Planning a trek through Tennessee? Whether you’re into music, history, culture, or art, you’ll find plenty to soak up in all the cool museums in Memphis, TN.
Bluff City is celebrated as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but there’s more to Memphis than its legacy as an American music icon. The city that declared “Cotton is King” in the 1830s has transformed itself into a vibrant metropolis, home to world-class cultural offerings. And Memphis’s museums are where you’ll discover them!
Explore Memphis’s dynamic history as a leader for social change at the National Civil Rights Museum. Marvel at a mecca of science, nature, and culture in the Memphis Museum of Science & History. Be dazzled by artworks and bucolic beauty at the historic Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Take a deep dive into the Memphis Sound at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum – then stroll down legendary Beale Street and soak up that sweet street vibe.
Ready for a soul-stirring adventure? Discover the River City’s unique history, art, and culture with this complete Memphis museums guide!
National Civil Rights Museum
The struggle for racial equality in America is centuries old – and Memphis is its epicenter. Set on Mulberry Street in the historic South Main neighborhood, the National Civil Rights Museum shines a bright light on both past and present movements for social change.
Featuring insightful photographs, films, and artifacts, the National Civil Rights Museum recounts the history of the American civil rights movement from the 16th century to the present day. Here, you’ll discover profiles of historic figures and compelling glimpses into history-making moments. Learn about key players and events, including the Freedom Riders and the Student Sit-Ins of the 1960s.
Take time to absorb this place. The museum’s setting is the former Lorraine Motel – ironically, listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book” as a safe haven for African American road trippers during the Jim Crow era.
Today, the National Civil Rights Museum marks the somber site of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 – just a day after Dr. King had delivered his legendary “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
Prepare to be moved!
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Ready to dig deep into the roots of the Memphis Sound? Dive in at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Created by the Smithsonian Institution, the museum started as a traveling exhibition and then settled into a permanent home at the foot of blues-blasting Beale Street in Downtown Memphis.
Want the inside scoop on the birth of rock ‘n’ soul? The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum reaches back to the rural music makers of the 1930s, tracing the history of musical pioneers and the rise of the legendary Sun Studio and Stax recording studio.
Take a self-guided audio tour to explore seven galleries that feature an array of exhibits devoted to gospel, the blues, soul music, and rock ‘n’ rollers, including Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Get fascinating insights into the Mississippi Delta’s history and the civil rights movement’s impact on the culture of blues music. Learn about how the genre’s pioneers faced racial barriers and how the Memphis Sound has shaped the global music scene.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Memphis has lived and breathed soul for generations – and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music tracks that legacy in a way that’s nothing less than captivating. For music fans, this is hallowed ground and one of Memphis’s coolest tourist destinations.
Take an exhilarating journey through a golden era as you track the city’s soulful roots at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. You’ll begin at the site of Soul’s birthplace: an authentic, circa-1906 Mississippi Delta church that has been lovingly preserved and reassembled inside the museum.
Years of history are brought to life with exhibits detailing Stax Records’ humble beginning in a tiny movie theater in 1959. For 15 years, this unassuming site was the musical home for legends like Otis Redding, Booker T., and Isaac Hayes.
You’ll discover history at every turn. Dive into interactive exhibits and revel in classic recordings from the label’s glory days. Marvel at the awesome “Wall of Sound,” lined from floor to ceiling with groundbreaking Stax albums and singles dating back to 1957.
Stand in a replica of the legendary Studio A, the place where it all happened. Sit behind the vintage mixing board, thrill to the sounds of treasured hits, and conjure up some amazing music magic.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
If you’re due for a dose of artistic beauty, you’ll get an invigorating infusion at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Located in the beautiful Overton Park neighborhood in Midtown, this is the oldest and largest art museum in Tennessee.
The visual treats begin before you enter the building. Striking outdoor exhibits feature a majestic fountain made of bronze, along with three magnificent marble sculptures depicting the four seasons. As you walk up the staircase on the west side, you’ll be greeted by a pride of sculptured lions.
Housed in a 1916 Beaux Arts-style National Landmark building, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art boasts 29 art galleries and over 10,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection. Take your time as you browse a stunning showcase of works dating from antiquity to the present day.
