Best Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee

Planning the ultimate road trip through Tennessee? Carve out time in your itinerary to explore all the best things to do in Memphis.

Famous for its music, civil rights history, and BBQ, Memphis is a must-visit U.S. destination for travelers. For American history & culture buffs, some of the top tourist attractions in Memphis are even bucket-list-worthy

Memphis teems with interesting museums and art galleries, showcasing its rich cultural history. Most famous is the National Civil Rights Museum. Built on the assassination site of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s one of the most important historical sites & memorials in the United States.

Music fans will also find plenty to keep them busy in “Bluff City.” You’ll spend your days perusing points of interest like Sun Studio and Elvis’s infamous Graceland Mansion. In the evening, retire to Beale Street to sip cocktails and enjoy Southern comfort food at its historic music venues.

Need help figuring out what to do in Memphis? Plan out the perfect trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Memphis, Tennessee.

Best places to visit in Memphis

Beale Street

Memphis is often touted as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. And no place in the city gives the moniker credence more than Beale Street. Even if you’re only visiting Memphis in one day, spending time on this legendary street is a must.

In the music venues along Beale Street, American music legends like B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash sculpted their sounds. To this day, Beale Street is one of the most famous entertainment districts in the United States.

Beale Street

Not sure where to start your Beale Street adventure? Pop into the B.B. King’s Blues Club. The venue is famed, not just for its blues music, but its delicious Southern cuisine.

Other popular food & drink joints in the Beale Street Entertainment District include the Blues City Cafe and the Rum Boogie Cafe.

Need a few gifts for the folks back home? Slide into the historic A. Schwab general store. Opened in 1876, the family-run souvenir shop offers quirky gifts & handicrafts you won’t anywhere else in Memphis.

National Civil Rights Museum

Located south of downtown off South Main Street, the National Civil Rights Museum is one of the most important places to visit in Memphis. The museum is built upon the site of the former Lorraine Motel. It was here that esteemed civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

National Civil Rights Museum

Since its inception, the National Civil Rights Museum has expanded beyond the original site. At the complex, you’ll explore the entire history of the American civil rights movement. The interactive exhibits start in the 17th century, spanning to the modern-day.

Don’t rush your visit to the museum; it truly offers some of the city’s most powerful moments.

South Main Arts District

After exploring the civil rights museum, carve out some time to wander around the South Main Arts District. Stringing along the trolley line south of Downtown Memphis, the district is home to a smattering of art galleries, murals, and street art.

Civil Rights Mural in South Main Arts District

South Main Street is also one of the best places to shop & eat in Memphis. In the South Main Arts District, you’ll stumble upon chef-driven restaurants, trendy cafes, and cool boutique shops.

Looking for a hearty local meal? Stuff your face at the legendary Central BBQ restaurant. Or grab brunch at the 1950s-style vintage Arcade Restaurant diner.

Shelby Farms Park

Looking to escape the urban buzz of Memphis? Head east of the city to wallow in the greenery of Shelby Farms Park. At a whopping 4,500 acres, the expansive parkland numbers among the largest urban parks in the USA. It’s a full five times bigger than Central Park in New York City!

Shelby Farms Park

For both locals and travelers, there’s plenty to do at Shelby Farms Park. The best way to experience the park is to scuttle over to its biking & hiking trails. 

A good starting point for first-timers is the Chickasaw Trail. Looping 2.75 miles, the paved trail twirls past lakes and through pine forests. Stops along the way include the Woodland Discovery Playground and Chickasaw Lake.

The Chickasaw Trail trailhead is located close to the park visitor center.

Graceland

For die-hard fans of Elvis Presley, visiting Graceland is the ultimate pilgrimage. The former home of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Graceland Mansion is one of the most interesting places to see in Memphis.

On a tour of Graceland, you’ll get a glimpse into Elvis’s life unavailable elsewhere. The mansion is a time capsule to over-the-top 1970s retro design. In the living quarters, you’ll spot “gems” like yellow vinyl walls and green shag carpet ceilings.

Living Room at Graceland

After a tour of the house, slink over to Graceland’s entertainment complex across the streets. Be sure to save time to check out the two private jets. It’ll give you a well-rounded appreciation of the King’s luxuriant lifestyle.

The Graceland Estate is located just 15 minutes south of Downtown Memphis.

Sun Studio

Fans of rock ‘n’ roll need to set aside time for a tour of Sun Studio. Located in Midtown Memphis east of downtown, Sun Studio is one of the most legendary recording studios in the USA.

Sun Studio

In its heyday, Sun Studio laid down tracks for some of America’s most iconic rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, and country musicians. The recording studio’s most famous patrons included Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and, of course, Elvis Presley.

Tours of Sun Studio embark every hour between 10:30am and 5:30pm. On the 45-minute tour, you’ll hear classic tracks echo through the studio’s historic recording equipment.

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Located in the heart of the city center, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is one of the top points of interest in Memphis for music lovers. (And in a city where music runs through its veins, that says a lot!)

