Las Vegas is one of the most popular cities in the world, but is it an attractive tourist destination for people who don’t gamble? We put the city to the test, starting out by finding hotels in Las Vegas without casinos (or that place them in a separate building). They still provided an exciting Vegas vibe while allowing us a bit of freedom from glitzy slot machines and poker tables. As an added bonus they are all non-smoking hotels.

The Vdara Hotel & Spa

vdara hotel las vegas

Tucked into the glittering City Center complex that also includes The Aria hotel & casino, the Vdara offers a slick yet sedate address right in the thick of The Strip. Accommodations are all suites of varying sizes, decorated with edgy touches like remote controlled sun shades straight out of a James Bond villain’s lair.

You’re also only steps from Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana show. We had never seen Cirque du Soleil show before and were blown away by it. With eight different Cirque du Soleil shows currently appearing in Las Vegas, you’ll never run out of nightly entertainment options.

Zarkana stage (800x217)

There’s a gourmet market and café off the lobby that offers a varied selection of simple meals and snacks to enjoy in your room. There are no in-room coffee makers, which perhaps explains the long lines at Starbucks down in the lobby, but upon request housekeeping will bring up a Keurig machine with all the fixings.

Highlight: The super quiet atmosphere in the midst of the buzzy Strip, along with the north-facing rooms offering an impressive view of the Bellagio fountain show.

The Platinum Hotel

LAs Vegas platinum hotel interior

Perhaps the best-kept secret in town, this all-suite smoke-free property sits tucked away only two blocks east of Las Vegas Blvd, putting guests within easy walking distance of the dancing fountains and flashing lights of The Strip. Describing the accommodations as “suites” is an understatement; they are large 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, complete with well-stocked kitchens, gas fireplaces and washer/dryers. We could easily have moved in for a few months.

Westward rooms face the glitz of Las Vegas Boulevard while eastern rooms offer a majestic mountain view; these also face the airport but the windows are so insulated you won’t even notice the planes gliding by.

Highlight: The 6th-floor indoor/outdoor pool, with a fantastic view of The Strip.


Palms Place

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A quiet oasis perched at the edge of the sprawling Palms casino/hotel complex about 1 mile west of The Strip, all accommodations are sleekly decorated “suites” that are either studios or full apartments. The location is just perfect for offering a panoramic view of The Strip skyline to the east; western-facing suites give you the mountains and glorious sunsets (note: 1- and 2-bedroom units have huge tubs perched right at the windows, so you can indulge in a soak while you soak up the views).

Full kitchens provide convenience for take-out meals and snacking.  There’s plenty of free covered self-parking in the adjacent lot. One acrid note: the bar that is open to the lobby allows smoking, which was odd in an otherwise smoke-free hotel.

Highlight: The epic showers, with a combination of rainfall and massaging showerheads that made us want to spend hours in there soaping up with the luxury amenities, including a complimentary bath pouf.

J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa

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This elegant property is nestled amidst a golf course in the upscale community of Summerlin, about 15 minutes northwest of The Strip. Although the separately-operated Rampart Casino shares the property, the towers housing the rooms are completely separate, so you never need to pass through the gauntlet of slot machines. Rooms, which are spacious and chock-full of luxury touches like fluffy robes and oodles of pillows are housed in two 6-story towers with balconies or terraces overlooking the lushly landscaped grounds.

Although the resort offers several restaurants, they are near the casino. If you’re seeking a quieter and less smoky option head to the nearby Tivoli Village luxury shopping and dining complex and feast at Echo & Rig, a new restaurant that combines a fine steakhouse and bespoke butcher. They offer delicious cuts of meat we hadn’t even heard of before and grill them all over red oak. Delicious!

Highlight: The huge pool area offers plenty of spots of lounging in sun or shade.

Dining: Many of the signature celebrity restaurants in Las Vegas are affiliated with casinos and often open up right into the smoky, noisy gaming room. Here are two upscale dining options off the Strip that are freestanding restaurants, making them quieter and smoke-free.

Piero’s Italian Cuisine: This old-school Italian restaurant is the place for celebrity spotting off the strip. The most popular item is the tender Osso Bucco, which comes with a special spoon to scoop out the delicious marrow. As an extra throwback bonus, 1980s semi-icon Pia Zadora sings in the lounge on Fridays and Saturdays. 355 Convention Center Drive  (702) 369-2305


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Echo & Rig—Butcher and Steakhouse: If you want to get your carnivore on, this is the place to go. The in-house butcher shop creates prime cuts that are not found elsewhere: ask for the “Cap” steak, which is the tender part of a ribeye, its smaller size makes it a good value. 440 South Rampart Blvd., (702) 489-3525,

Echo and Rig steak (800x630)

As a companion to this story we’ve also written about things to do in Las Vegas without gambling. Click here to find more hotels in Las Vegas.


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Strolling down the Strip in Las Vegas, our faces were overwhelmed by the glow of a million pulsating lights. We don’t gamble so what would we do in a city that is defined by casinos? We weren’t alone. Las Vegas is one of the country’s top convention cities, each year bringing in over 5 million people on business trips—and many of them aren’t into gambling either. To our surprise there were many things to do in Las Vegas without gambling.

Getting married in Las Vegas (or confirming your vows)

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Las Vegas is the wedding capital of America with over 300 ceremonies a day performed in two dozen wedding chapels; which is why the city’s marriage license bureau is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to midnight. Rather than simply watch others take the plunge, on a lark we decided to renew the vows we’d made 27 years earlier. For the full-on experience we chose the Elvis Presley themed Graceland Wedding Chapel where Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi tied the knot. It’s a freestanding chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard South, a block north of the Gold and Silver shop featured on the TV series Pawn Stars. (Which is handy for those who need a spur-of-the-moment wedding ring.)

