This post on 200 things to do in Memphis is close to my heart. My beloved hometown of Memphis, Tennessee turned 200 in 2019 and she’s been through a lot in her short lifetime. Most of it good, some of it bad, and that time we lost the NCAA basketball championship by seven points was really, truly ugly. No, I’m still not over it so shut up!
This post was originally published for Memphis’s birthday in 2019 but is regularly updated. It has been updated for 2021.
Memphis, Tennessee turns 200
On May 22, 1819, some rich guys (John Overton, James Winchester, and future president Andrew Jackson) founded the city of Memphis and named it after the ancient Egyptian capital on the Nile. Boom, knowledge!
What started out as a trade and transportation hub became a major cotton market, home to a large population of Irish immigrants (shout out to my great-grandfamily!), and became a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War.
It suffered a series of yellow fever epidemics (one of them the most traumatic and severe in urban U.S. history actually) and at one point became the world’s largest cotton market and world’s largest hardwood lumber market (seriously?).
In the 1950s it became the world’s largest mule market (this is getting weird), and played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, just to name a few of Memphis’s historical markers.
Memphis, Tennessee today
Since the city’s founding in 1819, Memphis has become synonymous with Elvis Presley, blues and rock ‘n’ roll, BBQ, southern hospitality, overnight shipping, that place where The Firm starring Tom Cruise was filmed, being the world leader in pediatric cancer treatment and research, and a place I’m happy to call HOME.
For those of you first learning of all the things to do in Memphis, you’re in for a very tasty treat. For those of you returning, Whaddup y’all! How y’all been?
200 Things to do in Memphis in 2021
So in honor of Memphis, Tennessee recently turning 200, here are 200 things to do in Memphis on your next visit. Or this weekend if you’re lucky enough to live there.
A few things to note before we dive in:
The food & drink section does not contain all the food and drink related things to do.
I’ve grouped the points as relevantly as possible but there is a lot of overlap.
Best to peruse the whole thing! I’d hate for you to miss the best ribs in the world, the best dining views, or the chance to drink a beer in a haunted old brothel because they aren’t listed in that section.
This list is, believe it or not, not all inclusive.
There’s still more to see and do and you can bet your ass there are more amazing places to eat in Memphis. So if you want another recommendation, say so in the comments! It’d be my privilege to fill in any blanks.
This list is in no particular order.
Some of the best schtuff isn’t even at the top.
Jump to these sections:
- Things to do in Memphis… with Elvis
- Things to do in Memphis with music history in general
- What to do on Beale Street
- Things to do in Memphis along the river
- Things to do in (South Main) Memphis
- What to see and do at the Peabody Hotel
- Where to eat and drink in Memphis
- Things to do in Memphis in May
- Entertaining things to do in Memphis
- Things to do in Memphis when you want to learn
- Things to do in Memphis for sports enthusiasts
- Memphis festivals to check out
- Things to do in Memphis that are kinda creepy
- Holiday things to do in Memphis
- Things to do in Memphis out East
- What to do in Memphis before you leave
Things to do in Memphis with Elvis
1. Tour Graceland and its museums
Did you think I wasn’t going to list this first? Graceland, the former mansion of Elvis Presley, superstar entertainer and pelvis extraordinaire, is the #1 site to visit in Memphis, Tennessee and for good reason.
Graceland is so much more than an out-of-this-century mansion tour—it’s a handful of eye-opening museums, his car and airplane collection, ponies!!, and so much more. I wrote an entire post on it that I highly recommend reading: 13 Reasons to Visit Graceland Even If You’re Not an Elvis Fan
2. Sign the wall at Graceland
Without even officially visiting Graceland you can still leave your mark on the property—literally and legally. Head to the gates of Graceland on Elvis Presley Blvd (you can pull off the main road and park in front of the property) and whip out your Sharpie.
From as far back as when Elvis was still living here fans have covered the sidewalk, the stone wall surrounding the property, and anything else that gets in their way with signatures, drawings, and things like “Patsy + Elvis forever”. How’s that working out for you, hun?
3. Pay your respects without spending a dime
Without even officially visiting Graceland you can still stop in and pay your respects—fo’ free. I’m guessing Patsy will be there in a black veil. Every morning* between 7:30-8:30 AM Graceland’s Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his family members are buried, is open to the public.
You must enter the gates before 8:30 for free walk-up access but know that the Meditation Garden is accessible on the standard Graceland tour should the food coma brought on by #78 slow you down.
*with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas days
4. Take the Sun Studio tour
Sun Studio is the small music studio where a young Elvis Aaron Presley walked in off the street to record a few songs. Aaaaaand the rest is history why Patsy wakes up every morning.
Sun Studio is where Elvis Presley got discovered, became a star, and changed the world as we know it none of us know it because we’re all too young. It’s also where Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and countless others began their careers. And the tour is amazing!
5. Take a pic at the most famous mic in music history
The second half of the Sun Studio tour takes place in the studio where Elvis and friends recorded some of the most famous and ground-breaking records.
After your tour guide finishes rocking the hell out on the piano and tells the studio’s story, you’ll get a chance to pose with the most famous microphone in music history. Like, Elvis’s lips have touched this mic. (Calm down, Patsy.)
Have your pose ready to go – improvising is a bitch. Don’t be like me: “How do you even hold a microphone!?”
6. See an Elvis impersonator
Elvis Presley Enterprises hosts the annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest featuring impersonators from around the world–but you don’t have to wait until Elvis Week to see one.
Hotels, restaurants, and other spots around Memphis offer up Elvis as entertainment and the best way to find out where and when is to go straight to the source.
Check out the personal calendars of Memphis-area Elvis impersonators (ahem, “tribute artists”) like Michael Cullipher (who performs regularly at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Cafe near Graceland) and Brian Lee Howell who can be found swooning all over town.
7. Or make it an Elvis dinner cruise
Memphis Riverboats offers a special Elvis Dinner and Music Cruise down the Mississippi and I imagine it’s a real hoot. An Elvis performer + great Southern food + the Mighty Mississipp’ + you get to meet Elvis so, Patsy! Where you at, girl! Let’s git!
8. Visit the Elvis statue on Beale Street
The Elvis statue on Beale Street–more accurately: Elvis Presley Plaza–makes for a great photo op. The one you see today is bronze and showed up in 1997 but the original stood from 1980-1994 and featured fabric tassels and real guitar strings.
Bonus points if you can nail the stance–you’ll need that practice for Sun Studio. Do it for the ‘gram, y’all.
9. Have breakfast in Elvis’s booth at the Arcade
The Arcade Restaurant is (delicious and) Memphis’s oldest restaurant having opened in 1919 (hey, happy 100th birthday!). It also happens to have been a favorite of Elvis Presley who had a favorite booth (lefthand side, near the back).
Start your day here with breakfast or enjoy a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (w/ bacon on request) in Elvis’s booth and don’t give a damn about looking like the biggest tourist ever because seriously no one’s judging.
10. Partake in all the Elvis festivities during Elvis Week
If you’re an Elvis fan, Elvis Week is absolutely when you need to visit Memphis. Elvis Week takes place annually during the week of the anniversary of his death–August 16th.
Events include performances and concerts, dances, panel discussions, the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest events + meet & greets, special tours, the Elvis 5K (rhinestone running shorts, here I come!), auctions, interviews, vendors, Lisa Marie Presley will be there, and the whole thing is capped off with the world famous candlelight vigil at Graceland.
Memphis during Elvis Week is ground zero for Elvis fanaticism and Patsy could really use a friend right now.
11. Join in the Stumbling Elvis pub crawl
Each year during Elvis Week, the Stumbling Elvis Pub Crawl takes place downtown starting and ending at the Flying Saucer.
Don your best Elvis (or Priscilla) gear and join hundreds of fellow…Elvi? for a little less conversation and lot more doing shots in a jumpsuit. I believe this is what led to the notorious sequin shortage of 2002. RIP dress I wore that one time in Puerto Rico.
