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Las Vegas has a reputation as a pricey destination - but it doesn't have to be. In 'Best Things to Do in Las Vegas,' I highlighted some of the most popular free attractions on the Strip but, believe it or not, this list barely scratched the surface! Perhaps the most notable omission was Las Vegas' Fremont Street Experience. Located in the heart of old downtown Las Vegas, the Fremont Street Experience is a great, wallet-friendly destination that deserves a place on an Vegas itinerary.
This 'downtown' area of Las Vegas is actually much richer in history than the modern-day Strip; it was home to the first Vegas hotel (the Hotel Nevada, now the Golden Gate, built in 1906), the first Nevada gaming license (issued, in 1931, to the Northern Club), the first high-rise (the Fremont Hotel, in 1956) and the first purpose-built casino (the Golden Nugget, in 1946). Unsurprisingly, Fremont Street has changed a lot since its early days. As the focus of road trip casino game owners and gamblers shifted to the Strip, Fremont Street was increasingly neglected.
In an effort to revive and revitalize the area, the 'Fremont Street Experience' was conceived in the 1990s, and opened in 1995. The main attraction is a massive LED display canopy that stretches several blocks, from Main St. to Fourth St. In the evening, this canopy is illuminated with amazing visual displays, set to music. There are also permanent stages for live performances, turning the whole area into a giant, nightly street fair.
The crowd is often a little rougher (and sometimes stranger) than you'd usually see on the Strip, but if you're lucky enough, you might catch an open-air concert or a few street performers, which is always a fun experience. The light show is impressive, but even more enjoyable is the chance to wander through some of the old casinos. Fremont Street is also home to several iconic Las Vegas neon signs, like Vegas Vic (the famous, 50-foot tall winking cowboy) and the illuminated lamp from the former Aladdin casino, now Planet Hollywood.
If vintage casinos and antique signs aren't your thing, there are always a few street performers and even a brand new zip-line that runs the length of the canopy. There are also street vendors, artists and a wide variety of places to eat. Fremont Street may not have the scale of the Strip, but the crowds that gather beneath its high-tech canopy each evening are proof that it's every bit a popular, contemporary and budget-friendly Las Vegas destination.