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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Memphis,TN

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Mar 10, 2020

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Trolley in Memphis
Trolley in Memphis

While country music fans tend to visit Nashville, it's to Memphis that fans of blues and rock 'n' roll tend to flock. It was here that both of these influential music forms originated, and the city boasts numerous related places to visit to prove it, from iconic Beale Street to star-studded Sun Studios and Elvis Presley's famous Graceland estate.

Foodies are also drawn to the city and should plan on sampling as much of the famous Memphis Barbecue as they can, in between visiting attractions like the Rock 'n' Soul Museum and STAX Museum of American Soul. And while downtown, be sure to catch the Peabody Ducks as they make their march down the red carpet at the Peabody Hotel, as they have done for nearly 100 years.

Memphis is also known for its rich history, especially its connection with slavery and the Civil Rights movement. Highlights of the city's involvement in African American history include the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the infamous Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated.

Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Memphis.

See also: Where to Stay in Memphis

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Graceland: The Home of Elvis Presley

Graceland
Graceland

Graceland, the former estate of music legend Elvis Presley, has become the ultimate pilgrimage for fans of the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Elvis purchased the 14-acre property in 1957, and today tourists come to tour his former home, admire memorabilia, and visit his tomb, which sits in the Meditation Garden.

Tours of the mansion include most of the house, from the elegant foyer and living room where he entertained numerous celebrities to the famous Jungle Room, complete with shag carpets and Polynesian décor. The Trophy Building, designed to tell the story of Elvis's personal life, contains memorabilia like Priscilla's wedding dress, numerous flashy suits once worn by the singer on stage, jewelry, awards, and even toys from Lisa Marie's childhood.

Visitors will also enjoy touring the office of Elvis's father Vernon, where the star's personal business was conducted, as well as the restored Racquetball Building. A separate building contains a collection of his favorite cars, including his famous 1955 pink Cadillac, a 1956 purple Cadillac convertible, and the red MG he drove in Blue Hawaii. You can also see Elvis's two airplanes, where you can step aboard his lavish 1958 Convair 880 to admire its gold-plated seatbelts and leather-covered tables. A variety of admission options are available, including a deluxe package with accommodation at the Heartbreak Hotel across the road.

Address: Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.graceland.com

2. Downtown and the Beale Street Entertainment District

Downtown and the Beale Street Entertainment District
Downtown and the Beale Street Entertainment District | Ron Cogswell / photo modified

A stroll down Beale Street, nicknamed the "Home of the Blues," is one of the first places to visit in Memphis. Here, you'll find iconic attractions like the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and WC Handy's House, now a museum where the "Father of the Blues" composed Memphis Blues and St. Louis Blues. It's also home to the famous A. Schwab dry goods store. Founded in 1876, the store's motto is, "If you can't find it at A. Schwab, you don't need it!"

This central area is also home to many other fun things to do — music-related and otherwise — such as pay a visit to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, with its exhibits of local music legends, instruments, memorabilia, and rare recordings.

Be sure to check the historic Orpheum Theatre for performances and shows during your Memphis visit. Built in 1928, it's well worth popping in for a look at its well-preserved interior and original Wurlitzer organ.

Beal Street is also lined with numerous casual restaurants, many of them serving Southern-inspired food. You can also pick up the Memphis Suspension Railway to Mud Island and Mississippi River Park from here.

Address: Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.bealestreet.com/

3. Sun Studio

Sun Studio
Sun Studio | Steve Snodgrass / photo modified

Sun Studio in Memphis is famous as the recording facility where such greats as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, and Roy Orbison began their careers. The studio itself is still used by recording artists, with more recent recordings being made by John Mellencamp and Chris Isaak. It's a fascinating look into the recording process, and a free shuttle service is available from Graceland and the Rock 'n' Soul Museum.

A great way to maximise your enjoyment of this top-rated Memphis attraction is to join a popular guided tour that includes Sun Studio admission. These fun 45-minute tours include admission, a professional tour guide, free parking, and a discount voucher for use in the on-site souvenir shop.

Address: 706 Union Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.sunstudio.com

4. Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum

Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum
Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum | Ron Cogswell / photo modified

The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum was created by the Smithsonian to highlight musical pioneers from the 1930s through to the 1970s. There are seven fun galleries to explore, each with a digital audio tour including 100 songs. Other exhibits include costumes, more than 30 instruments, and other music-related items, including the costumes worn by the early stars. Featured galleries deal with the early years of music in Memphis, Sun Records, soul music, rural music, and culture, as well as disco.