12. Spend the night in Apartment 328
Apartment 328 at 185 Winchester Ave in Downtown Memphis used to be known as Lauderdale Courts and was once the housing project where young Elvis lived with his parents.
Today, you can stay the night in his exact apartment, no questions asked (except about your cc number). The apartment consists of two bedrooms, a living and kitchen, and old family photos and vintage furniture. You. Can sleep. In Elvis’s bed.
Patsy, I don’t think you’re ready for this; maybe just opt for the tour first.
13. Then check out his pre-Graceland house
With the royalties Elvis earned from “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956, he purchased his first house at 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis, Tennessee. He would only live here for a year before he would purchase Graceland but it’s still standing today.
Though you can’t go inside–it’s actually a private residence, I assume it’s Patsy who lives there–you can drive by. The house is so delightfully retro I can’t even stand it.
14. Or stay in an Elvis-themed room at the new Guesthouse at Graceland
Elvis Presley’s Graceland just underwent a huge, $45 million renovation that included the building of a new luxury hotel just across the street from the mansion. It offers 450 rooms, a design supervised by Priscilla Presley herself, and even Elvis suites!
Inspirations for these rooms include Elvis’s master bedroom at Graceland, his iconic Palm Springs home, the living room at Graceland, and his personal motto–TCB⚡️, “Taking Care of Business”–which I believe is the perfect motto for a bedroom, no? Read reviews on TripAdvisor then go ahead and book your room here!
Also check out
I’ve got more pictures and information about the Guesthouse at Graceland in my post on visiting Graceland even if you aren’t an Elvis fan!
15. Take a day trip down to Tupelo, Mississippi
Tupelo, Mississippi is known for being the birthplace of Elvis Presley and absolutely nothing else. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Graceland making it a quick and easy side trip from Memphis so it still totally counts for this post. Look, I’m the boss here. In Tupelo you can visit:
- the two-room house where Elvis Presley was born on January 8th, 1935–now a museum dedicated to the King and the time period when people gave birth at home.
- the Elvis Presley Driving Trail that visits twelve significant Elvis sites from his formative years like: the elementary and middle schools he attended, the hardware store where his mom purchased his first guitar (a hardware store? I dunno, moving on), the Elvis Presley Homecoming Statue, his favorite drive-in, etc.
- and attend the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival in June
Things to do in Memphis with music history in general
16. Stroll the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
The Memphis Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum was developed in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institute and sits on the corner of Beale Street and B.B. King Blvd. It explores the journey of rock ‘n’ roll and soul music from its humble beginnings to its worldwide influence.
It’s full of priceless historical artifacts (Hello, Lucille!) and utilizes an included audio guide which you can use to listen to songs from the jukeboxes if you get tired of learning. BONUS: It offers a bunch of admission discounts and Shelby County residents get in free on Tuesdays from 2-7 PM.
17. Relive music history at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Stax Records is a record label founded in 1957 and home to such famous talent as Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, and so many more.
The Stax Museum takes you through Stax’s monumental history inside its early record studio on McLemore Avenue and there’s even a dance floor because they know how we do!
18. Explore all things blues at the Blues Hall of Fame
The Blues Hall of Fame opened in 2015 and houses thorough historical exhibits, showcases one-of-a-kind memorabilia, hosts traveling special exhibits, and highlights its over 400 inductees who all got da it took way too long for someone to come up with the idea of a blues hall of fame blues. 🎶
19. Check out the Memphis Music Hall of Fame
Located at the corner of Beale and 2nd streets (it’s basically part of the Hard Rock Café) is the Memphis Music Hall of Fame which pays tribute to some of the best musical artists of all time… which just so happen to be from Memphis. *hair flip* ‘Sup Justin?
20. Get your groove back with Backbeat Tours
The Memphis Mojo tour is the highest-rated introduction to the city that I’ve seen anywhere. It’s a 90-minute bus tour led by hilarious, entertaining, knowledgable, and professional local musicians (whom you can totally play along with–seriously, they provide the tambourines).
You’ll see many of Memphis’s most notable sites, learn a thing or two, and overall have an amazing time.
21. Stop by the WC Handy House Museum
WC Handy is known as the Father of the Blues and one of the most influential musicians ever. At the corner of Beale and 4th Streets is the WC Handy House Museum, the little blue house where Handy lived at the beginning of the 20th century.
You can go inside to see memorabilia and an exhibit on the life and career of WC Handy who’s looking down over me.
22. Drive by Aretha Franklin’s first house
Aretha Franklin, aka the Queen of Soul, was born in Memphis at 406 Lucy Ave. in South Memphis–like, actually in that house because, remember, that’s what we do here. The house is abandoned but just recently received its plaque marker so yay for historical preservation! Showin’ that little house some R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
23. Attend a church service with Reverend Al Green
Yes, that Al Green. He’s still in Memphis and he’s still… reverend-ing? Attending his service at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church at 787 Hale Rd. is sure to be a memorable experience with a soundtrack like none other. Nothing but love and happiness and people staying together! Can I get an AMEN!? Reverend Green be glad to see you, when you haven’t got a prayer. But, boy, you’ve got a prayer in Memphis.
Things to do in Memphis, on Beale Street
24. Explore Beale Street
The history of Beale Street is full of bars, restaurants, entertainment, and especially music and… well, nothing has changed since the turn of the 20th century.
What happens in downtown Memphis revolves around Beale Street either physically or metaphorically and it’s absolutely worth a visit. Have a drink and some lunch, listen to a blues band, check out the shops, learn about the history, and, most importantly, ignore all the haters who say it’s too “touristy”.
25. Get yourself a Big Ass Beer for the walk
We don’t sugarcoat sh*t here in Memphis, y’all. It’s hot as Hades out here and all you want is a big ass beer? Well that’s what you’re gonna get.
26. Shop for unique gifts at A. Schwab
A. Schwab was opened by Jewish immigrant Abraham Schwab in 1876 and is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.
They’ve got quality gift items, T-shirts, edible things, and everything in between… in a fantastically old building with an old school general store type of feel. Like if modern day Hallmark and the gift shop inside Cracker Barrel got freaky after too many Big Ass Beers. On the upper level there’s even a small “museum” showcasing items from the area’s history.
27. And grab a milkshake while you’re there
Inside A. Schwab is a too-adorable-for-words old timey soda fountain offering malts, milkshakes, sodas, and gelato served in homemade waffle cones. Just look how cute this place is ⇣⇣⇣ Does anyone wanna sit here with me and discuss television ads for Lucky Strike?
28. Attend the Wine Races
If Memphians excel at anything, it’s finding fun, creative ways to day drink and the Wine Races are a prime example.
Each spring the Wine Races take place on Beale Street where downtown restaurants and bartenders compete in four events: parade, Queen of the Vine, grape stomp, and the great wine race where individuals race (with obstacles) while carrying drink trays of glasses full of wine.
This is no joke, people–sometimes you can’t even tell where the wine ends and the blood begins. This hilarious free event is open to the public and clearly worth checking out.
29. Eat the best ribs in the world at Blues City Café
If you’re looking for things to do in Memphis as a first-timer, there’s no doubt you’ve been told to get ribs… at the Rendezvous. And while the Rendezvous is great (more on that later), you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone from Memphis down there.
The real Best Ribs Ever are found on Beale Street at the Blues City Café. Just trust me–you’ve never tasted anything like this.
30. Or make it a Dyer’s burger for something delicious and weird
At Dyer’s, the burgers are smashed thin and deep-fried in grease… the same grease they’ve used since the place opened in 1912. No, it’s not gross! It’s phenomenal! Patsy, that’s the same grease that once touched Elvis’s lips! Opt for the Double Double–two burger patties and two slices of cheese, and like a million napkins.
31. Watch the Beale Street Flippers
I remember when the Beale Street Flippers were just a couple of kids doing backflips for tips and now they have representation. They’re one of the NBA’s most popular half-time acts.
