Memphis is known for...
Memphis is best known as one of a handful of pinnacles of barbecue. Memphis in May, one of the largest and most vibrant festivals in the South, is host to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, widely known as the largest competition of its kind in the world, and affectionately called the Superbowl of Swine by barbecue fans. The city's love affair with this culinary form, though, is best evidenced by the near-infinite array of barbecue stands and smokehouses strewn throughout the city. There's no shortage of hole-in-the-wall joints that offer budget dining that can't be matched anywhere in the country. One insider tip: when you order at just about any barbecue joint, you'll be asked whether you want it "wet" or "dry?" Wet means anointed in delicious sauces, dry means rubbed with spices before cooking.
While Nashville lays claim to the auspicious title "Music City" further to the east, the reality is that Memphis lays claim to two original forms of American music - rock 'n' roll and the blues - and offers a grittier but equally rich history of grass roots music that's engrained into the fabric of the city's present day state. Historic, world-famous Beale Street boasts the apt nickname "Home of the Blues," and even on weeknights you'll hear timeless blues refrains drifting in the air around this district. The Beale Street Music Festival (during Memphis in May) features a delightful, eclectic mix of big-name stars performing side-by-side with local acts. When it comes to rock and soul, no city can match Memphis; home to Elvis Presley's Graceland, Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Smithsonian-curated Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Memphis is a must-visit destination of fans of American music.
3. Downtown Renaissance:
For a long time, Beale Street, with its blues temperament and bustling live music venues, was one of a very few portions of downtown Memphis not in a state of near-abandonment. Since just after 2000, though, the downtown has experienced something of a Renaissance, and at present Memphis boasts one of the largest downtown residential populations of anywhere in the US. Beautification projects have led to the cultivation of a number of excellent parks on the banks of the Mississippi. Carriage, trolley, and boat rides abound, each one an equally good option for taking in the sights and sounds.
4. Art & Museums:
Memphis is a hotbed of more specialized, often more powerful museums, featuring small yet important collections of art and history. The National Civil Rights Museum, located adjacent to the landmark Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, is a emotionally haunting and riveting experience. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a must-visit that brings the city's lesser-known story of soul music and the 'Memphis Sound' alive. Finally, The National Ornamental Metal Museum traces the history of decorative metal in the US - so very prevalent in the South - through the country's history, with historic exhibits and live demonstrations. It also boasts one of the best gift shops in the city.
5. The Mississippi River:
Memphis is perched on the shore of the Mississippi, a fact that has defined much of the city's history and economy. Thus, the city's occasional, colloquial nicknames "River City" and "Bluff City." Where the Mississippi runs past the city, five miles of idyllic parks serve as great public spaces for picnics, casual sports, and other outdoor activities. If you tire of strolling through the parks and along the banks, take to the water with a riverboat ride or canoe rental. These are entertaining in their own right, but they also offer some of the best views of Memphis available. As of spring, 2012, Memphis is again a launching point for river steamboat cruises, thanks to a new venture of the Great American Steamboat Company.