Where to Go in Memphis, Tennessee

31 Things to Do in Memphis: A First-Timer’s Guide to Tennessee’s Largest City

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As the weather heats up and West Tennessee prepares for its biggest month of the year, Memphis in May, I’m reflecting on 30 years of traveling to Tennessee’s largest, rawest and most delightful city to compile my greatest hits list of things to do in Memphis.

How to Do Memphis in a Pandemic

Whether it’s your first visit to the state’s cultural capital or your 10th, you’re traveling with kids or flying solo, you’ll find something fun to strike your fancy on this list of restaurants, tours and attractions in Memphis, some of them touristy and others a bit more insider.



1. Make your own musical PhD

There are so many places to learn about the history of music in Memphis, and Stax Museum is the place to start; you can visit on your own or on this awesome Big Mojo bus tour we took a few years back. Though the original Stax was torn down in the late 80’s, the museum serves as a legacy to its glory years. Nearby, the Blues Hall of Fame Museum also provides a history lesson to Memphis’ melodic past with an extensive music collection of both hits and rare finds for visitors to dip into via its various high-tech listening stations.

Stax Museum: exploring Black history in Memphis

Don’t pass on a stop at Sun Studio, whose legacy was cemented by a jam session with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash that was recorded and later dubbed “the Million Dollar Quartet.” The small studio has remained relatively unchanged and is open daily for tours.

Check availability with Memphis Mojo Tours here

2. Take a self-guided tour of Memphis’ murals

I’d argue that Memphis has even more street art than Nashville; street art that is more interesting and less art-by-committee and, thankfully, comprises far fewer wings murals. Don’t know where to start? I’ve got a guide to Memphis murals, complete with a Google Map to guide you along.

Best Murals in Memphis

3. Stroll down Beale Street

Just like Broadway in Nashville, walking in Memphis (sorry, had to) along Beale Street is one thing you have to do whether you like touristy things or not. Beale Street first began as a meeting place for the African-American community following the Civil War but saw its heyday as an entertainment district in the Roaring 20’s. At the turn of the century, W.C. Handy—“the father of blues”—was one of the bustling avenue’s most prominent residents, and he still has a museum operated out of his former home there.

A New Generation of Memphis Soul: Lucky 7 Brass Band

My tip? Go during daylight hours on the weekdays to avoid full-on mayhem. On top of round-the-clock music, there are always street performers and other fun things taking place on Beale.

Related post: A New Generation of Soul for Memphis Music

4. Wander through Crosstown Concourse

Housed in a former Sears distribution center that sat crumbling for decades, Crosstown Concourse’s $200 million facelift featured a 10-story, 1.1-million-square-foot, mixed-use concept spanning residential spaces, businesses, restaurants and more. Worth a visit: Crosstown Brewery and this cool art bar with globally-inspired cocktails.

What to Do in Memphis: Visit the Crosstown Concourse
What to Do in Memphis: Visit the Crosstown Concourse
What to Do in Memphis: Visit the Crosstown Concourse

5. Sip a flight at Old Dominick Distillery

Memphis’ first distillery since pre-Prohibition, Old Dominick Distillery, opened on the heels of a major legislation change a few years back. The Canale family stepped in to revive its family legacy—which had thrived under founder Domenico Canale from 1866 until Prohibition halted all production nearly a century ago—by bringing back Old Dominick, the sole West Tennessee member of the 26-stop Tennessee Whiskey Trail, in the form of a 50,000-square-foot facility by the river with a bar, large retail area, a rooftop and plenty of room for private events.

What to Do in Memphis: Taste Whiskey at Old Dominick Distillery
What to Do in Memphis: Taste Whiskey at Old Dominick Distillery

Related post: Meet Tennessee Whiskey Trail’s Urban Distilleries

6. Pop into Wiseacre Brewing Co.

We love us some craft beer in this household, and Memphis boasts the largest brewery in the state: Wiseacre Brewing Co. The OG brewery still holds court at the original location on Broad Avenue, but the downtown headquarters is bigger, brighter, and bolder and has dozen of Wiseacre beers and cocktails on taps and available for purchase in cans.

New Wiseacre Brewery opens in Memphis

Want to taste some other Memphis brews? Memphis Made now has a sizable distillery in Cooper-Young while Meddlesome Brewing Company in Shelby Farms puts out some funky beers.

7. Check out the underground music scene

Beale Street isn’t the only place to get your live music on. There are plenty of grittier music clubs and venues spread across the city. One of my favorites, Railgarten, is an adult Disneyland of sorts spanning 1.5 acres of a former rail yard with Ping-Pong, volleyball, live music, a diner, an ice cream parlor and plenty of beer on tap. It’s also where some truly great musical acts like Lord T & Eloise play.