They were semi-finalists on America’s Got Talent! Of the Beale Street Flippers, David Hasselhoff says, “WOW!”; Nick Cannon says, “Memphis in the building!”; and I’m over here like, “Has no one gotten tetanus? Seriously?”
The Beale Street Flippers are a group of impossibly talented guys who, well, do backflips for tips but you gotta see it to believe it. They flip up and down Beale Street (weekends and evenings are your best bet) and are apparently made of rubber.
32. Dive head-first into Silky’s
*If, and only if, you are ages 21 or 22 and not a day older.
On Beale Street you’ll see people carrying and drinking from large yellow buckets–aka a “diver” from Silky O’Sullivan’s (“Silky’s”), Irish pub and piano bar.
I’ve had many and still don’t know what they put in them. Kool-aid? Booze? Beer? Fruit juices? Sheer regret? Actually, it’s all of the above but if your group is going splitsies, it’s probably a great deal. Twelve hangovers for the price of one!
33. Say hi to the goat while you’re there
There’s a goat that lives on the patio at Silky’s. I have no idea why or how they allow this, but there you go. He (she?) has his (her?) own treehouse.
34. Try an absinthe or two at the Absinthe Room
The Absinthe Room is dark and chill and you’ll feel like the only person on Beale Street. You can find it at the top of a barely lit staircase through its own door to the right of King’s Palace Café.
Here you can try several kinds of absinthe, choose your own music, play pool, look down on what’s happening on Beale, and all around feel like you’re hiding from the fuzz in a prohibition-era bar.
Things to do in Memphis along the river
35. Walk the Riverbluff Walkway
The Riverbluff Walkway runs along the Mississippi River atop Chickasaw Bluff and offers great views of downtown Memphis, the river, and up-close into homes you can’t afford.
It starts at the corner of Union Ave and Riverside Drive and heads south along the river, ending in Ashburn-Coppock Park. Next to the apartment complex I actually did used to live in.
36. Ride the monorail over the Mud Island
Mud Island is the peninsula jutting out into the Mississippi River from downtown Memphis. I’m about to explain what you can do there but first you must get there, Tom Cruise-style. Riding the monorail over will cost you a couple bucks but it’s a small price to pay for time travel back to 1982.
*The Mud Island monorail is currently closed while they work on revamping the riverfront and the whole of Mud Island but will still operate during special events.
37. Take your pic with the Memphis sign on Mud Island
Now on Mud Island you can find a giant, multi-colored sign spelling out MEMPHIS on which to have your photo taken with the skyline in the background. Check out this article on the Memphis sign for more info!
38. Visit the Mississippi River Museum
On Mud Island you can visit the Mississippi River Museum–an 18-gallery museum covering 10,000 years of Mississippi River history. From early settlers through the Civil War and on to modern-day transportation and every time I thought I was surely going to fall in in between.
39. Walk the length of the Mississippi River
Oh, you don’t have a year of your life to dedicate? Mud Island has your solution: an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi, from where it merges with the Ohio River and winds almost 1,000 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico.
This version runs just the length of 5 city blocks and is best done with your shoes off so you can feel like a giant terrorizing a small town of unsuspecting sweet tea drinkers.
40. Catch the Mighty Lights show on the bridge
Each night at the top and middle of the hour between sundown and 10:30 pm, you can catch Mighty Lights, the biggest light show on the Mississippi River.
41. Take a riverboat ride
Memphis Riverboats offers 90-minute riverboat cruises up and down the Mississippi in the best way to beat the summer heat since my Adventure River season pass expired.
The cruises are fully and hilariously commentated, offer the best breeze in town, and even sell booze so what are you waiting for?
You’ll learn all about river history and what a mark twain is, and you get to see Memphis (and Arkansas, if you’re interested) in some totally new and unique ways. At only $20, there’s no reason to not do this.
42. Go kayaking on the Mississippi
Admittedly, the Mississippi River terrifies me. We grew up being told that if you put so much as a toe in the Mississippi, you’re instantly dead. But apparently it’s just fine to kayak in it so obviously I need to do this.
Kayak Memphis is your guide and everyone in the pictures looks happy and not at all like they’re dying a swift death or getting run over by quick-moving drift wood.
43. Cool off at Beale Street Landing
By this I mean: stroll the frigidly air conditioned gift shops, eat in the restaurant, or push some kids out of the way and take over the splash pad like a boss. An overheated boss.
44. Walk over the Mississippi via Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing is the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River and runs almost a mile in length. It runs along what we Memphians call “the Old Bridge” and goes all the way to Arkansas, should you want to go that far.
You can walk it or bike it; the views are great; but my favorite part is witnessing up close the speed and ferocity with which the river runs. It’s absolutely terrifying, I tell ya!
45. Check out the statue of Tom Lee and learn some stuff
In your search for things to do in Memphis you’ve probably seen Tom Lee Park on a map or two. It’s the giant riverside park that’s home to many a festival and rump
shaking roasting contest.
But do you know the story of Tom Lee? The man single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of 32 people after a riverboat capsized? The story will amaze you and the statue dedicated to him stands smack in the middle of Tom Lee Park.
46. Feel like attending church again? Do so at the Church on the River
The Church on the River, formally known as the First Unitarian Church of Memphis, is located on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi and, with an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, the view from here couldn’t be better. [cue angel choir]
47. Ride the country’s tallest free-standing elevator
Farther up the river is that shiny pyramid-shaped structure you’ve wondered about for so long. You’ll need to check it out but make sure your first stop is the top; and to get there you’ll need to ride the country’s tallest free-standing elevator. The trip takes you up 28 stories (300 feet) in an elevator that’s glass on all four sides, Wonkavator-style.
You might like
Wondering why Memphis has a giant pyramid downtown? And why this is a totally normal thing ’round these parts? Check out my post on all the Memphis, Tennessee and Memphis, Egypt connections for all the answers you never knew you needed so badly.
48. Head to the Pyramid’s observation decks for the best views in the city
Once at the top you’ll be inside the Lookout, a restaurant and bar like nothing you’ve ever seen (you’ll see what I mean) but first, head straight outside to the two glass-bottomed observation decks for the absolute best views in Memphis, a whole 360 degrees worth. It’s super windy up there, so, give up trying to look cute, alright?
49. Eat and drink at The Lookout
You would think a place as gimmicky as the Pyramid/Bass Pro Shop would have terrible and overpriced food but I’ve had it. It’s fantastic!
Whether it’s a sit-down dinner or just drinks and snacks at the very weird but cool bar (you’ll see what I mean), you’ll enjoy eating while surrounded on most sides by huge aerial views.
50. Shop for everything camo at the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop
And since you’re at the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop, you might as well satisfy all your camouflage needs, right? (There’s also a place that makes fudge and an alligator/catfish pond so…)
51. Spend the night at the Big Cypress Lodge
How into Bass Pro Shops you are doesn’t matter here–the hotel inside the store is awesome. Walk out on your balcony at the Big Cypress Lodge and marvel at the beautiful outdoors… which have been recreated inside with actually tolerable air.
They have restaurants and a bowling alley and if you’ve ever wanted to stay at an adorable rustic cabin that’s itself nestled inside a giant steel pyramid, this is your chance! Read reviews on TripAdvisor then book your room here!
52. Watch the sun set from the Terrace
Also on Mud “Island” you’ll find a residential area called Harbortown. Harbortown looks straight out of a movie set and too idyllic to be real but… my gynecologist used to be located there and I can assure you they do some very real things over there.
Also in Harbortown is the River Inn and on the roof of that is the Terrace, a western facing bar with open-air seating and VIP views of that gorgeous southern sunset.
Things to do in (South Main) Memphis
53. Ride the Downtown trolley loop
Memphis is adorable and charming as hell, I know this. Part of that charm is the old-timey trolley system that’s too slow to be called transportation but just the right speed for taking it easy, roaring twenties-style.
