If Nashville or Memphis are two cities you are considering visiting, this is the post for you.
Although Nashville and Memphis are located in Tennessee and only about a 3-hour drive apart, both cities have a unique feel and are very different in many ways.
Both cities have significant attractions, history, food, and music. I live in Nashville but have been to both cities and if I were visiting again, I would probably decide to see both on separate trips.
This guide will help you in making a decision.
So let's find out which would appeal to you and your family.
My name is Alex, and I am a Nashville local. I've been to Memphis many times. Most recently, I strolled down Beale Street and gave a complete review that you can see here. In this post, I'll tell you everything you need to know about Memphis vs. Nashville. Learn more about me here.
Related Content: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling from Nashville to Memphis
Which is Better, Memphis or Nashville?
Nashville is the most popular destination when compared to Memphis. Both are rich in history and things to do. Nashville is family-friendly and has fantastic live music of all genres, incredible restaurants, and lots to do. Nashville is the music hub and features the Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry, and the famous Honky-Tonk Highway.
Memphis is steeped in significant national history. You will see sights and sounds that you won't experience anywhere else. The city doesn't cater to tourists as much as Nashville, and there are some things you should know before you go. However, it's less crowded and has fantastic food and music options.
Advantages of Nashville
Nashville is also home to the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Sounds, and the Predators. The population of Nashville is just over 700,000, while Memphis sits at 630,000.
Advantages of Memphis
Memphis is also known for its music and is named after the capital of ancient Egypt. While Nashville is mainly known for its country music, Memphis is known for its blues and soul music. As a music lover, it's safe to say that Memphis gives Nashville some stiff competition when it comes to music.
In my opinion, Memphis has a leg up regarding history. Memphis is known for being the heart and soul of the American Civil Rights movement. In addition, it endured its share of hard times from the plantation era. However, despite the hard times, the city has found solace in its music.
Memphis is home to the Rock n Soul Museum, the Blues Hall of Fame, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and more. Also, just like Nashville, Memphis has an abundance of live music venues. I recommend Beale Street. It's similar to Broadway in Nashville. Both Broadway and Beale Street are known for their entertainment and tourism.
Nashville is Best For:
- Concerts. Nashville is a concert destination. You may find that your favorite band is performing in Nashville and not Memphis. Nashville is well equipped with the Bridgestone Arena, Nissan Stadium, Ryman Auditorium, and Grand Ole Opry.
- Bachelorette and Bachelor Parties. Nashville is a party destination with great places to drink, dance, or enjoy an outdoor pedal tavern. Also, Nashville has many hotels in the heart of the downtown district, and walking around is easy and safe.
- Family Vacations. Nashville has many fun areas to explore, such as the Gulch, Centennial Park, the Parthenon, waterfalls, festivals, and hikes. It's great for kids of all ages.
- Weekend Getaways. I recommend a minimum of 3 days in Nashville to experience all it offers. Unlike Memphis, you can spend 2-3 days exploring the city and still feel you need to return.
Memphis is Best For:
- Traveling on a Budget. In Nashville, you can expect to spend about $140 per day. In Memphis, the expectation is under $100.
- Those Who Enjoy History. In Memphis, you can enjoy the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jnr. was assassinated, and the National Civil Rights Museum attached to it. Afterward, you can stroll down Beale Street and eat in the same restaurant Elvis Presley did.
- Blues Music Fans. Memphis is the “Home of Blues”. Beale Street has you covered with live blues music.
Related: Is Beale Street Safe?
Nashville vs. Memphis: Nightlife & Entertainment
Although Nashville is known for many genres other than just country, country music is still the most popular. Memphis is more focused on blues and soul. It's a different music scene.
The Honky-Tonk Highway in Nashville is a strip of over 32 bars, half of which are owned by country music stars like Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan. Every night (and day!) of the week, you will find live country music from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. It's not just country music, either. It's rock, jazz, gospel, and R&B. Most honky-tonks have multiple floors and rooftop bars. Thursday to Sunday are the busiest days. To avoid the crowds and still enjoy live music, you should visit during the day from Monday – Wednesday.