Another Memphis music attraction worth a visit is the famous Gibson Guitar Factory, which offers a fascinating look at the making of these fine instruments.

Address: 191 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.memphisrocknsoul.org

5. National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum
National Civil Rights Museum | Carl Wycoff / photo modified

A short distance south of Beale Street, at 406 Mulberry Street, is the infamous Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968. The building is now occupied by the National Civil Rights Museum, which traces the history of civil rights movements in the US. Its centerpiece is the hotel room and balcony on which King was killed, now marked by a white wreath.

This thought-provoking museum includes a number of excellent interactive displays, as well as artifacts from the Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka case and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Address: 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.civilrightsmuseum.org

6. Mississippi River Park and Museum

Mississippi River Park and Museum
Mississippi River Park and Museum

Mud Island — also known as Festival Island — houses the Riverwalk, a three-quarter-mile-long model showing the course of the Mississippi all the way from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. At the scaled-down gulf, visitors can hop aboard a pedal boat and relax on the water while enjoying views of the Memphis skyline.

The model is part of the Mississippi River Museum, the central attraction of this family park, with its excellent galleries and a reproduction of an 1870 steamboat. Other highlights include the Hall of River Music and a collection of native artifacts.

The island is also home to Mississippi River Park, with its many walking and bike trails, pedal boat rentals, plus a 5,000-seat amphitheater with numerous summer concerts. The best way to get to Mud Island is via the city's suspended monorails.

Address: 125 North Front Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.mudisland.com

7. The Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo
Memphis Zoo

Established in 1906, The Memphis Zoo, home to more than 3,500 animals representing 500 species, is one of only four zoos in the country to house giant pandas. Other popular inhabitants include polar bears, sea lions, black bears, bald eagles, and ravens in a naturalistic environment called the Northwest Passage, while Cat Country is home to both predators and prey, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, and antelopes.

Other habitats have family favorites such as elephants, giraffes, penguins, several species of primates including the adorable bonobo, and even a farm animal exhibit. A must-see is Butterflies: In Living Color, open seasonally from Memorial Day through October. Concessions, rides, gift shops, and a discovery center are also available. Guided tours and fun behind-the-scenes encounters are also available.

Address: 2000 Prentiss Place, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.memphiszoo.org

8. STAX Museum of American Soul

STAX Museum of American Soul
STAX Museum of American Soul | Kim / photo modified

The STAX Museum of American Soul — one of only a handful of museums worldwide dedicated to the genre — is an exact replica of the original Stax Records studio. The museum features "everything soul," including detailed exhibits relating to the stars, the music, and its history, as well as artifacts such as instruments and costumes. Other highlights are a century-old Mississippi Delta church used to display soul's roots in gospel music, and the Soul Train TV show dance floor.

Address: 926 E. McLemore Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.staxmuseum.com

9. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Statue at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Statue at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Established in 1916, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is Tennessee's largest (and oldest) art museum. The building itself is something of a work of art and includes an interesting cylindrical design in the extension added in the 1950s. Spread across its 29 galleries is an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, including works representing the Renaissance and Baroque periods, as well as Impressionist paintings and American prints. Highlights include works by the likes of Gainsborough and Renoir.

Decorative arts, including fine examples of textiles and furniture, are also on display. The grounds are also pleasant and include a large terrace area and garden. The museum also includes a gift shop and café, along with educational spaces (art classes are available), a research library, and an auditorium.

Another interesting museum to check out it is the Metal Museum, which features fascinating examples of metalwork by leading American metalsmiths.

Address: 1934 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.brooksmuseum.org

10. Children's Museum of Memphis

Children's Museum of Memphis
Children's Museum of Memphis | Josh Grenier / photo modified

The Children's Museum of Memphis (CMOM) is a godsend for traveling parents and features numerous things to do, including hands-on displays to keep young ones entertained. Highlights include a fun cityscape with kid-sized businesses, including an auto mechanic shop and dentist office, as well as an interactive model of Times Square and a giant Light-Bright wall.

Kids can also sit in a flight simulator and a real airplane cockpit, explore the Mississippi River, climb through the arteries of a giant heart, and ride a bicycle on Mars. Other highlights include a ride on the 1909 Dentzel Grand Carousel, a big-top circus experience, painting and sculpting in the art studio, and fun special events. Snack outlets are available, and picnic space is provided.

Address: 2525 Central Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.cmom.com

11. Shelby Farms Park

Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park

Five times the size of New York's Central Park, the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park is full of things to do for kids, adults, and even your four-legged family members. Kids' activities include the Woodland Discovery Playground and the Water Play Sprayground, where they can cool off while having fun.