The downtown trolley system runs in a loop: up Front Street, down around the Pyramid and south along the river, then back up at South Main. Riding the loop will cost you all of $1 and is a fun way to just sit back and see what is.
54. Check out some Bluff City Law filming locations
The current NBC thriller Bluff City Law has been filming all over South Main and downtown Memphis. Take a stroll and check out some of the filming locations if you’re a fan of the show.
Some of these include the University of Memphis Law School (on N. Front Street), their “law offices” at the corner of South Front Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., and many more!
55. See a show at the Orpheum
The Orpheum (opened in 1890, destroyed by fire in 1927, reopened in 1928) is Memphis’s super fancy theater complete with red curtains and gold chandeliers, a history of monocles, and a resident little girl ghost (my nightmare, actually).
The Orpheum is the place to see, among other events, Broadway and theater shows, concerts, famous comedy acts, and even the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist showcase I got you so excited for earlier.
56. Or a classic movie during the summer
Besides live entertainment, the Orpheum also hosts its annual Summer Movie Series where you can see classics like Steel Magnolias, the Wizard of Oz, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc. The ghost is still there, just know that.
57. Have a beer inside a haunted old brothel
Earnestine & Hazel’s has a bit of an interesting history which I covered in this post but what it boils down to is: super haunted, used to be a brothel, they’ve done nothing to revitalize it, this place is legit. It’s always an interesting late night at the juke joint that serves booze and only one other thing…
58. And eat a Soul Burger while you’re there
When a place can get by selling only one item, you have to eat that item. The Soul Burger is Mem-famous.
59. Spend a late night at Max’s Sports Bar
Max’s Sports Bar (known by true downtown locals as Calhoun’s) is tiny and no-nonsense and absolutely perfect. It’s the best crowd, the most fun, and the best BBQ nachos in town, hands down. It’s also that place where I waited on Evander Holyfield so there’s that.
60. Shop for locally sourced goodies at the Farmer’s Market
The Memphis Farmer’s Market takes place weekly in the Central Station Pavilion in downtown Memphis and offers locally sourced produce, locally produced arts and crafts, and a chance to feel like the decent human being you’ve always wanted to be.
61. And some fancy art in the South Main galleries
The area of South Main in downtown Memphis is first and foremost a historic arts district and always has been (well, since 1981, but that’s before I was born so technically that’s forever).
In addition to many great bars and restaurants you’ll find two handfuls of art galleries (so, ten) to peruse and be like, “Pshh, I can make that.” Even though you can’t, in fact, make that.
62. Attend a South Main Trolley Night
On the last Friday of every month South Main Trolley Night takes place–a street festival running down Main street from Beale to G.E. Patterson.
They have live music in the streets, food and drink vendors, restaurant specials, art galleries and shops are open late, lawn games are being played on lawns, and just overall merriment since we’ve all been day-drinking.
63. Take some free dance lessons at the Rumba Room
I love a lot of things in life, true, but Latin dance clubs are mucho high on that list. The Rumba Room on South Main offers free swing dance and bachata lessons on Friday nights and free salsa lessons on Saturdays at 9:30 PM and, yes, I need a lesson! You need a lesson! We all need a lesson!
Things to do in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel
64. Stay at the historic Peabody Hotel during your stay in Memphis
The Peabody Hotel dates back to 1869 and remains Memphis’s oldest (and schmanciest) hotel. Besides the perfect location, great service, cookies shaped like ducks for your birthday, and a lobby that makes you feel like you’re not the kind of person who has to steal internet from your neighbors, they have duckies!
Staying at the Peabody Hotel is the true Memphis experience. Read reviews on TripAdvisor then book your room here!
65. Watch the famous Peabody Duck March
Twice a day (11 AM and 5 PM), the Peabody’s five resident mallards make their way from their penthouse suite (I know, right?) down to the fountain in the lobby where they spend their days, then back up to the roof later on for sleeps.
They call the portion of their walk (waddle?) from the lobby elevator to the lobby fountain (and back) the Peabody Duck March and welcome public viewing. It’s a whole red carpet, duckmaster situation actually. Get there early.
66. Then check out their penthouse suite
You didn’t believe me when I said the ducks have a penthouse suite, did you? Fine, go see for yourself. Take the elevator to the top floor, exit onto the roof and take a left. You’ll know it when you see it because it’s a penthouse suite for ducks.
67. Attend a Peabody Rooftop Party
Every Thursday night from April to August the Peabody Hotel hosts a massive party on its rooftop! You’ve got live bands, bars, a full buffet, a fabulous and much-needed breeze, and the best sunset views in Memphis. #everythingisbetteronarooftop
Where to eat and drink in Memphis
68. Eat award-winning burgers at Huey’s
Huey’s is a Memphis-area chain that’s been around since 1970 and has been winning the title of “Best Burger in Memphis” since 1984. I mean it–they’re good. It’s a casual joint where actually everything on the menu is freaking fantastic.
69. Then try your hand at getting your toothpick into the ceiling
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering a Huey’s is that the ceiling is full of toothpicks (that didn’t end up there by accident). Finish your burger then try your luck at getting your frill pick to stick. (Yes, I’ve succeeded many times… but it’s been a while.)
70. Go on a Sunday night for free live music
Every Sunday night, Huey’s offers free live music at each of their locations. Just the way the big man upstairs intended you to spend your Sundays. I can say that because I’ve already mentioned going to church. Twice!
71. Check out the bar scene in Overton Square
As I said in my post on Memphis craft breweries, Overton square was hip back in the day, then kinda sucked for a while, and in the past couple of years has completely reinvented itself and is now the place to get fat, drunk, and jolly in Memphis.
Overton Square is full of great bars and restaurants and I haven’t even tried them all. So… report back, ‘k?
72. Eat world famous fried chicken at Gus’s
In case you didn’t know this about me, fried chicken is my best friend (seriously, Gus’s even joined me at my bridal shower).
I eat it often and I eat it with gusto and I have yet to have any anywhere near as delicious as Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.
In the past few years they’ve franchised out so now you can find them in a handful of locations but the best one is on Front St. in downtown Memphis. My go-to? The 2-piece dark with beans and slaw. *wipes drool off mouth*
73. Try some sweet, spicy love at Uncle Lou’s
And since you can’t have fried chicken just once while you’re in Memphis (clearly not the future destination of your next health guru retreat), you should also check out Uncle Lou’s–on your way to or from the airport.
The chicken here is fantastic and they’re known for their *sweet, spicy love* sauce that’ll have you hugging everyone in the room. Oh and get the honey buttered biscuits too after you tell your nutritionist to take a hike.
74. Take the Kookamunga Challenge
And since you’re giving the scales a rest during your time in Memphis, how’s aboot a 12,000 calorie lunch, eh? That’s Canadian for: I hope you renewed your health insurance policy before this trip.
The Kookamunga Challenge at Canadian-themed restaurant Kooky Canuck involves consuming the Kookamunga Burger in under 60 minutes.
Easy enough, right? Well… the Kookamunga Burger is 4 lbs of beef, a 2-lb hamburger bun (it’s the size of two barstool seats), and 1.5 lbs more of lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and cheese. Plenty of people have done it. Adam Richman couldn’t, but still.
75. Try dry ribs at Rendezvous
Rendezvous is… well, it’s popular with tourists. In my opinion, they don’t do the *best* of anything HOWEVER, I still love it.
The food is definitely great, the atmosphere is great, and it’s still a must-visit Memphis staple that just celebrated its 71st anniversary. Also, the Rendezvous practically invented dry ribs and chances are that’s totally new to you.
76. Brunch it up on the patio at Majestic
Brunch on the patio of an old-timey, art deco theater for silent movies? Umm, yes please! If I could convey my thoughts here in a 1920s reporter’s voice, I absolutely would.