We expected the ceremony to be kind of hokey. But even though sequin-clad Elvis look-alike Brendan Paul made us promise, among other things, not to step on each other’s blue suede shoes, it turned out to be surprisingly sweet. Newly re-hitched we made Las Vegas our honeymoon playground.

Plan your Las Vegas wedding (or renew your vows).

Flying upside down over the Nevada desert

larissa sky combat ace gleeAnyone who loved Top Gun would find it hard to pass up an aerial thrill ride. Larissa donned a flight suit and boarded a propeller-driven aerobatic aircraft at Sky Combat Ace. For starters Richard “Tex” Coe, a former Air Force F-14 fighter pilot, performed several barrel rolls and flew upside down to test Larissa’s stomach . . . then handed the controls over to her!

LArissa sky combat ace upside down 2She flew the plane through an adrenalin-pumping inverted 360 degree loop as she pulled 7 Gs (that’s seven times the force of gravity), contorting her face into an odd Hobbit-like mien before reverting to unbridled glee at what she had just accomplished. Upon returning to terra firma Larissa declared, “My knees are wobbling, when can I go again?”

Be sure to watch Larissa’s flight below then plan your Aerobatic Flight here.

Playing with construction toys

To get our feet back on the ground we ventured to Dig This, an attraction that fulfills childhood dreams of playing in the dirt. We chose a session on the Caterpillar excavator, those forbidding looking pieces of equipment with steel-toothed buckets that loom overhead like escapees from Jurassic Park. After rumbling across the sandy site we dug Humvee-sized holes, maneuvered 2,000 pound tires into pyramid shaped piles and played a form of excavator basketball where even LeBron James wouldn’t dare block our shots.

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We assumed all that getting dirty appealed mostly to men living out their boyhood fantasies, but owner Ed Mumm said that half of their customers are women. “Quite frankly they’re better at it,” he revealed. “They listen to the directions while men tend to barrel ahead.” (Somewhere in that observation is marriage advice waiting to be heeded.)

Want to play in the dirt? Click here to book your adventure!

Quirky museums of Las Vegas

Las Vegas defines their history in more recent terms than our hometown of Philadelphia. The desert city was just hitting its stride only 60 years ago and some fascinating museums highlight the quirky events that have helped shape its identity.

Click here for tours of Las Vegas museums.

There’s a retro-cool vibe at the Neon Museum, where the gaudy signs of former casinos are preserved. Visitors enter through the restored lobby of the scallop-shell-shaped La Concha motel, a circa 1961 structure that was designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects. Its white swooping roofline is a stellar example of the futuristic Googie architecture (think of the house on The Jetsons) that abounds in Las Vegas.

neon museum night tour las vegas

The huge signs, perched on the ground in an outdoor setting, are most evocative during a nighttime tour. Our guide, the jovial Ian Zeitzer from northeast Philadelphia, led us on a serpentine path through the neon boneyard illuminating his “history lesson of lost Las Vegas.” The fancy script letters of the Moulon Rouge sign once flashed outside the casino that was a trendsetter in 1955; it was the first integrated gambling hall in Las Vegas, attracting the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. and his Rat Pack pals Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

The picturesque Neon Museum has become a fashionable venue for outdoor weddings with a popular photo op beside the restored 1940s era “Wedding Information” sign, whose bright red arrow once pointed the way for nervous couples to tie the knot. During the summer we went for the popular nighttime tour.

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Back in the heyday of Las Vegas, the ownership of some of the casinos was murky, a topic that’s played out at the downtown Mob Museum, located in the former Federal Courthouse that was home to the Mafia hunting Kefauver hearings in the 1950s. You have to admire a city that isn’t afraid to highlight the sordid side of its history. The museum tells the unvarnished story of organized crime in America and how its tentacles wrapped around every aspect of casino ventures in Las Vegas. Visitors can also listen to tapes of undercover FBI agents as they ensnared the mobsters. A costume display reveals that Tony Soprano wore somewhat mundane Dockers on the TV show.

national atomic testing museum las vegas alien

While casinos were popping up like mushrooms, the US government was experimenting with mushroom clouds in the nearby desert. The National Atomic Testing Museum pays homage to the era when nuclear weapons were new and novel. Exhibits encompass the scientific and the social: some local hotels offered rooftop-viewing parties complete with bag lunches and heavy-duty goggles to watch the atomic detonations.

If any portion of your youth was spent hunched over a pinball machine, you’re in luck in Las Vegas. The Pinball Hall of Fame features over 250 working machines dating from 1932 to the present day just waiting for itchy flipper fingers. Tim Arnold, a self-confessed “pinball nut,” created the Hall of Fame as a non-profit entity that donates its proceeds to charity. We were drawn to beautifully restored games of the 1950s and ‘60s, which cost only a quarter to play. A pinball geek can while away hours there for less than they’d drop on a blackjack table in ten minutes.

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Epilogue: Newly remarried we were leaving Las Vegas when we stopped at a gas station on the edge of town. After ten days of living casino-free Michael just couldn’t resist a one-armed bandit seated right by the cashier. But each time he slid in a crumpled dollar bill the machine kept spitting it out, and so ended our one attempt to gamble in Las Vegas. We guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Pin it!There are plenty of fun and family-friendly things to do in Las Vegas without gambling!

If you really want to avoid the lure of gambling, here’s our review of hotels in Las Vegas that are casino-free or have placed them in a separate building.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.