Q: Peter, I'm looking for great free fun in Las Vegas. I know about the volcano at the Mirage, the Treasure Island pirate show, the water show at the Bellagio, and excursions like Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam. What else is there for a family of four, with ages ranging from 6 to 82 (including two 45-year-olds)? I'm thinking of maybe a Grand Canyon day trip as well. We will have a rental car and are staying for one week.
–Alicia Woods, Houston
A: Fortunately, Vegas offers lots of free activities, in addition to the anything-but-cheap gambling and live music shows. Most of the complimentary entertainment, similar to the spectacles at the Mirage and Treasure Island, involves visual fanfare.
For example, if you're a fan of the surreal, head to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. The statues of the Roman gods and goddesses, which appear to be made of stone, actually come to life at various times throughout the day to fight battles and sing. In St. Mark's Square at the Venetian, you'll find a collection of street performers that includes opera singers, carnival characters, instrumentalists, and mimes—all dressed in traditional Venetian costumes. At the gardens of Bellagio, you can explore the colorful and creative displays of plants, flowers, and trees.
Other free attractions include the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand, where you can gawk at the beasts through giant windows and take pictures, and the traditional nightly sound and light show on Fremont Street. This dazzling, 12.5-million-light extravaganza starts at dusk and is repeated regularly each night.
The Neon Museum is also free, but since it's currently undergoing construction, you have to call in advance and make reservations to see it rather than just showing up. Gearheads will love the Imperial Palace auto collection, which features vehicles and antiques owned by celebrities, presidents, and other VIPs. Admission is officially $6.95, but free passes can be downloaded from the Auto Collections Web site.
In addition to the quirky spectacles, most casinos have free live bands. Wander into different lounges in the evenings and listen. And even if you only have a few spare pennies, you can still play the penny slots—which often entitles you to free drinks.
Grand Canyon day trips aren't entirely free, but you can take in this miraculous natural phenomenon for only the price of a tank of gas. The South Rim is the most popular place to view the canyon, and it's about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Vegas. Hoover Dam is on the way, so you may as well stop there if you've never seen it.