The food here is pretty damn good too. Wait, how about: “Say, the nosh here is the bee’s knees, ya see.” Nailed it? No really, they win tons of food-related awards.
77. Grab a Gibson’s donut
…and then shove it into your mouth in one huge, messy bite. They say Gibson’s Donuts serves the best donuts in America and have been since 1967. I don’t disagree.
78. Or some cinnamon roll pancakes at Brother Juniper’s
Brother Juniper’s is consistently touted as the best breakfast in Memphis and, umm, can you argue with a place that serves cinnamon roll pancakes? Methinks not. (Everything else is great too, btw.)
79. Have a girl brunch at the Beauty Shop
The Beauty Shop, besides being one of the most popular brunch spots in Memphis, actually used to be a beauty shop. So that means: drinking your mimosas under 50’s-style hooded hair dryers. At the place where they used to construct Priscilla Presley’s beehive. I mean, really.
80. Cool off with some Jerry’s Sno Cones
Because Memphis in the summer is HAWT and you need more sugar, head to Jerry’s Sno Cones–a Memphis tradition since the 1960s.
81. Hit up the Chinese Sub Shop
Okay, technically it’s called the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop but that’s probably something very few Memphians know and I certainly didn’t until recently. The Chinese Sub Shop (as it’s locally known) has been around since 1969 and I spent most of my college career skipping class to eat here.
To explain, the Super Sub Shop is a small, family-owned business that sells sub sandwiches and Chinese food. I’ve never had the Chinese food but the sub sandwiches are magically delicious. Like, unrealistically good.
They make their own bread in-house and, for other reasons unknown to me, their sandwiches are the best ever. (Last time I was in there, there was a girl asking to see the jar of mayonnaise they use, because she couldn’t figure out why her sandwich was so good.)
My go-to? The 8-inch turkey with lettuce, mayo, and cheese on soft bread. The sandwiches come with a free bag of chips and add in a drink and the whole thing comes to like $6.
82. Eat BBQ!
Memphis, Tennessee is the BBQ capital of the world so obviously you can’t leave without eating your weight in pulled pork. I doubt you’d be disappointed at any ol’ BBQ joint but you can’t go wrong with the Memphis classics: Corky’s and Central BBQ.
83. Or try the BBQ tofu at R.P. Tracks
Vegetarians need not avoid Memphis altogether–thanks to a little place called RP Tracks and their “world famous” BBQ tofu.
RP Tracks is located on the University of Memphis campus and used to be the place we’d go to drink and play pool when we were 20 and where you could get half priced shots when a train was passing by (prompting you to run from down the street to beat the train). Now it’s where you go to eat BBQ tofu so, what’s up with that, millennials?
84. Don’t pass up the BBQ spaghetti
So, BBQ spaghetti is a thing because of course it is. Unless you’ve been to Memphis before, chances are you’ve never had it. It was invented here by the couple behind The Bar-B-Q Shop.
Oh, and did I mention it’s purely a side item addition to that full plate of ribs + fixin’s? Don’t forget to pack your elastic waistbands!
85. Pick up some Pancho’s cheese dip
Pancho’s has been a Mexican restaurant chain in the Memphis area since 1956 and, though their numbers have dwindled down to two, we Memphians absolutely refuse to part with the Pancho’s cheese dip.
The best cheese dip in the history of the world ever that even has its own fan club can still be found around town in Kroger and Walmart stores. We keep it at home, serve it at parties, but it’d be great as a snack to keep in your hotel’s mini fridge during your visit.
86. And some local handmade goodies at Dinstuhl’s
Dinstuhl’s has been serving up amazing homemade chocolates and candies since 1902 with yours truly as a patron since 1983-ish. Or whenever I grew teeth; I’ll need to check those dates. Try their signature Cashew Crunch.
87. Grab a slice downtown at Aldo’s
The fact that there was never a place within walking distance to get a pizza drove me crazy all the time I live downtown. Now there is, and Aldo’s is damn good pizza. What a splendid pie, pizza-pizza pie. Pepperoni and green peppers, mushrooms, olive, chives.
88. And wash it down with a beer at Bardog
Aldo’s other joint–Bardog Tavern–is just a few blocks away and is a comfortable, laid-back spot with the best. bar. food. around. However, note that Bardog allows smoking inside.
89. Have the best meal you’ll ever have in a Lowe’s parking lot
Elwood’s Shack is a literal shack sat back in a Lowe’s parking lot but the food is amazing. Never Stop
90. Go on a city tasting tour
If you’re the kind of traveler who loves tours, definitely entertain the thought of a Memphis food tour. Start your Sunday with the Brunch So Hard Tour or take the Downtown Memphis Tasting Tour which also covers the murals of South Main because this is the age of social media and food tastes better when surrounded by cool looking sh*t.
91. Drink the best tap water in the country
I’m raising the roof right now because our tap water is something Memphians are truly proud of. It’s better than bottled, has a refreshing, sweet taste, and we’ll defend it until our dying day.
Hundreds of feet below Shelby County (where Memphis is located) are four natural reservoirs containing water filtered through sand aquifers. They pump that pure water to the surface via more than 175 artesian wells throughout the county.
It’s tasty right from the tap and, even more important, is the perfect water for brewing beer. So bring your refillable water bottle and tap that.
92. Attend the Zoo Brew beer festival
Zoo Brew is a beer festival at a zoo. It’s grrrrreat! Sample as many of the 100+ beers as you want, purchase food, rock out to the live bands, and stroll the zoo at night. All in a kid-free zone! It’s eeeeeeven better!
93. And then Zoo Rendezvous
Zoo Rendezvous takes place in September each year and is the Memphis Zoo’s largest fundraising event (and wildest party, har har). Zoo Rendezvous offers food and drinks from more than 70 Memphis restaurants and live bands on four stages throughout the zoo. I’m not lion, toucan have the best time here. Not boar-ing at all.
94. Have yourself a merry little picnic in Overton Park
Overton Park is a pretty little 342-acre public park right in the middle of everywhere you wanna be. There’s a nine-hole golf course, some museums, a playground, the Memphis Zoo, the Veterans Plaza war memorial, and an entertainment stage which I’ll get to in a sec. It’s the perfect place for a picnic and even more perfect-er if there’s Pancho’s cheese dip, just sayin’.
95. Perhaps with a couple of peanut butter and banana sandwiches?
If you don’t know anything at all about Elvis, I’ll explain. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches were one of his favorite meals (sure, you can call that a ‘meal’). Naturally, this is a thing you should eat while in Memphis, Tennessee.
96. People watch from the windows at the Flying Saucer downtown
Downtown Memphis’s beer haven is also the best place to people watch with its corner location and loads and loads of usually-open windows. Bonus points if you can catch a car turning north onto Second Ave. Not into beer? Ask for a “hummingbird water”.
97. Get a flight at Boscos, Tennessee’s first brew pub
Having opened in 1992, you may think that’s pretty late for Tennessee to open its first brew pub but… you know we still have dry counties right? Boscos is one of the spots I mentioned in Overton “it’s hip to be” Square and has some great beers (as well as being the only Memphis taproom that has a kitchen without wheels).
98. Then again at High Cotton Brewery
High Cotton Brewing Co. opened in 2014 and is part-way between Midtown and Downtown. They sell four beers commercially but have a rotation of beers they serve exclusively in their taproom. They also host tons of events, mostly fitness related, ironically, like Pints & Pilates and Bendy Brewski.
99. Check out Memphis Made Brewing Company
The Memphis Made taproom can be found in Midtown’s Cooper-Young district, hanging out on a ramp next to a giant I ♥️ Memphis mural. It’s a fun space with great beers and free popcorn.
100. Enjoy some samplers at Wiseacre Brewing
Wiseacre Brewing Co., besides being a great way to spend an afternoon, brews one of my favorite beers of all time: Gotta Get Up to Get Down.
101. Sample the offerings at Ghost River Brewing
Ghost River beers have been around for yearssss but their taproom downtown is one of the newest (and most fun).