Visitors age 10 and up will get a new perspective from the Treetop Adventure Course, which includes net bridges, rope ladders, "Tarzan Swings," and ziplines. Adventure seekers will also love the Laser Tag and paintball games.

Paddleboat and kayak rentals are offered, so you can enjoy some of the 20 lakes at Shelby Farms, and bicycles are also available for tourists who want to explore the park's 40 miles of trails, many of which are paved.

Animal lovers may want to take a guided ride on horseback. Traveling with a dog? They're always welcome on-leash anywhere in the park or can run free in the Outback Off-Leash Dog Park, where they can also cool off in the water. There is also plenty of space for picnics and outdoor games, including an 18-hole disc golf course.

The park has a good restaurant with patio seating that overlooks Hyde Lake, plus multiple food trucks if you get peckish during your adventures.

Address: 6903 Great View Drive North, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.shelbyfarmspark.org

12. Dixon Gallery and Gardens

Dixon Gallery and Gardens
Dixon Gallery and Gardens | Karen Dorsett / photo modified

Margaret and Hugo Dixon bequeathed their beautiful Memphis home and French Impressionist paintings as an art gallery and gardens open to all. Set amid 17 acres of woodlands, the property is famous for its English, French, and Italian landscape influences. Artworks include pieces by Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Matisse, as well as some 600 pieces of German porcelain. A great café is located on-site, and guided tours are available.

Another notable outdoor attraction is the Memphis Botanic Garden with its roses, wildflowers, magnolias, and lakeside Japanese garden. Nature lovers should also check out the Lichterman Nature Center, a 65-acre wildlife sanctuary with nature trails, a greenhouse, and lake.

Address: 4339 Park Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.dixon.org

13. Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum | Adam Jones / photo modified

The Burkle Estate was built near the Mississippi River in 1849 by German immigrant Jacob Burkle as the home of the Memphis Stockyards, during an era when Memphis was the state's largest slave-trading city. Unbeknownst to his slave-owning neighbors, however, beneath the simple-looking home, he had constructed numerous cellars and secret passages that were expressly designed as a safe-haven for escaped slaves.

During the tour, visitors learn about the secret message system used to communicate between escapees and Underground Railway operators, find out how they traveled from one point to the next, and get a feel for the slave culture that was so much a part of the Old South. Most importantly, tourists can learn more about the conditions endured by so many people who were desperately trying to gain freedom.

Address: 826 North Second Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.slavehavenmemphis.com

14. Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium

Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium
Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium | Bryan Kemp / photo modified

The Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium is another great place to visit for families traveling to Memphis. Filling roles as Tennessee's science and historical museum, the museum is set in an impressive old mansion, which was constructed in 1852 for one of the city's richest families (the founder of Piggly Wiggly's).

These days, this pink-marble clad mansion's 25 rooms, most maintained in their original state, are open to the public and well worth a visit. Other highlights include the adjoining Sharpe Planetarium and an Imax theater.

In addition to exhibits related to the city's history, the museum portion of this popular attraction includes exhibits relating to the home's original owners, including a reproduction early grocery store. Other exhibits include 15th-century Native American pottery, fossils, preserved animals, and the history of the state's cotton industry.

The history of cotton is also featured at the Cotton Museum. Set in the former Memphis Cotton Exchange, the museum explores the social and economic impact of this important crop through the ages.

Address: 3050 Central Ave, Memphis, Tennessee

Official site: www.memphismuseums.org/pink-palace-museum/

Where to Stay in Memphis for Sightseeing

For first-time visitors to Memphis, the best place to stay is right downtown, close to famous Beale Street with its live music venues and great restaurants. Other attractions downtown include the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the WC Handy House. For those who are only interested in visiting Graceland, staying at the southern end of the city or by the airport is a good idea. Below is a list of highly rated hotels in convenient locations we think you'll like:

  • Luxury Hotels: The boutique luxury hotel known as the River Inn of Harbor Town is a great choice of place to stay in Memphis. It's just a short distance from the downtown core and offers tastefully appointed rooms with stunning river views. Guests can enjoy a great complimentary breakfast and a fun evening reception (all included in the rate). The hotel also features an on-site fine dining restaurant.

    One of Tennessee's most famous hotels, The Peabody Memphis is an iconic Memphis landmark dating back to 1925. This exquisite luxury hotel is located right in the center of the action and is perhaps best known for the procession of ducks that walk through the lobby to a fountain each day at 11am and 5pm. The rooms are each unique and elegantly furnished.

