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Welcome to the vibrant city of Memphis, Tennessee – a place where history, culture, and music intertwine to create an unforgettable experience. From the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll to mouthwatering barbecue, this city offers an array of exciting activities that will leave you wanting more.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, or a music aficionado, Memphis has something for everyone. Explore the iconic and soulful Beale Street, where the sounds of blues and jazz fill the air, or pay homage to the legendary Elvis Presley at Graceland.

Immerse yourself in the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement at the National Civil Rights Museum, or take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque Mississippi Riverfront. Indulge in the city’s famous barbecue scene, with mouthwatering ribs and pulled pork that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.

With its captivating blend of culture, history, and mouthwatering cuisine, Memphis is a city that will leave a lasting impression on your heart and taste buds. So, get ready to explore the 11 best things to do in Memphis and discover why this city is truly one of a kind.

The 11 Best Things to Do in Memphis Tennessee

Visit Graceland – Elvis Presley’s Home

We had to start with the most obvious activity and one that is an absolute must-do! Graceland is a must-visit destination for anyone, not just Elvis Presley fans or music lovers. I say this as someone who didn’t grow up listening to Elvis or know much about him.

As the former home of the legendary rock ‘n’ roll icon, this mansion offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of the King of Rock and Roll. I learned so much about him and his life.

The audio tour is narrated by John Stamos, who played Jesse on Full House. Fun fact, John’s character Jesse was named after Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth.

Elvis Presley home living room

Step inside the Graceland mansion and explore the rooms where Elvis lived, including the famous Jungle Room with its shag carpet and ceiling. The dining room is decorated and the table is set for dinner, complete with Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding china.

The mansion is a time capsule of Elvis’ life and career, with memorabilia and artifacts on display that showcase his impact on music and popular culture. Pictured above is the living room with his pool table.

The experience doesn’t end at the mansion – the Graceland complex also includes museums dedicated to Elvis’ career, a tour of his private planes, his cars, his extravagant outfits, and even his final resting place.

Visiting Graceland is like stepping back in time and immersing yourself in the world of Elvis Presley. Give yourself several hours to explore Graceland, there’s tons to see and do. Check out this article full of tips for first-time visitors to Graceland.

Check out Beale Street – The Heart of Memphis

No visit to Memphis would be complete without a trip to Beale Street. Known as the birthplace of the blues, Beale Street is a vibrant and soulful destination that is alive with music, culture, and history. As you walk down the street, you can hear the sounds of live blues and jazz pouring out of the various clubs and bars.

The street is lined with historic buildings that have witnessed the birth of countless musical legends. Take your time to explore the shops, restaurants, and galleries that line the street, and don’t forget to stop by the iconic A. Schwab General Store, a century-old institution that is a must-visit for any history buff.

Whether you’re looking to dance the night away, indulge in some delicious Southern cuisine, or simply soak up the atmosphere, Beale Street is the heart and soul of Memphis.

If you get hungry while touring Beale Street, stop in South of Beale for a bite. This elevated gastropub serves lunch, dinner, and late-night eats in brick-walled, dimly lit digs.

Explore the National Civil Rights Museum

Immerse yourself in the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement at the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, this museum tells the story of the struggle for civil rights in America.

The exhibits are powerful and thought-provoking, taking visitors on a journey through the key moments and figures of the movement. From Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery marches, the museum brings history to life through interactive displays, multimedia presentations, and preserved artifacts.

A visit to the National Civil Rights Museum is a powerful and educational experience that will leave a lasting impact on visitors of all ages. It is an eerie feeling to see the exact place where Martin Luther King was shot. You can peer inside the actual hotel room that he stayed in.

Visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music

For music lovers, a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a must. Located at the original site of Stax Records, this museum celebrates the rich history and cultural impact of soul music. Explore the exhibits and learn about the artists who recorded at Stax, including Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.s, and Isaac Hayes.

The museum showcases original instruments, costumes, and memorabilia from these iconic musicians, giving visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential music of the 20th century.

Don’t miss the opportunity to step into the recording studio and experience the magic of soul music firsthand. The Stax Museum is a testament to the enduring power of soul music and its impact on American culture.

A visit to Sun Studios is a must when visiting Memphis Tennessee

Experience the iconic Sun Studio

I had way more fun here than I anticipated. Step into music history at Sun Studio, often referred to as the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” This legendary recording studio is where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other musical icons got their start.

Take a guided tour and learn about the artists who recorded here, the groundbreaking techniques that were developed, and the stories behind some of the most famous recordings in music history.

At the end of the tour, you get to stand in the very spot where Elvis recorded his first song, “That’s All Right,” and feel the energy that still lingers in the air. They let you take pictures of yourself at his very microphone. How cool! As you can see, I got right into it, lol!

Sun Studio is a must-visit for any music lover or fan of rock ‘n’ roll, offering a unique glimpse into the early days of some of the biggest names in music.