102. Take a drive out to Meddlesome Brewing Co.
Meddlesome Brewing Co. is “out East”-ish but offers great beers, Star Wars wall art, and Super Mario Bros., Nintendo NES-style.
103. And try Memphis’s newest: Crosstown Brewing
With a website the colors of the German flag, it’s gotta be good, right? Crosstown Brewing Co. is located in the new Crosstown Concourse between Midtown and Downtown.
You might like
If trying local craft beers at their sources is one of the things to do in Memphis you look forward to the most (with you there!), check out my post specifically on Memphis Craft Breweries.
104. Play the day away at Railgarten
Railgarten is 1.5 acres of bar, restaurant, outdoor space, live music, shipping containers (?), and “secret spaces”. There’s ping-pong and backyard lawn chairs and tiki drinks and I think this place just sounds magical.
105. Play the day away, 80’s style, at Rec Room
Because there should be a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s for adults that’s not covered in boogers. Rec Room is 6,000 square feet of vintage arcade games, a full bar, pizza, patio space, lawn games, and me, violently throwing the controller and a hissy fit as per usual.
106. Play the day away, backyard style, at Loflin Yard
Loflin Yard is a “bar” and “restaurant” but really it’s like if your best friend threw a party in his/her really big backyard. And there’s a small river there. Plus fire pits.
And can we please just put backyard lawn furniture everywhere already? In my opinion, every bar should be like Loflin Yard.
107. Enjoy your booze with some East Memphis views at Bistro 33
On the 33rd floor of the Clark Tower in East Memphis you’ll find Bistro 33–a fancy time place for happy hour cocktails and fantastic views being that the Clark Tower is the only skyscraper within a ten mile radius. You’ll know it when you see it.
108. Take a tour of the Old Dominick Distillery
Conveniently located just across the street from Gus’s is the other sexy chick in town: the Old Dominick Distillery. Old Dominick’s makes Tennessee whiskey, high-rye bourbon, wheat whiskey, vodka, and the Memphis Toddy.
But more importantly, they offer guided tours of the distillery that include a curated tasting because you didn’t come to the South just to drink tap water, right?
109. Dance your ass off at Raiford’s
If I could explain Raiford’s in a single sentence or two I would. But I can’t. You just need to go. It’s a disco. The floor lights up.
The walls are covered in handprints; there’s fog; and Michael Jackson; it all gets very, very weird; I drank some 40s; and this is all loosely based on what I’ve remembered on mornings after. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have at a dance club.
110. And don’t leave without playing the drums
Oh, and they absolutely encourage you to play the drum set on the dance floor. Don’t worry, you’re a natural!*
*Keep telling yourself that until the next morning when you see the video your friends took of you. It’s all fun and games until “Billie Jean” stops playing.
111. Be sure to collect all the cups along the way
At a ton of the restaurants I’ve listed you’ll be served your drink in a plastic cup with the restaurants logo/info on it. You’re allowed (and encouraged) to keep them and soon enough you’ll have an entire set of proper Memphis drinkware.
Things to do in Memphis in May
Memphis in May is more than just a city in a month–it’s a month-long festival and the absolute best time to visit Memphis. The Memphis in May International Festival is full of events so maybe just go ahead and book that hotel for the entire month?
112. See some shows at the Beale Street Music Festival
The Beale Street Music Festival is three days of huge-name performances on four stages. It takes place annually over the first weekend in May and encompasses all of Tom Lee Park.
I’ve seen everyone here, ruined some good pairs of jeans, and almost met Incubus that one time I sneaked backstage before I was so rudely found out.
113. Attend BBQ Fest (and hope for the best)
The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (locally known as BBQ Fest) is the biggest BBQ festival you’ll ever attend. Again, taking up all of Tom Lee Park are booths upon booths of competing BBQ teams.
They compete in categories like ribs, whole hog, sauce, and even best booth. The best part? All that BBQ (and more) gets served in their booths… you just have to know someone to get in.
Outsiders are more than welcome to attend BBQ Fest but unless you can make friends on the quick while strolling the park, you’ll have to do with buying your pork from a stand. It’s at each team’s discretion who gets let into their booths so charm it up, sister!
114. Pick your favorite BBQ team names
Honestly, my favorite part of BBQ Fest is checking out the list of team names, being the diehard pun-lover that I am.
I’ve got friends on the “Squeal Street” team, but some of my other favorites include Born in the Que S A, Natural Born Grillers, Swinefeld, Dang She’s Swine, Deez Butts, and Me Dry Rub You Longtime.
Can’t get into a booth? Grab a beer and stroll the park picking your favorite team names–you’ve got more than 230 to choose from. Maybe, Let’s Get Basted? The Usual Saucepects?
115. And don’t miss the Ms. Piggie Idol contest
Umm, it’s like… men dressed as lady pigs… singing popular songs with the words changed to be about pork… Y’all, I told you Memphis was weird. But don’t miss it.
116. Learn about and support the country of the year
Each year the Memphis in May International Festival chooses a country to highlight and support throughout the month. They have speakers and performances, culinary offerings, movies, special exhibits, etc. all focusing on one particular country you may know nothing about.
For instance, in 2018 it was the Czech Republic, Colombia in 2017, Poland in 2015, and Belgium in 2011. The honored country for 2022 will be Ghana.
117. Take part in the Great American River Run
To cap off Memphis in May, help celebrate another great year by running the Memphis in May Great American River Run — from the streets of Downtown Memphis to the banks of the Mississippi River.
Take your pick of a 5k, a 10k, or a half marathon!
Entertaining things to do in Memphis
118. Try your hand at axe throwing
Memphis is the latest city to join in the trend of axe throwing–yeah, throwing an axe at a wooden target. (And it’s the funnest!)
Head over to Civil Axe Throwing in the Broad District to try your hand at this. Don’t worry–they teach you proper axe throwing technique beforehand.
119. See a play at the Playhouse on the Square
The Playhouse on the Square offers Broadway-style shows at grandma’s living room prices.
120. See a free concert at the Levitt Shell
The Levitt Shell, located in Overton Park, was built in 1936 and on July 30th, 1954 hosted the first rock ‘n’ roll show. Like, the first ever. This guy named Elvis Presley opened for a headliner whose name no one would remember after that (sorry, bro) and completely stole the show.
Today, the Levitt Shell offers 50 free concerts each year. “Using free concerts as a catalyst for bringing people together, the Levitt Shell is building a stronger community through music, finding common ground for a diverse audience.” Is that beautiful or what? Go see a show!
121. See a rock show at Minglewood Hall
If Memphis lacks anything, it’s certainly not venues to see live music and Minglewood Hall is yet another. At Minglewood I’ve seen Avenged Sevenfold, Coheed and Cambria, and, most recently, A Day to Remember… then followed those shows up with stop in Overton Square, just a couple blocks away.
122. Watch live music any day of the week at Lafayette’s
Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square is a bar/restaurant/venue that serves up (really good) live music every night of the week. I love the atmosphere here and I’ve heard the brunch is amazing.
They have second floor patio seating, quality bands, and my dad saw Billy Joel play here in the 70’s and said he almost blew the building down with his piano skillz as his weapon.
123. Spend an evening with Blues on the Bluff
Blues on the Bluff is a night of everything that makes Memphis, Memphis: a kickass blues lineup, relaxing next to the river, warm summer nights, local beer, and the smell of BBQ in the air.
124. Check out a free country concert on Beale Street
Every Thursday in the summer brings free country music concerts to Handy Park on Beale Street. All shows are completely free and start at 7:30 PM. I don’t know who any of these artists are but if you listen to country music, you probably do?
125. See a Live at the Garden show
Live at the Garden is a summer concert series at the Memphis Botanical Garden. To give you an idea of who you can see, this year’s lineup included Train, Boy George & Culture Club with the B52s, Rascal Flatts, and Gladys Knight.
