Looking to travel around the midwest this summer, look no further than Memphis. As the largest city on the Mississippi River, it boasts being the Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll, BBQ Pork Capital of the World, having the second most popular entertainment district in America, the only five-time winner of the nation’s cleanest city award, and most importantly it is where the Civil Rights Era began. With all of this history, culture, attractions, dining, and entertainment in Memphis, you can find plenty to keep yourself occupied for a weekend visit or even longer. Here is the Memphis Travel Guide for you to use on your future visits here.
Getting to Memphis is very accessible from the midwest and other parts of the United States. Six interstate highways are coming through the Memphis Metro area. Another option is to take the Amtrak train with their direct service from Chicago or New Orleans. Or you can fly into the Memphis International Airport. Because Memphis is centrally located in the United States and situated directly on the Mississippi River, it’s a short trip by water, land, or air from most major U.S. cities, which make it a perfect weekend getaway.
Things to Do in Memphis
The absolute must-see on the Memphis Travel Guide and the number one tourist attraction is visiting Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, until he died in 1977. Over a half a million people tour his home each year. This is a self-guided tour with headphones that allows you to tour the first floor and basement of Elvis’ home along with some of the other buildings on the property. The last portion of the tour takes you through the Meditation Garden, where you can view Elvis’ grave. Along with the tour of his home, there are multiple buildings across the street that you can go through. You will see his influence on the fashion industry, his car collection, and many of his movie memorabilia. You can also go through two of his planes.
Tickets are $69 for the Elvis Experience VIP Tour, which includes the Graceland Mansion, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, and Elvis’ iconic airplanes. You can see all the experiences offered and buy tickets here. Graceland open hours are from Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays are open to 4 p.m. (Mar.-Oct.). From November to February, open hours are from Monday through Sunday at 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Beale Street is one of the most iconic streets in America besides Bourbon Street. Congress declared Beale Street a National Historic Landmark as the Home of the Blues. Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King were some of the musicians performing here in the past. During the day, you can enjoy the restaurants, shops, and street performers like the Beale Street Flippers, who engage the visitors with their acrobats and dancing in the street. At night the vibe changes and becomes electric with the neon signs lit, pubs packed with happy party-goers, and people walking along the road enjoying all the blues, rock, jazz, and R&B music coming out of the clubs. Beale Street is the epicenter of Memphis music.
Dixon Gallery & Gardens is one of the lesser-known places to visit while in Memphis. This gallery is located right across from the Memphis Botanical Gardens. The best time to go is first thing at 10 a.m. when they open, so you have the place to yourself. The gardens are 17-acres of woodland paths, beautiful flower beds, statues, and benches for you to relax on. Make sure to get a map when you enter, so you don’t get lost.
The art gallery is just as impressive with its exhibits as the outdoor gardens. My absolute favorite, though, is the Impressionist paintings. But, the truly incredible part is that this gallery has drawing stations throughout the gallery for you to try your hand. When I visited, I saw some very artistic and creative drawings from previous guests. The admission fee for the gardens and all the exhibits is $7. You can view this gallery and gardens from home, or if you want more information before visiting, check out the Dixon Gallery & Gardens website.
Benard Lansky helped Elvis Presley define his clothing style after noticing him when he was young, admiring the clothes from the window. Elvis didn’t have any money then, but came back and continued to buy clothes from Lansky for years after. Now, you can buy clothes that are reminiscent of Elvis Presley’s style, including shirts, jackets, and even socks. The store’s decor is unique, and having guitars signed by musicians over the years hanging on the walls adds to the history and culture of Lansky’s. You can find Lansky Bros in the Peabody Hotel.
As the largest pedestrian bridge crossing the Mississippi River, the Big River Crossing is a one-mile-long bridge that straddles Tennesse and Arkansas. And it is the longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge in the country. You can get amazing views of the Memphis skyline from the bridge. Many joggers, walkers, and bikers cross the Big River Crossing daily for exercise. And walking along the Beale Street Landing, you can enjoy views of the Mississippi, riverboats on the river, or just walk along the paths breathing in the fresh air and enjoying nature. The bridge is free to cross and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
One of the most moving and emotional places to visit while in Memphis is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Plan to spend a few hours going through this moving museum with centuries of history. There are so many exhibits to see and learn from. The tour through the museum is self-guided. You start walking through exhibits depicting slavery in America to the fight for equality. Each display is more impactful than the next. The most emotional areas for me were the scenes with the children. The last part of the museum takes you by the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Then you can walk over to the Legacy building to see where James Earl Ray fired the shot. I walked out of the museum emotionally drained, and with a newfound respect for the struggles in achieving Civil Rights.
The Rockwalk signs will help you and fellow music fans find their way around Memphis downtown’s Edge neighborhood. Twelve signs feature historical facts and bits of trivia and help point you in the right direction to locations like Sun Studio, Hattiloo Theatre, and Sam Phillips Recording Studio, The west side of the signs include information about music and related attractions. The east side of the signs consists of the history of the buildings and businesses in the Edge district.