Even if rock & soul music isn’t your thing, the exhibits at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum stand out. They intricately tie the city’s musical history to its socio-economic and civil rights struggles during the twentieth century.

Rock 'n' Soul Museum

For a trip through local music lore, the nearby Memphis Music Hall of Fame is also worth a gander. Artists revered at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame range between everyone from Carl Perkins to Justin Timberlake.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

To celebrate Memphis’s massive impact on soul music, carve out time for the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Occupying the former Stax Records building, the museum is one of the world’s only dedicated to the genre.

Stax Museum

The Stax Museum features memorabilia of some of the greatest soul artists of all time. Among the more compelling exhibits are Isaac Hayes’s 1972 gold-trimmed Cadillac and the Soul Train dance floor. Other artists celebrated in the collections include Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding.

Peabody Hotel

Need a mid-morning break while walking around the city? Pop into the Peabody Hotel. Besides being one of the best places to stay in Memphis, the luxury hotel is host to the famous daily Peabody Duck Walk.

Peabody Duck Walk

Every morning at 11am, a brood of resident ducks waddle down a red carpet to the hotel’s central fountain. After splashing around the fountain, the five mallard ducks return to their “Royal Duck Palace” on the rooftop.

Missed the morning parade? Return later in the day to watch the Peabody ducks’ afternoon march at 5pm.

Mississippi River

Aside from its rich history, nothing defines Memphis more than the Mississippi River. Built on a writhing river bend, Memphis is the biggest city on the Mississippi River. Centuries later, the river is still one of the city’s most defining features.

Mississippi River

To get some of the city’s finest river views, cross over via the Big River Crossing. The pedestrian-only bridge connects downtown to West Memphis, Arkansas. Along the way, you’ll dazzle at spectacular views over the Downtown Memphis skyline.

Mud Island River Park

A short stroll from Downtown Memphis, Mud Island River Park whisks you from the city streets to the banks of the Mississippi River. For visitors needing a break from the buzz, the 52-acre park is one of the coolest places to go in Memphis.

Mud Island is a wonderful spot for a casual stroll to beautiful views of the skyline. Keep on the lookout for the island’s most Instagrammable landmark, its 50-foot Memphis sign.

Mud Island River Park

On Mud Island (which, curiously enough, is a peninsula), you can also explore the river’s history at the Mississippi River Museum. While the museum itself is currently closed, check out its scaled-down model of the Lower Mississippi outside the entrance.

Mud Island is accessible via the pedestrian footbridge on N Front Street or the monorail.

Overton Park

Want to escape the bustle of Bluff City? Venture to the city’s east to relax in Overton Park. The 342-acre park is one of Memphis’s finest green spaces and a favorite escape for locals.

Levitt Shell at Overton Park

For an active visit, take to Overton Park’s network of hiking & biking trails. Or hit the links for a round at the park’s nine-hole golf course.

Overton Park is also home to several top Memphis attractions. Art lovers should save time to visit the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The permanent collection at the popular art museum features Italian Renaissance, Impressionist, and Baroque works.

Memphis Zoo

Exploring Memphis with kids? Don’t miss out on visiting the Memphis Zoo. Located in Overton Park, this award-winning zoo is often voted as one of the best in the United States.

Giant Panda at Memphis Zoo

The habitats at the Memphis Zoo are diverse, spanning all ends of the globe. The zoo’s most famous residents are its two giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le, in the 3-acre China exhibit.

While visiting the Memphis Zoo, bask in the majesty of the western USA at the Teton Trek. Inspired by Yellowstone National Park, the habitat features grizzly bears, elk, and timber wolves. Or chill out among polar bears, black bears, and sea lions at the Northwest Passage exhibit.

Mallory-Neely House

Located in the Victorian Village Historic District, Mallory-Neely House is one of Memphis’s best-preserved 19th-century mansions. Built in 1852, the three-story home is striking both inside and out.

Mallory-Neely House

Mallory-Nelly House greets guests with an Italianate-style façade, topped with slate roofs and copper trim. Inside the home hides a wealth of Victorian furniture and historical artifacts. Strolling through the well-preserved interior will feel like stepping back over a century in history.

The Mallory-Neely House is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Tours of the house embark every 30 minutes. Admission to the home is free for Pink Palace Family of Museums Members.

Memphis Pyramid

Named after an ancient Egyptian city, Memphis was destined to become home to an attraction like the Memphis Pyramid. Originally built as an arena, the 321-foot-high steel & glass pyramid is one of the coolest things to see in Memphis.

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

After over a decade of financial woes, the Pyramid re-opened its doors in 2015 as a Bass Pro Shops megastore. (Actually, megastore might be an understatement here.)

Aside from its outdoors shop, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid includes a hotel, bowling alley, archery & gun range, and several restaurants.

While visiting the Pyramid, don’t miss testing your fear of heights with a ride up the 28-story elevator. At the top, slip out to the outdoor observation deck to dazzle at incredible 360-degree views over Memphis.

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