Things to do in Memphis, TN

Get Your Bearings in Memphis

By Sally Walker Davies
Memphis Expert

See & Do

Things to See

Memphis has become synonymous with Elvis Presley - and Graceland draws about 600,000 visitors annually. There are plenty of museums dedicated to the city's musical roots (before and after Elvis), history and the arts to fill your time. Green space is abundant with plenty of parks, especially along the Mighty Mississippi. And for children, an excellent zoo and children's museum - both in Midtown - promise hours of fun.


Memphis has public transport, but you're better off with your own car, or cab-, Uber- or Lyft-ing it.


The Graceland area during Elvis Week, around the 16th of August; the annual week of festivities marking the King's death creates crowds and traffic jams.

Hot Tips:

A number of attractions, including the Brooks Museum and the Memphis Zoo, offer free admission days.

Where to Stay

Downtown Memphis offers a full array of hotel choices including the venerable Peabody, the slick Westin Beale Street and the budget-friendly Hampton Inn Beale. The main advantage to staying downtown is the ability to walk to Beale Street's live music clubs and sights such as the Cotton Museum, the Mississippi River and the National Civil Rights Museum. Business travelers with appointments further afield will want to stay on the city's east side with easy proximity to FedEx world headquarters and International Paper. Whether staying for business or pleasure, downtown or anywhere else, a car is essential for exploring Memphis.


Most downtown hotels are crowded and loud during the annual Beale Street Music Fest, the first weekend of May; if you want to stay near the action, indulge at the Peabody, Madison or River Inn.


Any hotel with the name 'airport' in it, unless convenience and noise aren't issues for you.

Hot Tips:

Best chance to have your child named honorary duckmaster at the Peabody is to arrive early, and to be engaging; the best child-led duck marches are those with kids who are a bit of a ham.

What to Eat

While barbecue is king in Memphis, the city offers loads of chic local eateries steered by the confident hands of some of the country's best young chefs. The Overton Square and  Cooper-Young neighborhoods in Midtown - are dining hot spots and a must-hit for bar- and restaurant-hopping. Go all-out with a meal at Restaurant Iris or Sweet Grass, or start with small plates at Bablu or Alchemy and move on to Bari, Local on the Square, or the Young Avenue Deli, depending on your mood. Downtown's offerings vary from the historic, diner-ish Arcade to the opulent, French-infused Chez Philippe.


Parking in Midtown is super-tricky; find a spot on the street and then look for 'The Roo' to take you around thr neighborhood.

Hot Tips:

What to wear to dinner in Memphis? Think snappy casual for most restaurants - nice jeans paired with a jacket for men, a cute dress or jeans and a pretty top for women.

Be Sure to Sample:

The pulled pork nachos at Central Avenue; they're worth every calorie and fat gram.

Places to Party

Live music is everywhere one turns in Memphis, primarily centered downtown and around Beale Street, but also found throughout the city at one of the dozens of live music clubs. Since the clubs on Beale are open until the wee hours of the morning, many of the dance clubs follow suit - again, these are located primarily downtown. For those looking for chic places to bar hop, try the Midtown neighborhoods of Overton Square and Cooper-Young. East Memphis.


Beale Street is 18-and-up only after 11 pm.

Hot Tips:

For a real taste of Memphis nightlife, be sure to hit Ernestine & Hazel's for a late night soul burger and eyebrow-raising people watching.

Where to Shop

Upscale boutiques and locally-owned favorites are clustered in East Memphis, while downtown offers a variety of shops, from the funky A. Schwab on Beale to the hip Lansky Brothers in the Peabody Hotel. One of our favorite neighborhoods for uniquely Memphis finds is South Main, where historic buildings bustle with local and regional art, boutique clothing and jewelry stores. The Cooper-Young neighborhood has upped its shopping credentials in recent years, and there are loads of unique-to-Memphis options to be found here, as well as plenty of antique and vintage stores.

Hot Tips:

The last Friday of the month is Trolley Tour night on South Main - a great shopping and people-watching experience.

Best Local Souvenir:

Anything Elvis (from one of the Graceland stores) or a piece of folk art from a South Main gallery.



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Things to do in Memphis

Memphis is known for...

Five of Memphis's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Food:

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.

2. Music:

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.