Lord T and Eloise at Railgarten in Memphis

8. See a Grizzlies game

Memphis’ only professional sports team is Memphis Grizzlies, and as such, locals go gaga for the Grizz. The NBA team plays at the FedExForum downtown conveniently a stone’s throw from Beale Street each season.

Trolley Night in South Main

9. Try Memphis barbecue

Many will fight to the death claiming Memphis BBQ is better than all others. While I have no dog in this fight … the rumors are absolutely true! And while I love all barbecue, my favorite kind comes from Memphis. My go-to stops? Central BBQ, Germantown Commissary and Rendezvous; Corky’s BBQ also originated in Memphis. Don’t eat pork? Try Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken instead.

Central BBQ: Best Barbecue in Memphis

10. Bike to Arkansas

Haven’t been to Arkansas? You can check off two states in one trip by renting a bicycle through Explore Bike Share and pedaling the Big River Crossing over the bridge and across the state line.

Biking Big River Crossing in Memphis, Tennessee

Related post: How to Get Outdoors in Memphis, Tennessee

11. Tour the National Civil Rights Museum

If ever there were a more poignant museum that accurately gives patrons a more gut-wrenching look at slavery and its effects on humanity, I have yet to find it. The National Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated is one of those life-changing experience every human needs to have.

Black History in Memphis: A Tour of Possibilities

12. Learn about Memphis’ Black history

Learning about Black history in Memphis will give you better insight to the racial tension that rips apart areas of the South in present times. And there are few people more qualified to give you such an in-depth look at Memphis from the Underground Railroad to today than Carolyn Michael-Banks, owner of A Tour of Possibilities, and her fellow tour guides.

Black History in Memphis: A Tour of Possibilities

13. Visit the Memphis Zoo

We’re big zoo fans in my house, and rarely have I had more fun in Memphis than when my whole family went to the zoo a couple summers back. We pet stingrays, we fed giraffes, we rode the train, and we saw every last animal that inhabits the zoo’s 76 acres.

Outdoor Activities in Memphis: Feeding giraffes at the Memphis Zoo

14. Bike the Greenline

Memphis is a bike town, and it comes as no surprise really as the city boasts more than 60 miles of bike trails, including the wildly popular, 10-mile Shelby Farms Greenline. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, this is the city for you.

Biking Big River Crossing in Memphis, Tennessee

15. Head north to Meeman-Shelby Forest

The 12,539-acre Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park borders the mighty Mississippi River and is just 13 miles north of downtown Memphis. With a swamp-like terrain and plenty of campsites throughout the park, it’s a great spot to get away to for a weekend or just for an afternoon paddle.

Kayaking in Meeman-Shelby Forest

16. Get out in Shelby Farms

Shelby Farms is also another must-do in Memphis. At 4,500 acres, it’s more than five times the size of Central Park, and it’s got SUP, paddleboats, zipling, axe-throwing, horseback riding and much, much more.

Shelby Farms: Outdoor Activities in Memphis

17. Do a DIY picnic along the river

I love getting takeout and picnicking outdoors on a balmy Southern evening at the River Garden next to Tom Lee Park; utilize the public seating while dining and watching the sun set over over the Mississippi River.

Outdoor Activities in Memphis this summer

18. See the Mighty Lights

If you stick around long enough, you’ll get to see the Mighty Lights, which run every half hour on the Hernando De Soto Bridge each night from sundown till 10:30pm. Pack bug spray.

Outdoor Activities in Memphis this Summer

19. Tour Elvis’ former digs

I went 35 years before I finally made it to Graceland, and let me tell you: Even if you aren’t an Elvis fan, the Kings’ splashy digs are worth checking out nonetheless. The house alone is a fantastic display of midcentury modern design, and Elvis’ car and plane collections are impressive to say the least. Check out the ultimate Elvis tour from Graceland to Tupelo in a day or skip the long lines with a private VIP Graceland experience.

Tour Graceland in Memphis

20. See a show at Overton Shell

Formerly called the Levitt Shell, the iconic music venue now simply referred to as “the Shell” in Overton Park was the site of Presley’s first live appearance—as an opener. It was long neglected in the 70’s and later saved by the City of Memphis and a non-profit foundation who restored it to its former glory. Now, the open-air amphitheater is a must-visit for music lovers looking to see a show in warmer months.

Levitt Shell in Memphis

21. Shop for music-related memorabilia

There are plenty of places to pick up musical memorabilia, from Ditty TV’s Vibe and Dime in South Main to the Gibson Guitar Factory. Looking for instruments? Memphis Drum Shop is worth perusing even if you aren’t a drummer. There’s also Goner Records in Cooper-Young and Shangri-La Records in Midtown for vintage vinyl, as well as Elvis’ former clothier Lansky Bros. on Beale Street.

