Should I Stay on the Las Vegas Strip, or on Fremont Street in Old Downtown?

By Steve Beauregard

Although they are both casino-packed streets just a few miles from each other, the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street can seem like two entirely different towns. Therefore, choosing between the two Sin City hotspots will depend on your budget, personality, and your expectations about your trip.

Here are five questions to ask yourself that will help you decide when choosing between the Strip and Downtown Las Vegas:

Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas

Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas

1) What’s my hotel budget?

Downtown (Fremont Street) is rightfully considered to be the Strip’s older, less expensive, less glamorous sister. However the stereotypes don’t always apply. There are some downtown hotels (The Golden Nugget), that are nicer and fancier than some Strip properties (Circus Circus for example).

However in the vast majority of cases, a room on Fremont Street will cost much less than a typical room on the Strip.

It’s not uncommon when checking travel websites to find downtown rooms at places like the Plaza or 4 Queens to be 1/3rd to 1/2 the price of many Strip rooms.

You can sometimes find downtown hotel rooms for $30 (or under on occasion), yet I’ve often found it hard to find a room at Caesars Palace for under $300.

With Strip hotel rooms, you’re typically getting more square footage, better views, more luxurious surroundings, and nicer swimming pools. In contrast, downtown accommodations (with the aforementioned exception of the Golden Nugget) are more for those looking for a place to crash for the few hours before the fun and party starts again.

(2) What’s My Gambling Bankroll?

This question is more for table-game players, rather than to those of you who stick to the slots. It’ doesn’t matter if you’re on the Strip, downtown, or a distant off-Strip locals casino, almost every casino offers versions of penny, nickel, and $25 cent machines.

Minimums on table games, however, is a different story, and your gambling budget and betting limit comfort level may influence where you stay and play.

While minimums on table games like blackjack, pai gow, and craps can vary wildly on the Strip, there remains one constant: on weekends, busy nights, and holidays, it will be near impossible to find $5 tables. And even if you do spot one of these endangered species, the table is likely to be packed with players and onlookers hoping to take their place.

The Strip is fancier than downtown, but more expensive

The Strip is fancier than downtown, but more expensive

I once stayed at the Paris Las Vegas on a July 4th weekend. During the late afternoon, I found the lowest craps game to have a $10 minimum bet. I played on it for awhile, but soon the crowds flowed in, and I watched as the pit boss changed the “Minimum Bet” sign from $10 to…gulp….$25. It was out of my price range, but fortunately I was “grandfathered” in and allowed to keep placing my measly ten buck bets.

So at night and during busy Vegas occasions (conventions, weekends, etc.), the low budget table game player will be priced out of the Strip market. No so in downtown, however, where cheap games and $5 tables are prevalent (although the 25 cent craps game at the El Cortez is a thing of the past).

(3) Do I Like Hopping From Casino to Casino?

Do you enjoy going from one casino to another, checking out various places and chasing your luck? (Or running away from bad luck?) If so, Fremont Street is your place.

Sure, Fremont area casinos like the Downtown Grand and El Cortez are a block or two away, but for the most part, all of the Fremont Street casinos are very close together, and – in many cases – physically attached to each other.

A walk from the Fremont Casino to Binion’s, for example, is 40 feet. Contrast that to the Strip, where it’s a fairly long walk (.14 mile) just to get from the Aria to the Las Vegas Strip sidewalk.

A walk from say, Harrah’s to the Bellagio, is a trek involving heat, crowds, escort-card slappers, pedestrian bridges and more, whereas Fremont Street’s smaller, more intimate casinos make it extremely easy to bounce around from joint to joint.

In essence: if you’re content to plop yourself down on one machine, or a bank of slots and play for awhile, both the Strip and Downtown will be fine for you. However the antsy casino hoppers among us will find their walk much easier and enjoyable on Fremont Street.

(4) What Are My Food and Entertainment Tastes?

If you’re a “show person,” you’d be better suited staying on the Strip, surrounded by world-class singers, and even Celine Dion too. (Rimshot). Between the comedians, magicians, and endless variations of Cirque du Soleil shows, your entertainment-hungry heart will be satisfied.

Downtown’s main draw is the Fremont Street Experience. (Go here to find the Fremont Street Experience light show times). Downtown has its shares of lounge acts and shows of course, however the variety and sheer number of acts on the Strip make it a better choice for the show lovers among us.

It’s the same with food. Foodies should most definitely stay on the Strip. Las Vegas Boulevard is home to some of the world’s most renowned culinary artists, whereas downtown eateries are typically less well-known.

Cheap gambling and eats, plentiful drinks and plenty of bars with character (and characters) to explore makes downtown a better choice for those of you unwilling (or unable) to drop $200 for dinner or show tickets.

(5) What Kind of Vibe or Atmosphere Am I Looking For?

A near universal belief amongst long-time visitors to Sin City is the recognition that Fremont Street has a more friendlier, laid-back vibe than its cousin to the south.

From cocktail waitresses, to dealers, to the couple playing video poker next to you, downtown Las Vegas has someone managed to retain its reputation for friendliness.

It’s also more casual and laid-back. Not that the Strip is covered with people resembling James Bond, it’s just that I’ll stroll through the Wynn and feel like poor white trash. Not so, on Fremont Street, which may say more about me than it does about downtown.

The bottom line is that both Fremont Street and the Las Vegas Strip offer experiences that everyone should enjoy at least a few times. (Here’s a list of some fun things to do on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas).

So where should you stay? The Strip or Downtown? Both, I say, choosing one spot for your current vacation, then selecting the other one on your next trip. This way you’ll get to experience both sides of Las Vegas and the unique qualities that have made both locations a hit with visitors for decades.

(Photos courtesy of Wendy Berry and Abi Skipp via Flickr).