International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Vegas, baby. Vegas! Whether you love it or hate it, there is no other city like it in America. Its reputation as a viper pit of over-indulgence, vice and greed precedes any visit, but what is most striking about Las Vegas after you spend any time there is how well rounded, kid-friendly and entertaining it actually is.
In fact, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's wildly successful "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas!" was aimed at countering the city's emerging reputation as being family-friendly, to remind people that it hasn't lost any of its sinful seductions.
When I visited for the first time, on a cross-country trip in college in the late '90s, I imagined finding something between Thunderdome and Obi-Won Kenobi's description of the Mos Eisley spaceport: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." But the city is so much weirder (and wonderful) than that – yes, it's a den of semi-legal prostitution, easy-to-procure marriages, and ubiquitous gambling from the airport to your hotel room, but it also serves up Broadway-quality shows, cuisine from award-winning chefs, fine art, and roller coasters. There's no equivalent travel experience anywhere in the world.
I read Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" just before I first cruised The Strip and booked a room in the Circus Circus hotel because it was featured in the book. You don't need to indulge in Thompson-endorsed hallucinogens to find a performance-themed hotel – and Vegas in general – strange, dark, comical and grossly out of proportion with reality. This is what happens when a city is cut off from the rest of the country by desert, developed by the Mob, built on broken get-rich-quick dreams and where visitors outnumber locals nearly 20 to one.
During BBC Travel's Las Vegas Week our articles on the eclectic, disparate, and rich offerings of this unique city. Sara Benson's "Mini guide to Las Vegas" from the BBC's Lonely Planet Magazine is a good primer. As Amelia Thomas writes in "Viva the other Las Vegas", the city has great music, dining, culture and nature. Sunshine Flint's "Vegas glitz without the gambling" looks beyond the craps table at the city's newest high-end options for dinner, nightlife and spa pampering. Among the picks in Ms Benson's "Top 10 acts of escapism in Vegas" is a rocking weekly arts fest you may never have heard of called First Fridays. And in her story "Discover life in the Nevada desert", she explores the surrounding Mojave and "the meadows" (or las vegas).
Come back all week for these and more Vegas travel stories. Here is the week's line-up:
Tuesday: Going to the chapel
Wednesday: Discover life in the Nevada desert
Friday: A perfect day in Las Vegas
More on Las Vegas from the archives of the BBC
Thompson's classic Las Vegas trip
First published in 1972, it came about after Sports Illustrated magazine sent Thompson to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in Las
From Our Own Correspondent: Why sin is not enough for Las Vegas
Las Vegas' success as an oasis for sin-seekers owes itself to a lack of any other trade. Las Vegas - Sin City - became rich and respectable.
Ethical Man: What do Las Vegas' all-you-can-eat buffets say about America? (VIDEO)
Las Vegas is not all about gambling, and gambling. Contrary to what most people think it is all about losing.
Crossing Continents: Legalising prostitution in Las Vegas
How the sex trade functions in Las Vegas. And is what is good for Nevada, good for Las Vegas?
Radio 4 Woman's Hour -Prostitution in Las Vegas (AUDIO)
Rosie Goldsmith went to Nevada and Las Vegas to investigate.
Water in the Desert, Las Vegas (VIDEO)
Las Vegas uses more water than is replenished by rain.
Vegas heading for 'dry future'
The SNWA hopes a $5 billion 555km pipeline from central Nevada could be the answer to the future water needs of Las Vegas.