You’ll discover a rich array of fine and decorative arts, as well as beautifully crafted furniture and textiles. Feast your eyes on enthralling works created by French Impressionists, Italian Renaissance luminaries, and Baroque masters. And be wowed by the compelling creations of leading-edge 20th-century artists – guaranteed to revive jaded eyes!
Children’s Museum of Memphis
If you’ve got young ones in your entourage, the Children’s Museum of Memphis in East Memphis is a no-brainer. With a treasure trove of interactive exhibits, this place is made to keep them busy!
Designed to fire up young minds, the Children’s Museum of Memphis makes hands-on activity the focus. Get busy with painting, weaving, and sculpting in the art classrooms. Kids can dress up as firefighters or police officers and play on authentic (but kid-sized) equipment replicas. Visit the theater, where youngsters can don costumes, pick out a puppet, and – yes – put on a show.
Or they can test their navigational skills on exhilarating transportation exhibits that include a hot air balloon, a flight simulator, and a kid-sized van that they can drive and repair. Let them kick it up a notch at the NASA and space exhibit, where youngsters can learn all about what it’s like to be in space.
They can take on the challenge of the Skyscraper – a vertical, multi-level maze for kids over four. The pint-sized set can explore their very own Playscape, complete with a toddler-sized treehouse.
Ready for a breather? Grab a bite in the café or the brown bag area – then hit the gift shop!
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
Ready to explore one of the country’s longest-kept secrets? Take a journey into and out of one of the darkest periods in American history at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum.
Set near the Memphis Heritage Trail on Main Street, this building was just what the name suggests: a refuge for runaway slaves escaping to freedom in the North – and part of the secret network known as the Underground Railroad. Built in 1849 by livestock trader Jacob Burkle, it was believed to be the final stop in a series of Memphis homes connected by tunnels.
A walk through the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is a revealing and sobering experience of the antebellum past. The home’s 19th-century furnishings remain, but its main feature is the secret cellar and trap doors that offered refuge to enslaved African Americans seeking freedom.
Feel the heavy weight of history as you descend the stairs into a dark, dank cellar. Peer through trapdoors and hidden passageways where the runaways were harbored. Join a tour and hear the stories of the many men, women, and families who took shelter here as they waited for boats to take them upriver to freedom.
Memphis Museum of Science & History
If you’ve been itching to don your nerd hat, the Memphis Museum of Science & History is one of the coolest places to visit in Memphis. History enthusiast, nature buff, or would-be Trekkie: This popular museum has something for everyone!
A mecca of science, history, nature, and culture, the Memphis Museum of Science & History boasts everything from natural wonderlands to prehistoric fossils to planetarium shows to a millionaire’s mansion.
Explore 65 immaculate acres of nature and mingle with some wild locals at the Lichterman Nature Center. Embark on an enthralling journey into the distant past and trace the path of human evolution over seven million years. Have an up-close encounter with a towering T Rex. Take in remarkable cultural history exhibits that tell the story of Southeastern Native Americans, the region’s First Peoples.
Visit the iconic Pink Palace, a pink marble marvel built in 1922 by Clarence Saunders, the father of self-serve grocery shops and founder of Piggly Wiggly. Home to a treasury of Mid-South history and culture, the Pink Palace features a vintage Piggly Wiggly store replica and a miniature circus.
Plunge into larger-than-life ocean and space adventures in 3D at the giant screen theater. Shoot for the stars as you experience the marvels of constellations and space travel at the Sharpe Planetarium.
The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange
Looking for a gem that’s off the well-worn tourist track? That’s just what you’ll find at The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. This unique site in Downtown Memphis explores the intriguing history of what was once the city’s lifeblood: cotton.
Built in 1922, this building was home to a thriving industry that traded in one of the world’s first luxury commodities. You’ll be captivated by its ornate architectural detail, soaring 30-foot ceilings, and magnificent arched windows, all beautifully restored.
Stroll the expansive 3,200 square feet of The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, and you’re on historic ground. This is where cotton traders once stood and made Memphis the epicenter of the world’s cotton industry.