Mississippi river

Walk along or take a cruise on the Mississippi River

There are several ways to experience the Mississippi. We opted to get some exercise and walk across the Big River Crossing. At nearly a mile in length, Big River Crossing is the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi.

During the walk, you cross into Arkansas. There are signs on the bridge where you can stand in two states at the same time. Of course, we stopped and took pics of us in two places at the same time.

If you’re looking for an on-the-water experience, enjoy the beauty and charm of the Mississippi River by taking a cruise along its scenic waters. Whether you choose a guided tour or a dinner cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to see Memphis from a different perspective.

Admire the stunning views of the city skyline, learn about the history and significance of the river, and enjoy the gentle breeze as you sail along the iconic waterway. Some cruises even offer live music and entertainment, adding an extra touch of magic to your experience.

A river cruise is a perfect way to relax and unwind while taking in the sights and sounds of Memphis. I wish we’d had time to do this as I love cruising on the water. Being on the water offers a unique perspective of a new city.

5 More of the Best Things To Do in Memphis Tennessee

Try the famous Memphis Barbecue

When it comes to barbecue, Memphis is in a league of its own. Known for its distinctive style and flavours, Memphis barbecue is a culinary tradition that has been perfected over generations. Sink your teeth into tender and smoky ribs, slathered in a tangy and slightly sweet sauce that is unique to this region.

The ribs are slow-cooked to perfection, resulting in meat that is fall-off-the-bone tender and bursting with flavour. Pair your ribs with classic barbecue sides like baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad, and you have a meal that is sure to satisfy you.

Whether you prefer dry-rubbed ribs or saucy ones, Memphis has a barbecue joint that will cater to your taste buds. From famous spots like Rendezvous and Payne’s Bar-B-Q to hidden gems like Cozy Corner and The Bar-B-Q Shop, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to enjoying Memphis’ famous barbecue.

Breakfast at ARRIVE Memphis

Savour Memphis’ Diverse Culinary Scene

Memphis may be known for its BBQ, but that’s not all it offers. There is a variety of mouthwatering cuisine, and no visit to the city would be complete without indulging in some local delicacies.

From soulful Southern cooking to fine dining, Memphis offers a diverse culinary scene that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.

One high-end dining experience I highly recommend is to head to Catherine & Mary’s. Opened by James Beard Nominated Chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, Catherine & Mary’s is located in the newly renovated Chisca Apartments. Our group ordered family style and everything was delicious.

Another decadent dinner we enjoyed took place at Chez Philippe in the Peabody Hotel. We indulged in the 7-course tasting menu and I highly recommend it for a fancy night out.

Every dish was beautifully plated. It’s worth noting that Chez Philippe is MidSouth’s only Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond-rated restaurant.

Dinner at Chez Pierre inside The Peabody Hotel
Dessert at Chez Pierre inside the Peabody Hotel in Memphis

Read more about The Peabody Hotel below. Spoiler alert: they have ducks in their hotel lobby!

Memphis is a fried chicken capital so we had to include a fried chicken stop. Gus’s crispy, piping-hot chicken is some of the best in the city. I enjoyed mine with fried pickles, beans and coleslaw.

Pro tip: Grab your Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken to-go and saunter across the street to the Old Dominick Distillery to enjoy your fried chicken with Tennessee Whisky. Yes, they allow you to do this and actually encouraged us to do so. See below, I enjoyed mine with an Old Fashioned.

Gus' Fried Chicken meal

Head to Old Dominick Distillery for a Tour and Tasting

I’d be remiss to not mention a distillery tour while in Tennessee. After all, Tennessee Whisky is world-renowned. Old Dominick’s 150-year-old story is told during their tour, which lets you see firsthand the dedication and passion they put into every bottle.

Tour their gorgeous, state-of-the-art distillery and learn about what makes Old Dominick Distillery and turn-of-the-century Memphis so special. The Old Dominick Distillery tour is 45 minutes, highly entertaining and educational and most importantly, ends with a curated tasting of Old Dominick’s portfolio of spirits.

Checking out the Old Dominick Distillery is one of the best things to do in Memphis Tennessee

Pictured above is the Old Dominick Distillery bar, where we enjoyed a few drinks after our tasting. The room is bright, airy and spacious. If it’s a hot day, be sure to try one of their boozy slushie drinks.

Go Cocktail Bar Hopping

What goes down great after a long day of sightseeing? A cocktail, that’s what! Full disclosure, I was on assignment to write an article about the must-try cocktail bars in Memphis, so I had to try a few 😉

The Memphis cocktail bar scene is strong. Every bar I entered was simply stunning. Here are a few of my faves that stood out.

Art Bar at Crosstown Arts is a full-service bar serving cutting-edge cocktails. The cocktail menu features drinks made with local, fresh, and foraged ingredients from Memphis and around the world. We enjoyed a flight of cocktails here, which was a great way to sample more than one. I liked the Let’s Take is Sloe.

