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At times, Memphis gets overshadowed by Nashville in terms of tourism. But this top Tennessee city has lots to offer first-time visitors and locals as well. Nashville is known for its country music stars, while Memphis is all about the blues. Memphis is also an important historical city in regards to the national civil rights movement, with many museums and historic homes to tell the stories of our nation’s past. Many of the sites to see in Memphis are music-related, but there are also some beautiful outdoor spaces and natural areas to relax in here.
And one of the best things about visiting Memphis is that it’s a budget-friendly destination that’s centrally located in the U.S. and easy to get to for a weekend road trip. Here are some of the most fun things to do on your trip!
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What Is It? Sun Studio is often considered to be the birthplace of rock and roll, and anyone who loves music should definitely check it out.
Why Do It? Many musicians’ careers were launched here, including B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. But what might surprise some visitors is that the studio is still used by music artists today.
Good to Know: Take a guided tour to learn about the musicians who have played here throughout the decades and see memorabilia from their times in the spotlight. This tour offers an up-close and authentic experience in downtown Memphis.
What Is It? Beale Street is the place to be in Memphis if you love to eat, drink, and listen to live music.
Why Do It? So many famous musicians have gotten their start here and branched out to become worldwide legends. Make a point to visit Beale Street in both the daytime and at night. During the day, you can check out the stores packed with music memorabilia and grab some delicious barbecue for lunch. At night, plan to go bar-hopping and check out the live music acts. The area between Second Street and Fourth Street is particularly buzzing at night with music clubs, and it’s not just blues and soul music that you’ll hear.
Good to Know: Keep in mind that many of the bars with live music here do require a cover charge, and it does get a bit crowded here on weekends. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to check out one of the city’s festivals along Beale Street.
What Is It? It’d be a shame to visit Memphis and not celebrate the memory of Elvis in some way.
Why Do It? One of the best ways to learn about “The King” is by visiting Graceland. This is Elvis’ former home that’s about 10 miles south of downtown. Highlights of the Graceland tour include the pink Cadillac, the jungle room, and Elvis’ record collection.
Good to Know: Other exhibits include the Elvis Fashion Exhibit, Graceland Soundstage A, the Archives Experience, and the Mystery Train. Whether you’re a big Elvis fan or not, this is a unique experience that’s definitely touristy but still really fun.
What Is It? One of the most significant natural places in the Memphis area is the Mud Island River Park, and that’s because the Mississippi River has such an important place in the city’s history.
Why Do It? Spend a couple of hours at this park to walk along the river and learn how the river shaped the city’s formation and evolution. This is a great place to take a “museum break” and enjoy some fresh air to your day of touring the city. The River Walk features information about historical events and geographical transformations. It is an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River that flows from where it connects with the Ohio River in Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico.
Good to Know: To get even more active here, you can rent bikes or kayaks as well.
What Is It? The Lorraine Motel was the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and today the National Civil Rights Museum is housed here.
Why Do It? You can watch multimedia presentations about this era and browse artifacts, films, and oral histories. The tour is self-guided and showcases the Greyhound bus that Freedom Riders rode and Dr. King’s motel room.
Good to Know: Plan to spend a couple of hours here to learn more about the fight for equal rights and Dr. King’s role in the movement.
What Is It? If you’re the kind of traveler that loves to check out a local neighborhood or two when you visit a new city, be sure to check out the Cooper-Young Historic District.
Why Do It? This is an artistic and quirky neighborhood that’s full of personality and has plenty to do.
Good to Know: The best place to hang out is the block between Cooper and Young Streets to see the historic homes, art galleries, coffeehouses, restaurants, and bars.
What Is It? Another music museum worth visiting in Memphis is the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which is all about the city’s influence in these styles of music.
Why Do It? Pick up an audio guide to learn about the instruments, costumes, and songs that Memphis is famous for. It’s centrally located on Beale Street and small enough to tour fairly quickly to put the city’s musical history in context.
Good to Know: Of all the city’s music museums, this one tells the most complete history of Memphis’ history with music throughout the ages.
What Is It? Another great way to get active and outdoors in Memphis is the Greenline bike path.
Why Do It? This is a paved trail that connects Midtown Memphis to Shelby Farms Park. There are even bike repair stations along the trail in case you get a flat or need a little more air in your tires. This rail trail has an asphalt surface and is also suitable for inline skating, walking, and using a wheelchair.
Good to Know: Trail endpoints are Tillman Street and the old Cordova Railroad Station. This path will allow you to see views of the public art on the Hampline as well.
What Is It? Stax Museum of American Soul Music celebrates the lives and hits of musicians who recorded in the legendary Stax Records studio.
Why Do It? Inside you’ll find over 2,000 artifacts, films, exhibits, galleries, and more. There are lots of unique pieces of memorabilia and even a dance floor where you can try out a few of your own moves.
Good to Know: There are lots of unique pieces of memorabilia and even a dance floor where you can try out a few of your own moves.
What Is It? Shelby Farms Park encompasses 4,500 acres of green space and the Greenline trail we previously mentioned.
Why Do It? Come here to experience the Woodland Discovery Playground, off-leash dog park, fishing lakes, equestrian stables, buffalo range, and picnic areas.
Good to Know: It might surprise some visitors to learn that it is actually larger than New York City’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.