The Mississippi River doesn't just serve as the western border of the city of Memphis; it's an essential part of the fabric of this city. The Mississippi stands as a symbol of commerce - it's how we became the world's largest shipper of cotton. But more than that, it serves as a backdrop for the culture of the Delta and the blues that flow from Beale Street.
The city of Memphis, as seen from Mud Island in the Mississippi River — Photo courtesy of Memphis CVB
It's easy to get a feel for Memphis when you use the Mississippi as a guide. Your tour's starting point is up on the bluffs, at the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The only museum dedicated to the art and craft of metal-smithing in America, the museum occupies the area once known as Fort Pickering. Across the street from the museum is the Chickasaw Heritage Park, which features two ceremonial mounds built by Paleo-Indians in the 1500s.
From the Metal Museum, the journey down Riverside Drive offers a sweeping view of the Mississippi. Park and stretch your legs at Tom Lee Park, the gorgeous green space that honors the heroic Tom Lee, who in 1925 saved 32 people from a sightseeing ship that had capsized in the Mississippi. The striking sculpture honoring Tom Lee is perhaps the city's most celebrated public art project; created by artist David Allen Clark, the sculpture depicts Lee, in his small skiff, rescuing a man from the water.
The Tom Lee Memorial is one of the city's signature public art projects — Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies
The wide expanse of space is home to the city's largest festivals, including the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, both part of the city's Memphis in May celebration.
It's time to stop for lunch - and your first rooftop view of the river. Head to Harbor Town, the charming community on the north end of Mud Island - and grab a bite at the Terrace at the River Inn, where you can watch barge traffic on the Mississippi. Harbor Town is also home to the Mississippi Greenbelt Park - a great place to walk along the riverfront and work off lunch.
Mud Island's scale model of the river ends at the 'Gulf' - and fountains — Photo courtesy of Mud Island River Park
From Harbor Town, head back over the bridge to downtown Memphis, park the car and jump on the monorail to the Mud Island River Park and Museum. Open from April through October, the expansive River Park offers a scale model of the Mississippi Rive along which you can walk, as well as a museum that details the river's history and importance to the city.
Get a sky-top view of the river and the downtown skyline from the Twilight Sky Terrace - the chic lounge on the roof of the Madison Hotel. The Twilight offers 180-degree views of the river. As the sun is setting, you can plot an evening out on the town as you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails and small plates.
Madison Hotel's rooftop lounge offers sunset views of the river — Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser