30 Best Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee
The eccentric city of Memphis is located along the mighty Mississippi River and is well-known for its influence on the world of Blues and rock ‘n’ roll music as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley started their illustrious careers from this city. Memphis has its fair share of marred history such as the slavery and racial discrimination but it has successfully cemented its place in the cultural and artistic climate of the country. Here are 30 things you can do while you’re in Memphis:
Cruise Around the Mississippi River
One of the largest and most magnificent water body of North America passes through the city of Memphis and you can partake in a number of activities either on the river or around it. You can book yourself a riverboat cruise and trail the waters while learning about the rich and extensive history of Memphis. They also serve buffet style food which includes barbeque meat and pork, among other authentic Memphis dishes. Another activity you can do here is free of cost which is looking out at the beautiful sunset while enjoying a picnic with your loved ones.
History Revisited at the National Civil Rights Museum
The national civil rights museum is situated inside the Lorraine motel. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of this motel by James Earl Ray. The museum takes you through the inspiring and challenging journey of the civil rights movement and the significant part Martin Luther played in the struggle. It contains numerous photographs, exhibits, memorabilia, newspaper prints and three dimensional scenes of the revolutionary movement.
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Beale Street is the most visited attraction of the state of Tennessee and I can see why. The cobbled pathway is home to some of the most unique, quirky and authentic shops and restaurants of the city. You can have a meal and a drink at the hard rock café and visit W.C. Handy Park for its wide array of pop-up shops. You can listen to music while drinking a beer at Silky O’Sullivan where you will have the time of your life.
March of the Mallards at Peabody Hotel
The Peabody hotel has been an institution to the locals of Memphis as it has stood the test of time and many generations have enjoyed the fruits of this historic building. The march of the mallards or ducks is the most quirky tradition that takes place here where a group of ducks walk in a crooked line from the elevator to the lobby fountain and simply put, this cannot be missed. The hotel’s sheer luminosity and beauty is in itself a marvel to look at.
Visit a Musical Landmark at Sun Studio
The sun studio is a historical recording studio located in downtown Memphis and was opened in the year 1950. Many legendary singers have performed here such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ray Orbison and Carl Perkins but the most iconic singer who recorded here was a truck driver named Elvis Presley and his talent was first recognized here by the owner and assistant of the studio.
Watch a Movie at Malco Summer Drive-in
The Malco summer drive-in was opened in the year 1966 and is a two-screen open air theatre where you can choose from one of the two films and watch the movie while sitting in your car. This is operational only during the summer seasons because of the harsh weather conditions during the winter months. The Malco summer drive-in allows you to have an old-school and nostalgic experience which involves viewers tucked inside a warm blanket and munching on your favourite snacks.
Lick Your Fingers at Central BBQ
The central barbeque is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Memphis city and unlike some of its contemporaries; this place is a well-known hang out space for college students and hence, has a youthful vibe. The mouth-watering dishes that you can try here include ribs, pork shoulder, potato chips, loin back ribs, smoked wings and their famous BBQ nachos that are served with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, jalapenos and topped with delicious home-made sauces.
Feel Your Adrenaline Pump at Autozone Park
Baseball is the quintessential all-American game which should be experienced by a first time visitor in order to have a wholesome trip. There is no better place to enjoy this sport than the 11 acre stadium facility known as the AutoZone Park. Here, you can boy hotdogs and beer from concession stands and come take your seat among 14,000 other spectators and the best part is you can bring your dog! It is located in downtown Memphis and is known to get your adrenaline pumping.
Be Elvis’s Guest at Graceland
Graceland was the famed home of the ‘king of rock and roll’ Elvis Presley who dominated the music scene for many decades and had gotten his start in the city of Memphis. Many years after his death, his regal mansion was converted into a museum and guest house where visitors can survey Presley’s many memorabilia, bedazzled outfits, automobiles and gold records. You can also pay your respects at Elvis’s grave and during the month of August, you can take part in the Elvis week where you can dance at concerts and watch movies about the legend.
Take a Stroll Around Shelby Farm Park
The Shelby farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and contains a restaurant, event centres, a dog park and playgrounds. The Park also has many wooded areas that have trails lined with trees and striking sceneries where you can get some exercise or just take a casual stroll. The Shelby Farms Park also has multiple water bodies which give you the opportunity for canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and pedal boating. This Park is the perfect getaway from the bustle and noise of the city.
Learn About Memphis History at Pink Palace Museum
The museum’s building is made of pink hued Georgian marble and was built in the 1920s and belonged to a wealthy Memphis businessman. The pink palace museum contains an extensive and permanent exhibit of the natural and cultural history of the city such as the Clyde park circus, Native American pottery, fossils and exhibits relating to the history of slavery and the Civil war. There is also a 3D theatre which showcases educational films and the planetarium where you can do stargazing and learn about the outer space as well as astronomy.