126. Class up your visit at the Memphis Symphony Orchestra
The Memphis Symphony Orchestra performs at different venues all around Memphis but calls the Canon Center for the Performing Arts home.
They perform classics like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Handel’s Messiah (I’m saying this like I have even the slightest clue what those are), Mozart, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff.
But they also play shows titled: Cirque de la Symphonie (featuring aerialists and other people who shouldn’t physically exist), Elvis in Las Vegas, Devil at the Crossroads (if you know anything about Robert Johnson…), Beethoven and the Beatles, and The Music of Star Wars.
127. See a drive-in movie
If you haven’t figured it out yet, traveling to Memphis is like taking a trip back in time. There’s little you can do here that isn’t straight out of the 50s and 60s.
Like the Summer Drive-In–Summer being the avenue where it’s located. The Summer Drive-In has been open since 1966 and still plays all the latest movies with a capacity for 2,000 21st-century-sized cars.
128. Or a movie in the park at Shelby Farms
The Summer Movie Series at Shelby Farms is your chance to sprawl out on a blanket and watch classic movies from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and whatever we’re calling the ‘now’ period.
Things to do in Memphis when you want to learn
129. Visit the Cotton Museum
The Cotton Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the cash crop that built the city of Memphis–a city purposely founded as a shipping port for both cotton and plantation slaves.
The history of Memphis consists greatly of people who came here because of the cotton industry and the main exhibit of the museum is located on the historic trade floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange–the former center of the global cotton economy.
130. Get fancy at the Dixon Art Gallery
The Dixon Art Gallery is Memphis’s fine art museum and houses works by such famous artists as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and more. I’ve never been but I imagine it’s simply top drawer. *puffs on long cigarette holder thing*
131. Learn Memphis’s most significant history at the National Civil Rights Museum
On April 4th, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on his balcony at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis while in town assisting with the sanitation workers’ strike.
That motel has since been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum with a focus on sharing the stories and lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement.
The museum takes visitors chronologically from 17th-century slavery through today highlighting famous (and not-so-famous) events in civil rights history. These include: student sit-ins of the 1960s, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, and more.
Visitors can also see Martin Luther King’s hotel room up-close as it was the day he was killed. Exhibits in the Legacy Building across the street (from where MLK was shot) explores the assassination, following investigation, and its global impact.
132. Check out the Brooks Museum of Art
The Brooks Museum of Art was founded in 1916 and is the oldest and largest art museum in Tennessee. It’s located in Overton Park and used to have a handful of nude statues out front that we’d always giggle at as we drove past during field trips, headed for the zoo.
It houses Renaissance works, impressionist stuff, but a ton of modern stuff too that I just don’t get. Like, I once went to an exhibit there on chairs. So, I guess you could look at it like: something for everyone!
133. Visit the free University of Memphis art museum
The Art Museum of the University of Memphis opened in 1981 and houses permanent exhibitions on African art and Egyptian antiquities. (They have a mummy!) Best of all, the museum is totally free. Wait, even better than that: guided tours of the museum are also totally free!
134. Don’t miss the statue of Ramesses II
Shortly before our great pyramid was built, Memphis welcomed its single largest tourist attraction ever: the exhibition of Ramesses the Great, straight from Egypt.
A few years later, a replica statue of Ramesses II was placed in front of the Pyramid in tribute. Do you remember the time? Since the Pyramid has transitioned into a Bass Pro Shop from the Tomb of Doom it once was, the statue of Ramesses has been moved to the campus of the University of Memphis.
Maybe take this opportunity to learn about how the history of Memphis, TN relates to Memphis, Egypt.
135. Visit the Pink Palace Museum
The Pink Palace is Memphis’s resident science and history museum… located inside a giant pink mansion once owned by Clarence Saunders, grocer extraordinaire and supermarket genius behind Piggly Wiggly.
He basically invented the modern supermarket, y’all. Anyway, inside you’ve got dinosaurs, Native American artifacts, fossils, and something no other museum in the world has: a replica Piggly Wiggly original.
136. See a show at the Sharpe Planetarium
The Pink Palace is also home to the Sharpe Planetarium showing all the space-themed shows you could hope for. *coughspacegeek*
The planetarium has a new sponsor too–Memphis-based AutoZone–so… get in the zone, twilight zone.
137. Check out the Metal Museum
Just south of downtown overlooking the Mississippi River is the National Ornamental Metal Museum–a museum dedicated to exhibitions of metalwork and metalsmiths. I consider myself a metal Smith actually. 🤘🏼🤘🏼🤘🏼
The museum is located in part of a former United States Marine Hospital dating back to the 1700s so that’s hella creepy. They have fascinating exhibits and even a 3-day fundraiser where volunteer metalsmiths repair things for donations. Rock on metal nerds!
138. And the Fire Museum
The Fire Museum of Memphis is located on Adams Ave downtown in Fire Engine House No. 1 which was built back in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is considered to be the premier fire museum in the country and definitely the hottest museum in Memphis. See? I’m funny.
The museum features exhibits on fire and life safety, firehouse history, and offers the chance to “test your ability to find an escape route to survive a fire”. … So, if your worst nightmare was a museum.
139. Visit the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art
The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art started out as a private art collection and has since become 24,000 square feet of exhibit space. Unofficially called the “jade museum”, it features works of art from the Qing Dynasty (1644 BC – 1911 AD) and by contemporary Jewish artists living and working in Israel today.
140. Visit the Center for Southern Folklore
The mission of the non-profit Center for Southern Folklore is “to preserve, defend, protect and promote the music, culture, arts, and rhythms of the South.” It consists of unique gift shops, a media lounge with documentaries about the South, local performers, “cultural excursions” around town and an annual music festival.
141. Stop by the Underground Railroad Museum
The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is located in a house built in 1849 and documents that house’s role in the overall underground railroad escape network as well as the history of the slave trade in the Memphis area.
142. Tour the historic Woodruff-Fontaine House
The Woodruff-Fontaine House is an 1871 Victorian mansion, now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum boasts “one of the most extensive Victorian era fashion to 1920’s textile collections in the South” with over 4,000 pieces. But more importantly, they have ghost tours!
143. Followed by the Mallory-Neely House
Also located in Memphis’s Victorian Village is the Mallory-Neely House, built in the mid-1800s so it’s totally, probably, haunted too. Almost everything in the house is original and includes pieces the family bought at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904.
144. And the Magevney House
The Magevney House, this one not a mansion, is the former home of an Irish immigrant and dates back to the 1830s. It’s small, it’s pre-Civil War-ish, and admission is free. It’s also one of the oldest residences in Memphis. (Read: ghosts galore)
145. Take a history walking tour
This two-hour guided walking tour of Memphis covers hundreds of years of Memphis’s history and stops at some of the city’s most iconic spots. It includes the Peabody Duck March and panoramic views from another great rooftop not mentioned in this post.
146. Or the City of Memphis tour
The 3-hour City of Memphis tour also hits up some of Memphis’s top spots and attractions and even includes hotel pickup and dropoff.
147. Spend some time at the Memphis Zoo
The Memphis Zoo, located in Overton Park, was founded in 1906 and has grown to become one of the country’s top zoos in terms of conservation, education, and snuggly-wugglies. It’s also where I worked as a researcher extracting sperm from endangered frogs–it’s a long story. We can discuss it over many drinks.
The Memphis Zoo is divided into many areas, among them: Teton Trek featuring grizzly bears, elk, and wolves; China featuring our two snuggle-worthy pandas; the Northwest Passage with polar bears, seals, and bald eagles, Cat Country, the African Veldt, and so many more.
148. And feed a giraffe while you’re there
From March ’til October at the Memphis Zoo (because like, where else? I’m a great writer.) you are given the opportunity to feed a giraffe by hand. I’ve done this many times and it’s never not the coolest thing ever.
