If you fancy something different from online casinos, then you next best option is to visit Las Vegas.
Long before the Strip became the massive billion-dollar tourist attraction it is today, there was Fremont Street, a stretch of downtown Las Vegas once clustered with shiny new casinos, bustling restaurants and popular department stores. It was the original Strip. Then after the southern area of town became more developed, downtown faded into obscurity. As recently as 10 years ago, the Las Vegas downtown was a rough area littered with bail bonds, boarded-up storefronts and homeless encampments.
While some of that still exists today, downtown has undergone a major revitalization in recent years. The iconic Fremont Street now has dozens of hip restaurants and bars and even a brand new casino—Circa. Several of the casinos from Fremont Street’s Golden Era still remain. The Golden Nugget and The El Cortez opened in the 1940s and still exist today, for instance, and the Golden Gate Casino, which opened in 1906, is still operating, making it the oldest hotel in all of Las Vegas.
If you haven’t stayed in downtown Las Vegas before and are looking to experience a different side of Sin City, then explore this list of the best casinos in Downtown Las Vegas.
Why Stay Downtown?
The casinos on the Strip are striking and opulent and definitely worth a visit, especially if this is your first trip to Las Vegas. But if you’re looking to stay somewhere with an understated, “neighborhood casino” vibe, then downtown may be a good choice. The casinos are smaller and thus less overwhelming and the neighborhood is more walk-able. Most of the downtown hotels sit along an area of Fremont Street that is closed to cars, making it a safe and easy place to wander around with a beer or cocktail in hand. If you walk East along Fremont Street, you’ll find yourself in a chic neighborhood full of some of the coolest bars and restaurants in town. This is where many locals can be found hanging out on Friday and Saturday nights, as this area is less touristy and the food and drinks are generally more affordably priced than anything you can find on the Strip.
Downtown also has several museums, such as the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum, as well as The Smith Center (a theater and performing arts center).
The Downside: Fremont Street has three stages where bands perform into the early morning hours. While these free nightly concerts are one of the best things about downtown, the music is often so loud that you can hear it from your hotel room. The casinos all provide complimentary earplugs, but if a silent sleeping environment is important to you, you may want to stay elsewhere. Fremont Street is a noisy place, especially on the weekends.
1. The Downtown Grand
The Downtown Grand can feel slightly out of place in Las Vegas, as it is unlike any of the casinos in the downtown neighborhood or anywhere else in Southern Nevada, for that matter. This has mostly to do with the casino’s small size—it only has 1,124 rooms and just one restaurant—and that gives the Grand a distinctly boutique hotel vibe. You could easily imagine The Grand existing somewhere in LA, San Francisco or New York. In fact, Vegas.com calls the vibe at the Downtown Grand “urban cool, New York-esque, eclectic.”
The hotel may be small, but the casino certainly isn’t. At 30,000-square-feet, the Downtown Grand’s casino is nearly as large as some of the more spacious downtown casinos, like the Golden Nugget.
The hotel’s lone restaurant is Freedom Beat, a bistro-style eatery and bar with booth and table seating and a varied menu of mostly classic American fare. In the evenings, the Freedom Beat hosts live musicians and bands on the restaurant’s stage. The restaurant also showcases the talents of a rotating roster of celebrity chefs. Freedom Beat is open 24 hours a day.
If you’re looking to grab a quick bite to eat, the hotel’s pool has outdoor seating near the bar and serves everything from chicken strips and burgers to salads, fruit and gourmet pizzas. The pool is located on the third-floor rooftop and is a popular weekend hangout, thanks to its outdoor gaming tables and DJ.
Other dining choices are located directly across the street from the casino, mere feet away from the main casino entrance. Options include the family-favorite Pizza Rock and the Triple George Grill—a fine dining steakhouse and seafood restaurant.
If it’s a cocktail you’re looking for, then The Art Bar is a fun place to check out. The bar showcases a variety of local art and famous replicas, but what makes this unique is that all of the art is bolted collage-style to the ceiling. You’ll need to look up to see any of it.
