Some of the best things to do in Memphis are centred on music, specifically blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll.  Located along on the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee, the city has plenty of music-dedicated museums, such as Sun Studio, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Blues Hall of Fame. Be sure to make a trip to Graceland, where you can visit Elvis Presley’s mansion and grave.

    There are also plenty of family-friendly sites in and around Memphis, including a 4,500-acre park with cycling and horse trails, an open-air amphitheatre, and even a shopping mall shaped like a pyramid. Foodies can enjoy delectable barbecues at hundreds of restaurants around Memphis. If you plan your holiday around May, you’ll be able to experience the locals’ love for this regional speciality at the world’s largest pork barbecue contest.

    What are the best things to do in Memphis?



    Explore dozens of exhibitions dedicated to Elvis Presley

    • History
    • Photo

    Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, displays the iconic musician’s record collection, accolades, and personal items. The estate is around 9 miles south of downtown Memphis but attracts thousands of visitors looking to learn more about the rock ‘n’ roll artist. You’re provided with an iPad and headphones to guide you through Graceland’s many rooms on the tour, including the famous Jungle Room.

    It’s a good idea to plan your visit in the early morning as it can get very crowded later in the day. The estate is busiest during Memphis’ Elvis Week festival, which usually takes place in August. If you’re feeling peckish, check out Elvis Presley's Memphis – this 200,000-sq-ft entertainment complex has plenty of bars and restaurants, as well as gift shops selling Elvis Presley memorabilia.

    Location: Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 901-332-3322


    Stax Museum of American Soul Music

    Watch a live show by students of Stax Music Academy

    • History

    Stax Museum of American Soul Music showcases Memphis’ roots in soul music, paying tribute to local legends such as Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Occupying the site of Stax Records Studio, the museum displays stage costumes, musical instruments, vintage recording equipment, and interactive exhibits – there’s even an Express Yourself dancefloor, where you can show off your moves with vintage episodes of Soul Train playing on floor-to-ceiling screens.

    One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is the Wall of Sound gallery, which has floor-to-ceiling cases containing records and singles dating back from between 1957 and 1975. Stax Museum of American Soul Music often hosts live music events by young and aspiring students of Stax Music Academy, along with panel discussions and community outreach programmes.

    Location: 926 E McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN 38126, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 901-261-6338


    photo by Victor Chapa (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Shelby Farms Park

    Enjoy a day of cycling, horse-riding and boating

    • Budget
    • Couples
    • Families
    • Photo
    • Group

    Shelby Farms Park is 4,500 acres of greenery, with 20 lakes and miles of paved and rough trails. It’s right in downtown Memphis, attracting families and those looking to enjoy a day out in the sun. The lakes are excellent for fishing, kayaking and boating – you can rent 2- or 4-seater paddleboats at the Pine Lake Boat House, while canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available at the Hyde Lake Boat House.

    If you want more adventure, Go Ape is an obstacle course bordering Pine Lake in Shelby Farms Park. It’s divided into 6 sections with around 40 challenges such as rope ladders, net bridges, Tarzan swings and 6 zip lines. Younger kids might enjoy Shelby Farms Park’s play areas, called the Woodland Discovery Playground and Water Play Sprayground.

    Location: 6903 Great View Dr N, Memphis, TN 38134, USA

    Open: Daily from 6.30 am to 7.30 pm

    Phone: +1 901-222-7275


    photo by Noel Pennington (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Memphis Pyramid

    Enjoy views of Memphis and the Mississippi River from the observation deck

    • Shoppers
    • Food
    • Photo

    Memphis Pyramid is a 300-ft-tall complex that houses a sports retail megastore, a hotel, several dining options, an observation deck, and an in-store swamp displaying Tennessee’s wildlife. It’s impressive enough on the outside, with multi-coloured LED lights illuminating the structure every night.

    Inside, the Cyprus Swamp has pools containing alligators and over 36 types of fish. The Live Duck Aviary has 4 habitats for several duck species, including the wood duck mallards, and pintails. For panoramic views of Memphis and the Mississippi River, you can take a free-standing elevator – the tallest in the USA – to Lookout at The Pyramid, an open-air observation deck on the 32nd floor.

