I don't have many by-the-numbers goals on my travel bucket list; I don't really have a desire to visit every country in the world, or get to 100 countries by the time I'm 40 or anything like that.
But I DO eventually want to visit all 50 states in the United States. Partly because it's a fairly easy challenge to complete, but more because I'm a firm believer that every single state in the US is unique and has something to offer.
I'm not far off from that goal – my current count sits at 41, with many of my remaining states being the small New England ones. But one of my biggest oversights up until last month was The Volunteer State: Tennessee.
Why did it take me so long to get to Tennessee, you ask? I have no clue, to be honest. It's not really all that far from Ohio, but before this year I guess I just had no good excuse to go. (Shame on me, I know!)
So when it was announced that Bloghouse (my favorite travel blogging conference) was going to be held in Memphis this year, I was excited for more than one reason.
And while I spent a good deal of my time in Memphis in a conference room talking SEO and social media strategy, I was able to see enough of Memphis to come to a conclusion about Tennessee's second-largest city: Memphis is an excellent city for a weekend getaway.
With this in mind, here's my guide for what you should do on a weekend trip to Memphis.
Things to DO in Memphis
With nicknames like “Home of the Blues” and “the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll,” it's obvious that Memphis has music running through its veins. But music history isn't the ONLY thing of note in Memphis. My top picks for things to do in Memphis include:
1. National Civil Rights Museum
My #1 thing to do in Memphis isn't actually music-related at all. You can't leave the city without visiting the National Civil Rights Museum on Mulberry Street. This museum traces the US Civil Rights Movement from its very beginnings through to present-day.
The museum is powerful and moving – and is made even more so due to the fact that it's been developed around the very spot where Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Even if you think you understand the impact of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement on our country's current social and political climate, you should still visit this museum. The immersive exhibits lead you through a timeline of civil rights history, beginning with the African slave trade in North America, and ending at Room 306 of the former Lorraine Motel Room 306, where Dr. King was staying when he died.
Allow at LEAST two hours to fully explore the museum, but even longer if you want to be able to read everything.
2. Get your music history on
Along with its ties to the Civil Rights Movement, you can't ignore Memphis' close ties to all sorts of musical genres. The city is home to rock, soul, and blues music, and you can explore it all through some pretty cool museums. I would choose at least two from this list:
- Graceland – If you're an Elvis fan at all (or, hell, even if you're not!), you're probably going to want to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley's mansion estate located just a few miles from downtown Memphis. I won't lie to you: visiting the newly-renovated museum complex and house feels a bit amusement park-esque with its orderly queues and audio guides, but there's no denying that Graceland itself is just as wacky and wonderful as you might imagine. (Tickets start at $39.75 just for the mansion portion of the tour, but you'll want to go with the $59 option that includes his cars, jumpsuits, and more. Book a tour here.)
- Sun Studios – This small, wedge-shaped building on Union Avenue doesn't look like much on the outside, but on the inside it's where many people say that the American rock ‘n roll sound was “born.” Stars from Elvis to Johnny Cash recorded music here, and now the building is a National Historic Landmark. (Tours: $14 for a 45-minute guided tour.)
- The Stax Museum of American Soul Music – If it's the story of soul you're interested in, you won't want to skip Stax. This is the only museum dedicated to the legacy of American soul music. (Admission: $13 for adults; buy a ticket here.)
- Rock ‘n' Soul Museum – If you want the full story of music in Memphis, the Rock ‘n' Soul covers a little bit of everything. The museum was created by the Smithsonian Institution, so you know it's good! (Tickets: $12.50 for adults; buy a ticket here.)
3. Learn about Black history
The National Civil Rights Museum is a must, but it's not the only notable spot in Memphis that played an important role in Black History in the US.
If you come to Memphis with your own car, I highly recommend signing up for the “Tour of Possibilities,” a self-driving guided tour that aims to “explore the African American influence on local business, music, sports, politics, education and religion” in Memphis.
The 2.5-hour tour covers a dozen different significant sites throughout the city of Memphis, focusing on the city's role in the Civil Rights Movement. Book this tour here.
4. Go out on Beale Street
I'm by no means a seeker of nightlife, but you really can't go to Memphis and skip out on the infamous Beale Street. Here you'll find lots of live music – everything from rock to blues – along with drink specials and plenty of neon signs.
