Want to delve into the delights of America’s “Blues City”? Make some time to explore Downtown Memphis, Tennessee! The city’s central district is a whirlwind of historic architecture, epic live music, and top-rated dining.
With just a few hours in Downtown Memphis, you can perfect your musical knowledge at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. After your adventures on Beale Street, you can catch a show at the Orpheum Theatre or relax in Mississippi River Park. Don’t forget to take your Memphis history lesson at the National Civil Rights Museum and The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange.
With so much excitement on offer, where do you even start? Create the perfect itinerary with this guide to Downtown Memphis, including what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay!
What to see & do in Downtown Memphis
Beale Street Entertainment District
Start your Downtown Memphis adventure in the “home of the blues.” The lively Beale Street Entertainment District covers three blocks, including the famous Beale Street. It’s packed with musical heritage and has some of the best entertainment and dining in the city.
You can’t come to Memphis and not learn more about its legendary music scene. Meet the greats at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the W.C. Handy Museum. But in the Beale Street Entertainment District, you’re constantly running into musical history at every turn. Say “hi!” to the Elvis Statue and W.C. Handy Statue on your way out!
Or stay a while and delve into Beale Street Entertainment District’s vibrant nightlife. You’re guaranteed an epic night with street performers, live music, and nightlife pouring out of every building. With many of the area’s top eateries hosting live performers every night, you don’t have to miss out on the blues while you refuel.
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum should be an important stop on anyone’s Memphis itinerary. The museum is built upon the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Today, this museum in the South Main District has expanded into a large museum complex that’ll take you on a whirlwind ride through the USA’s turbulent Civil Rights Movement.
Immersive exhibits at the National Civil Rights Museum will give you a fascinating and disturbing look at the journey to equal rights. Across the museum, there are 260 artifacts, 40 films, oral histories, and interactive media to bring the stories to life.
As well as famous faces like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you’ll also learn more about the unsung heroes of the Freedom Trains, the Selma voting rights campaign, and the Mississippi Summer Project. You can also head to Room 306, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his last day alive.
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Want to learn more about the birth of rock and soul music? Visit the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum to discover the rich tapestries of cultures in one of music’s most popular genres. You’ll learn about the pioneers who fought against adversity and prejudice in pursuit of their love of music.
One of the coolest places to visit in Memphis, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum takes no shortcuts. You’ll get the full story on the Memphis musical scene, connecting all musical styles and influences, from the political impact of the Civil Rights Movement to how music shaped our national identity.
Learn how the migration of African Americans from the South to the North changed the sounds you hear today. You’ll also find out about Sun Records, who launched the careers of legends like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
Interactive exhibits and rare artifacts make this a fun experience for any music lover. Admire the original lyrics to Heartbreak Hotel and Ike Turner’s first piano.
Located on South Main Street, the Orpheum Theatre is an iconic Memphis landmark. Whether you want to catch a Broadway show or admire the ornate architecture, this grand theatre is one of the coolest things to see in Downtown Memphis.
You can’t help but feel like a millionaire as you step into this opulent 1928 building. Its fixtures are a lavish mix of plush red fabric and sparkling gold. Glide up the double staircase under the twinkle of the cascading chandeliers.
As you take a seat in the gilded auditorium, you’re in for a cultural delight. The Orpheum Theatre hosts a fantastic variety of performances. It’s been the long-standing home of touring Broadway productions in the Mid-South, and Ballet Memphis is a regular feature in their box office. The theater also hosts regular community events like the International Blues Challenge and classic film screenings.
Mississippi River Park
If you need a break from the buzz of Downtown Memphis, take a breather in Mississippi River Park. The popular Memphis park is packed with nature, green spaces, and—you guessed it!—the Mississippi River. There are also lots of signs where you can stop to read about the habitats living in the park and find small pieces of Memphis history.
Mississippi River Park is the ultimate place to chill out in the heart of the city. Lay down under the shade of a tree on the lush green grass, kick back with a book in a hammock, or grab a coffee and sit by the pavilion.
There’s always something happening at Mississippi River Park, from yoga and dance classes to running groups. It’s a beautiful place to be during the festive season when the trees and surroundings are illuminated by twinkling lights. Grab a selfie with the Memphis Sign, and then sit on the riverbank and watch the golden sunset.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame
It’s incredible how many icons were born out of Memphis’ music scene. Make sure you show your appreciation with a trip to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. At one of Memphis’s must-visit museums, you’ll get up close and personal with musical greats across the worlds of rock, blues, gospel, soul, jazz, and R&B. They’ve inducted 48 members so far, and the criteria are (as you might imagine) super high.
The Memphis Music Hall of Fame is packed with artifacts that witnessed some of music’s most incredible moments. The collection includes Elvis’ 1968 briefcase phone, outfits from Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 tour, and Jim Dickinson’s Stax Baby Grand piano.