Ditty TV's Vibe & Dine store

22. See the Crystal Shine Grotto

You’ll find a bizarre manmade feature deep within East Memphis’ Memorial Park Cemetery. Designed to look like a natural cave, this 1930s relic is surrounded by a zen garden and reflection pond and filled with quartz and peppered with religious imagery.

The cemetery’s original architect and owner thought the grounds needed a bit of jazzing up, so he hired Mexican artist Dionicio Rodríguez to bring his concept of a rock crystal-encrusted cave to life; the project wasn’t finished, though, until decades later when woodworker David Day came along in 1981 and carved the figurines depicting the life of Christ that now inhabit the cave. Crystal Shine Grotto is free and open to the public during the cemetery’s regular hours.

23. Create your own culinary tour of Memphis restaurants

Memphis has a food scene to rival any other city its size, and I recommend making reservations to all of my favorites including Second Line, Hog & Hominy and Gray Canary. Consider yourself a foodie? Use this weekend itinerary for Memphis as your culinary guide.

Dining at Bishop in Memphis

24. Follow in the footsteps of slaves

Slave Haven, a spot along the Railroad Underground near the Mississippi River, is a fascinating glimpse at the resilience it took all involved to ferry slaves out of Memphis in the 1800s and up to Canada to freedom. The old house isn’t far from the site of the gruesome slave markets, which now bears a historical marker. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet and learn from Elaine Lee Turner, director for the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, who was also a celebrated civil rights activist.

Slave Haven in Memphis

25. See the Peabody ducks on their march

Even if you aren’t staying at the Peabody Hotel, you have to pop in to see the daily march of the ducks from their perch atop the hotel at 11am and back up to their roost at 5pm each day. In between, they swim around in the lobby pond. This is free to check out and so fun, especially with kids. I even got to be an Honorary Duckmaster once!

What to Do in Memphis: See the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel
What to Do in Memphis: See the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hote

26. Check out the Broad Avenue Arts District

Home to Wiseacre OG, this blossoming arts district is full of shops, restaurants, bars and a whole lot of cool art.

Broad Avenue Arts District in Memphis

27. Take the trolley down South Main Street

Just south of downtown, the South Main district is one of my favorites, as it’s brimming with indie shops, bars and other places to fuel up. It’s also got a trolley line that you can ride from one end of Main Street to the other if you simply don’t feel like walking.

Traveling in Memphis during COVID-19

28. Honor civil rights activists at I Am a Man Plaza

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I Am a Man Plaza alongside Clayborn Temple was a memorial to the Sanitation Strike Workers who were there the evening before his murder. Provoked by the deaths of colleagues due to unsafe conditions, the sanitation workers began peaceful protesting, protests met with violent opposition. Dr. King gave his iconic speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Bishop Charles Mason Temple on the evening before he was assassinated at the age of 39.

Black History in Memphis: A Tour of Possibilities

29. Check out Orange Mound

A historically black neighborhood in Memphis, Orange Mound is worth driving through to check out the local businesses like the Collective (The CLTV), which houses the city’s first museum for black artists, The COMPLX, where the artistic community can showcase their original pieces. The art gallery on 2234 Lamar Ave. is free to visit.

Memphis Murals in Orange Mound

30. Stroll through the Victorian Village

Don’t sleep on Memphis Victorian district; its home to some of the most well-preserved mansions in town, including Woodruff-Fontaine House and the 1886 Queen Anne mansion that formerly housed Mollie Fontaine Lounge.

Mollie Fontaine Lounge in Memphis

31. Wander through this Amtrak-station-turned hotel

Central Station isn’t just cool because it was a historic rail station. It’s cool because it’s still an Amtrak rail station and a hotel in one—with the coolest decor in town. Wander through the stunning lobby, grab a drink in the bar or nab a table at on-site Bishop restaurant while you’re there.

Staying at the Central Station in Memphis

There are dozens of other things to do in Memphis, but hopefully this is a good start in helping you plan your trip to Tennessee. Have any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll be glad to answer!

Backbeat Music Tour in Memphis, Tennessee

Check out more Memphis tours here:

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Things to Do in Memphis: How to Spend a Weekend in Tennessee
Things to Do in Memphis: How to Spend a Weekend in Tennessee
Things to Do in Memphis: How to Spend a Weekend in Tennessee
  • April 20, 2022

    I went through Memphis recently and used your mural guide! I was super sad that the awesome guitar mural you have a picture of in this post had a giant sign covering half of it 🙁

  • April 29, 2022

    Memphis seems to have so much to offer! I’d love to try the Memphis barbecue especially!

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