Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all. Nevada’s a desert state with a semi-arid climate, but most people know it for the bright lights and endless entertainment options of Las Vegas — one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Nevada also has spectacular canyons and mountains — that means plenty of recreational opportunities for nature lovers and photographers.

While Nevada’s two best-known cities, Las Vegas and Reno, are famous for their casinos, these two urban playgrounds have plenty of cultural amenities too. Both cities feature opera, theater and ballet companies, and excellent symphony orchestras.

Looking for museums? Las Vegas has the Discovery Children’s Museum, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and the Mob Museum (officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement), just for starters. In Reno, start with the National Automobile Museum (with its vast collection of classic cars) and the Nevada Museum of Art.

Museums not your thing? Nevada has working ranches and even a few ghost towns. The state’s Western heritage is very much in evidence. Whether you’re interested in gorgeous scenery, city nightlife, pioneer history or cultural attractions, Nevada has it all!

Read more about Nevada and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.

(State Dept./J. McCann)

Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas, in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, is renowned for its nonstop energy, 24-hour gambling venues and live entertainment. Its focal point is the Strip, about 6.5 kilometers long and lined with lavish theme hotels such as the pyramid-shaped Luxor and the Venetian, complete with Grand Canal and gondolas; luxury resorts including the Bellagio, fronted by dancing fountains; and casinos galore. Not a gambler? No problem. You can enjoy concerts, dazzling acrobatic performances, Elvis Presley impersonators, magic shows, high-end shopping, fine dining and much more.

At night, the Las Vegas Strip beckons revelers with glowing lights and illuminated fountains. (Thinkstock)

Reno, Nevada’s ‘biggest little city’

Before Las Vegas became the gambling capital of the world, that title was held by Reno, located in northern Nevada.You won’t lack for casinos and nightclubs in Reno, but the city nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range has many other charms. Each year, Reno hosts Hot August Nights (a classic-car rally), Artown (a monthlong summer arts festival), the Great Reno Balloon Race (a hot-air balloon race held in September) and the Reno Rodeo (held in June). And don’t miss the Animal Ark, a wildlife sanctuary that welcomes visitors from the end of March to the beginning of November.

The Great Reno Balloon Race, held annually at Rancho San Rafael Park, is free to the public. More than 100 balloons participate each year. (Trevor Bexon/Creative Commons)

Cowboy (and Basque) country

Stop by Elko, a Nevada gold-mining and ranching town, to immerse yourself in cowboy folklore. Each January, Elko hosts the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a weeklong event celebrating life in the rural West through poetry, music, storytelling, film, photography and food.

Waddie Mitchell tells a tale at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. (© AP Images)

Did you know that Elko is also rooted in traditional Basque culture? Every July, the town sponsors the National Basque Festival, which includes strongman competitions, a sport called Basque pelota, a running of the bulls, traditional food and wine, and Basque dancing.

The great outdoors

Ready to get away from it all? Grab your backpack and head for Nevada’s national and state parks. They offer some of the most beautiful vistas in the American West.

Valley of Fire State Park, close to Lake Mead, features red sandstone formations that look like they’re on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays. Petroglyphs — a type of rock art — are found throughout the entire park; many are at least 3,000 years old.

At Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, the dramatic Fire Wave sandstone formations create a vivid landscape. (Thinkstock)

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, in the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas, is another site featuring ancient petroglyphs. And be sure to investigate Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, site of many Ice Age fossil discoveries, and Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park, which has sandy beaches on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, plus hiking trails and back-country lakes.

Beachgoers at Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park can enjoy sand, water and mountains simultaneously. (DimiTalen/Creative Commons)

Desert dessert

Polish off your meal with a serving of saffron cake, introduced to Nevada in the 19th century by pioneers. It’s a small slice of heaven!

Saffron cake, shown here served with berries, is a sweet reminder of Nevada’s pioneer days. (Thinkstock)