    Location: 1 Bass Pro Dr, Memphis, TN 38105, USA


    Crosstown Concourse

    Try Memphis-style barbecue with craft beers

    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Crosstown Concourse is a community-focused complex in Memphis’ Concourse Avenue. You’ll find dozens of local businesses ranging from food and drinks to arts and healthcare. Over a dozen restaurants and bars are found throughout the building – enjoy beers at Crosstown Brewing Company, classic American fare at Next Door or Farm Burger, and a wide range of international dishes at Global Café.

    Crosstown Concourse regularly hosts free events at its many indoor and outdoor spaces. Expect live music performances, art displays, talks, and classes. Crosstown GetDown is a free hour-long dance class that’s followed by a dance party, which takes place every 2nd Thursday of the month.

    Location: 1350 Concourse Ave, Memphis, TN 38104, USA

    Phone: +1 901-203-8300


    photo by Paul Sableman (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Levitt Shell

    Check out live music concerts at this amphitheatre

    • Nightlife
    • Budget
    • Couples
    • Families
    • Group

    Levitt Shell is an open-air amphitheatre in Overton Park, hosting more than 50 free concerts every year. It’s also historically significant, as this is where Elvis Presley performed his first paid concert back in 1954.

    The amphitheatre has lawn seating available on a first-come-first-served basis, as well as bench seats that are reserved for the physically challenged. Be sure to bring a blanket or chair if you’re planning a visit to Levitt Shell. You can find food trucks at the Shell Eats community area, while drinks are available at the Levitt Shell Bar. You can bring your own food if you’re catching the Orion Free Music Concert Series.

    Location: Overton Park, 1928 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38104, USA

    Open: Hours vary by show

    Phone: +1 901-272-2722


    photo by Debby white (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Sun Studio

    Where Elvis Presley got his start

    • History
    • Photo

    Sun Studio is a recording studio that was founded in 1950 by Sam Philips. It has launched the careers of many music icons, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. There's a lot of memorabilia on display, including a microphone used by Presley and outtakes from recording sessions.

    Sun Studio continues to serve as a recording studio for many contemporary artists, such as Def Leppard, Tom Petty, and U2. You can join a 45-minute guided tour (every 30 minutes from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm) to learn about the studio and Memphis’ music industry.

    Location: 706 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6.15 pm

    Phone: +1 800-441-6249


    photo by Mr. Littlehand (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Overton Park

    Go for a hike in the Old Forest State Natural Area

    • Budget
    • Couples
    • Families

    Overton Park in Midtown Memphis offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities within its 342-acre space. Locals often come here for family picnics, hikes, sports, and bicycle rides. The park also has several historical landmarks, such as the Veterans Plaza and the Brooks Museum. Don't forget to check out Levitt Shell, an open-air amphitheatre that hosts free concerts regularly.

    The Old Forest State Natural Area has a 1.4-mile limestone running trail, 4 miles of dirt paths, and a paved trail that's just over a mile long. Those with dogs can check out the Overton Bark, a 1.3-acre enclosed dog park bordering the Old Forest and the Rainbow Lake Playground.

    Location: 1914 Poplar Ave #202, Memphis, TN 38104, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +1 901-214-5450


    photo by Noel Pennington (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Broad Avenue Arts District

    Shops and craft beers in downtown Memphis

    • Nightlife
    • Budget

    The Broad Avenue Arts District in downtown Memphis has over 70 locally-owned shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars. Many of these eateries have quirky murals and art installations, making them excellent backdrops for your travel photos.

    Start your day with a cold brew or seasonal drink at City & State, one of the first 3rd-wave cafés in the city. If you fancy unique brews, Wiseacre Brewery & Taproom has around 10 beers on tap and by the bottle. The Broad Avenue Arts District is also one of the city’s most popular shopping areas – you’ll find dozens of boutiques, art galleries, and creative studios by local artists.

    Location: Broad Ave, Memphis, TN 38112, USA


    Memphis juke joints

    Drink and dance to classic blues in Memphis

    • Nightlife

    Head to a juke joint for a classic night out in Memphis, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. Many of these venues offer live bands on weekends, while a jukebox plays classics for the rest of the time. There are several places in downtown Memphis to experience the juke joint life – must-visits include Wild Bill’s, the reputedly haunted Earnestine & Hazel’s, and Blues Hall.

    It’s a good idea to bring cash to a Memphis juke joint – you’ll need a couple of coins to operate the jukebox, after all. Almost every juke joint serves only pub grub and beers, though some allow you to bring in hard liquor for a small fee.

    photo by Carol VanHook (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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