    Situated in a quiet location yet within easy walking distance of Beale Street, the recently opened Hu. Hotel features freshly renovated rooms and modern amenities. If your budget permits and you're traveling with kids, opt for one of the larger suites. In addition to its restaurants, the hotel also features valet parking, a rooftop terrace, and laundry service.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: At the top end of the mid-range hotels category in Memphis and offering spacious, full suites is the modern Residence Inn. Set in a restored 1930s Art Deco building featuring a spectacular lobby with original architecture, the hotel offers amenities such as a great rooftop terrace, a fitness center, and complimentary breakfast.

    The Hampton Inn & Suites is another good option to consider, occupying a great location half a block from Beale Street. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, meeting rooms, laundry service, and free breakfast.

    Well priced and only 15 minutes from Graceland, the Staybridge Suites features extra-large rooms complete with full kitchens, making them the perfect place to stay for those traveling with kids. Add to this a good-sized, heated outdoor pool and a buffet breakfast, and you're all set for a great Memphis family vacation.
  • Budget Hotels: Offering good value downtown in an excellent central location, the Comfort Inn Downtown features clean, comfortable rooms. Amenities of this tall hotel include a great rooftop swimming pool and lounge area overlooking the Mississippi River and the downtown core, a fitness center, and covered parking.

    A favorite among visitors who like a quality budget stay, the Knights Inn West Memphis, close to the Interstate, features comfortable rooms with free Wi-Fi, large TVs, microwaves, and mini-fridges; upgrade to a larger suite for more space in the bathroom and living areas, as well as a handy kitchenette. Parking and a free continental breakfast are included with your stay.

    Those on a tight budget who enjoy shared accommodations should consider the highly rated Hostel Memphis. On a bus route to the downtown core, the hostel features a mix of dorm rooms with bunks plus private rooms suitable for couples. Included with your stay are free Wi-Fi, lockers, a shared kitchen, plus coffee making facilities. Private rooms are also available.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Memphis

Memphis is a big city with so many things to do that it can be tough to see all the top attractions without spending your entire vacation planning how to get around. For those who want to experience the highlights of Memphis with minimum hassle, these tour options may be the best way to make the most of your trip:

  • Half-Day Sightseeing Tour: The three-hour Memphis City Tour with Admission to One Memphis Attraction is a guided coach tour that has an add-on option (possible add-ons include a visit to Elvis Presley's Graceland Estate). This popular tour begins with hotel pickup and takes in some of the best places to visit in Memphis, including Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, and Sun Studio. The standard tour is timed to make a stop at the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous Peabody Duck March, after which you can peruse the 120-year-old Memphis institution A. Schwab, a unique, old-time general store shopping experience.
  • Memphis Mojo Tour: Perfect for those who want a truly immersive music experience, the Memphis Mojo Tour includes the best places to visit related to the city's rich music heritage. The tour includes transportation, the services of a professional guide, as well as participation by local musicians providing some fun musical accompaniment along the way (you may also be asked to join in!). Highlights include visits to Beale Street, Stax Studio, and the National Civil Rights Museum. For an additional fee, you can also add Sun Studio to the tour.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best shopping areas in Memphis?

While some of the best shopping can be enjoyed in the downtown area around Beale Street — especially if you're looking for souvenirs and music-related items — there are other areas of Memphis that are also popular among shoppers. Head to South Main street for an eclectic mix of galleries and clothes stores, while revitalized Overton Square is great for boutique stores and women's fashions and accessories. Be sure to visit the iconic Memphis Pyramid, which is now home to a huge Bass Pro Shop.

What are the best ways to get around in Memphis?

Memphis has a reliable and easy-to-use public transit system. The Memphis Area Transit Authority offers numerous buses around the city, plus a great trolley system that uses vintage cars across its network, adding immensely to the fun quotient. Buses and trolleys serve most major attractions, with affordable rates and regular services.

Alternatively, the Memphis Hop bus service is worth considering and visits most major attractions, including Graceland. And three of the city's largest attractions — Graceland, Sun Studio, and Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Studio — operate a free shuttle service that runs between them all day long, seven days a week.

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imageTennessee Vacation Ideas: Visitors are often surprised to find there's no end of fun things to do in Tennessee. Outdoor adventurers should head for the beautiful Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountains area, popular for its numerous hiking and biking trails and family attractions. The country music capital of Nashville is another great destination and features the iconic Music Row with its museums and star attractions, as well as the famous Grand Ole Opry.

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