Culture and kitsch: Sin City's top high- (and low-) brow attractions

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Cirque du Soleil's O at Bellagio, Las Vegas (Photo: Cirque du Soleil)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 8, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, arts and culture, destination, Las Vegas, Molly Feltner, museum, vacation package.

If you're expecting the likes of the MET or the Vienna Philharmonic in Vegas, you've come to the wrong place. This city is about spectacle, celebrity, and fantasy, and its top attractions and shows embrace those themes. Whether your fantasy involves going on a mission with the Starship Enterprise or being serenaded by Elvis, you can live it out in Las Vegas with pizzazz. That said, the city does offer "high culture" for those interested in fine art or classical music and dance performance.

Here are 10 of the top kitschy and high-culture attractions in Las Vegas. I leave it up to you to determine which is which.

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Liberace Museum

A rhinestone-studded shrine of fabulousness, the Liberace Museum celebrates the life and works of pianist and showman Walter Valentino Liberace (1919-1987). Liberace gained fame as a flamboyant performer, playing pop songs on an oversized grand piano on stages around the world. He played regularly in Vegas, and opened his own museum there in 1979.

Today the museum displays pianos and classic cars from Liberace's personal collection as well as many of the star's elaborate costumes and jewelry, including a rhinestone-lined full-length Black Diamond mink cape and star-spangled hot pants. The museum is located at 1775 East Tropicana Avenue, a couple of blocks behind the Tropicana Casino. Admission is $12.50 per adult.

Cirque du Soleil's O

With the recent addition of the Beatles-themed production Love, Cirque du Soleil now has five resident shows playing on the Strip, making it the area's most conspicuous entertainment presence. Of all the Cirques in town, however, O at Bellagio (3600 South Las Vegas Blvd.), has been an audience favorite and the most universally acclaimed, with some likening it to a surrealist painting come to life.

O is phonetic for "eau," which is French for water, and water is literally at the center of the performance in the form a 1.5-million-gallon pool that performers fly over, swim in, float on, and dive into. Like most other Cirque productions, O doesn't follow a chronological plotline but instead presents a collage of superhuman acrobatics, synchronized swimming and diving, live music, and engaging sketches. Tickets start at $94 per person.

Madame Tussauds

Ah, wax Brad Pitt—you look too good to be true. And, up close, you are—kind of like the fame and fortune mystique of Vegas itself. But Vegas is all about indulging fantasies, if only for a moment, so there's no better place to unleash your inner celebrity stalker than Madame Tussauds Las Vegas. There are more than 100 wax celebrities on display in six theme areas, ranging from the "Sports" room, where you can offer putting tips to Tiger Woods, to the "Spirit of America" room, where you can propose your own Iraq exit strategy to George W. Bush.

You can go beyond gawking at Madame Tussauds, as the attraction invites visitors to participate in "interactive" experiences such as getting married to a wax George Clooney, going one-on-one with a wax Shaquille O'Neal, and caressing "J.Lo's most famous asset." Madame Tussauds is located on the Strip by the Venetian at 3377 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Tickets cost $24 per adult.

Guggenheim Hermitage Museum

A collaboration between the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum at the Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Blvd South), brings fine art from around the world to the heart of Tacky Central. Since its opening in 2001, the museum has brought in exhibitions of works by artists like Picasso, Renoir, and Cezanne, and collections of exquisite objects such as those in the The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt and Russia! The Majesty of the Tsars: Treasures from the Kremlin Museum exhibits.

The current exhibition, Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition, won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it certainly has the Vegas skin theme going for it. Tickets cost $20 per adult.

Star Trek: The Experience

Have you ever wished you could boldly go where no man has gone before—or at least be beamed up? Can you speak more than a few words of Klingon? Do you think William Shatner is hot? If you answered "yes" to any or all of these questions, Vegas has the perfect attraction for you. Star Trek: The Experience features two interactive Star Trek rides complete with live actors, state-of-the-art special effects, and motion simulators. In the "Klingon Encounter," you join the Federation Crew on a mission against the Klingon warriors, and in the "Borg Invasion 4D," you'll be assimilated into the BORG collective.

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