The jewel of the mid-south of the United States, Memphis, has many facets to her sparkle. She shares her borders with Arkansas and Mississippi.
Memphis is rich in history. The area was initially inhabited by the Chickasaw tribe, and burial mounds remain. President Andrew Jackson was one of the city’s founders; the city was later a center of the cotton trade and hardwood production as well as a Confederate region during the American Civil War. It has since weathered race riots in 1866, yellow fever in 1870, and even bankruptcy.
Fast forward to the 1960s: the civil rights movement brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to stand with sanitation workers. He was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in 1966, which later became the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Memphis, named for the Egyptian city, means Place of Good Abode. It is now the second-largest distribution center in the world for air cargo and is one of the nation’s largest inland river ports.
Considered the birthplace of soul music, rock and roll, the blues, country music, and rockabilly, many famous musicians got their start in Memphis.
Here are the 12 best things to do when visiting:
1. Sun Studio
Address: 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN
The first stop on any Memphis tour is Sun Studio, located at the intersections of Union Avenue, Myrtle Street, and Marshall Avenue. Opened in 1950 by Sam Phillips, a rock-and-roll pioneer, many famous musicians got their start here. You’ll recognize names like Ike Turner, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, and Al Green to name a few.
We were told not to kiss the microphone when presented with the one used by Elvis Presley. However, we were allowed to cradle the microphone and pretend we were singing an Elvis song. The microphone is still in use today.
2. Millionaire’s Row in the Victorian Village
Address: Adams Avenue, Memphis, TN
The Victorian Village is a historic district near downtown Memphis. Lining Adams Avenue this neighborhood is an example of the peak of wealthy Memphians in the 1800s. Called Millionaire’s Row, wealthy riverboat and cotton magnates built about a dozen mansions at what was the edge of downtown.
The Mallory-Neely House, open for tours, has 25 rooms in the Italianate style. This mansion is remarkable in that most of the furnishings are original. The first floor was adapted to be wheelchair accessible, and there is handicapped parking available.
Seven of the remaining houses are now used as offices, bar, lounges, or bed and breakfasts. Two are open for tours.
3. Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Address: 926 E McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN
Stax Museum is a tribute to the birthplace of soul music. An unassuming Mississippi Delta church from 1906 reassembled here allows the sounds of Southern gospel music to fill the air.
A spacious room is dedicated to Soul Train vintage videos. Who can resist moving to the music on the dance floor with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling?
At the Wall of Sound’s listening station, you can see all the hit 45-rpm records produced by Stax between 1957 and 1975.
You will be mesmerized watching Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac El Dorado rotate on a platform. This dazzling Super Fly vehicle was part of his renegotiated contract in 1972. Some intriguing features include white fur carpeting, a mini-bar, television, and 24-carat exterior trim.
4. I Am A Man Plaza
Address: Hernando St, Memphis, TN
Clayborn Temple anchors the I Am A Man Plaza near Downtown Memphis. This was the assembly area for the sanitation workers strike in 1968 and where the black workers marched with signs proclaiming “I am a man”. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the march to stand for better working conditions and higher wages.
The marble wall in the plaza lists 1,300 names of the participating sanitation workers. This monument commemorates how far we have come and reminds us of how much further we have to go.
Address: 3717 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN
Graceland, the family home of Elvis Presley from 1957, has been owned by Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, since Elvis’ death in 1977. The property has Elvis’ burial grounds along with his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his stillborn twin, Jessie.
In 1982, Priscilla Presley opened Graceland as a museum, which quickly paid off the restoration investments. It is now the second most-visited house in the U.S. (the White House being the first).
Join a shuttle bus tour from the Graceland Plaza. The fascinating and informative tour brings Elvis to life, especially when viewing the Jungle Room and the racquetball court.
Free walk-ups from the gate to visit the family graves in the Meditation Garden happen daily from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. An eternal flame burns brightly at the gravesites.
Tip #1: Take a late afternoon tour of Graceland. Fewer tourists make for an enjoyable experience viewing the house and grounds.
Tip #2: Bring a Sharpie so that you can sign the famous Graceland wall.