Sun Studio is a small recording studio where the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded music. Tickets are $15 per adult. Sun Studio’s open hours are from Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-6:15 p.m. Sun Studio is at 706 Union Avenue at the corner of Marshall and Union.
There is some fantastic street art to be found in Memphis. The art showcases the struggles African Americans had in the south at the beginning of the Civil Rights Era, the musicians who pioneered the Blues, R&B, and Jazz eras, and everything else in between. You can glimpse a lot of Memphis’ history and culture on the walls of the buildings around the downtown area.
The Memphis Walking Ghost Tour is put on by Backbeat Tours. This tour is a great way to see many of Memphis’ historical landmarks and some of the seedy ones as well. The tour starts in Beale Street, takes you through Dead Man’s Alley, past Orpheum theater, stop at the Green Beetle for a quick drink, and then end up at Earnestine and Hazel’s. Along the way, you learn about Memphis during the Yellow Fever pandemic and all the ghost stories reported within Memphis. But, nothing compares to the creepy feeling you get when you walk into the 2nd floor of Earnestine and Hazel’s. I might have caught something in the back room on my camera, but it was all from standing in the hallway. No way was I entering that room.
Little Things in Memphis
Walking around Memphis, it was nice to see giant guitars around the downtown area. Each one is uniquely painted with a music motif. And it is a fun activity to try and find them and figure out which one is your favorite.
One thing I’m passionate about is reading, and I love that there is a community called Little Free Library that allows so many communities free access to books. You can find these all over the world, and I always make a point of taking note of where I find them while on my travels. There is one of these cute Little Free Libraries on Main Street at the corner of Vance Ave in Memphis. Go ahead, take a book, or leave one for the next visitor.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority’s (MATA) green buses and trolleys cover the routes that go past the South Main’s Historic Art District, Sun Studio, Beale Street, the Mississippi River, and the Cook Convention Center. Tickets cost $1 for a one-way ticket and $3.50 for the all-day pass. If you are staying longer, you can get a 3-day pass for $9. If you purchase tickets directly from the trolley, bring exact change.
Tours and Free Shuttle Buses
The Memphis Hop tour bus lets you explore Memphis. There are ten Memphis attractions on this tour that you can hop on and hop off for $22/adult and $17/children. This is a great way to sight-see through Memphis.
There is a free shuttle from Sun Studios that goes between the Memphis Rock’ n’ Soul Museum, Graceland, and Sun Studio. I took an Uber out to Graceland and took the free Sun Studio shuttle back to the downtown area. It was fun on the shuttle as I got to listen and watch Elvis Presley videos on the ride back.
Explore Bike Share in Memphis has 80 locations for you to pick up or drop off a bike when you are exploring the city. You can find the bikes are in the Downtown, Midtown, South Memphis, and Orange Mound areas. Bike Share is a convenient way to explore Memphis. If you want to rent a bike, all you need to do is visit a station, pick up a bike, and then enjoy your adventure. Return the bicycle to any station when you’re finished. Download the BCYCLE app to your phone and decide if you want to pay per ride, day, week, month, or year.
Uber and Lyft are prevalent around Memphis. I used Ubers frequently during my stay in Memphis. From getting from the Memphis International Airport to downtown and even going to Graceland, it is pretty convenient and inexpensive to use a ride-sharing service within the Memphis city limits.
Walking Around Memphis
Pick up a free Map & Tourist Guide in your hotel lobby or at the Memphis Visitor Center. You will find of course maps, and information on restaurants, shopping, attractions, and everything else to do while you are visiting Memphis. Walking around Memphis is the best way to see the downtown, Beale Street, Beale Street Landing, and Big River Crossing.
Where to Eat in Memphis
The historical landmark of the Arcade restaurant has been serving breakfast and lunch since 1919. Besides being the oldest restaurant in Memphis, it has become famous with numerous movies being filmed there and being the place where Elvis liked to eat big southern breakfasts. The Arcade’s open hours are Sunday to Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on the weekends, it is opened to 10 p.m. Arcade Restaurant is at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson.
You can always tell a restaurant is good with locals when you see a line out of the door. And one of the best BBQ restaurants in Memphis is Central BBQ. They have the most flavorful pulled pork sandwiches, brisket, ribs, chicken wings, and smoked sausage. And don’t forget to try their famous barbecue nachos only found here in Memphis. Central BBQ’s open hours are Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on the weekends, it is opened to 10 p.m. The downtown Central BBQ is at 147 E. Butler Ave.
Dyer’s Burgers is a fabulous place to get a burger and fried in downtown Memphis. Their burgers are so famous and sought out for their deliciousness. Dyer’s secret taste is due to the ageless grease that they have used since 1935 (strained daily). You can order hamburgers, cheeseburgers, wings, chicken, and old-fashioned root-beer floats. Dyer’s open hours are Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on the weekends, it is opened to 3 a.m. Dyer’s Burgers is at 205 Beale Street.