Visiting Tiger and Peacock is one of the best things to do in Memphis Tennessee

If there’s one place you absolutely must go, it’s Tiger and Peacock. Located at the penthouse level, it is the place to go for cocktails, light tapas, and incredible views. Low-lit chandeliers give everything a sultry, speakeasy vibe and the decor is eclectic beyond measure. My drink of choice here was the Sage Manhattan with its Luxardo cherry garnish.

Cameo is Memphis’ newest bar and lounge. The idea behind Cameo Bar is to create a space where the food caters to the cocktails. It is a bartender-owned cocktail-driven place, with a theme of “Fancy Drinks Party Time” for goers to be able to enjoy the kinds of drinks that they want. 

Another new cocktail bar, this time in the Edge District, is Inkwell. They offer a curated list of signature drinks, classic cocktails, mocktails, and a few wines, plus a small menu of food like flatbreads, grilled cheese, and a Cuban sandwich. I recommend enjoying your drink on their backyard patio.

Drinking Champagne

Visit the famous Peabody Ducks

And finally, no trip to Memphis, Tennessee would be complete without a visit to The Peabody Hotel. We are rounding out our list of the best things to do in Memphis Tennessee with a visit to see the stunning Peabody Hotel and its famous duck march.

This iconic hotel offers a unique activity twice a day. The Duck Master, yes they have a Duck Master and he guides the ducks down the elevator into the lobby fountain every morning and back upstairs to their Duck Palace every evening.

The Peabody Ducks add a unique touch to an already iconic landmark. Every morning and evening visitors can witness the world-famous Peabody Ducks march the red carpet in the extravagant lobby of The Peabody Hotel. This is truly something you can’t see anywhere else. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

We had the pleasure of sipping Champagne in the Peabody Lobby Bar while watching the ducks splash about in the fountain until they marched into the elevator. It’s fun to watch them frolic and apparently they’ve only had a few ducks try and escape.

Pro tip: the ducks march at 11 am and 5 pm daily so go early if you want a seat with good views.

ARRIVE Memphis is one of the best places to stay in Memphis

Where to Stay in Memphis Tennessee

Since you’re planning a trip to Memphis, I thought I’d also recommend a great place to stay. If you have a generous budget, you can stay at the aforementioned Peabody Hotel. I, however, stayed at ARRIVE Memphis and it was fantastic!

The location is central, the rooms are spacious and the beds are incredibly comfortable. The in-room mini-bar offers a wide variety of drinks and snacks, much more than the usual offerings you find inside hotel rooms. Their lobby bar is pictured above and serves a mean cocktail.

Hustle & Dough is their lobby bakery where you can enjoy breakfast before heading out for the day. They serve local favourite Vice & Virtue coffee, so your caffeine fix is always handy. Their avocado toast is a favourite among locals but I loved their Egg Salad Toast. It is pictured above with my artfully-decorated Cappuccino.

Check current rates for ARRIVE Memphis 🏨

Getting your caffeine fix at Cxffee Black is one of the best things to do in Memphis

If you’re a coffee purist or the ultimate coffee aficionado, I highly recommend popping into Cxffeee Black for at least one of your morning coffees. These guys are serious about coffee and they make coffee for coffee lovers. You won’t find a pumpkin Spiced Latte here.

“Cxffeeblack is a social experiment interested in exploring the impact people can have when they are empowered to live with no sugar and no cream. It’s a hip-hop cypher over a cup of probably overpriced coffee between the people who grew it, the people who roasted it, and the people who consume it daily.”

 Bartholomew Jones and Renata Henderson, owners

Conclusion – The 11 Best Things to Do in Memphis Tennessee

In conclusion, Memphis, Tennessee, is a city that offers a wealth of exciting activities and experiences for visitors of all interests. From exploring the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll at Graceland to immersing yourself in the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement at the National Civil Rights Museum, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city.

Beale Street, with its soulful music and lively atmosphere, is a must-visit destination that captures the essence of Memphis. The Stax Museum and Sun Studio offer a glimpse into the history of American music, while a cruise on the Mississippi River allows you to appreciate the natural beauty of the region.

And of course, no visit to Memphis would be complete without indulging in the city’s famous barbecue and diverse culinary scene. Whether you’re a music lover, a history enthusiast, or a foodie, Memphis has it all. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore the 11 best things to do in Memphis – a city that will capture your heart and leave a lasting impression.

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A guide to the Best things to do in Memphis Tennessee
Top 11 Best things to do in Memphis Tennessee

Press Trip Disclosure: Note that some of my travel to and around Memphis was paid for by Memphis Tourism. All opinions expressed are my own and were not swayed by this Press Trip visit. I was not monetarily compensated in any way for this post.

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