Memphis has something for everybody. If you are visiting for the first time, there are the must-see attractions from Elvis Presley's home to the mighty Mississippi River. If you've explored Memphis before, there are new attractions popping up all the time, so there are plenty of things to do in the home of rock 'n' roll—and some of them are even free!
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. Or the Big River Crossing, 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. It is the home of Blues music, 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. Every venue is more interesting than the next. At Silky O' Sullivan's there are live goats. At B.B. King's Blues Club, there are people dancing at all hours of the night.
You don't even need to enter a bar to have fun. The street is closed to 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. You'll also want 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.
Cost: $15 adults/$14 students and seniors/$12 kids
The Peabody Ducks are one of Memphis' most unusual and best-known attractions. 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. This may sound strange, but it has been a Memphis tradition since 1932.
In addition to cheering them along on their journey, you can also visit the ducks' rooftop palace (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.
Memphis is a city famous for its melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. Perhaps the most famous barbecue restaurant in town is the Rendezvous. 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 bolgona, spaghetti, or deep-fried bbq cornish game hens. Don't miss Central BBQ, where the chefs slow roast their meat Memphis style, or the Bar-B-Q Shop known for offering an array of tasty sauces and seasoning.
Cost: Varies, but you can get a good bbq sandwich and side for about $10.
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. Do 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? Before the game visit Rockey's Kid Zone where you can mingle with Redbird players and mascots. There is a firework show every Saturday when there is a home game.
Cost: Tickets start at just $9 for "bluff" (think grassy knoll, bring-a-blanket seating)
AddressSun Studio, Memphis, TN 38103, USA
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 is plenty of opportunities for a visit. You can 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 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.
Cost: $14 adults/free for kids age 5-1/kids under 5 not permitted. There is a $2 discount for students, military, and AAA.
The Memphis Zoo has been one of the city's most popular attractions for 100 years. Its numerous and impressive renovations over the last several years have made the zoo better than ever; in fact, it was named by TripAdvisor as the top zoo in the United States. The zoo now houses more than 3,000 animals on its 70 acres, including lions, bears, elephants, and penguins. It is one of the only four zoos in the United States that has pandas on loan from China. In 2016 the Zambezi River Hippo Camp opened. There you can see 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.
Cost: $15 adults/$14 seniors/$10 children
Parking is $5 in the Zoo lot. Street parking is available in the surrounding area.
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 and 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.
Cost (includes exhibits and the Planetarium): $17.75 adults/$16.25 senior/$11.25 child
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, there is no doubt that a visit to Graceland is a must while in Memphis.
In 2017 Priscilla Presley, Elvis Presley's daughter, 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 diner or to see a free Elvis moving screening in the cinema.
Cost: Graceland: $38.75 adults/$34.90 seniors, students, youth/$17 children ages 7 to 12. A friend peanut butter and banana sandwich costs $4.49.
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 friends and 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.
Cost: The lookout is $10 for adults. Kids can ride for $5 until 4 p.m. There is no entry cost to the store.
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. There is something for everyone. Kids will love the Woodland Discovery Playground, an area designed by kids for kids with six areas to climb, explore, jump, dig, splash, and play. Adults should head to The Kitchen Bistro where they can play corn hole or savor a glass of wine while watching the sunset. The park offers thrilling zip lines, scenic horseback rides, and kayaking trips through fish-filled ponds. Don't miss the bison; this endangered herd makes its home in the park.
Cost: It's free to enter the park. Costs for activities vary but many are under $20.
Smell the Flowers at Memphis Botanic Garden
The Memphis Botanic Garden is a 96-acre oasis in the heart of Memphis. There are 31 specialty gardens dedicated to roses, daffodils, butterflies, and herbs to name a few. 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; Don't miss the stations to buy fish food for the Koi, a species of carp valued in Japan. The entire family will love My Big Backyard where children can climb on swings and play music on outdoor sculptures.
Cost: $10 adults/$8 seniors/$5 children 12 to 2/Free for children under 2.
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. 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. For a snack head into Java Cabana, a retro coffee shop lined with vintage posters. Check their schedule for live music and poetry readings.
Cost: Free to walk around the neighborhood.
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 along it: the Wolf River Greenway. Since 2007 The Greenway has been built and opened in phases and takes bike riders through protected forests and wetlands. Signs point out places where you might see rare birds or reptiles. Benches are perfectly placed for taking rests at scenic spots.
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.
Cost: A cruiser bike rental costs $13 for an hour, $18 for two, and $28 for four.
Sample Memphis Made Beer at Craft Breweries
Memphis has a growing craft beer scene. New breweries are popping up every year with vibrant tap rooms where you can try the beer and mingle with locals. Some have food; others recruit food trucks to provide tasty snacks. Most breweries are clustered into two neighborhoods making it easy to do a bar crawl or visit more than one.
Cheer for the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum
The FedEx Forum, home to NBA team Memphis Grizzlies, is one of the top arenas in the country. It 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 hosts concerts, hockey exhibitions, and more. Check the schedule here.
The FedEx Forum is in the heart of downtown so after cheering for "The Griz" head to Beale Street to toast a win (or at least a valiant attempt.)
Cost: You can buy a ticket for as little as $6
Master Music History at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum
In the home of rock 'n' roll, this museum tells the story of how one city became the heart of America's music industry. It opened in 2000 as the first permanent Smithsonian Museum outside of Washington D.C. and New York. And it's located on a prime spot on Beale Street.
The exhibits tell the store 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. Rent an audio guide. Not only will you hear gripping stories from the friends and family members of musical greats; you also get to hear rare and early versions of their songs.
Cost: $12.50 adults, $9.50 kids 5 to 17; free for kids under four.
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 it's gilded gold ceiling, it's red velvet curtain, and a Wurlitzer organ, it dazzled every patron who walked through the door.
Now the Orpheum has undergone a $15 million renovation to restore it's 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, even family friendly events. Check the schedule here.
Cost: Tickets vary depending on the performance, but you can see most shows for under $50
Listen to Live Music at Lafayette's Music Room
In 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, Barry Manilow, they 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 make reservations here. Note: Some nights require show tickets for entry.
This article was updated October 2018 by Alyson Krueger