring revamped rooms, the scalding hot new Kaos nightclub and pool, and some excellent celebrity-chef-helmed restaurants. Throw in a sky-high zipline, Vegas' newest casino, an eco-minded desert oasis and the diverse flavors of Chinatown Plaza and suddenly you've got a neighborhood (or at least an evening) to rival the Strip.

Don't try and walk between sights – nothing is really near anything else, and you're in the Mojave Desert (if you'd forgotten). When the buzz of the casino gets a little too much, wander through the gorgeous desert gardens at the Springs Preserve for a soothing respite from all that neon. Enjoying these educational, meticulously maintained botanical gardens, which are, literally, oases in the desert.

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