Memphis has something for everybody. If you are visiting for the first time, there are the must-see attractions like Elvis Presley's home and the mighty Mississippi River, and if you've explored Memphis before, there are new attractions popping up all the time. No matter what your interests, age, or budget, there are plenty of things to do in the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the Home of the Blues. Keep in mind the best time to visit is usually from April to June.
The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America. It serves as Memphis' western border and is the reason why Memphis is known as "The River City" and "Bluff City." The banks of the Mississippi provide nearly five miles of parks, which are perfect for outdoor recreation. In addition, riverboat cruises, canoe rentals, and other water activities are available.
Don't miss Mud Island, a park along the river where you can walk along a scale model of the lower Mississippi River, even getting your feet in the water at some of the wider parts. The Big River Crossing is a new bridge that allows people to walk or bike across the Mississippi River for the first time in history.
Beale Street is perhaps the most famous street in Memphis—the home of Blues music and the place legends like B.B. King made their mark. There are more than 25 bars and clubs that carry on the rock, soul, and blues music traditions, and each venue is more interesting than the last. For instance, at Silky O' Sullivan's, there are live goats, and at B.B. King's Blues Club, people dance at all hours of the night.
You don't even need to enter a bar to have fun. Beale Street is closed to vehicular traffic, and pedestrians can walk down it (with a drink in hand, legally!) to watch street performers, browse quirky shops, and take in the neon lights. Don't forget to stop by Handy Park to listen to the free alfresco music.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a one-of-a-kind facility that showcases the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The museum is housed in the renovated Lorraine Motel, which is the very hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. It is the unique focus of this museum that attracts thousands of visitors every year from all over the world.
In 2014 the museum reopened after a multimillion-dollar renovation. You can listen to the stories of Civil Rights activists, experience a sit-in demonstration, and visit a new exhibit on the continuing struggle for equality in America today. Plan at least two hours to see everything.
The Peabody Ducks are one of Memphis' most unusual and best-known attractions. This may sound strange, but it has been a Memphis tradition since 1932.
Each morning a parade of five ducks marches into the fountain in the Peabody Hotel's grand lobby to the sounds of John Philip Sousa's "King Cotton March." Each evening, the ceremony is reversed and the ducks return to their rooftop home. They march along a red carpet, and there is a duck master guiding them along their journey and into the elevator.
In addition to cheering them along on their journey, you can also visit the ducks' rooftop palace for free—which has stunning views of downtown Memphis and The Mississippi River. The luxury hotel also has a boutique that sells an assortment of adorable duck merchandise.
In business since 1948, the Rendezvous has been featured in novels, movies, and national news stories, but locals will tell you there are plenty of other places to get your ribs, pulled pork, bbq bologna, spaghetti, or deep-fried bbq cornish game hens.
Take in a Ball Game at AutoZone Park
AutoZone Park is the baseball stadium for the Memphis Redbirds, a AAA minor league team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. This state-of-the-art park is considered by many to be one of the finest ballparks in the nation.
Check out their schedule and decide which ticket is best for you. Whether you want a picnic on the lawn overlooking the Memphis Bluff or a fancy club seat with access to an air-conditioned atrium and specialty food vendors, there are plenty of options and price-points for tickets to a game at AutoZone Park.
Before the game, visit Rockey's Kid Zone where you can mingle with Redbird players and mascots. Also, there is a firework show every Saturday throughout the regular season when there is a home game.
Sun Studios was the recording home to many artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Ike Turner. Today it still functions as a recording studio but also as a tourist attraction for music lovers from all over the world.
Tours of this National Historic Landmark are given seven times each day, so there are plenty of opportunities for a visit. During the tour, stand in the same spot Presley recorded his music and even hear early renditions of his songs. You will be able to hold the records, guitars, and microphones of the greatest musicians of all time.
There is also free parking behind the building and a free shuttle once an hour to and from Graceland and the Rock 'n' Soul Museum on Beale Street.