In Memphis, the live country music scene is happening on Beale Street. It's the most iconic street in Nashville. Jazz and blues still play in Memphis at locations like B.B. King's Blues Club. There's not much to see during the day, but the street comes alive at night. I wrote a complete guide to Beale Street that you can find here.
Things To Do in Nashville:
When you think of Nashville, you may think of country music and cowboy hats. But it's also got a vibrant history to explore. So, for a complete guide to the perfect day in Nashville, we wrote a detailed guide here.
- Opryland Hotel. This is a stunning hotel that allows you to walk around for hours. It includes fantastic shopping and restaurants. If you celebrate Christmas, we highly recommend checking out the Christmas lights during the Christmas season; they are stunning.
- Lower Broadway. It's time to enjoy what truly makes Nashville “Music City .”From the Johnny Cash Museum, it's just a one-minute walk to lower Broadway. Catch the country stars of tomorrow at Tootsies Orchid Lounge or the best live country music at Roberts Western World.
- The Ryman Auditorium. Step into the mother church of country music. For country music fans, an experience at the Ryman is as close to heaven as possible. The Ryman is where the Grand Ole Opry used to be broadcast, reaching living rooms as far away as Canada.
- Tennessee State Museum. Learn more about the city's role and how it rose from the ashes to become the Athens of the south.
- Belle Meade Plantation. Explore the remaining 30 acres of the estate that once stretched for miles. The rocking chairs and slave quarters look like they were only vacated yesterday. It's been beautifully kept up.
- Visit Museums. We have the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum, the Frist Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, and the Museum of African American Music.
Things To Do in Memphis
- Memphis Cotton Exchange. You can visit the trading floor, which was once the center of the world cotton trade.
- Rock n Soul Museum. Learn how the uplifting music of delta share croppers evolved into a cathartic musical expression: the blues. Learn how the blues made the jump to rock ‘n roll and jumped the racial divide.
- Stax Museum. Discover the costumes, music, and moves that made Memphis the epicenter of the soul music universe. It includes Isaac Haye's incredible Cadillac Eldorado.
- Sun Studios. Visit the place where, in 1954, a 19-year-old kid named Elvis Presley recorded “That's All Right” and changed popular music forever.
- Graceland. Three years after recording “That's All Right,” Elvis purchased Graceland, a 13-acre estate on the outskirts of town. This is where Elvis lived for 20 years.
- Elvis Presley's Memphis. This museum chronicles his life from beginnings to stardom, including his outfits and cars.
- National Civil Rights Museum. It's easy to take the trolley bus to the museum that is built around the historic Lorraine Motel. You follow the footsteps of over 400 years of history as they marched toward freedom. You can see the bus where Rosa Parks took a stand by staying seated. You can also see the freedom riders' greyhound coach brought to a fiery stop by clan members. You can also see the suite where Martin Luther King spent his final hours before he was shot.
- Beale Street is considered the official home of the blues. It consists of 3 blocks of nightclubs, restaurants, and shops in the heart of downtown Memphis. It's a melting pot of jazz, blues, R&B, rock, and gospel. It has a long history of hosting the biggest names in music. Remember to check out the BB Kings Blues Club. You can enjoy live music and southern food in a dedicated listening room.
Nashville vs. Memphis: Cost & Budget
Nashville is a more expensive city to visit. You should budget around $180 per day. This sum accounts for transportation, food, attractions, entertainment, parking, and other expenses. Hotels are separate, but you can expect to pay between $150 and $350 per night. I wrote a detailed guide on the costs of visiting Nashville here.
For the cheapest vacation, Memphis is the winner.
Nashville vs Memphis: Food
You can't enjoy music on an empty stomach. Memphis is home to some of America's best soul food and southern BBQ. From Monroe Avenue, head down an alleyway named after the restaurant that put Memphis on the BBQ map and check out the Rendezvous. Even if you usually would eat BBQ, you must check it out. Starting in the 1950s, today, this famous restaurant serves five tonnes of dry rub, charcoal-fired ribs weekly.
