There is an abundance of free things to do in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Mid-South. You can see the Peabody Ducks parade across the hotel lobby, visit museums on free days, and even see the iconic gates of Graceland.
Get in Touch With Nature
The Wolf River Nature Area is another one of Memphis' lesser-known gems. The nature area is located on Wolf River Boulevard, just off of Germantown Road. It features tree-lined walking trails, nature stations such as Turtle Bayou, meadows, butterfly gardens, and information on wildlife conservation. The Wolf River Nature Area is usually fairly secluded and is a great place to exercise, to reflect, or to learn.
Each day at 11:00 a.m. a procession of mallard ducks makes its way from the roof of the Peabody Hotel down to the Grand Lobby. Once there, a red carpet is rolled out and John Philip Sousa's King Cotton March begins to play. The ducks then march into the ornate fountain in the center of the lobby. At 5:00 p.m., the ceremony is reversed when the ducks return to their rooftop home. Though this may sound like an odd ritual, it has been a marvelous Memphis tradition since the 1930s.
Elmwood Cemetery is Memphis' oldest active cemetery and is full of Memphis history. Its residents include Confederate and Union generals, mayors, governors, madams, outlaws, and spies and the stories that go with these historical characters is fascinating. The grounds of Elmwood are dotted with tombstones that are crumbling and moss-covered and tombstones that are examples of amazing gothic stone art—all great for photography.
Entry is free but if you want to spend a little bit of your travel budget, their audio tour which takes you past 60 stops is available for rent for $10 in the Cottage (on the left, as you enter the cemetery grounds). A map showing these points of interest can be purchased for $5.
The South Main Historic District in Downtown Memphis is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. Named one of Thrillist's Most Stylish Streets In America, the South Main Historic Arts District offers plenty to do for both visitors and locals.
Park your car so that you can walk through the district and stop in at its many boutiques, art galleries, and unique eateries. If you would rather not walk, there is a free trolley tour of the district on the last Friday of every month when the street festival sets up and the businesses are open late with live music, great shopping, restaurants specials, and more.
Most long-time Memphians have come to take the Mighty Mississippi for granted. But the river is magnificent and a great place to visit for a walk, a picnic, or just some relaxation. The grassy banks, bumpy cobblestones, and paved walkways of the riverside can accommodate a variety of activities. For a romantic outing, take a moonlit stroll.
Beale Street Landing is a six-acre section of the Memphis riverfront area (adjacent to Tom Lee Park) that includes walkways, riverboat docks, restaurants, a splash park, and public art. Another place to walk is over the bridge at the Harahan Bridge Big River Crossing project. Big River Crossing is the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River and connects downtown Memphis to Arkansas.
Memorial Park is located at 5668 Poplar Avenue in Memphis. Nestled within this neatly manicured cemetery is the Crystal Shrine Grotto, a man-made cave encrusted with real rock crystals. The grotto, or cave, contains three-dimensional scenes depicting the life of Jesus Christ. Visitors appreciate the amazing artwork in the grotto.
Peruse the Art
The Art Museum of The University of Memphis is one of the city's hidden cultural treasures. The museum features both permanent exhibits and revolving temporary exhibits. Some of the permanent collections include the Egyptian Antiquities collection, the Works on Paper Collection, and the African collection.
Get Wet on Mud Island
Mud Island is located at 125 North Front Street in downtown Memphis. The free area of the "river park" features a 1/2 mile model of the Mississippi River that empties into a wading pool replica of the Gulf of Mexico, complete with sprinklers for the kids to run through.
To make this a free trip, use the footbridge instead of the monorail to access the park and skip the museum. This is a great free destination for a hot day (don't forget the kids' swimsuits).
Visit Historic A. Schwab
A. Schwab is a dry goods store and soda fountain located at 163 Beale Street. The oldest surviving business on Beale, Schwab's has not changed much since it opened in 1876. Creaking hardwood floors and nickel candy are just part of its charm. An eclectic variety of goods such as voodoo accouterments, underwear, walking sticks, and souvenirs plus a museum upstairs, make A. Schwab's one of Memphis' best free destinations.
No, Graceland has not done away with its admission fees. However, one of the most popular parts of Graceland is, and will always be, free. That famous entrance adorned with musical notes and the outlines of Elvis is the destination of many fans. If you aren't interested in the mansion tour or don't want to pay the fees, just head down Elvis Presley Boulevard and have your picture taken in front of those renowned gates.
Several Memphis area attractions offer free admission on certain days of the week. Take advantage of these free days and visit major attractions such as The National Civil Rights Museum, a complex of museums which traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States back to the 17th century, the Memphis Zoo, home to more than 3,500 animals, and The Brooks Museum of Art, the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Tennessee.
Beale Street is the very heart of musical entertainment in Memphis and is full of music history. With more than 25 clubs and shops lining the street, it's a great place to walk and soak up the ambiance. You'll find a variety of classic music genres like blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, and gospel and the sounds spill out onto the street. As you're soaking up the vibe, stop and watch acts like the Beale Street Flippers who turn the street into a runway for aerial somersaults.