Browse a rich array of photos, artifacts, and oral histories that document the story of cotton from farm to fabric. Learn about the industry’s powerful impact on the history, economics, and culture of Memphis and the world and the complex history and culture of the Delta region that produced it.
Withers Collection Museum & Gallery
If you’re on the lookout for an enlightening experience, take in the wonderful Withers Collection Museum & Gallery. This often-overlooked treasure has an unlikely setting: it’s hidden away amidst the boisterous bustle of Beale Street.
Step inside, and you’ll discover a true gem: the remarkable works of Ernest Withers, a prolific photojournalist who captured unforgettable images of Black Americans for over 60 years.
Set in his former working studio, the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery documents the history of Black American culture in both Memphis and all of America. Here, you’ll discover dazzling depictions of greats in both sports and entertainment.
View images of Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, and other bright lights who got their chops on Beale Street. Marvel at rare portraits of baseball giants like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays before they broke the color barrier.
But the focus of this collection is on the determined efforts of civil rights activists captured during a period of huge social turmoil in the segregated South. Take time to absorb the powerful, personal images of everyone from sidewalk protesters to Martin Luther King. These are deeply moving reflections of pain, resilience, and hope.
Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum
Fancy taking a stroll back in time? Saunter along to the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum. Set in the neighborhood known as Victorian Village – once nicknamed “Millionaire’s Row” – this elegant 1870 mansion was one of several that sprouted up when wealthy Memphis cotton traders and riverboat tycoons moved in.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum is a fully-restored 16-room French-Victorian edifice – and a visual treat! Marvel at the impressive Mansard roof, cypress flooring, and woodwork, and soaring ceilings embossed with elaborate designs.
Peer through an open doorway to view the hand-written autographs and memories of the craftsmen who built the mansion. View an array of elegant period furnishings and textiles, along with mannequins modeling the fashions of the time.
Hear the fascinating stories of the Woodruffs and Fontaines, two prominent Memphis families who once lived here. If you feel your Spidey senses tingling, it’s due to the presence of Mollie Fontaine, whose spirit is rumored to linger.
Feeling spooked? Nip across the street and down a snifter at the Mollie Fontaine Lounge – a gleefully funky haven housed in another beautiful example of restored Victoriana.
Dixon Gallery & Gardens
If the idea of being awash in beauty appeals, plan a visit to the gorgeous Dixon Gallery & Gardens. One of Memphis’s finest estates when it was built in 1942, the museum’s 17 acres of lush property give the elegant interior a serious run for its money.
Inside the Dixon Gallery, you’ll discover over 2,000 pieces of art. Soak in a spectacular Impressionist collection featuring works by Monet, Degas, and Pissarro. View a striking array of post-Impressionist paintings, along with an extensive collection of exquisite 18th-century German porcelain.
Like the lush gardens that surround it, the museum’s offerings are “evergreen.” Along with its permanent exhibits, it features several new exhibits each year, making for a constantly updated and diverse collection of art.
Head outside to experience Part II of your beauty immersion. Take a garden tour and get tips on the cultivation of a bloom-filled cutting garden. Meander through the expansive woodland tracts and drink in the gorgeous tapestry of color in the formal gardens.
Edge Motor Museum
No need to be a gearhead to get a charge out of this cool museum! With its rare collection of motorized Americana, the Edge Motor Museum is guaranteed to draw oohs and ahhs from everyone in your crew.
Just steps away from Sun Studios in the Midtown neighborhood, the Edge Motor Museum highlights the glorious rise and sad decline of the American sports car from “postwar to ‘74” with its celebratory American Speed exhibit. It’ll get your wheels spinning!
Dig into a tasty slice of history that showcases the American muscle car, the very vehicle that was prized during Sun Studio’s heyday. You’ll ooh and ahh at an array of vintage vehicles that have been kept in mint condition, with each car’s history detailed on an iPad next to it.
Check out a dazzling display that includes a fire engine red ’59 Cadillac, vintage Corvettes, T-birds, coupes, muscle cars, and California boulevard cruisers. Get a close-up look at glam numbers driven by everyone from Doris Day to Ike Turner.
Auto fans will be happy to know that reviews rave about the friendly and knowledgeable staff, who make the visit an awesome experience. Go on – ask them anything!