It's a safe place to go out at night, too – there was a noticeable (yet friendly) police presence when I was there on a Friday night.
(You can also book a guided walking tour of Beale Street during the day, if the history of the street is what you're more interested in.)
5. Walk across the Mississippi River
Memphis is built on the mighty Mississippi River, and a cool thing to do is to walk across a bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas. The pedestrian bridge is known as the Big River Crossing, and at nearly a mile long is the longest pedestrian bridge spanning the Mississippi. Be sure to stop halfway across to straddle the state line!
(Read more about this activity on my friend Bisa's blog.)
6. Go mural spotting
Lastly, if you enjoy good street art, you'll want to seek out some of Memphis' murals. This post has a great list of good downtown ones. On South Main alone you can find the “Sound of Memphis” mural, the “A Day in the Life” mural, and the “I Am A Man” mural.
I also sought out this “I Love Memphis” mural on N. Watkins Street in the Crosstown neighborhood, mostly because my dress matched the mural!
Where to EAT in Memphis
Let's be really honest, though: If you're coming to Memphis, one of the top things on your to-do list is going to be sampling some of Memphis' famous FOOD!
Memphis cuisine is world-famous (“Memphis barbecue,” anyone?), and I definitely recommend packing your stretchy pants so you can indulge accordingly.
The following are spots you'll want to check out:
- Central BBQ – One of Memphis' barbecue staples, where you can get everything from ribs to BBQ nachos.
- Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – You go here for one thing: the ribs!! Rendezvous is usually regarded at the birthplace of the Memphis dry rub.
- Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken – You can't go wrong with Gus's spicy, crunchy fried chicken. Their fried pickles are also very, very tasty.
- Loflin Yard or Railgarten – These cool indoor-outdoor bar-restaurants are perfect for a chilled night out. They're sister restaurants in different corners of Memphis, and both feature cool outdoor seating and games. (Read more about them here.)
- Beauty Shop – Found in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, this trendy spot was indeed a former beauty shop – the one that Priscilla Presley used to frequent. You'll still find '50s-style beauty shop features inside.
- Blue Plate Cafe – Looking for breakfast or brunch? Head to the Blue Plate Cafe for Southern classics. (Their biscuits and gravy are SO good!)
And if you're looking for a unique drink in Memphis? Book a tour at the Old Dominick Distillery, which is using an old family recipe to distill their “Memphis Toddy” right in downtown Memphis.
Where to STAY in Memphis
I was lucky enough to stay in Memphis' most iconic hotel for Bloghouse: The Peabody, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.
The Peabody Memphis is everything a person could want in a historic hotel: it has a gorgeous and opulent lobby, large and comfortable rooms that they completely renovate every 4 or 5 years, multiple dining options, and a few unique traditions.
The most famous tradition at The Peabody is the Duck March, which began as a prank more than 80 years ago when a slightly inebriated general manager thought it would be funny to put live ducks in the Peabody's lobby fountain. Turns out that people LOVED the ducks, and they are now a staple at the hotel.
Five ducks (4 females and one male) live in a special “duck condo” on the hotel's roof, and come down to the lobby fountain via a red carpet every morning at 11 a.m. In the evening, at 5 p.m. sharp, the Duck Master once again rolls out the red carpet and leads to ducks back up to their rooftop home.
The whole procession is equal parts ridiculous and adorable. (And don't worry – each set of ducks only “works” for 3 months before retiring, and they are positively spoiled at the Peabody!)
In the summer, the Peabody also hosts its Rooftop Parties every Thursday night from mid-April to mid-August. These parties feature food, live music, and the best sunset views over the Mississippi. If your Memphis weekend is beginning on a Thursday, definitely hit up this event!
The Peabody is my top hotel pick in Memphis, but if it's slightly out of your budget, check out these other Memphis hotels.
Want even MORE Memphis? Check out these other great posts from our Bloghouse bloggers:
- Where to Eat in Memphis for the Best Southern Comfort Food
- A Taste of Memphis: Exploring the Pearl of Western Tennessee Through Its Food
- 10 Restaurants You Must Try In Downtown Memphis, Tennessee
- Two Days in Memphis, Tennessee
- How to Spend 48 Hours in Memphis, Tennessee
- How to Spend a Long Weekend in Memphis
- Unique Things to Do in Memphis
Who is ready to plan a weekend trip to Memphis now?
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