An American Masterpiece, the Memphis Pyramid
The Memphis pyramid is often referred to as the ‘great American pyramid’ and is the world’s third largest pyramid. The building contains a sports arena that has hosted the Memphis grizzlies which is the city’s NBA team and has also witnessed some iconic musical acts such as guns ‘N’ roses, Mary J. Blige, Eric Clapton, Garth Brooks and Hank Williams, among many others. Today, it houses numerous retail stores as well as a wilderness lodge named the big cypress lodge.
Smell the Roses at Memphis Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden of Memphis is massive in size as it contains 31 speciality Gardens such as the pre-historic plant trail where you will visit the stone caves, look at buried fossils and learn about the history of dinosaurs. You will have a transformational sensory experience at the fragrance garden where the power of smell will make your soul dance. The well-known Japanese Garden is a crowd-puller because of its serene Koi ponds and you will learn about the practices regarding the preservation of plants from Japan.
Meet Animals at Memphis Zoo
The Memphis zoo is one of the largest indoor animal facilities in America as well as the oldest as it was opened in the year 1906. The zoo is home to 3,500 animals belonging to 500 different species and the area is divided into various zones such as the teton trek that is home to grizzly bears, timber wolves and river otters. The Northwest Passage houses the ultimate crowd pleasers- polar bears and sea lions that even perform at an amphitheatre. The African Veldt contains white Rhinos, giraffes, zebras and elephants. The cat country includes leopards, lions, cheetahs, Bengal Tigers, Jaguars and snow Leopards, among many others.
Flow and Ebb at the Mud Island River Park
The mud island River Park isn’t an island at all but a small peninsula which flows into the Mississippi River and is often compared to the ‘gulf of Mexico.’ The most famous landmark of this place is the river walk which is part of the Mississippi River museum where you can travel back in time to 10,000 years ago. The river walk takes you through 18 galleries that showcase the rich history of the city, the tales of adventure and a life size replica of a river boat. There are also many river side cafes where you can stop to catch a bite and give your feet some rest.
Too Much to See at Cooper-young Historic District
The cooper-young historic district is a culturally diverse neighbourhood of this city and it offers its visitors an array of restaurants, shops and art galleries to enjoy. Some of the best restaurants here include the pie in the sky, the soul fish cafe, Java Cabana and Cafe Casablanca. Cooper-young also has a number of shopping outlets for you to empty your wallets at such as light years vintage and flashback as well as art galleries like carved designs. Here, you can also catch up on some reading at Burke’s book store or visit the Xanadu music and books shop. Lastly, you can worship at the central Christian church and the first congregational church, among a few others.
Visit the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
The Brooks museum of art happens to be the largest and oldest museum in the state of Tennessee and within its vicinity it includes the Cafe Brooks, the Brooks museum of art, a grand terrace and the Holly Court Garden. The museum contains 29 galleries showcasing paintings from the Italian Renaissance, Baroque and 20th century artists. It also has a research library of 5,000 volumes and an auditorium. The museum houses an impressive collection of English portraits by Gainsborough, Lawrence and Reynolds as well as contemporary artists such as Carroll Cloar, a Memphis native.
Slave to the Rythm at Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
The rock ‘n’ soul museum is a one-of-a-kind museum that educates its visitors about the rich musical history of the city as well as the various social changes that have taken place here in the past centuries. Here, you can learn about rural music such as gospel hymns and ballads sung by workers and about the sharecroppers who moved to the city in search for jobs at cotton mills. The museum also tells the story of Sun records and the start of Elvis Presley’s career in Memphis and at the same time, talks about black musicians who faced racism and hardship but still managed to become trailblazers.
Get Spooked at the Woodruff-fontaine House
The Woodruff-Fontaine house is a French Victorian mansion with 3 storeys built in 1871 and is well-known for its splendid architecture and the history of the two wealthy families that lived here. You can partake in a guided tour around the mansion and survey its many antiquities and serene furniture but the reason for the fascination behind this house lies in the paranormal activities experienced by visitors. Some people say they can hear and see a female entity sitting on a bed in a room and she is allegedly the ghost of Mollie Woodruff and just a heads up, she also likes to roam around the house.
Pay Your Respects at the Memphis National Cemetry
The national cemetery of Memphis holds a painful key to the past and yet, exudes a beauty and serenity unlike any other you’ve seen before. During the war of 1862, the strong union land and river forces captured the city of Memphis and this led to bloodshed and loss of life on a massive scale and the martyred soldiers were buried at this cemetery. About 13,965 soldiers lie buried here and more than 8,000 of them are unidentified bodies. The number of graves increased after the USS Sultana sank in 1865 and the dead crew of the ship was buried alongside the soldiers.
Travel Back to the 70s at Stax Museum
The Stax museum tells the story of soul music in Memphis but also the history of racial divide and eventual triumph. The museum starts with showing a film about the different artists who were part of the Stax studio during its heyday such as Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Next, you can marvel at the original instruments of various iconic musicians such as Jones’s organ and Cropper’s guitar. There are numerous listening stations where you can enjoy the melodies such as soul man, try a little tenderness, knock on wood, last night and sitting on the dock of a bay. At the end, you will learn about the heartbreaking end of the studio which involved bankruptcy and the final days.