Since 1953, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken has been serving its spicy fried chicken to the visitors of Tennessee. And since 2001, you can enjoy their secret recipe in downtown Memphis. Their fried chicken is so sought after that it can be hard to get a table at any time during the day. The good thing, though, is they do provide take-out service. Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken’s open hours are Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on the weekends, it is opened to 10 p.m. Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken is at 310 S Front St.
If you are looking for an upscale eatery, try Capriccio Grill. This restaurant offers steak, seafood, Italian and American options. While enjoying your dinner, you can listen to the piano sounds coming from the hotel’s lobby. Capriccio Grill’s open hours are Sunday to Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on the weekends, it is opened to 10:30 p.m. The Capriccio Grill can be found downtown in the Peabody Hotel at 149 Union Avenue.
Loflin Yard is a fun place where you can hang with friends, eat American dishes, and drink cocktails in a relaxed outdoor and indoor setting. They offer taco briskets, sausage and cheese plates, grilled vegetables, chicken wings, and of course, cocktails and wine. This is a great place to meet after work. Loflin Yard’s open hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturdays 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and on Sundays 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Loflin Yard is at 7 W. Carolina Avenue.
Another great place to hang out in Memphis is at the Railgarten in the evening. This pub and restaurant is an old rail yard that has been transformed with rail cars into a delightful place where you can eat, listen to live music, have a drink, hang out with friends, or play outdoor sports such as ping pong or volleyball. Railgarten’s open hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. – ’til it is closed on Mondays. The yard opens at noon. The Railgarten is at 2166 Central Ave.
Stop into Old Dominick Brewery and book a tour to see how the whiskey distilling process is carried out. And if you would like to stop in for a cocktail, the bar is open on the main floor. Check open hours here. Old Dominick Distillery is at 305 S Front St.
Silky O’Sullivan’s is an Irish Pub in a 100-year-old building on Beale Street. With a small indoor bar, you might find more space outside. In the outdoor patio, you can listen to live music and even see their pet goat wandering among the tables. Silky O’Sullivan’s has Southern, BBQ, and pub food options available. Their open hours are Tuesday – Thursday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Friday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Mondays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Silky O’Sullivan’s is at 183 Beale Street.
Where to Stay in Memphis
If you are looking at staying somewhere cheap, try finding a hostel on Hostelworld. You can stay in bunk-style or private rooms with other young backpackers.
Mid Range Hotels
When I start looking for places to stay on my travels, I always check booking.com to see what is available. You can find a good cross-section of hotels around the U.S. through this site. You can browse and book through them.
The Peabody Hotel is a 4-star luxury hotel in downtown Memphis. When you stay at the Peabody, you can luxuriate in the same place that musicians, athletes, celebrities, movie stars, and even past presidents did for over the last 150 years. Walking into the lobby, you are overwhelmed by the eye-catching flower display on top of the massive water fountain. But, this isn’t just any fountain. This is the home of the Duck March. Since 1933, The ducks’ march from their Duck Palace on the roof, along the red carpet, to the fountain at 11 a.m., and then back up the elevator at 5 p.m. Kids can get an up-front seat to all the action. Rooms are immaculate and of-course full of luxury.
If you are interested in coming for a visit and being part of history at the Peabody Hotel, you can book your stay here. The Peabody Hotel is located at 149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN. Price Range: $$$
Guest House at Graceland
The Guest House at Graceland is a luxury stay close to the grounds of Graceland Mansion. You can experience the Southern charm, hospitality, and a little bit rock ‘n roll that Elvis was known for. There are several different packages that you can get that include tickets to tour Graceland. You can book them here.
Long Term Stays
If you are looking to stay longer in Memphis, look into booking an Airbnb. You can stay in your own place that has a kitchen to save money from eating out every day. Plus, it is a great way to get to know new neighborhoods.
Memphis Annual Events
The Peabody Rooftop parties happen every Thursday night in the summer (April-August). You can enjoy live music, watch amazing sunsets over the Mississippi River, and if you get a VIP ticket, you can get some fantastic Memphis snacks. Cocktails are plentiful on the roof, and this is a great place to meet young people in Memphis. You can find the Peabody Hotel at 149 Union Avenue.
Memphis in May
The Memphis in May International Festival is a month-long festival that celebrates and promotes Memphis culture. For events, there are the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, Beale Street Music Festival, and the Great American River Run. The unique part of this festival is that it honors a different country in the world each year. There are educational programs and celebrations for the chosen country. You can check out the schedule and all the events on the Memphis in May website.
Memphis Travel Guide Summary
Memphis is a fabulous city to visit for a weekend getaway or even longer. I hope that this Memphis Travel Guide helps you in your future planning for your next trip to Memphis. Where else can you surround yourself in awesome music, culture, fantastic barbecue food, and so much history that has shaped generations?! Come and visit this historical, cultural, and vibrant city! Welcome to Memphis!
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