Memphis is a city full of history, sometimes triumphant and sometimes tragic, but always legendary. Although not a huge city (population of about 650,000), we were overwhelmed by the number of things we wanted to see (and eat) while visiting! Two days were not enough, but we squeezed as much as humanly possible into those 48 hours. Here are five must do items for your Memphis itinerary…and some tips to help you out along the way:
Graceland: Whether you have been a die hard Elvis fan your whole life or you were born long after Elvis’ death, Graceland is a great way to spend four hours. Full of incredible memorabilia and lots of information, you will learn so much about the “king” while checking out his house, airplanes and cars. A few tips:
-> The Platinum Tour ($45) seems to be the best value. It’s not much more than the Mansion Tour ($36) but much cheaper than the VIP Tour ($77), the only upside of which seems to be the line by-pass.
-> For discounts on tickets (e.g. save $4 per person on the Platinum Tour), check out Memphis Travel and click the “Deals” tab. Print the coupons and bring them with you to purchase the ticket on site to avoid the online service charge.
-> Don’t go first thing in the morning – the afternoon is much quieter with hardly any line-ups.
-> Parking is $10 at Graceland, but we parked on one of the residential streets nearby for free.
-> The planes and cars are worth seeing – don’t miss those!
Sun Studios: For further immersion into the musical history of Memphis, look no further than Sun Studio, the legendary recording mecca of so many incredible artists, including the million dollar quartet (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash). Tours are $12, last less than an hour and feature tons of memorabilia and historical facts. Studio hours are 10am to 6pm and tours are offered on the half hour, but try to avoid the first tour of the day – it inevitable sells out really quickly. Best tip for Sun Studio – there is free parking in the back AND a free shuttle to Graceland and the Rock & Roll Museum!
Beale Street Blues: Although it serves mainly as a tourist attraction now, Beale Street is at the heart of Memphis’ blues history and remains a great place to hear live music. Much smaller and calmer than Dirty Sixth in Austin or Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street maintains that party atmosphere with few cover coverages and the freedom to take your drinks to go (gotta love the liberal open container laws in the South!). Best tip for Beale Street – come early! Everything seems to shut down by about midnight or 1am at the latest. Consider visiting during the Beale Street Music Festival in May, which features some great acts and only costs $120 for a 3 day pass.
National Civil Rights Museum: Spending at least two or three hours exploring the National Civil Rights Museum, located within the historic Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, is recommended. Admission is $15 and the museum is open from 9:00-5:00pm, closed Tuesdays and opens at 1pm Sundays. The struggle for civil rights in traced from slavery to present day in the excellent exhibits, with plenty of detail for those that want to dig deep and informative videos for those that have less time. The setting provides a powerful forum to offer historical insights and build an understanding of present day race relations. Tip: let the school groups pass you by or they will drive you bonkers!
BBQ: Of course you cannot leave Memphis without putting on a few pounds by way of sampling some of their amazing dry rub BBQ ribs. Our favourite was Leonard’s Pit BBQ, which Grant & Marie covered very well in a recent post. It is completely out of the way, requires a car to get to, and keeps limited hours (check ahead!), but the ribs were so flavourful and juicy that it’s completely worth the hassle. Second place goes to The Bar-B-Q Shop for their deliciously juicy ribs, though I didn’t love the BBQ spaghetti for it’s sweetness. We also tried Rendezvous and Central BBQ, which are most frequently visited due to their central locations, but we wouldn’t recommend either of these over our first two picks. Rendezvous was pretty good but a bit dry, and Central was WAY too dry, though I really liked their sides. While you are there don’t forget to try Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken — delicious!!
Memphis is so much more than a top five list…in fact, this list could probably go on forever! If you have more time, consider adding the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Rock’N’Soul Museum, or the Gibson Guitar Factory to your list….not to mention the Riverfront and all the great music venues beyond Beale Street.
What are your favourite legendary sights in Memphis?