6. The Metal Museum
Address: 374 Metal Museum Drive, Memphis, TN
Filled with many metal artwork varieties, from delicate jewelry to heavy wrought iron, the Metal Museum is one of a kind. It is the only institution in the country to recognize and promote careers in metalsmithing.
The foundry, where the smiths ply their trade, is a fascinating display of heat, fire, red-hot molten metal, and sound. Hammering by hand and by machine is an intricate and exacting dance in this art form’s production.
As a center for metal arts, it is an international community of artists and artisans with a robust dialogue in contemporary art.
7. Duck Parade at the Peabody Hotel
Address: 118 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Opened in 1869, the Peabody Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Known as the South’s Grand Hotel, it lives up to its reputation for elegance and gracious hospitality.
The world-famous Peabody Ducks Parade entertains children and adults alike in the Peabody Hotel lobby every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Take the Peabody Hotel guided tour, led by the Duck Master himself. You’ll go to the rooftop to see where the ducks reside between parades, and you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of Memphis. The rooftop is also a hopping night spot to meet and connect with the locals on Thursday nights.
Tip: Arrive early, go upstairs, and get a bench seat overlooking the lobby to get the best view of the parade.
8. Paddlewheel Boat Excursion on a Memphis Riverboat
Address: 251 Riverside Dr, Memphis, TN
Queen of the Mississippi plies the waters of the second-longest river on the North American continent from the Mississippi Riverfront. Passengers board from the Beale Street Landing in Downtown Memphis.
On the deck of an authentic riverboat, sightseers learn about Memphis’s unique side in a narrated 90-minute cruise staffed with local river historians. Two-hour dinner cruises are offered regularly, as well as specialty cruises for holidays and other occasions.
Gliding under the Hernando De Soto Bridge, which carries Highway 40, the route takes you past Mud Island (a peninsula), past the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, and then circles around and returns to Tom Lee Park.
A riverboat cruise is a perfect outing for families with children. It’s educational, entertaining, and there are snacks and beverages available for purchase.
9. Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church
Address: 787 Hale Road, Memphis, TN
You don’t have to be a believer to attend the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis’s Whitehaven neighborhood. All visitors are welcome to hear, see, and participate in the Pentecostal worship service on Sunday at midday with the small congregation.
Memphis soul singer, Grammy award winner, and Kennedy Center awardee Al Green leads his congregation in prayer and song. The six-piece band generates a powerful, moving, and memorable experience.
For only a donation in the collection basket, this is the best and closest seat to that smooth, silky voice that made Let’s Stay Together so famous in the 1970s.
10. National Civil Rights Museum
Address: 450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN
The Lorraine Motel is the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and is today preserved as part of the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) complex in downtown Memphis.
Dedicated to sharing the culture and lessons from the American civil rights movement, the NCRM has interactive exhibits and historical collections. You get the opportunity to walk through history and get a real sense of the turbulent times of change for human rights and social justice.
Plan to spend at least two hours here because the education and experience are incomparable.
11. B.B. King Blues Club
Address: 143 Beale Street, Memphis, TN
Located at the top of Beale Street in downtown Memphis, B.B. King’s Blues Club is the original restaurant, bar, and live music club. They serve up rock and roll, soul, and barbecue food along with their signature drinks.
The house band and other talented musicians will have you on your feet jamming and dancing any evening of the week.
12. 28th-Floor Observation Deck at Bass Pro Shops Pyramid
Address: 6140 Macon Road, Memphis, TN
The Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid Memphis is much more than an outdoor store. The iconic building offers many immersive experiences for families.
The Lookout at the Pyramid is 28 stories up. You can ride the world’s tallest freestanding elevator and take in the spectacular view of Memphis below from the observation deck. There is a fee to ride the elevator for a single trip or you can buy an annual membership.
A wilderness hotel, entertainment patio, Ducks Unlimited Heritage Center, a themed saltwater aquarium, a 13-lane bowling alley, archery, and pistol range are all part of the Pyramid Memphis.
Sophisticated, casual, historic, and modern. That’s Memphis. Influential in so many ways, you can’t help but be inspired by a visit to this southern gem.
Last Updated on October 19, 2020