The Memphis Zoo has been one of the city's most popular attractions for over 100 years. Having undergone numerous and impressive renovations over the early half of the 2010s, the Memphis Zoo is better than ever; in fact, it was named by TripAdvisor as the top zoo in the United States in 2018.
The zoo now houses more than 3,000 animals on its 70 acres including lions, bears, elephants, and penguins. It is also one of only four zoos in the United States that has pandas on loan from China. In 2016, the Zambezi River Hippo Camp opened where guests can visit hippopotamus, crocodiles, and other African animals.
Get acquainted with the animals before your trip by watching the zoo's animal cam. If you're lucky, you'll catch the pandas rolling around in piles of bamboo.
If you want a glimpse into Memphis history, the Pink Palace Museum is the place to go. It is one of the largest museums of its kind in the southeast and houses an impressive collection of exhibits designed to teach visitors about the cultural and natural history of Memphis and the Mid-South. The museum also offers a planetarium and four-story CTI Giant 3D theater.
The Pink Palace Museum is housed in a 1920s mansion built by Clarence Saunders, the Founder of Piggly Wiggly. In the summer of 2018, the mansion was re-opened after a full renovation. You can now meander around the home, built in pink Georgian marble, and up and down grand staircases from another era.
Without a doubt, Graceland is one of Memphis' most popular tourist attractions. Visitors to Graceland are given the opportunity to tour Elvis' mansion, visit his grave, and even view his collection of automobiles and airplanes. For fans of Elvis or even music in general, a visit to Graceland is a must while in Memphis.
Additionally, in 2017, Elvis' daughter Priscilla Presley opened The Guest House at Graceland on the Graceland estate. It's an Elvis-themed hotel, and guests can book a suite with a television screen on the ceiling just like the King had in his bedroom. Non-hotel guests should still stop by for a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich at the on-site diner or to see a free Elvis movie screening in the hotel cinema.
Take in Views From the Memphis Pyramid
The city of Memphis is named after Memphis, Egypt, so it only makes sense it has a gigantic pyramid. While the Memphis Pyramid was originally built as a 20,000-seat sports and concert arena, in 2015 it re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops Megastore.
Inside you can fish in a stocked stream, watch the feeding of live alligators, and bowl with your family. Take the world's tallest freestanding elevator 28-stories up to the lookout, an observation deck. There you can stand on the side of the Pyramid and see commanding views of the Mississippi River. While the store is free to explore, access to the lookout does require a fee.
Spend a Day in Nature at Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park is the largest municipal park in the United States; in fact, it is five times the size of New York's Central Park, and there is something for everyone to do here all year long.
Children will love the Woodland Discovery Playground, an area designed by kids for kids with six areas to climb, explore, jump, dig, splash, and play. The park also offers thrilling zip lines, scenic horseback rides, and kayaking trips through fish-filled ponds. Don't miss the bison, an endangered herd that makes its home in the park.
Smell the Flowers at Memphis Botanic Garden
The Memphis Botanic Garden is a 96-acre oasis in the heart of Memphis with 31 specialty gardens dedicated to roses, daffodils, butterflies, herbs, and other wildlife native and foreign to the region. In 2018, the urban demonstration garden opened to show visitors how communities compost, raise chickens, and cook outdoors.
The Japanese garden with a red bridge is a favorite amongst visitors, where guests can find stations to buy fish food for the Koi, a species of carp valued in Japan. Additionally, the entire family will love My Big Backyard, where children can climb on swings and play music on outdoor sculptures.
Shop the Boutiques at Cooper Young
In Memphis, Cooper Young has long been the neighborhood of the hip and cool; Johnny Cash performed his first show here, and filmmaker Robert Gordan called it home. Now it's an artsy district with quirky boutiques, high-end galleries, and specialty retailers.
