This isn't really "rocket science" because pretty much any guidebook can tell you what you should try and see on your "first" trip to Las Vegas (or maybe your second) but I'll just share some of my favorite places and experiences. OK...I'm going to try to make this into a Top 10, but in no particular order.
The Fountains at the Bellagio: You simply must go. I have shed more tears watching this amazing display than anywhere else in the last decade. On a weekday, they usually start at 3PM. It begins with Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem and goes directly to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing "Time To Say Goodbye." I won't rat anyone out but I've seen some pretty hard-core dudes get choked up watching this so it isn't just my sensitive self. Even if you miss that, most any show is amazing. Maybe it is just because I love water....waterfalls, water shows, whatever. But I'll bet you will love it too. While you are there, have lunch or dinner at the Bellagio buffet, check out the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures in the lobby and the latest exhibit in the Conservatory.
At some point, you'll want to go "downtown" and that's cool because the Fremont Street Experience is pretty amazing. It's better after a couple of drinks (or maybe just one "yard" from the Bayou) but it is even impressive sober. I believe it is the largest video screen in the world, spanning a good 4 or 5 city blocks, and it will impress you. They do it on the hour in the evening and they have several shows. I always say that "downtown Vegas" is great for one night and this is part of the reason why. At some point, there will probably be a show that just kind of blows you away. So...dance, drink, even lay down on the pavement and bond with total strangers. It's a helluva lot of fun.
The "Volcano" at the Mirage is still a good time, even after almost 25 years. They've actually updated it recently. When it started, it was one of the few free attractions in town but now it is just one of many. I still like it. There is something about standing outside and watching a "fake volcano" spewing out fire. On a cool evening, you can definitely feel the flames and it feels good.
NY NY is one of the few casinos that is still true to their theme. It's not my favorite place to gamble or hang out but it is well-executed. If you are a thrill-seeker, check out the roller coaster. It is crazy. Wander the fake cobblestone streets, grab a Nathan's hot dog, walk across the "Brooklyn Bridge." One place where you can really feel transported, for a time, to another place.
The Stratosphere is actually one of my favorite places to hang out and gamble but, for most people, the reason to visit is to go to the top of the tower (the highest observation deck West of the Mississsippi) and get a view you'll get nowhere else. If you are a thrill seeker, they actually have rides way up there over a thousand feet. I've heard they are pretty scary but you'll never get me on one. There is also a bar and a restaurant up top and it is a great place to have a drink and watch the sun go down.
Caesars Palace is one of the original "themed" casino-hotels. You have to visit and just soak it in. There is a great hotel, expansive casino and enormous mall attached. It is one of the few places in Vegas that you could visit for a few days and never leave. There have been championship fights, death-defying motorcycle jumps and amazing shows there for years. If one hotel epitomizes Las Vegas, Caesars is it!
OK...I'm going to send you downtown again. You're already there watching the Fremont Street Experience so you might as well wander down to the Main Street Station. It isn't the most amazing hotel in town but the casino is awesome. If you chill at the bar and play some video poker, they'll comp you some freshly brewed beer. And, when you've had a few of them, you can wander down to the men's room (well...if you are a man) and literally pee on a piece of the Berlin Wall. The buffet is also really good and the decor has kind of a 19th century feel to it. Fun place.
One fun thing to do is to visit the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign and have your picture taken in front of it. You've seen it hundreds of times so you might as well become part of the legend and lore. The easiest of the two signs to get to is the one a few blocks south of Mandalay Bay. Make it there if you can and you'll feel like you've really been to Las Vegas, particularly when you look at the pictures.
You'll have to rent a car or find a friend to do this but a trip through Red Rock Canyon is totally worth it. Beautiful desert scenery, lots of scenic overlooks and a great way to "get away" from the madness of the city. On your way there or on your way back, stop at the Red Rock Casino. Very classy place away from the Strip. Maybe the best part of the driving out that way is that, at a certain point, Las Vegas just kind of disappears and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. After dropping a few hundred $$$ that might be a welcome feeling.
Sam's Town Hotel and Casino is a long ways from the Strip. It was one of the first "locals casinos" and still one of the biggest and the best. If you can make it out there, it can be one of the most relaxing places in town. They have an outdoor atrium between the casino and hotel proper. It is great place to get a drink and relax. They have an extremely underrated show with waterfalls and howling coyotes and bears. Like Red Rock Canyon, it is a great place to get away from it all for a while. I think you might like it too.
So that's my choice of 10 of the best places to check out while you are in town. Of course, just wandering up and down the Strip might be enough for you on your first visit but these suggestions will give you an idea of some great places to spend a little time. As always, hope that this post helps you plan a better trip. Much more to come.