With new nonstop flights from Las Vegas to Doha, Shanghai, and Beijing, among others, a six-hour layover in America’s most over-the-top playground is a realistic scenario more now than ever.
Unlike many other cities, the airport is in close proximity to a concentration of amazing food, eye-popping photo ops, shopping and cultural treasures. Maximize your time by starting Downtown—north of the Strip—and working your way south back toward the airport.
One of the worst-kept secrets in Las Vegas: A one-day car rental usually costs less than a 10-minute taxi ride from McCarran Airport to the Strip, so budget adventurers might try renting. But taxis, Uber and Lyft work well for hopping around.
Hour 1: Fremont Street Experience
Formerly down-and-out “Glitter Gulch,” Downtown Las Vegas now plays host to some of the biggest festivals and wildest public street art programs in the country, along with one of the best up-and-coming dining scenes. Acquaint yourself, no matter the hour, starting at the Fremont Street Experience. Under this LED canopy of wild lights and music there’s a nearly 24/7 festival of buskers and free concerts.
Nearly any street you wander around the very walkable Downtown area has amazing murals—often rotating, they’re some of the best street art you can see in a walkable area.
Hour 2: Find a Local Restaurant
Take a break east of the Fremont Street Experience at spots like tiny Le Thai with its aptly-named "Awesome Noodles," or Park on Fremont with its hidden backyard and wacky seesaw. An over-the-top breakfast sandwich or “The Italian Job” toast—burrata, fig jam and brown butter almonds—helps start the day right.
Hour 3: Visit Museums
While you’re Downtown, don’t miss the former “Neon Boneyard” for Vegas’s historic neon signs, now the Neon Museum. Wander it yourself, or book a night tour if you arrive late.
Another don’t miss: The Mob Museum, a comprehensive tour of organized crime in the U.S., located in the former federal courthouse where the famous 1950s Kefauver mob trials were held.
Hour 4: Atomic Liquors
All that action have you craving a drink? Head to Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas. The roof once served as a viewing platform for the blasts from the Atomic Test Site. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from El Cortez, the oldest family-run hotel in Vegas.
Hour 5: The Best of the Strip
If your goal is to see as much Vegas as possible, walking the 3-mile stretch that’s the Las Vegas Strip is a great way to do it. Take Uber or Lyft from Downtown to Wynn Las Vegas, where you can check out the monumental art—Jeff Koons’s Popeye, among others—moving floral carousels and the surreal Lake of Dreams. The shopping along the Wynn Esplanades is some of the toniest in Las Vegas.
From there, you can walk south to Bellagio. Don’t miss the choreographed Fountains of the Bellagio and the Bellagio Conservatory just inside, where a team of 100 horticulturalists assembles thousands of flowers in amazing seasonal displays.
Afterward, transport yourself to the fun, fake version of Venice at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, with its “Streetmosphere”—opera singers, dancers, gondoliers—and plenty of great shopping and people-watching.
Hour 6: The Linq Promenade
Feeling ambitious? It’s about a mile-and-a-half walk south to the Linq Promenade, an outdoor pedestrian zone perpendicular to the Strip where you can grab a quick takeaway bite at Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips on your way to the High Roller. Anchoring The Linq, it’s the world’s tallest Ferris wheel and the absolute best way to cap off a whirlwind day with a birds-eye view of Las Vegas, from the Strip all the way west to Red Rock Conservation area and the Vegas Valley to the east.
Lyft and Uber cost between $8 and $10 to the airport and you’ll have seen more Vegas in six hours than most people do in days.