Though robbed of the appropriate “city that never sleeps” title, the non-stop party that is Las Vegas earned its reputation as a bachelor and bachelorette mecca long ago. Often compared to Disney World for adults, Sin City has also seen many a wedding (planned and otherwise), lavish honeymoon retreat, and debaucherous company “conference.” But Christmas?
Vegas might not be the first place that comes to mind for a traditional yuletide getaway—though perhaps it should be. In a city where each hotel, club, bar, and restaurant seems to be competing for the best view and the most breathtaking design all year, holiday decor makes the city shimmer two-fold. Think life-sized snow globes, jumbo gingerbread-scapes and light shows that put every Griswald-aspiring neighbor to shame. Not to mention plenty of holiday-themed shows, appearances by Santa, and feasts for every taste.
Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, these 11 picks will have you considering an annual getaway to this diamond in the desert.
Take wholesome holiday photos at the Bellagio
The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens transforms into the ultimate winter display for the holidays, boasting more than 34,000 ruby red poinsettias, azaleas, cyclamen, and mums, as well as a 14-foot snow tunnel framed with white silver-tip fir trees. A 42-foot white fir centerpiece twinkles with 7,000 lights and 2,500 ornaments, surrounded by other larger-than-life scenes, like two 12-foot snow globes, a polar bear family crafted from carnations and 10-foot stockings filled with wrapped presents.
Enjoy winter sports no matter the weather
Skate at the only outdoor rink in Vegas on the top level of the Cosmopolitan, which features snow showers every half hour, holiday movies on the digital marquee, warm cocktails, s’mores roasting at a fire pit and picturesque views. Just an hour from the Strip is Lee Canyon, which offers 860 vertical feet of lifts for skiing and snowboarding, plus a tubing area. Remember to prepare for desert climate when packing, which means temperatures could rise to the 70s in the daytime but drop to the 30s at night.
Experience a Nutcracker Tea at the Mandarin Oriental
Sip on tea and nibble scones, pastries and finger sandwiches while admiring a breathtaking view of the Strip from the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental. To celebrate the season, they offer a Nutcracker Tea in their luxe Tea Lounge, with a portion of proceeds benefitting the Nevada Ballet Theatre. Choose from a menu of loose teas, from pu-erh to darjeeling, plus nutty, spicy holiday special blends—and tea cocktails, of course. Because…Vegas.
Marvel at next-level Christmas lights
If Christmas light displays are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Drive through hundreds of light displays along the 2.5-mile racetrack at Las Vegas Motor Speedway or pay a visit to the Ethel M Chocolates Cactus Garden, where cacti are bedazzled with millions of twinkling lights. And of course nothing beats the light show at the Fremont Street Experience, where you can zipline past some of Vegas’s first casinos below an immense psychedelic projection.
If you thought the cocktails flowed freely in Vegas, decadent desserts are just as ubiquitous— and some chefs really take the delicious art form to the next level. Book a dinner at the renowned Joël Robuchon, an unforgettable experience that culminates with a show-stopping pastry cart. Ogle the floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain at Jean Phillippe Patisserie inside the Bellagio. Visit Bardot Brasserie inside the ARIA and order one of Michael Mina’s giant Valrhona chocolate macarons. Stop by Carlo’s Bake Shop in The Grand Canal Shoppes and take home a yule log and a box of signature Cake Boss cannoli and cream-filled lobster tail pastries.
Enjoy some Vegas-style Christmas caroling
The Bellagio’s famous dancing fountains change their tune this time of year, boogying instead to “Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and more through the new year. Enjoy a light Italian lakeside lunch at Lago by Julian Serrano for a front-row view of the show, or book a wraparound terrace suite at The Cosmopolitan for a stunning panorama of the Strip, including a bird’s eye view of the lake.
De-stress at the spa
If you’re human, the stress of the holiday is bound to get to you eventually. But less so in Vegas, where a day of pampering is within reach up and down the Strip. Zone out on hot stone ganbanyoku beds at the Aria, soak in Roman baths at Caesar’s Palace, sweat it out in a hammam at the Mandarin Oriental or indulge in a tropical body ritual at the Encore. The choice is yours and you can’t make a bad one here.
Visit the most glam North Pole imaginable
If you struck it rich in the High Limits Lounge, you’ll feel right at home at Crystals, one of the most high end malls in the world, with shops from designers like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci, Fendi, Valentino and more. Not quite in your budget? Engage in some extreme window-shopping, as all the store fronts are decked out for Christmas and the shopping center is filled with permanent art and Christmas displays. Be sure to visit the frozen ice sculptures outside Dior and try to get a glimpse of the secret James Turrell exhibit at the top floor of the Louis Vuitton store.
If you have kids, there is plenty to entertain them. Santa is making appearances all over the city, from the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay to Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Luxor, where he’ll pose for photos on the ship’s grand staircase. Enjoy a three-course holiday meal and sip egg nog at “Twas the Knight!,” Excalibur’s holiday version of their classic knight show, and take photos with Santa in the Fun Dungeon afterward. DreamWorks has also returned for the second year with Adventure to Santa, a 2,000-square-foot experience where Shrek and other characters take guests on an interactive quest to find Santa at the North Pole.
Leave the cooking to the professionals
There is no shortage of holiday feasts all throughout the city, from indulgent, high-end buffets at Aria and Bellagio to dim sum at Blossom to elegant prixe-fixe dinners at iconic establishments like Jean Georges Steakhouse and Le Cirque and a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes at Rao’s. You’ll wonder why you ever hosted holiday dinners of the past.
Party like it’s 2016
If you’re in Vegas for Christmas, you’d have to be crazy to leave before New Year’s Eve, when this Strip lights up with world-class entertainment. The MGM Grand is celebrating with a Michael Bublé concert and offering a VIP package if you want to ring in the new year like a true high roller. Bruno Mars is performing at The Chelsea, followed by an appearance at Marquee, while Nicki Minaj will take center stage at Drai’s rooftop nightclub. Hakkasan has a star-studded weekend line up of headliners like Hardwell, Tiesto, Lil Jon and The Chainsmokers, and Hyde is featuring Brody Jenner and Travis Barker. Or enjoy the Strip from a distance (64 floors up, to be exact) at the Skyfall Lounge, where the DJ will be spinning and the craft cocktails will be flowing against a glittering panoramic view of the city.