Eat Your Heart Out at Jerry’s
Jerry’s is an authentic southern food experience and you must avoid afternoon hours during weekdays as the wait times extend to hours. Jerry’s is most famous for its unique and perfectly dense snow cones which come in different flavours such as apple with caramel, watermelon and strawberry with coconut. However, you can also try other dishes here such as the BBQ nachos, Frito pie, muffuletta sandwiches, blue mushroom burger and spicy tamales. Southern food is known for its excessiveness and exuberance, Jerry’s ticks both the boxes.
Have a Picnic at Dixon Gallery and Gardens
The Dixon gallery and garden is a perfect way to spend a pleasant evening as it has a fine arts gallery and a public garden within its vicinity. The exhibits in the gallery are temporary and changing as well as a permanent collection of 2,000 objects including French impressionist paintings. The building’s architecture is Georgian style and the museum was founded in 1976. You can either survey the variety of artistic and decorative objects housed here or you can enjoy a lovely picnic with your loved ones in the Garden.
Jam to the Beat at Levitt Shell
The Levitt shell is a historic open-air amphitheatre which was opened in the year 1936 and is located at Overton Park. In 1954, Elvis Presley performed his first ever paid concert here and since then, the Levitt shell has become a popular culture phenomenon. The shows generally take place from Thursday to Sunday and the best part about the shell is that it offers 50 free concerts in a year as well as a variety of food truck stands on the site. Some of the recent concerts here include wealthy west, Opera Memphis, Aztec sun, Sam Lewis, Yola Carter and Los Colognes.
A Day Well Spent at Broad Avenue
Broad Avenue is a fairly new neighbourhood in this city and is well-recognized for its eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and galleries as well as vibrant and colourful murals painted on the walls of industrial buildings. The 20 twelve boutique is a highly recommended shopping space which offers a multiplicity of jewellery, accessories, clothing and furniture. The water tower pavilion may sound banal but in reality, it contains many urban art installations as well as hosts art festivals. The found gallery contains interesting memorabilia and vintage products fit for a unique personality and the Broadway Pizza house was one of Elvis’s favourite restaurants.
Visit the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art
The Belz museum of Asian and Judaic art is a massive space of 24,000 square feet which contains five galleries that house permanent exhibits. The first three galleries contain Asian art belonging to the Qing dynasty of China starting from the 17th century till the 20th century. The third gallery houses Judaic pieces which are historic, beautiful and worthy of your time and last but not the least, the fifth gallery contains the Holocaust memorial gallery which showcases memorabilia and artefacts from the Second World War.
Satiate Your Hunger at Alcenia’s Soul Food
Memphis is a city known for its soul-nourishing food and Alcenia’s restaurant is the best place to experience it. This eatery was opened by Betty Joyce in remembrance of her deceased son and with its colourful interior; it screams joy and happiness as well as provides a welcoming environment. Some of the best dishes that you must try here include the fried chicken, sweet yams, lima beans, meatloaf, catfish, cornbread and sweet potato cobbler. Remember to visit this restaurant on an empty stomach.
Get Haunted at the Crystal Shrine Grotto
The depression era of the 1930s drove many men insane and one such man was artist Dionicio Rodriguez who transformed his pain and frustration into strange stone carvings and biblical figures inside a cave in the middle of a cemetery. If this wasn’t already psychedelic enough for the twisted artist, he added harp music inside the cave which only elevated the haunting experience of the visitor. Though, it was initially meant as a place of reflection and meditation but today, it’s known to give people nightmares and chills down their spine.
Visit the Burkle Estate at Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
The slave haven Underground Railroad museum offers an empathetic and sensitive insight into history as it is situated on the Burkle estate which was built by Jacob Burkle in 1849 and he helped many African American slaves by hiding them in secret cellars and building trap doors to ease their life of escape. Here, you can look at the various artefacts, advertisements and information about runaway slaves, the slave trade and the travelling passages for the slaves who escaped their masters.
Eat a Juicy Burger at Earnestine and Hazel
Earnestine and Hazel offers an array of mouth-watering dishes but its best known as the most haunted bar in America as many paranormal activities have allegedly taken place here and this shouldn’t come as a surprise especially after you look at its history. This bar was first intentioned to be a church but then, it became a sundry store, a jazz cafe and a brothel. Today, it is a dive bar and cafe which serves up juicy soul burgers with a side of potato fries. Even though, you might have chills running down your spine the burger here cannot be missed.
Once you return from your trip to Memphis, you will have a head full of musical dreams and a belly from the barbequed meat you would have consumed as well as a grinning smile of satisfaction and happiness from the Southern hospitality meted out by the Memphis locals. The vibrancy of this city can be summed up from a quote said by Elvis Presley also known as ‘the king.’
“A little less fight and a little more spark close your mouth and open your heart.”