Friday, July 20, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Whether you’re in town for the weekend or call Las Vegas home, there’s never a shortage of spectacles to take in here -- even if you’re on a budget.
We’ve already told you about some of Las Vegas’ most classic free attractions, but if you’re looking to get beyond the Bellagio Fountains and Circus Circus acts, there are still plenty of low-cost to no-cost options to explore.
From the heart of the Strip to the peaks of Mount Charleston, here’s a list of 11 of the best low-cost and free attractions in town.
Las Vegas Sun reporter Ron Sylvester contributed to this story.
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Pinball Hall of Fame at the Riviera
From downtown’s Insert Coin(s) to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ new EA Sports Lounge, Las Vegas has plenty of options for video game fans. But if you like to keep it old school -- or are just looking for a nostalgia fix -- enter the clanging coins, whirring buzzers and blinking lights of the Pinbal Hall of Fame. The museum-cum-arcade, which opened in 2006, offers more than 400 pinball and arcade games ranging from classic to contemporary. Entry is free and the games are a steal at 25 cents per play. Your couch-cushion coin stash goes a long way -- the bulk of the money made from the games is donated to the Salvation Army, as well as other non-denominational charities throughout the Valley.
Red Rock Canyon
With all the man-made glitz of the Strip, it’s easy to forget that Las Vegas is home to some natural spectacles that are just as impressive. Head about 20 minutes west of Las Vegas Boulevard and behold the undulating auburn cliffs of Red Rock Canyon. With dozens of trails for hikers of all levels of experience, the canyon is ideal for a casual stroll in a tree-shaded field or for scaling a mountain peak to take in the valley view. (There is a small daily fee -- $7 for cars or $3 for pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles -- that also doubles as a donation.)
Bellagio's chocolate fountain
The Bellagio’s dancing water fountain is arguably the Strip’s most popular free attraction, but the resort boasts another fountain that’s bound to make your mouth water. Visit Jean-Philippe Patisserie and behold the 27 feet of cascading liquid chocolate that makes up the largest chocolate fountain in the world. From ivory white chocolate to hazel milk to velvety dark, more than 2,100 pounds of melted chocolate flow at a rate of 120 quarts per minute down decadent glass tiers. Treats are available for purchase in the shop, but staring alone might be enough to induce a sugar coma.
If you want to escape the city and the desert landscape, you needn’t board a plane -- the Alpine-covered peaks of Mount Charleston are just a short drive away. Thanks to the elevation, its forests are about 20 degrees cooler than Las Vegas, and its lush green hiking trails are replete with waterfalls and limestone cliffs. Exploring the trails is free, although there also are camp sites available for a fee.
Fremont Street Experience
From street performers to light shows, Fremont Street Experience has always been one of Las Vegas’ top destinations for free entertainment. Recently, however, they’ve kicked it up a notch with outdoor concerts, including this summer’s “Rock of Vegas” series Saturday nights. Get our your hairspray and head-bang along to classic ’80s hits from the likes of Skid Row, Bret Michaels and Dee Snider through Labor Day weekend.
While gaming itself is far from free, many casinos in town offer complementary lessons to help you learn your way around a craps table or a pair of dice. The Luxor, for example, offers daily 30-minute classes at noon in blackjack and dice, while the Stratosphere provides 10- to 15-minute crash courses in craps at noon and roulette at 1 p.m. Check the gaming pits for more info; even if a casino doesn’t offer formal lessons, most are happy to provide a few basics and pointers if you inquire.
Walking art tour at Main Street Station
You don’t have to be a museum buff to appreciate Main Street Station’s self-guided art tour. Nestled among the usual casino trappings of slot machines and bar stools is a surprising array of cultural relics and antiques. Pick up a pamphlet map at the casino to lead you to sites that include chandeliers from the Figaro Opera House, the doors and facade from the Kuwait Royal Bank and even a hunk of the Berlin Wall (affixed to urinals in a men’s restroom, no less). Who says Las Vegas doesn’t embrace the past?
Mystic Falls Park at Sam's Town
Mystic Falls Park is located in a courtyard at Sam’s Town topped by a glass roof and a climate controlled at 72 degrees year around. The hotel check-in desk is there, surrounded by trees, ornate landscaping, a gazebo and a waterfall. There’s a bar at the center. Every two hours from 2 to 10 p.m., the falls are inhabited by robotic wild animals, including a howling wolf and beer. Dancing waters shoot eight stories high from the base of the falls, accented by a laser light show and an original score recorded for the park by the Indianapolis Philharmonic. Mystic Falls Park opened in 1986, 12 years before the Bellagio and its fountains. -- Ron Sylvester
Mermaid show at Silverton Casino
The Silverton aquarium is an attraction unto itself, but the lovely ladies of its mermaid show bring a unique and playful twist to the expansive underwater spectacle. Watch them swim, flip and twirl among the fishes in an display of impressive underwater choreography. Mermaid swims take place Thursdays at 2:15 and 8:45 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 2:15 and 9:45 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. (Please note that show is temporarily closed as of July 9 for aquarium maintenance; check with the hotel at 702-263-7777 for more information before you visit).
Music and 'dive-in' movies at the Cosmopolitan
Forget the big shoes -- the Cosmopolitan’s stiletto sculptures may make for fun photo opps, but it’s the hotels free entertainment offerings throughout the year that are the no-cost true attraction. Stroll through the casino floor on any given night, and you’re bound to have your interest piqued by a rising young DJ at Bond, a jaunty indie rock band at Book and Stage or a sultry crooner at Chandelier. This summer, the hotel also features its free “dive-in” movie series at Boulevard Pool on Monday nights featuring favorites like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Social Network.”
Gardens and atriums at Wynn and the Venetian/Palazzo
Escape the crowds at the Bellagio’s botanical gardens with the equally lush-and-lavish atriums at the Wynn and between the Venetian and Palazzo. With cascading sunlight, fantastical colors and seasonal botanical designs, a stroll through either feels more like an escape to Alice’s Wonderland than a route to a casino floor.