Graceland, the legendary home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee, is viewed by some as a solemn experience, while others are motivated by amusement or curiosity. Whatever your reason for visiting, no one can deny that a stopover is a unique experience that attracts people from around the world. Fortunately, a value-packed Graceland tour can be done with some advance planning.
Knowing what you'd like to see at Graceland can help you save money on tickets. Different tour packages cater to different visitors, from the history buff who's a casual Elvis admirer to the full-blown Elvis fanatic.
Basic admission (starting at $41) covers the Mansion Only Tour, which is audio-guided. The Elvis Experience Tour includes exhibits of his wardrobe, automobiles, gold records, and other features. An Elvis Entourage VIP ticket adds front-of-the-line admission privileges and access to the Elvis Presley's Memphis Entertainment Complex museums and exhibits. An airplanes tour can be added on to those three ticket options for an additional cost. The most extensive and pricey selection is the Ultimate VIP tour, which includes everything the other tours offer plus a meal voucher, access to the Ultimate Lounge, a Graceland archives session, and more.
Children under 6 are free on all tours except for the Ultimate VIP Tour, though that has no charge for kids under age 2. Although there's a small fee, online orders could spare you long waits in line, allowing you to pick up tickets at will-call and be ready for your Graceland experience.
A few tricks can help you save at Graceland, whether you are in Memphis just for Elvis or simply want to stop by and pay your respects.
If Graceland is your main focus, you might want to consider becoming a member, which can help you cut back on costs if you are a frequent visitor.
If you'd like to visit the graves of Elvis and his family, walk up to the Meditation Garden at Graceland for free between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. (except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). And you can always pull off Elvis Presley Boulevard and take a selfie outside the famous mansion.
Big Elvis fans will come here just for Graceland, but for most people, it is a half-day adventure at best. Regardless, look at some of the other attractions in the area and make your trip to the city memorable. One good stop is to Sun Records, where Elvis cut his first demo record. According to legend, they asked Elvis which artist he sounded like, and he answered: "I don't sound like nobody." Soon enough, they discovered a new sound that swept the nation at this unassuming Sun Studio at 706 Union Ave.
See more Memphis music highlights using the free hourly shuttle running daily on a first come first served basis. The shuttle travels between Graceland, Heartbreak Hotel across the street, Sun Studio, and Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. If you stay downtown, you can start out at Memphis Rock 'n' Soul and visit both Sun Studios and Graceland without spending on gas or parking.
Rock 'n' Soul also offers a discount on a Backstage Pass, which includes admissions to Graceland, Sun Studio, Stax Museum, and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum.
When to Visit
The peak time for visitors is the annual Elvis Week in early- to mid-August when there are scores of special events such as concerts, movie screenings, and an Elvis Expo (off-property in downtown Memphis) of memorabilia. Reservations during this time are highly recommended, as individual events sell out months in advance.
For less stress and more value, go on a weekday and avoid times when school is not in session. The two busiest times are the August "Elvis Week" and January 8, which was Elvis' birthday.
As you search for flights and Memphis hotel rooms, consider Graceland's location only 4 miles from Memphis International Airport (MEM). Although it's close to the airport, don't try to see the mansion on a layover. Traffic can be intense and waits at Graceland are often long. Security lines at MEM can become busy when travelers on business or holiday trips show up at the airport. Cabs are available to and from the airport.
Staying at The Guest House at Graceland is one option with discounts including admission to Graceland, seeing landmarks, and other Elvis-related events. Also, the Graceland RV Park and Campground is a less-expensive way to camp out within walking distance to Graceland and enjoy bike trails.
Hotels in the area around Graceland can be run-down or expensive. But the proximity to I-55 means you can reach a bargain room in another part of the city fairly quickly (unless it's rush hour). Some chain offerings are good values in the Bartlett area and just across the state line in Mississippi.
How Tours Work
The mansion and the visitor pavilion/parking complex sit on opposite sides of Elvis Presley Boulevard. Transportation across the street to the grounds and a headset enabling a self-guided tour of the property are included in the admission fee. The additional options available with the higher-priced tickets are on the pavilion-side of the boulevard: the jumpsuit, automobile, and airplane exhibits. You will be reminded at every turn that security cameras are watching you and that indoor flash photography is prohibited.
The second floor of the mansion is off-limits; these rooms were Elvis' private quarters.
This is not the most elegant nor largest mansion you will ever see. You may be struck by the relative simplicity of Elvis' life, given his status as a world celebrity. Check out the "Jungle Room," furnished with outlandish carpeting, furniture, and kitsch, and the simple swing set he set up for his daughter Lisa Marie in the backyard. Everything here was left largely the way it looked at the time of Elvis' death in 1977.
Hours of operation vary by season, with longer hours during the summer months. It's possible to rent sections of the facility for private parties, and some people even get married here.
Elsewhere in Memphis
Memphis is known for more than Graceland. If you are staying downtown and using the free shuttle between Graceland and other attractions, you can maximize your time and money and have some other worthwhile visits. Highly recommended: the National Civil Rights Museum, on the site of the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
A lesser-known but fascinating attraction is a five-block-long scale model of the lower Mississippi River at Mud Island River Park, which is connected to downtown by a sky bridge. Anyone with a love of travel or geography will enjoy this site.
Downtown Memphis is home to Beale Street, which bills itself as the "home of blues and the birthplace of rock n' roll" and has two blocks of places to enjoy Memphis barbecue or live music.