Don't miss Burke's Book Store, which has sold used and antiquarian books since 1875. Hammer & Ale sells growlers of craft and seasonal beer, and for a snack, head into Java Cabana, a retro coffee shop lined with vintage posters. Check their schedule for live music and poetry readings.
Bike Through the Forest on the Greenway
The Wolf River runs through the city of Memphis, and now there is a way to ride a bike alongside it: the Wolf River Greenway. Since it first opened in 2007, The Greenway has been expanded and opened in phases, taking bike riders through protected forests and wetlands of the city. Throughout the Greenway, signs point out places where you might see rare birds or reptiles, and benches are perfectly placed for taking rests at scenic spots.
For a great day on the Greenway, start at the Greenline Bike Rentals in Shelby Farms Park, where you can rent your bike. Grab a trail map and make your way to Cheffie's Cafe, a build-your-own salad and sandwich place in a former garage on the path.
Sample Memphis Made Beer at Craft Breweries
Memphis has a growing craft beer scene, and new breweries are popping up every year with vibrant taprooms where you can try the beer and mingle with locals; some have in-house restaurants while others recruit food trucks to provide tasty snacks. Most breweries are clustered into two neighborhoods, though, making it easy to do a bar crawl or visit more than one.
In downtown Memphis, don't miss Ghost River, Memphis' original craft brewery with a spacious outdoor bar with lawn games like corn hole. Additionally, High Cotton has a funky, watering hole-type taproom of its own.
In midtown, one of the city's newest additions is Crosstown Brewing, where you can drink experimental brews in a spacious bar overlooking the equipment. One of the most recognizable craft beer names in the city is Memphis Made, a brewery known for making delicious beer, which also features a taproom in midtown.
Cheer for the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum
The FedEx Forum, home to the NBA team the Memphis Grizzlies, is one of the top arenas in the country. Located in downtown Memphis, the FedEx Forum covers 14 acres, has over 18,000 seats, and was the first stadium in the world to adopt "see through" shot clocks that allow spectators behind the basket to see the action without any interference.
The stadium also pays tribute to Memphis heritage with murals depicting Memphis stars including B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Justin Timberlake. When the Grizzlies aren't playing, the arena also hosts concerts, hockey exhibitions, and a variety of other events.
Master Music History at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum
In the home of rock 'n' roll, this museum on Beale Street tells the story of how one city became the heart of America's music industry. The Rock 'n' Soul Museum opened in 2000 as the first permanent Smithsonian Museum outside of Washington D.C. and New York.
The exhibits tell the story of how sharecroppers in the '30s who sang soul music on their porch paved the way for people like B.B. King and Elvis Presley to transform the world decades later. Visitors can rent an audio guide to tour the museum, which features gripping stories from the friends and family members of musical greats as well as rare and early versions of their songs.
Take in a Show at The Orpheum Theatre
In 1890, an opera house opened in the center of downtown Memphis, along the Mississippi River, that was hailed as the classiest theater outside of New York City. With its gilded gold ceiling, it's red velvet curtain, and a Wurlitzer organ, it dazzled every patron who walked through the door.
Now, the Orpheum Theatre has undergone a $15 million renovation to restore its original beauty, and it's once again a world-class performing arts hall. Every season, the theatre hosts Broadway musicals, comedy shows, film screenings, dance performances, and even family-friendly events.
Listen to Live Music at Lafayette's Music Room
During the 1970s, Lafayette's Music Room was the spot for up-and-coming touring artists. If they wanted to make it big, they had to play in this legendary Memphis establishment; Billy Joel, Leon Russell, and Barry Manilow all played here. Now, 38 years after the club shut its doors, it's back open and better than ever.
Seven nights a week the venue hosts live music from local rock 'n' roll groups to traveling jazz bands. It strives to find new talent, just like it did in the past. The restaurant serves what it calls "southern food with an attitude." Pimento cheese waffle fries and chicken and andouille sausage gumbo are a few favorites on the menu.
Check the music schedule and be sure to make reservations. Note: Some nights require show tickets for entry.