Really, you could do these days in any order you’d like. We’ll start heavy with music, because much of Memphis’ history, culture and community revolves around tunes.
Today, plan to see the home of The King of Rock ’n’ Roll, the small studio that set the world on fire and fill your heart with a little Memphis soul.
Welcome to the home of Elvis Presley. Graceland was purchased by Elvis for $102,000 in 1957 (Elvis was 22 years old). The Graceland experience takes you from Elvis' humble beginnings through his rise to superstardom. See how a rock 'n' roll legend lived and relaxed with family and friends. The full Graceland experience includes the Graceland mansion, Elvis' Automobile Museum, Elvis' custom jets and special exhibits.
Graceland offers a self-guided tour that allows visitors to go at their own pace. Depending on seasonality and your interest in Elvis, you could expect to spend 2 - 5 hours immersed in Elvis facts and memorabilia.
In 1954, an unknown Elvis Presley, grabbed a mic and sang his heart out making Sun the most famous recording studio in the world. Take a guided tour through the tiny studio where you will experience outtakes from recording sessions, touch Elvis' first microphone and hear the real story of the studio that launched the careers of not only Elvis Presley, but Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and many others.
Tours at Sun Studio start at the bottom of every hour and typically last about 45 minutes.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
You know Memphis soul music when you hear it! From 1959 – 1974, this movie-theater-turned-recording-studio produced a string of hits that still reside today - we’re talking Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G’s, and many more. Don’t miss this huge collection of more than 2,000 artifacts, memorabilia, galleries interactive exhibits, and – of course – Isaac Hayes' gold-plated, peacock blue 1972 Superfly Cadillac El Dorado.
Expect to spend approximately 2-3 hours at Stax.
Dinner in Overton Square
Fresh blood and a new energy has Overton Square back and better than ever. Clean your plate at fine-dining anchors like Restaurant Iris and Bari Ristorante or double dip on delicious, casual fare at Chiwawa and Local Gastropub. Knock back a local craft beer on the patio at Bosco’s and catch a flick at Studio on the Square or sip some wine at Le Chardonnay and settle in for a high-quality theatrical performance at Playhouse on the Square. There’s no shortage of deliciousness in Overton Square.
History, culture and the sweet smell of Memphis barbecue is on today’s agenda. See how Civil Rights shaped Memphis, bask in the neon of Beale Street and see our city by land and sea.
National Civil Rights Museum
Housed in the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, theNational Civil Rights Museum presents a timeline of Civil Rights struggles relating to African Americans and concentrating on the events of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In 2014, the museum will present more modernized displays – think a “smart” table with touch panels, stunning visual programs instead of text panels and ample audio and video snippets. The National Civil Rights Museum will offer the same iconic exhibits and fixtures, but beefed up with interactive screens that offer a richer educational experience than ever before.
The self-guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum lasts approximately 1 - 2 hours.
Why has it taken it this long to mention barbecue? If you haven’t already popped some pork by now, we’ve got the skinny on some of the best barbecue in Memphis.
Central BBQ tends to win quite a few local awards. You can’t go wrong with ribs or shoulders at Central. They also have a handful of other delicious options including delish wings, smoked sausage, homemade potato chips and a special 8-inch portobello that is marinated, grilled, and topped with smoked Gouda cheese (for any vegetarians in your party).
Rendezvous is TV famous and the spot you’ve most likely seen on the Travel Channel orFood Network. With its dry-rub ribs and wall-to-wall flair, Rendezvous is the essential first stop for every barbecue lover that visits Memphis. The front door of this hole in the wall is in an alley about a block away from the Peabody Hotel and AutoZone Park, home to our Triple-A Redbirds.
If your definition of good barbecue starts with sticky tables and sweet smoke bellowing out of the roof, then Cozy Corner is your place. This joint is pretty nondescript with its plain building and common furnishings but the food is anything but average.
The barbecue at Cozy Corner is cooked on a Chicago-style smoker meaning the coals are placed further from the grill. The meat is placed on the lowest rack then progresses upward until it is smoked to perfection and ready to serve. Not into ribs? Try the Cornish game hen.
Don’t rush the important stuff, take your time with barbecue.
Once you’ve got your belly full of barbecue, hop aboard a vintage trolley car and glide through historic Downtown Memphis along the mighty Mississippi River. The clickety-clack of the track takes you past notable attractions like Beale Street, Orpheum Theatre, Downtown hotels and the authentic Arcade Restaurant.
The Riverfront Loop trolley route is just $1 and takes about 45 minutes to complete.
Beale Street Landing and Mississippi Riverboat Rides
The Beale Street Landing complex at the junction of Beale Street and the river is combo riverboat dock, playground and green space – you can even trek atop its grassy roof.
Let kids climb, slide and splash in the play area complete with water features. Chaperones can chill beneath shady structures or snap pictures with the iconic bridge in the backdrop.
Memphis Riverboats are housed at Beale Street Landing and cruise nearly every day at 2:30. Find the ticket office inside Beale Street Landing’s central building and relax on a 90-minute tour full of river commentary, tidbits and fascinating facts.
In the core of Downtown Memphis with three blocks of clubs, live music, neon, restaurants and retail shops, the Beale Street entertainment district stirs a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, R&B and gospel music. You won’t find another local landmark that has held such mystique, intrigue, fame and infamy over the years.
Beale Street is the most visited attraction in the State of Tennessee and in 1966, Beale Street was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the Home of the Blues by an act of Congress.
Regardless of the weather, Beale Street is one of the coolest places in Memphis and a must-see for any visitor.
Did you know, Memphis has more sunny days per year than Miami? We aren’t kidding here. On day three, work off some of that barbecue by exploring Mud Island River Park, bike in Shelby Farms and see a cool shrunken head.
Mud Island River Park
In Downtown Memphis, you’ll find a 5-block long replica of the mighty Mississippi River, canoeing, kayaking pedal boats and a museum dedicated to the life and history of the river. Admission to the River Park is free, but pay $10 and get the museum and a round-trip ride on the monorail.
Pink Palace Museum
Housed in the former home of Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly grocery store, the Pink Palace Museum is one of the largest museums in the Mid-South. Inside you’ll find permanent natural and cultural historic exhibits like a real shrunken head and a replica of the first grocery store. Peep a larger than life movie at the IMAX theater or get lost in space at their Sharpe Planetarium.
Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park is big! We’re talking the largest urban park in the United States big. So, with all that space, there’s plenty to do. Shelby Farms has biking and hiking trails, horseback riding, fishing and plenty of space to fly kites. Something you don’t usually see either, Shelby Farms is home to a herd of American Bison.
Rent a bike and cruise the Greenline. Bring your kids. They’ll love to run, jump and play at the Woodland Discovery Playground. The park is open sunrise to sunset each day.
For more tips on what experienced travelers should do and see in Memphis, read the many features and listings on memphistravel.com.