You’ll get to look at greats who shaped the music you hear today, from Johnny Cash to Al Green. Then, head to the interactive kiosk and meet them for yourself! The digital display will tell you all about their lives and play some of their most famous music.
Blues Hall of Fame Museum
If the blues is what gets you grooving, check out the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. The museum was started in 1980 to celebrate artists who had a big impact on the genre. It didn’t become a physical museum until 2015, but now has over 400 inductees and is one of the most vibrant experiences in Downtown Memphis.
Learn all about the history and culture of blues through 10 different galleries with interactive displays. You’ll delve into the stories of famous artists like B.B. King, W.C. Handy, and Koko Taylor. Using the Blues Hall of Fame Museum’s master database, you can listen to their top tracks and watch videos of their performances.
There’s also a heap of rare memorabilia to get through, including rare album covers, old photographs, instruments, and costumes. See if you can find Donald “Duck” Dunn’s Lakland Electric Bass and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Performance Kimono.
The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange
There was a time when cotton was king in Memphis. You can find out all about the city’s cotton heritage at The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Today, cotton is just a common fabric, but once upon a time, the cotton industry shaped everything from music to global trade.
The Memphis Cotton Exchange was built in 1922. It was once a hive of activity where farmers, traders, and textile manufacturers made their fortune. The sparkling Beaux-Arts building has kept lots of its original charm, with towering ceilings and elegant arched windows.
The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange will make you realize cotton trading is way more complicated than you thought. Watch fascinating footage from cotton plantations and listen to first-hand accounts of what it was like working on the exchange floor. Stop to admire the huge chalkboard stretching above the museum documenting price agreements from different parties.
Where to eat & drink
Downtown Memphis’ food scene is a haven of succulent meats and classic soul food. Casual-looking exteriors hide some of the best food you’ll ever taste in your life. But don’t worry: The upscale venues are just as good if you’re feeling fancy. If you want to continue your night, you won’t be short of options. Get stuck into the live music scene on Beale Street or relax in the many breweries and wine bars.
If you love meat, you’ll love Central BBQ. The restaurant uses hickory and pecan woods, and a special dry rub to create mouth-watering meat that falls straight off the bone. The vibe is casual, and the messier you get, the better!
Sink your teeth into award-winning Tennessee food at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. This low-key joint serves up the tastiest southern spicy fried chicken in town—and perhaps even the world!
The Blue Monkey is a trendy hangout styled after a European tavern. Hang out in the cozy wood interior or out on the sunny terrace while you tuck into classic American plates.
Get a unique Tennessee dining experience at The Majestic Grille. This trendy spot is in a glamorous 1913 building and serves great steak.
Get your beer fix at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. The craft beer bar has over 200 global beers, long happy hours, and live sports on TV.
If wine and cocktails are more your jam, head to Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar. This intimate fine-dining restaurant offers flights of everything from champagne to cabernet sauvignon.
For live music, check out Rum Boogie Café. With a ceiling of signed guitars and super strong drinks, you’re guaranteed to have a good night.
Or head to B.B. King’s Blues Club, an iconic Memphis institution. The bar has been located on Beale Street since the 90s, showcasing the top talents in soul, blues, and rock & roll. (Along with some mouthwatering Southern bites!)
Where to stay
As the heart of the city, Downtown is one of the most popular neighborhoods to stay in Memphis, TN. This central area is home to many of the city’s top accommodation options, from cool boutique hotels to its finest luxury properties.
This boutique hotel is a super cool base for your stay in Memphis. It’s packed with cool and quirky décor and is just steps away from top Downtown sights. The super cute café and bakery is a fantastic place to fuel up for the day, and you can spend your evenings hanging out at the shuffleboard bar.
This stylish hotel occupies a converted 1914 rail hub. It’s a melting pot of eras, from the brash neon signs to the sleek contemporary furniture. If you’re into music, this is the hotel for you, with a resident DJ and a record wall with 3,500 vinyls.
This trendy hotel is just a few blocks away from Beale Street and the Mississippi River. Relax in your spacious room with modern décor and lots of fun pops of color. Work up and appetite in the gym, then delve into a huge dinner in the Italian American tavern.
This top hotel sits across the road from Autozone Park. Sleek rooms give you ultimate privacy, and the indoor pool gives you time and space to unwind from your day in the city. Their fun bar is in a former Greyhound bus station and has a sunny patio for your afternoon gin cocktail.
This cool luxury hotel is one of the most unique places to stay in Memphis. Opened in 1869, the Peabody has the grandest dining options in town, daily social events, rejuvenating spa treatments, and a resident family of mallard ducks. Despite the grand historic common spaces, the rooms have had a serene, modern update.