Ultimate Guide to Exploring Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee is internationally known as the home of Elvis Presley, but there’s much more to see than the home of the King! Memphis offers exciting activities for everyone, from foodies and museum lovers to history buffs and musicians. Check out our top suggestions for a weekend in Memphis, otherwise known as Bluff City due to its location on the Chickasaw Bluffs bordering the Mississippi River.
Kick off your adventure at the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the former Lorraine Motel, it shares a powerful historical presentation of the Civil Rights Movement in America. The main tour concludes at room 306, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. You can also visit the Legacy Building across the street to learn more about the investigation following Dr. King’s death. To get the most out of your visit, plan to spend at least half a day exploring. After your tour stop by the “I Am a Man” mural, a block north of the museum on South Main.
For a fun dose of Memphis musical history, take the Sun Studios tour. Here, you’ll listen to some early Rock ‘n’ Roll, and you can stand in the Million Dollar Quartet studio where Elvis, the King himself, recorded with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis! True blues fans should also visit the Blues Hall of Fame and Museum. Meanwhile, guitar enthusiasts will love the tour at Gibson Guitar Factory.
Have you ever seen a duck walk a red carpet? Twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., a Duck Master escorts the famous Peabody Ducks to and from the lobby fountain in the historic Peabody Hotel. If you miss the event, you can still see the ducks after hours in their castle on the hotel rooftop.
After a fun day of exploring, start to wind down with the sunset over the Mississippi River; it is a must-see, and downtown Memphis provides plenty of great vantage points. For a great view, visit the Twilight Sky Terrace at the Madison Hotel, the Lookout at the Bass Pro Pyramid, or just pull up a chair or a patch of grass at Beale Street Landing.
On Beale Street, you can hear live music constantly – everything from blues at B.B. King’s and Rum Boogie Café to blues, jazz, folk, and rock at Lafayette’s. Depending on the season, there may be a free show at Levitt Shell, the site of Elvis’s first public performance. Another outdoor venue, Loflin Yard, also has musical performances scheduled throughout the year. Small clubs and outdoor stages are everywhere, so keep your eyes and ears open as you explore the city – you never know what live music you may stumble upon!
All this adventure will work up an appetite, and barbecue is a cornerstone of Memphis culture. Our style of barbecue features tomato or molasses based sauce, usually smothered over pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. The Rendezvous’ ribs are extremely popular with tourists, and Central BBQ offers excellent local flavor. Beyond downtown, check out Cozy Corner, Bar-B-Q Shop, Interstate (home of the Neely’s from the Food Network), or Payne’s. If you’re a true barbecue connoisseur, consider visiting Memphis on the third weekend in May for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest!
Once you’ve had your fill of barbecue, satisfy your thirst with a local brew from the expanding craft beer scene. If you enjoy locally brewed suds, hang out at one of the numerous taprooms – Wiseacre is home to one of my favorites – the Gotta Get Up to Get Down, a coffee milk stout delicious! There is an endless list of taprooms in the area, a few more of my favorites include High Cotton, Ghost River – try the Grind n’ Shine, exclusively sold at the taproom, and Memphis Made. Each taproom has its own distinct atmosphere, and the patios are often packed on nice days.
It’s an exciting time to visit Memphis as the city continues to grow and revitalize while remaining rooted in its soulful history. If you’re looking for a destination off the beaten path with a lot to offer, Memphis is the place for you!
Know Before You Go
- The National Civil Rights Museum is at the Lorraine Motel, which is known for being the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
- The Fire Museum of Memphis is unique with entirely interactive exhibits along with a Fire Escape Maze and a Fire Safety Arcade.
- Known as “The Official Home of the Blues,” Beale Street is the ideal spot to hear the best music Memphis has to offer.
- Elvis Presley’s home Graceland will provide hours of exploration, entertainment, and history. The tour of the property is entirely interactive with an iPad tour.