People tend to associate Sin City with glitz and gambling – but Vegas isn’t all for show. If you’re tired of the all-day buffet and the non-stop slots, head for one of the city’s museums for some real mental stimulation and a little peace and quiet to boot.

If you’re travelling from the UK, flights to Las Vegas from London offer surprisingly good value these days and it makes a different first stop on a round-the-world itinerary from the more common US west coastdestinations like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Hen and Stag party organiserslike Maximise can organise trips that include both wild parties and cultural tours.  Cultural Las Vegas offers it all!

Las Vegas Natural History Museum

Hard to believe it these days, but there was a Vegas before the casinos; and the birth of this smallrailroad town along with the pre-history of the area is really brought to life at the official state museum, located just 15 minutes from the Strip. There are fossil exhibits of the surprisingly wide variety of life that the Mojave desert supported when much of it was covered by sea many eons ago, including a huge replica of the Nevada ichthyosaur.

You’ll also see collections of Native American clothing and jewelry and of course lots of exhibits about the more recent history too – including a mock-up of Howard Hughes’ Las Vegas home, film clips of the Rat Pack performing and displays of elaborate showgirl costumes.

900 N. Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89109, Tel: (702) 384-3466

Las Vegas Neon Museum

If there’s one city in the world that really does neon, it’s Vegas. Brilliantly creative neon signs have been lighting up the Vegas skies in all shapes and sizes for decades – but what happens to them when they get replaced with something even bigger and brighter? Well, some at least go to the Neon Boneyard at the Vegas Neon Museum.

A rambling park of slowly rusting signs, it’s only viewable by prior appointment, but it’s a fascinating place – particularly for photographers. The rest of the museum’s exhibits are easier to view.

9 of the most iconic signs from yesteryear have been carefully restored and arranged in an easywalking tour which begins in front of the Neonopolis at Las Vegas Boulevard near the first of them – the famous Hacienda Horse and Rider sign. Others along the way include the original Aladdin’s Lampthe Flame Restaurant, Wedding Information, Nevada Motel and Dots Flower.

821 Las Vegas Boulevard North, Las Vegas, NV 89101; Tel (702) 387-6366

National Atomic Testing Museum

Recently designated a national museum by the Obama administration, this shrine to all things atomic is ideal for dads and curious kids. It charts the history of man’s manipulation of the atom from the early days of bomb making and testing through the paranoia of the Cold War and into the future of power generation.

When bomb testing first started in the Nevada desert it was welcomed by the local populace who felt it would bring much needed jobs and prosperity.

Video footage of people queuing to watch bomb tests at special viewing points, Ms Atom beauty contests and people doing a dance called the Atom Boogie are just some of the interesting exhibits here. There’s also a huge collection of Geiger counters along with plenty of information about how nuclear energy is actually produced.

755 E. Flamingo Rd. Las Vegas, NV 89119; Tel: (702) 794-5161

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

OK, you do have to set foot in a casino hotel to see this one, but what you’ll find is far more highbrow than chips and buffets. This gallery of fine art is small and no comparison for the great exhibitions of other major cities in the US, but if you happen to be in town when one of the major temporary exhibitions is on, it’s well worth a visit.

Throughout 2012 there’s an exhibition of some of the French Impressionist painter Monet’s wonderfullycolourful canvases on show, along with paintings by a number of his contemporaries like Pissaro and Boudin. On the way out, be sure to have a snoop around the restaurant here too as it houses a number of original works by Picasso.

3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV89109, Tel: (702) 693-7871

Lied Discovery Children’s Museum

Who’d have thought there’d be such a great museum for kids in a place like Vegas? The Lied Discovery Children’s Museum has something for little ones of almost any age. It’s particularly good for stretching imaginations – allowing kids to pretend to work in a bank, a grocery store or even appear in their own TV show. There’s a huge toddler tower to allow your little monsters to let off steam, and older kids can experience what it’s like to get caught up in a hurricane.

There’s even an exhibition about healthy eating habits. Now, time to get back to the all you can eat buffet…

833 N. Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV89101, Tel: (702) 382-3445

– Guest post by Jeremy Head


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