48 Hours in Memphis: The Ultimate Itinerary

USA, Tennessee, Beale Street at twilight
Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images

Welcome to Memphis, where live music flows fast, and the barbecue is renowned the world over. But there's more to the city than eating your weight's worth in pork ribs and jamming to rock 'n' roll and blues—although we're totally for that, too. The city has a dynamic past, having kick-started the careers of music legends like Elvis Presley and Isaac Hayes and playing a monumental role in the Civil Rights Movement.

To help you plan your next trip to the Home of the Blues, we've come up with an itinerary that gives you a taste of the city's culture and history. From where to find the best barbecue in the city (spoiler alert: there isn't one) to must-do studio tours, here's how to make the most of two days in Memphis.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Central Station Hotel Lobby

Jamie Harmon

10: a.m.: After landing at Memphis International Airport, make your way over to your hotel to drop off your bags. If there's one thing Memphis is known for, it's music. Get in touch with the city's claim to fame by booking a stay at the Central Station Hotel, located in a 105-year-old—and still operating—train station in the South Main district. Opened in the fall of 2019, the hotel broadcasts a curated playlist of tunes throughout the space and houses a sizable selection of vinyl in a private lounge designed for audiophiles. And come nighttime, there's a live DJ to keep the tunes flowing after a stroll down Beale Street.

11 a.m.: Once you've checked in or stored your bags, it's time to eat. Of course, no trip to the city is complete without sampling Memphis-style barbecue. Slow-smoked, dry, and smothered in a sweet sauce, the barbecue here is unbelievably delicious. There’s a lot of debate about where to find the best in the city; some swear by Cozy Corner, while others will point you to Central BBQ (their pork ribs truly are out-of-this-world). But locals will tell you that you must try the barbecue spaghetti. Head to Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Que for a plate.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Sun Studio

Brand USA

1 p.m.: When you're feeling properly stuffed, journey over to Soulsville USA, the birthplace of soul music. The Stax Museum, located at the original site of Stax Records, pays tribute to the iconic record label and its legendary artists: Otis Redding, Booker T. and The MGs, Carla Thomas, and more. Dive into the history of soul music, walk through a replica of Stax's recording studio, and explore the museum's wealth of memorabilia: Tina Turner's sparkly yellow stage costume, the original Otis Redding record of "Respect," and Isaac Hayes' Cadillac—mini-refrigerator, TV, and 24-carat windshield wipers included.

3 p.m.: While Soulsville is the birthplace of soul music, Memphis is the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. Be sure to take a 45-minute guided tour of Sun Studio, a still-operating recording studio where the likes of B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley were discovered. You can stand in the studio where the King himself recorded the hit that launched him to fame—a cover of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right"—and sing into the same microphone that he and countless other rockstars have sung into. The last tour begins at 5:30 p.m.; adult tickets are $15 each.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Sunset on Beale Street

Joshua Brown

7 p.m.: For an intimate or celebratory dinner, book a table at Bishop, located in Central Station. The brasserie-style eatery serves up French cuisine with a southern flair, such as escargots topped with country ham and bone marrow popovers. Order a few small plates to share with the table, or go heartier by opting for the lamb shank or hollandaise-topped flounder. For burgers and beer, head next door to Earnestine & Hazel's. They might only serve one type of burger—your typical patty topped with cheese, onions, and pickles—but they do it right. The space is said to be one of the most haunted spots in the U.S. (the jukebox is allegedly possessed), so come at your own risk. If you're not particularly in the mood to get spooked, head to Loflin Yard. They offer Southern-style sandwiches and smaller-sized portions of brisket tacos, smoked wings, and spicy tenders—all of which pair perfectly well with a cocktail or two. This indoor/outdoor locale boasts live music, events like trivia and bingo, ax throwing, lawn games, and more.

9 p.m.: It's no secret that Beale Street is the go-to spot for musical entertainment in the city; you can find live music—in genres like classic rock 'n' roll, blues, and jazz—at pretty much any bar or club here. Learn what the hype is all about and get a taste of that famous Tennessee whiskey. The original location of national chain B. B. King's Blues Club is right here and one to add to your bar-hopping itinerary. In the mood for something a bit quieter? Head to the Absinthe Room for cocktails, jukebox tunes, and games like pool and shuffleboard.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Roadside sign of Graceland
Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Getty Images

8 a.m.: If you stayed out late, we wouldn't blame you if you wanted to sleep in and recharge. But, if you're the kind of traveler who likes to get up and go, consider eating breakfast right across the street at the city's oldest restaurant (and one that Elvis used to frequent). Opened in 1919, Arcade Restaurant is a '50s-style diner that serves all the classics, including French toast, omelets, country fried steak, and sweet potato pancakes. You're in for a busy day, so fuel up with a hearty meal and a cup of coffee or tea.

10 a.m.: Just seven miles (about a 15-minute drive) from downtown is the place that Elvis called home: Graceland. Whimsical and more-often-than-not flamboyant, the second most-visited house in the U.S. cost just $102,500 when the King bought it in 1957. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan, it's worth a look to see the infamous Jungle Room with its flood of plastic plants and animal prints, waterfall, and green shag carpet on the floor and ceiling. You can take a peek inside his private jets for a few extra bucks or sign up for the Elvis Experience tour to get a glimpse at his iconic Pink Cadillac and flashy jumpsuits right up close. Tickets start at $42.50.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

National Civil Rights Museum

Andrea Zucker 

1 p.m.: Graceland offers hungry patrons a couple of different dining options (we certainly wouldn't say no to a peanut butter and banana sandwich), but if you're ready to head back downtown, check out local favorite Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. A Memphis tradition, they're a go-to for hot and spicy fried chicken. Order baked beans and mac and cheese on the side, and, if you're feeling really hungry, a slice of chess pie.

2 p.m.: One of the most important museums you will ever see in your lifetime, the National Civil Rights Museum is just a few blocks away. It's centered in and around the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Through interactive media, artifacts, and exhibits, the Lorraine Building gives visitors a comprehensive—and sobering—overview of the civil rights movement, beginning with slavery in America and ending at rooms 306 and 307, where Dr. King spent the last few hours of his life. The story continues across the street at the Legacy Building, the former boarding house of James Earl Ray; here, you can learn about his arrest, trial, and conviction, as well as conspiracy theories and human rights movements across the globe.

5 p.m.: For a pre-dinner nibble, make a pit stop at Phillip Ashley Chocolates. A real-life Willy Wonka, Chef Ashley's gourmet sweets have delighted the likes of celebrities at Grammys and Academy Awards after-parties with their delectable taste and artful design. The chocolatier constantly comes up with unique flavors (like white French blue cheese and all dark chocolate with pomegranate, cherry, and molasses) that will make your mouth water. They are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Restaurant Iris

Courtesy of Restaurant Iris 

6 p.m.: It's your last night in the city, so don't be afraid to go all out with a fancy meal at Restaurant Iris. Housed in a bungalow in East Parkway, this fine dining establishment features French-Creole cuisine with menu items like wild mushroom cannelloni and duck confit carbonara. The cocktail menu is exquisite, as is the extensive wine and spirits list. Get some molasses bread with house-made butter to split with the table, and you're in for a treat.

8 p.m.: Round out your trip with live music at Lafayette's Restaurant and Bar, which claims to have launched the careers of legends like Bill Joel and KISS. They host both local and touring musicians, with a focus on rock, jazz, and blues. Check out the website to see the scheduled lineup of events.

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