Is Memphis, Tennessee, worth a visit? Let me tell you, this city is more than just a destination for music lovers.
Memphis has played a significant role in American history, including being the incubator of the Civil Rights Movement and the location of Martin Luther King's assassination.
It's also the birthplace and home of the King of Rock' n' Roll himself, Elvis Presley.
As the busiest port along the Mississippi River during the 19th century, Memphis has a fascinating history related to trade and transportation.
In this post, I'll guide you through the top attractions, best places to stay, and insider tips to help you fully experience this culturally significant city.
Related: Should I Visit Nashville or Memphis?
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Is Memphis Worth Visiting?
Memphis is absolutely worth visiting. In addition to being one of America's greatest music cities and the birthplace of rock ‘n' roll, Memphis played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement and has a fascinating history related to trade and the river. In addition, visitors can explore iconic landmarks such as the National Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street, Sun Studio, and Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Where is Memphis Located?
Memphis is about a 3-5 hour drive southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. The city sits on the border of Mississippi and Arkansas. One of the fun things to do is walk the Memphis and Arkansas Bridge. On one side is Tennessee, and on the other, it is Arkansas. Don't do it if you are afraid of heights.
From Memphis, it's only a 2-6 hour drive to reach Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Louis, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana; or Birmingham, Alabama.
If you are planning on visiting Nashville and considering a visit to Memphis, I wrote this guide comparing the two cities and this travel guide on the best ways to travel from Nashville to Memphis.
Pro Tip: Don't think all the attractions are downtown; spread your wings a bit, and you'll be surprised at the many things to do and see.
Graceland was the home of Elvis Presley. Graceland is the mansion that sits on 14 acres and has been converted into a museum and memorial site.
Local Graceland Tip: The ticket prices can take visitors by surprise. However, you should remember that visiting Graceland includes more than just the house. It's a complex where they have his jumpsuits, cars, memorabilia, and army artifacts. It's not only Elvis fans that will enjoy Graceland. There is an option to buy a VIP pass for faster access. If you go there when it's not busy, don't get the VIP pass, it's unnecessary.
This is the nightlife center of Memphis. It's home to bars and entertainment. You walk the street at all hours of the day. During the day you can eat and drink at the many bars and restaurants. However, at night it's a whole different scene. There is music in almost every bar, and enjoy the street performers like the Beale Street Flippers. You are allowed to walk Beale Street with open containers. Also, there are usually jugs of free water.
This recording studio is known as the “birthplace of rock ‘n' roll.” Elvis Presley recorded “That's All Right” here in 1954.
Sun Studio is open to the public and is a popular attraction and museum. You can learn about the history of rock and roll and see memorabilia from the studio's early days.
The studio also still operates as a recording studio and has been used by modern musicians such as U2, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty.
The oldest café in Memphis, Elvis himself used to be a regular. It still operates as a cafe you can visit and eat at today. It's been featured in many documentaries and films. Learn more here.
National Civil Rights Museum
This is a must-visit in Nashville. It was built around the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, following the long civil rights history in the United States.
The Memphis Zoo is very enjoyable for kids and adults alike. It's diverse, featuring over 500 species worldwide, including giant Pandas, Elephants, Grizzly Bears, and red Pandas. There are a lot of educational opportunities and a train ride.
The Peabody Hotel is a famous Memphis hotel. For 90 years, they have maintained a tradition of ducks in the center fountain from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They march them in on the red carpet at 11 a.m. every day. They also have a beautiful lobby and bar. Remember not to pet or feed the ducks or throw money in the fountain. It has excellent views of the city. Every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., the lobby is filled with music, an official makes a speech, and the red carpet is rolled out for the ducks. Learn more here.
Bass Pro Shop
The Bass Pro Shop is more than just a place to grab fishing and hunting gear. This location is an experience. It's an insane place with a shooting gallery, bowling range, restaurants, and a hotel.
It's themed like a swamp, so there are lakes, boats, real alligators, and fish. Check it out!
Like Peabody, it has an excellent lookout with views of the city.
