Visit Memphis in Style and on Budget

Graceland Mansion, Memphis, Tenn.

Mark Kahler

Welcome to Memphis

This is not really a story about what to see and do in Memphis. It is an attempt to get you around this city without destroying your budget. As with most major tourist areas, Memphis offers plenty of easy ways to pay top dollar for things that won't really enhance your experience. 

When to Visit

Spring offers dogwoods in bloom and relatively mild weather. The famed "Memphis in May" festivities attract large crowds and increased prices at times. Another popular time to visit in August, during Elvis Week. Concerts, movie screenings, and other special events bring Elvis fans to Graceland from all over the world.

Where to Eat

Aficionados constantly argue about which place in America serves the best barbecue, but Memphis is usually mentioned among the best. A few places to sample it without breaking the budget: Rendezvous, downtown on Second Street, is well-known but a bit touristy; Corky's, with multiple locations in Memphis and elsewhere, also gets good marks. Lesser-known but also very good is The Commissary in suburban Germantown. Looking for something other than barbecue? Check out additional links for food and drink in Memphis.

Where to Stay

There is a collection of moderately-priced hotels at the exits along I-55 just south of the state line in Mississippi. You'll face some traffic issues if you're heading to the heart of the city from those locations, so you might want to consider higher-priced downtown or midtown locations. Four-star hotel for less than $150/night: Homewood Suites in Germantown often comes in at about $120/night. There are some mid-priced options in suburban Bartlett and Cordova, too. Find a hotel in Memphis.

Getting Around

Most visitors arrive by car or rent one at the airport. I-240 rings the so-called "Midtown" area, connecting it with the airport to the south. I-40 takes a northern route into downtown. I-55 connects the Mississippi suburbs with Memphis. If you do take Memphis Area Transit Authority buses, you'll find the rates reasonable: you can buy a single fare on any bus. If you'll be in the city for a length of time, a pass can buy up to 21 bus rides.

The Home of Elvis Presley

Graceland ranks as one of the world's most-visited mansions. People come to see where legendary Elvis Presley lived, worked, and relaxed. Plan carefully for your trip. Admission begins at several price levels per adult. Pay more and earn more privileges, such as looks at Elvis' private planes and even V.I.P. treatment that includes skipping to the front of long lines.

Other Major Memphis Attractions

Plan to spend some time at the National Civil Rights Museum. This critical series of exhibits sits at the location of the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968. Nearby Beale Street once suffered from blight but has since been developed into an entertainment district that is a model of urban renewal. Come here to sample Memphis cuisine or listen to live music in a club. Music is a key to understanding Beale, which bills itself as the "home of blues and the birthplace of rock n' roll."

More Memphis Tips:

  • Visit Mud Island River Park: Take a tram or walk from the Riverfront. In summer, Mud Island is a pleasant place to cool off, and there's a fascinating scale replica of the lower Mississippi valley from Cairo, Ill. to New Orleans that's about five blocks long!
  • Order Graceland Tour Tickets Online: At some times of the year, lines can be very long. If you order Graceland admission tickets online, there is a small fee, but it could be well worth paying if it saves you from a long wait. Online orders are retrieved in shorter "Will Call" lines.
  • Visiting Sun Records: This small studio at 706 Union Avenue might not catch your attention at first, but this is the place where Elvis cut his first recording. The stories they tell are fascinating, but the prices are reasonable.
  • A Word About Crime: The vast majority of visitors never have any problems in Memphis. But as with all large cities, it pays to be aware of your surroundings and not venture off into unknown areas after dark. It's best to take taxis at night if you must walk more than a few blocks.
  • More Elvis and Nice Scenery: If you can't get enough Elvis in Memphis, drive to his boyhood home in Tupelo, Miss. You can view the house in which he was born and then pick up the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway.
  • Take a Soak: Within three hours of Memphis, you can visit Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Although Hot Springs peaked as an attraction many decades ago, it's an interesting historical site--and yes, there is a bathhouse where you can still soak in the springs water. Take I-40 west to Little Rock, then I-30 south to westbound U.S. 70. Visiting the exhibits is free. Baths vary in price according to the services you order.