Memphis, Tennessee is one of the country’s most well known destination for music, fostering acts like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and B.B. King. It’s the largest city on the Mississippi River and has the best dry rub ribs anywhere. Memphis was also an important location to the Civil Rights Movement and where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum. It was here that he gave his iconic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech only a day before. Today, Memphis in May is the city’s top event, including the famous Beale Street Music Festival.
What to Do
Peabody Ducks– Children and the young at heart will appreciate the daily appearance of the Peabody Ducks. The tradition started as a practical joke in the 1930s that has become the hotel’s trademark. The ducks come down in their own elevator daily at 11 am and 5 pm, led by the Duckmaster and escorted into the fountain in the lobby. 149 Union Avenue
Graceland– I visited Graceland, former home of Elvis Presley, a few years ago and was amazed by his truly unique decorating style. Check out the famous “Jungle Room” as well as his recording studio and collection of cars and jets. 3717 Elvis Presley Boulevard
National Civil Rights Museum– Even if you don’t visit the Civil Rights Museum, you can see the facade of the Lorraine Motel as it looked in 1968 where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot from the second floor balcony. A wreath hangs in remembrance. 450 Mulberry Street
Beale St– Beale Street is often likened to Memphis’ Bourbon Street, as it’s lined with bars and music venues and allows you to carry open containers of alcohol on the street. Stop by any one of the clubs to hear authentic Memphis blues. Beale Street
Music lovers will enjoy the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio and the Gibson Guitar Corporation Factory Tour. Over on Mud Island, check out the Mud Island River Park, where you can walk or take the monorail across. You can purchase local brew Ghost River from their brewery and tailgate for a Grizzlies basketball game.
Where to Eat
Flying Fish – Memphis– Judging by the dozens of Billy Bass nailed to the wall, the specialty of this restaurant is fish. Their fried catfish and po boys are an affordable alternative to some of the overpriced fare closer to Beale Street. 105 S. 2nd Street, (901) 552-8228
Corky’s Ribs & BBQ– Dry rub ribs are one of Memphis’ most famous dishes and while there is debate about the best place to get them, my favorite is Corky’s. In addition to ribs, you can get barbecue sandwiches and all the fixings, like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes. 5259 Poplar Avenue, (901) 685-9744
Central BBQ– I asked a local where she eats ribs and barbecue and she directed me to Central, where locals had already formed a line at 5:45 pm. The wait is worth it, especially for the platter, which has ribs, pulled pork and brisket with sides. 147 East Butler Avenue, (901) 672-7760
Where to Stay
I found a deal on Hotwire for the Crowne Plaza near St. Jude’s Research Hospital. It was within walking distance of Beale Street and the other attractions and included parking. For those on a budget, there’s Pilgrim House Hostel. If you are prepared to splurge, stay in the Peabody Hotel, a member of the Historic Hotels of America and namesake to the famous Peabody Ducks. Madison Hotel is a new addition to Memphis accommodation.
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Interstates 55 and 40 access the city and I-240 runs the perimeter of Memphis, which is located 3 hours from Nashville and 6 hours from Atlanta. Memphis International Airport services flights from all over the United States, mostly via American Airlines, Delta and United.
Memphis is also accessible via rail on Amtrak, which arrives at Central Station a few blocks south of Beale Street. The city is on the City of New Orleans route that runs between Chicago and New Orleans. Megabus and Greyhound have stops here as well at the MATA North End Terminal building and Memphis Bus Station, respectively.
Much of the downtown area of Memphis is pedestrian friendly, particularly Beale Street, which isn’t open to cars most days, allowing visitors to walk, with drinks in hand, from bar to bar. “Walking in Memphis” is much more than a catchy song.
There are no city bike rentals in Memphis like in some other cities, but you can rent independently through Peddler Bike Shop for around $35 per day. This map shows the city’s best biking and walking paths by neighborhood, most of which are in the suburbs.
As with many old Southern cities, parking can be hard to come by. If you’re staying at a hotel that has its own parking, it’s best to leave your car there and walk or take the bus to other locations. You won’t need a car for most places in Memphis, as you can take a shuttle to attractions like Graceland.
If you don’t have a car while visiting Memphis but don’t want to take public transportation, or need a ride home from Beale Street at night, take advantage of the city’s taxi services. Yellow Cab is the most popular choice, but ride sharing services Uber and Lyft also have a presence in the city.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) operates buses and the streetcar. Editor’s Note: The streetcar ended services in 2015, but as of 2015 they are being restored to be returned to use. The trolley runs in three lines through downtown, including stops at the North End Terminal Megabus stop, Central Station Amtrak stop and Cleveland Station at the Medical Center. One-way trips are $1.00 per section, with day and week passes available. The buses cover dozens of routes to reach every part of town, including the airport. Bus fares start at $1.75 and only accept exact change.