Just around the corner is Gus's Fried Chicken. This hot chicken restaurant is so good that visitors flock from around the world to experience it.
Memphis will beat Nashville whenever it comes to charcoal-fired ribs. However, regarding smoked meats, Nashville is where you want to be. Peg Leg Porker and Jack's Bar-B-Que have been serving up smoked pork for generations. Click here to learn more about the Nashville food you do not want to miss.
Nashville also has two famous hot chicken restaurants that you won't want to miss: Prince's Hot Chicken and Hattie B's. Hot chicken is Nashville's signature dish.
Nashville vs Memphis: Family Friendliness
I've been to Memphis and walked downtown. I live in Nashville and have two young kids. I believe that Nashville is more family-friendly. Here's why:
- Safer. By any metric, Nashville is safer. Memphis is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
- More family-friendly attractions. There's the GRAMMY Gallery, Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and more. I wrote a whole guide on family-friendly Nashville attractions here.
- More open spaces, parks, events, and activities. Nashville is just bigger.
If you plan to take your kids to Memphis, here are some activities I recommend:
- Peabody Hotel. It's a blast for kids to watch the procession of the ducks.
- Memphis Zoo.
- Big River Crossing. Lots of families enjoy the walk over the Mississippi.
Nashville vs. Memphis: Crowds
The busiest times to visit Nashville is during the warmer months, April – October. It's specially busy between Thursday and Sunday, specially at night. The city can be jam-packed if you visit during a significant event. Those events include New Year's Eve, Predators games, live street concerts, July 4th, or the Nashville Pride Festival. Check the Nashville event calendar before you plan to come.
The busiest time in Memphis are also during the warm months. During May, the city hosts the popular Memphis in May festival which draws thousands of tourists each year.
On the famous Beale Street, as with Broadway in Nashville, it's busiest at night and during the warmer months. Unlike Broadway, there isn't as much to see during the day, hence, less crowds.
FAQs About Nashville vs Memphis
Which has more crime: Memphis or Nashville?
Memphis has a higher crime rate compared to Nashville. According to FBI data, both cities experience violent crime; however, Memphis sees more instances. While living in either city, it is essential to understand the crime statistics and take safety precautions when necessary. Always remain vigilant and informed to help maintain personal security.
What is the cheapest month to go to Nashville?
The cheapest time to visit Nashville is winter, particularly from November to March. In this period, you can find discounted hotel rooms and lower airfares. The city witnesses a drop in tourist footfall, translating to fewer crowds and a more budget-friendly trip. However, it's essential to note that the weather may only be ideal for enjoying some outdoor activities during these months.
Is food better in Memphis or Nashville?
When considering the culinary scenes of Memphis and Nashville, both cities boast a variety of delicious food options. Memphis is known for its barbecue and soul food, while Nashville is famous for its hot chicken and vibrant downtown dining scene. Visitors can expect diverse dining experiences, with each city reflecting its unique culture and local attractions.
How big is Nashville vs. Memphis?
Nashville, also known as ‘Music City,' is famous for its country music and live performances, while Memphis is synonymous with blues, soul, and rock. Nashville's key attractions include the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, while Memphis features iconic concerts and musical events. Both cities offer a rich music scene, though their size and specific genres set them apart, creating unique visitor experiences.
Why is Nashville so Popular?
Nashville is famous for its rich history and vibrant music scene. It is home to renowned museums such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tennessee State Museum, and Johnny Cash Museum. Additionally, its family-friendly attractions, eclectic restaurants, and numerous outdoor activities draw visitors from all over.
Which is the largest, Memphis or Nashville?
Nashville is the largest of the two cities in terms of population. However, Memphis covers a larger area compared to Nashville. Both cities have their unique attractions, making them popular destinations in Tennessee.