18 Las Vegas

PopulationMetro: 2,051,796
What happens in Vegas… is starting to resemble a great American city.

If you think about it, no other American city is as clichéd as Sin City. See!

Not that there’s anything wrong with clichés if they’re working. For the third year in a row, Las Vegas broke its previous year’s number for visitors, setting a new all-time record in 2016. The city welcomed 42.9 million visitors last year, surpassing 2015’s record- setting 42.3 million. It was a record-breaking convention visitation year, too, with 6.3 million business travelers rolling into town. Not surprisingly, for the fourth year running, Vegas was also named the World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination for 2016 by the World Travel Awards. Its first non-stop flight from China launched a few months back.

Place 75
Product 50
Programming 28
People 49
Prosperity 39
Promotion 34

Of course the city’s unprecedented growth was hobbled by an unprecedented loss of life on that horrific night of October 2, 2017.

The city’s response—and the response by citizens, by local athletes (even if, in the case of the National Hockey League’s brand new Golden Knights, they’ve been around for less than a month before the shooting began) was staggering. #VegasStrong emerged, as did local empathy, inward community building and a pivot in Sin City’s psyche.

The new hockey team started life as the league’s most successful expansion team in history—anything to let residents smile a little again.

The realization that Las Vegas is a real city—isn’t new. For years now, the city’s less-polished, more muted and organic edges have started encroaching on the casino-sanctioned neon. And visitors are joining residents in discovering these layers that can often be missed while negotiating the visual overload.

Las Vegas Arts District Neonbrand

Downtown is now a destination, whether you live near or far. Chef Natalie Young’s EAT, on the street level of a nondescript apartment building, became legendary for Mexican-French breakfast and lunch magic. And other concepts followed— from hot vegan spot VegeNation to Cajun mastery at Zydeco Po-Boys. Chef Young has kept up, with the Chinese- and-chicken lure of Chow, her latest initiative, drawing crowds and training the next generation of local chefs since late 2015.

Vegas has felt like a home town for a few years now, and visitors are finally starting to notice. Same with our rankings. It finished Top 10 overall in Promotion, of course—the result of frequent Google Searches, Facebook Check-ins and the sixth-most TripAdvisor Reviews on the planet. But the city was also #14 in Programming, powered by its #5 finish in the Culture sub-category as well as finishing #14 globally for Nightlife.

Seven Magic Mountains Sculpture Oneisha Lee

Local pride—and visitor numbers—will grow further, of course, with the arrival of the aforementioned Golden Knights, followed by the NFL Raiders in 2020. Even after the mass shooting, tourist numbers dipped only slightly. #VegasStrong indeed.