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, especially American history buffs and culture lovers.
Memphis teems with interesting tourist attractions that showcase its rich cultural history. Peruse art galleries in the South Main Arts District before ducking into the National Civil Rights Museum. Built on the assassination site of Martin Luther King Jr., the memorial is one of the most important historic sites in the United States.
Music fans will also find plenty to keep them busy in “Bluff City.” 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? Plan out the perfect trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Memphis, Tennessee.
Best places to visit in Memphis
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.
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.
If you need a break from the action, grab a breather at Handy Park. Located on the corner of Beale and South B.B. King Blvd, the park offers a lovely wide-open space to relax in the heart of the city. If you’re lucky, you may even catch one of the park’s many free concerts!
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 at this very location that esteemed civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 on Elvis Presley Blvd.
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.
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 10:30 am and 5:30 pm. 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 Memphis 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.
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 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.
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.
Need a mid-morning break while walking around the city? Pop into the Peabody Hotel. Besides being one of Memphis’s favorite luxury hotels, the hotel is host to the famous daily Peabody Duck Walk.
Every morning at 11 am, 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 5 pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Brooks Museum of Art is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.
The park is also home to the Levitt Shell. The open-air amphitheater hosts regular concerts in the beautiful surroundings of Overton Park. Over 50 free concerts hit the Levitt Shell every summer and autumn. Levitt Shell was even the site of Elvis Presley’s first rock show!
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.
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.
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-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 10 am to 4 pm. Tours of the house embark every 30 minutes. Admission to the home is free for Pink Palace Family of Museums Members.
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.
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.
Baseball fans visiting Memphis should try to squeeze in a game at AutoZone Park. Located on Union Ave in the heart of downtown, the stadium is home to the Memphis Redbirds minor baseball team.
AutoZone Park is often considered one of the finest minor league stadiums in the United States. Besides enjoying a baseball game, the whole family will enjoy its food and carnival games.
Try to hit ’em out of the park in the batting cage or scale up the 24-foot climbing wall. End off the experience with a selfie with the team’s mascot, Rockey the Redbird.
Pink Palace Museum
Visiting Memphis with kids? Venture east of the downtown to the Pink Palace Museum. Home to the Museum of Science & History, the Pink Palace is hard to pin down. Its exhibits offer a little of everything from wildlife to rare historical artifacts.
On your visit to the Pink Palace Museum, keep on the lookout for the beautiful murals by artist Burton Callicott. Located in the home’s grand three-story entrance, the murals depict Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto’s exploration of West Tennessee.
Kids will love checking out the museum’s natural history exhibits. They cover everything from dinosaurs to earthquakes. They’ll also dig settling in for an educational film or even a Hollywood blockbuster at the Giant Screen Theater.
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Combine your visit with a stop at the nearby Children’s Museum of Memphis. Just 5 minutes away by car, the museum hosts a multitude of interactive activities to keep the kids occupied for hours.
Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum
Located in the Victorian Village, Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum is one of the most beautiful historic homes in the city. Under the shade of magnolia trees, the French Victorian mansion charms guests with its stately architecture.
On a self-guided tour of the mansion, visitors can marvel at its elegant period furnishings and intricate architectural design. Locals can even rent out the property for weddings and other events!
The Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum is open from 12 pm to 4 pm from Friday to Sunday.
Dixon Gallery & Gardens
Located in East Memphis, Dixon Gallery & Gardens fuse an art museum with a lovely public garden. Founded in 1976, the museum features a permanent collection of over 2,000 fine art objects. Highlights include stunning French Impressionist paintings and porcelain artifacts from England and Germany.
After you’re done exploring the art museum, step outside to admire its 17-acre botanical garden. The gardens were designed as an English park, combining open spaces, a natural canopy, and more formal plantings.
Visiting Memphis in spring? Add Dixon Gallery & Gardens to your itinerary to witness their spring flowers in full bloom.
Southeast of the city center, Elmwood Cemetery is one of the most surprising Memphis tourist attractions. The historic burial ground is the city’s oldest, dating back to 1852. Elmwood Cemetery is the final resting place of over 75,000 locals. Its most prominent inhabitants include Civil War generals, civil rights activists, and prominent businessmen.
Elmwood Cemetery is famed not only for its history but also its setting. The burial ground occupies an 80-acre site, surrounded by beautiful mature trees. As you stroll through the site, you’ll marvel at eye-catching Victorian monuments adorned with angels and flowers.
Get the most out of your Elmwood Cemetery visit by joining a docent-led tour for a small fee.
Memphis Botanic Garden
Want to escape the buzz of Beale Street? Carve out time in your itinerary to meander around the Memphis Botanic Garden. Sprawling 96 acres in Audubon Park, the botanical garden is one of the city’s most beautiful tourist attractions and the perfect counterweight to the busy city center.
The Memphis Botanic Garden divides into 30 specialty gardens, covering seven distinct growing zones. One of the best things to do in Memphis is to marvel at the intricacies of Eastern design at the Japanese Garden or the artistic flair of its Formal Gardens. Or roam under the shade of over 180 species of trees at the garden’s beautiful arboretum.
Located at the corner of South Main and Beale, the Orpheum Theatre has been a mainstay in the Memphis entertainment scene for over 90 years. Built in 1928, the historic 2,308-seat theater is a feast for the architecture buffs, decked out in Art Deco style with many of its splendid original fixtures left intact.
To get the most out of your visit to the Orpheum Theatre, book yourself onto one of the docent-led tours. Learn about the theater’s illustrious history, including its near-demolition in the late-1970s and its mischievous supernatural resident, Mary.
The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange
Southern USA history buffs will love stopping in for a visit at The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Located on the historic Cotton Row, the museum weaves together the story of Memphis’s cotton industry and its profound influence on the Old South.
The centerpiece of The Cotton Museum is the ceiling-high trading board, once used to record daily prices from the former trading floor. The exhibits cover everything from cotton clothing to pests that once wreaked havoc on the crops
Be sure to pop into the museum’s Exploration Hall, where you’ll find several interactive exhibits, including a “gene gun” that shoots DNA into cotton seeds for heartiness.
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
For another taste of history, save time to slip into the Slave Haven Underground Museum. Located within the 1849-era Burkle Estate, the museum tells the story of the underground railroad and slavery in the Old South.
As you walk through the Slave Haven Underground Museum, you’ll browse through interesting artifacts set among the home’s original 19th-century furnishings.
Most intriguing at the museum, however, is its secret cellar. Descend into the damp basement, replete with trapdoors and hidden passages, to get a taste of the bleak conditions escaping slaves faced on their path to freedom.
Best places to stay in Memphis for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay in Memphis fall in Downtown Memphis. The center is home to the city’s top hotels and its main points of interest. It’s also the safest area in Memphis for visitors.
This blissful modern hotel is one of the city’s coolest accommodation picks. The hotel’s rooms show off an eye-popping retro style that reflects Memphis music history. The outdoor pool and lounge areas are a hit with guests.
One of the city’s top luxury hotels, the Peabody embodies Southern hospitality at its finest. You’ll love the elegant rooms and amenities, including several restaurants & bars, an indoor pool, and a spa.
Need a luxury escape in downtown? Set your sights on this brilliant 4-star hotel. The Westin offers spacious contemporary rooms in a perfect location. It’s just minutes away from Beale Street, the heart of the city’s entertainment scene.