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Museums and Cultural Attractions

When people make plans to visit Las Vegas, conversations about museums, historic sites and cultural events rarely come into play. There’s no denying that Sin City isn’t normally considered a hot spot for history museums, art installations and other cultural and education opportunities, but dig beyond the casinos, restaurants and nightclubs, and visitors might be surprised what the city has to offer.

Keep in mind that while the Las Vegas Strip is generally where people stay and play, you’ll likely need to catch a cab, rent a car or take the bus to enjoy many of the city’s cultural attractions.

Museums, Exhibits and Other Cultural Attractions

If you tend to think that Las Vegas is all neon and no history, it’s worth noting that the city’s history is neon. The Neon Museum Boneyard is one of the most popular attractions for getting a glimpse of Las Vegas’ past though the Clark County Historical Museum offers a more comprehensive view of the events that shaped the city’s and state’s history through a number of rotating exhibits.

Those interested in specific topics will find more detailed exhibits throughout Las Vegas. At the Hoover Dam, there is a comprehensive collection about the building of one of the most significant engineering marvels in America’s history while the Atomic Testing Museum explores the part Nevada played during the atomic testing era. There is also a museum outside of Overton, Nevada, that highlights the history of the Anasazi in the area, and a railroad museum in Boulder City.

If art is your forte, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is probably your best bet, but there are art exhibits in local libraries and at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas as well. There are also several art galleries in the city, especially in the downtown area.

Museums that cover a variety of subjects include the Nevada State Museum and the Natural History Museum. Families will want to hunt down details regarding the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum and the Spring’s Preserve, which offers a multitude of programs and exhibits about the desert environment.

On the Strip, there are a few educational exhibits that are easily accessible. The Luxor is a haven for exhibits, serving as the home for both Bodies – The Exhibit, which is an educational attraction about the human body, and Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. There is also an interactive CSI exhibit on the Strip, which allows visitors to learn about forensic science.

Taking advantage of Las Vegas museums, exhibits and other attractions: Check for hours and updated prices on the museums’ and exhibits’ websites before visiting. There are frequently discounts for certain visitors or on specific days of the week. It’s also worth noting that many of these have rotating exhibits as well as special events and speakers.

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Events, Concerts, Shows and More

In addition to the mainstream shows and concerts that pop up on the Strip, there are festivals, speakers, workshops and shows around the city all the time. These may not necessarily be considered cultural attractions per se, but they are a nice break from the stereotypical Las Vegas while still providing a dose of the local vibe.

UNLV is a great place to start when looking for something to fill your evening. The Black Mountain Institute frequently has speakers and panels on a variety of topics of interest and the theater, dance and music programs have concerts and recitals. Check out other local theater groups as well as the Las Vegas arts academy for theater performances. The Nevada Ballet Theatre also offers performances throughout the year, including an annual performance of The Nutcracker. It’s also worth checking in with the Las Vegas library system to browse its list of free workshops, speakers and panels.

Throughout the year (though especially in the spring and fall), it’s possible to find local festivals and events that celebrate the holidays and foster a sense of community. Look for outdoor concerts, fundraisers, 5k walk/run events, art shows, crafts fairs, Renaissance festivals, wine walks, beer tastings and more.

There is a thriving arts community in downtown Las Vegas, and one of the best ways to explore and support the local arts community is to visit the galleries, attend the open mic sessions and view the art in the arts district. The aptly named First Friday Las Vegas Arts Festival occurs downtown the first Friday of every month and features the city’s artistic side.

Taking advantage of events, concerts, shows and more: Stay on top of what will be going on in Las Vegas during your visit by picking up the local Las Vegas weekly rags. The ones you’ll find on the Strip, which provide show listings and similar events schedules, only provide information on the tourist attractions. Stop by a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, local library or bookstore and snag a copy of Las Vegas Weekly or Vegas Seven, which offer listings of local happenings in addition to highlights from the Strip.

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Hands-On Opportunities

Sure, vacations are all about relaxing and not having to work, but getting your hands dirty doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, participating in a hands-on experience can be both rewarding and fun!

One of the most popular attractions in Las Vegas is dining, but instead of just eating, why don’t you get in the kitchen? There are numerous cooking schools in the Las Vegas valley, and many classes are taught by those who have worked with some of the top chefs in the world.

In addition to cooking, there are workshops and conferences for many other interests held in Las Vegas every year. Whether your interest is in writing, belly dancing, animal training, gardening, hiking or anything in between, chances are there is a hands-on learning opportunity for you in Las Vegas.

Taking advantage of events, concerts, shows and more: Consider what kinds of things you’d like to do before arriving in Las Vegas, then check to see if an organization tied to your interest offers classes or workshops in the city. This is another time when picking up the local magazines is a good idea. Event listings will let you know if there are intensive classes held by local groups taking place while you’re in town.

Photo credit: Bellagio Fine Arts Gallery (MGM), Ballet (Thomas Hawk), Cooking School (RaeA)