Shelby Farms is a massive, 4,500-acre park with hiking and biking trails, fishing ponds, horseback riding, playgrounds, and picnic areas. Visitors can also rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats to explore the park's many lakes and waterways.
One of the most popular attractions at Shelby Farms is the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 10.65-mile paved trail that connects the park to the heart of Memphis. The track is popular with runners, walkers, and cyclists and offers scenic views of the park and surrounding areas. Learn more here.
Stax Records, a record company that significantly influenced the soul and R&B music genres, has a fantastic museum called the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis.
The museum was renovated and reopened in 2003 and is housed in the historic Stax Records building.
You'll find exhibits featuring Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Booker T., and the MGs.
Rock ‘n' Soul Museum
The Rock' n' Soul Museum offers a musical experience that takes you from the rural fields of the 1930s to the birth of Sun, Stax, and Hi Records, followed by the Memphis' musical heyday in the 70s.
The influence of southern rock and soul that originated in Memphis has influenced the world. The Rock' n' Soul Museum showcases the entire journey. Learn more here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many days should we spend in Memphis?
You should allow a minimum of 3 days to visit Memphis. This will allow enough time to visit the city's main attractions, including Beale Street, Graceland, Memphis Zoo, Sun Studio, Stax Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, and the Bass Pro Shop. It also allows you plenty of time to try the city's famous BBQ and music scene.
Why is Memphis so popular?
Memphis is popular because it's the birthplace of rock ‘n' roll and home blues and soul music. Memphis also has many attractions that have millions of visitors a year.
Attractions like Graceland, Beale Street, the Peabody Hotel, Sun and Stax Studios, and the famous BBQ. Memphis is also rich in national history and the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Is Beale Street kid-friendly?
Beale Street can be kid-friendly during the daytime. It offers family-friendly attractions like the Memphis Music Hall of Fame or the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery. At night, it becomes more adult-oriented. Bars and live music venues cater more to the 21+ crowd.
What is the cheapest time of year to go to Memphis?
The cheapest time to visit Memphis is during the winter months of January and February. At this time, you'll find lower hotel rates, less crowded, and discounted attractions.
What food is Memphis famous for?
Memphis is famous for its barbecue. It's known for its slow-cooked ribs. The most famous version of it is a dry rub. The city is also renowned for its fried catfish, hot tamales, and Elvis-inspired peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Tips from Locals
There are many famous places to eat in Memphis. Take, for example, Gus's Fried Chicken. Usually, there is a line to get in. However, there are several locations. So don't think you have to wait in line forever. Instead, if you jump in your car, you can quickly drive to another place further out and get a great experience.
The same thing applies to Central BBQ. There are several locations.
There are 117 BBQ joints in town. Be bold and ask the locals where to eat. They are helpful and full of Southern hospitality. Also, don't come to Memphis on a diet.
Remember, Memphis has high humidity and heat between June and August. Stay hydrated; tap water is excellent. Bars have big water jugs available. The best time to visit is May.
Memphis in May festival with lots of music and BBQ competitions. Book a few months early if you are coming to Memphis in May.
Stay away from walking around by yourself at night.
Walk out on the bridge where you have Tennessee on one side and Arkansaw on the other, but only do it if you are confident of heights.
Renting bikes is a cool thing to do. It's nice and flat, so easy to ride.
Time and Budget Considerations
The Main Street Trolley rail line is a cheap and convenient way to get around Memphis. It operates seven days a week on three lines: the Main Street, Riverfront, and Madison. It only costs $1 each way. Make sure you have the correct change on hand. Learn more here.
Best Hotels in Memphis
All the following hotels are centrally located in all the major Memphis attractions.
|👨👩👧👦Best hotel for families||ARRIVE Memphis – Marco Island, an IHG Hotel|
|💏 Best hotel for couples||Hampton Inn & Suites Memphis Germantown|
|🏢 Best hotel for work trips||Holiday Inn Express & Suites Memphis|
|🥂Best luxurious, high-end hotel||The Guest House at Graceland|
|💵 Best budget Hotel||Hampton Inn & Suites Memphis-Wolfchase Galleria|