Bottom Line: Stay at the Downtown Grand for a stylish and modern boutique hotel that’s quiet yet family-friendly.
2. Golden Nugget
Before the trendy Downtown Grand and Circa opened across the way, there was the Golden Nugget; Downtown’s original classy casino. Although the newer casinos may have upstaged the Golden Nugget in recent years, it has still managed to retain its sophisticated cool vibe. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for upscale luxury at an affordable price.
One of the first things you’ll see when you step foot into the casino is the pool—it’s in the courtyard in the middle of the hotel, next to the front desk. This is by design, as the pool is one of the hotel’s biggest attractions. Not only does the pool have a 200,000-gallon aquarium built into it, but it also has a shark tank water slide.
The hotel has a second aquarium inside the popular Chart House restaurant. The 75,000-gallon aquarium is home to more than 1,000 fish, including a moral eel. You can admire the fish from either the bar or from inside the dining room.
Other restaurant options include a buffet that overlooks the pool—go on Friday or Saturday nights for the fresh seafood—as well as a steak house, a Mexican food joint and the Grotto Italian Ristorante (try the meatball appetizer—it’s mouthwateringly good) and more.
One of the best things to do while staying at the Golden Nugget is to grab a cup of coffee or tea at the Starbucks. The café has a patio that spills directly onto Fremont Street, which makes it a great people watching location. The Starbucks is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can get your caffeine fix at any time of the day or night.
Some of the other perks of staying at the Golden Nugget include the soaking tubs in the rooms in the Rush Tower and the free valet parking. The casino is 38,000 square feet and includes 1,200 slots, 50 table games, a poker room and baccarat pit.
Bottom Line: Stay at the Golden Nugget for a hip yet unpretentious casino with a 100 percent vintage Vegas feel.
Circa markets itself as “retro Vegas meets modern tech.” The casino’s interior has an 80s glam feel to it (look for the giant “Vegas Vickie” neon cowgirl sign suspended from the ceiling), but there are many areas of the resort that feature state-of-the-art technology not seen anywhere else in Las Vegas or even the world. Circa is the newest casino downtown—it opened in October 2020—which means it is usually packed on the weekends.
Upstairs on the roof you’ll find a 40-foot tall, 135-foot wide LED screen. It’s located in front of a three-story outdoor swimming pool amphitheater that includes six pools and two spas (heated year round), two swim-up bars as well as cabanas and lounge chairs; all of which have unobstructed views of the screen. The pool deck is the perfect place to watch a sports game or concert, as the LED screen has 14-million-megapixels for crystal-clear visuals.
Perhaps the resort’s most popular draw, however, is the sportsbook, which is three stories tall with stadium seating, bar top gaming and private boxes. The 78-million-pixel screen is so massive, it makes it keeping track of multiple games at once a cinch. Even if you aren’t planning on betting, it’s definitely a sight worth seeing for the spectacle-factor alone. The Circa sportsbook is the largest of its kind in the world.
Bottom Line: Stay at Circa for a chance to experience a new type of Las Vegas casino. Circa is the epicenter of cool.
4. The D
The D may lack the hipster style or sophisticated touches of the other casinos on this list, but it makes up for it with its high energy. The casino is always packed and the popular Long Bar is the best place to go if you’re looking to soak up some of the excitement and frenetic vibrancy of this remodeled casino.
The Long Bar—thus named for it’s long length; it stretches the length of the casino—is located on the casino floor near the resort’s Fremont Street entrance. Because of its central location, the bar gets a lot of foot traffic, which makes it a great place to have a drink if you want to be in the middle of the action.
Another fun bar is the newly added BarCanada; a hockey-themed bar located on the casino’s second floor. BarCanada has several 85-inch TVs and is where many of the locals go to watch a Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey game.
For restaurants, there are several options, including the excellent Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse, where you can enjoy a delicious steak for a reasonable price.
Bottom line: Stay at the D for a down home vacation at an affordable, sports-centric casino.