Did you know giraffes have an 18-inch tongue that’s prehensile like an elephant’s trunk and purple to prevent sunburn? Now ya do. Now let one touch you.
149. Stroll through the Memphis Botanic Gardens
I avoided the Memphis Botanic Garden like the plague my whole life because the amount of pollen that must be there surely would’ve sent me to an early grave. But that just means it’s full of beautiful, smell-goody things!
It spans 96 acres and is comprised of 31 specialty gardens including a Japanese garden, the Magnolia Trail, a butterfly garden, and even a prehistoric plant trail which, “true to prehistoric times, … also features mosquitos”. I told you, no sugarcoating.
150. Learn about local wildlife at Lichterman Nature Center
Lichterman Nature Center is an arboretum and nature center located in East Memphis where I once worked scaring grown-ass adults with live snakes.
It consists of nature trails, educational exhibits, live animals and preserved specimens, and used to be the place I’d take injured squirrels when I was little but they don’t do that anymore. [sad faces] On Fridays they do live snake feedings in the Backyard Wildlife Center so that’s something pretty hardcore to see before lunch.
151. Learn about past local cultures at Chucalissa Indian Village
Wait a minute… are you saying the Spanish weren’t the first ones to discover the Mississippi River Valley? 😱 Okay, to the surprise of no intelligent human being, the Memphis area had already been settled wayyyy before 1819 and Chucalissa Indian Village is the place to learn all about that. I’ll leave it at that for now, but in the meantime check out my entire article dedicated to visiting Chucalissa Indian Village.
152. Tour St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I know, right? I had no idea you could tour this place. You’ve no doubt heard of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the world leader in pediatric cancer treatment and research and, surprise!, it’s located right here in Memphis.
As long as you, yourself, are in good health, you can take guided tours of the hospital where literal miracles occur every day.
153. Visit the Danny Thomas Pavilion
Also on the St. Jude campus is the Danny Thomas Pavilion–Danny Thomas being the one-time superstar entertainer and eventual founder of St. Jude.
The Danny Thomas Pavilion contains memorabilia from Thomas’s life (like his Emmys and his Congressional Gold Medal), is an architectural stunner, and serves as the resting place for DT himself. The free, self-guided tours are said to be unbelievably inspiring.
Things to do in Memphis for sports enthusiasts
154. Attend a basketball game
Be it the D-1 University of Memphis Tigers or the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, Memphis is a basketball town fo’ sho’. Both teams play downtown at the FedExForum (where I also worked for many years–just go ahead and assume I’ve worked at all 200 of these places) and both are one hell of a good time.
155. Attend a Memphis Redbirds game
Attending a Memphis Redbirds game–the AAA-affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals–might be the best of all the things to do in Memphis. AutoZone Park, where the ‘birds play, is consistently ranked as the nicest minor league ballpark in the country, on par with (and even better than) some major league stadiums.
Grab a blanket and get “bluff” tickets to enjoy a game in a way you can’t at other ballparks. (Guess what? I worked here!)
156. And discover BBQ nachos while you’re there
BBQ nachos are another Memphis delicacy, if you will, that you can’t leave without trying. Forget what you think you know about nachos and let Memphis take over. It isn’t a Redbirds game without BBQ nachos, pshh.
157. Attend a Tigers Football game
Okay, so the NFL didn’t last in Memphis for more than a season, but that’s doesn’t mean football can’t be one of the things to do in Memphis while you’re here.
Check out a Memphis Tigers football game at the Liberty Bowl and tell everyone you know in New England how you went to school with Stephen Gostkowski–true story.
158. And tailgate beforehand at Tiger Lane
Tailgating at Tigers football games used to be a real mother of a cluster, but now we have the fancy new Tiger Lane where we can tailgate in an organized fashion. As long as you’re not wearing orange, you’ll make friends instantly, even as a stranger. And since this is Memphis, the stranger the better!
159. Attend the Liberty Bowl on New Years Eve
Okay so the Liberty Bowl is the football stadium where the Tigers play… but Liberty Bowl is also the name of the NCAA bowl game that takes place on New Year’s Eve. To confuse you even more, the Memphis Tigers played in the Liberty Bowl (at the Liberty Bowl) in 2017. Yay sports!
160. Clown around at the Agricenter Rodeo
Okay well, I thought that was the worst of it but it turns out the annual rodeo at Memphis’s Agricenter that I’m about to plug is officially called the Liberty Bowl Rodeo because somehow it’s associated with the football game? Anyway, just go check it out. There will be cowboys.
161. Attend a United Soccer League game
Memphis, TN is now the home of a new United Soccer League team — the Memphis 901 FC. Games are played at AutoZone Park downtown and that’s all I can tell you about soccer, but it’s kind of a big deal.
162. Get hushed at the FedEx St. Jude Classic
The FedEx St. Jude Classic has been an annual golf tournament since 1958 and is an official PGA event.
However, in 2019 the tournament replaced the Bridgestone Invitational and became one of the World Golf Championships and is henceforth known as the WGC-Fedex St. Jude Invitational. Yay for Memphis! Let’s just hope the famous “Hush Y’all!” signs don’t go anywhere.
163. Run in the St. Jude Marathon
I know what you’re thinking: How in the hell do you expect me to run 26 miles in that Memphis heat!? Well, the St. Jude Marathon is in December, the only time it’s acceptable to break a sweat on purpose. But chances are, if this is on your list of “things to do in Memphis”, then it’s probably the reason you came here in the first place.
So, it’s a marathon. All fundraising directly benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Sometimes people dress like Elvis, sometimes they don’t. It’s up to you.
The race starts outside FedExForum, passes through the St. Jude campus where patients and their families gather to cheer you on, continues on through Overton Park and other historic points in town, and ends downtown on Union Avenue with a finish festival at AutoZone Park.
Things to do in Memphis that end in ‘festival’
164. Score some tail at the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival
Probably my favorite festival of the year, the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival takes place annually on a Sunday in mid – late April.
It’s seen locally as the unofficial start to spring (and a heavy festival season) and 100% of proceeds benefit the Porter-Leath Foundation. Admission is free and events include cooking contests, crawfish-eating contests, bobbing for crawfish, three stages of live music, and getting as messy as humanly possible.
BTW, crawfish are these little creatures we eat here in the South–it’s like a teeny tiny lobster. We boil them in spices and eat their tail meat. They’re spicy and delicious and not at all weird.)
165. Get spicy at the World Championship Hot Wing Contest & Festival
Clearly, everything we love to eat in Memphis has been festival-ized and hot wings are no exception. The World Championship Hot Wing Contest & Festival (formerly known as the Southern Hot Wing Festival) takes place annually in April, at Tiger Lane, and is practically the BBQ Fest of hot wings.
That means there are 70+ teams competing in a handful of categories and you get to reap the benefits. So, drummies or flaps?
166. Drink up at Cooper-Young Beerfest
The Cooper-Young Beerfest is a regional beer festival (meaning you can visit any of the breweries served within a day’s drive of Memphis) and offers beer from more than 30 breweries. This is the perfect opportunity to sample all the Memphis craft breweries should you lack adequate vacation time.
167. Go full Luigi at Italian Fest
The Memphis Italian Festival is like… well, it’s the BBQ Fest of Italian food. Yes, a lot of stuff gets compared to BBQ fest, alright? It’s a 3-day festival at the end of May with cooking contests, bocce competitions, spaghetti galore, live entertainment on two stages, and like, so many hand gestures.
168. Check out our big, fat, Greek festival
Go Greek in May at the Memphis Greek Festival. Eat all the Greek food (so much baklava down my throat), dance to live Greek bands, and scream OPA! like a million times.
169. Participate in the falafel-eating contest at Israel Fest
The Memphis Israel Fest happens annually in October and, yes, consists of a falafel-eating contest, among other activities. FYI, the trophy’s mine. Eat Israeli food, listen to Israeli music, and, whoa, there will be camels!
170. Check out India Fest
Finally, something in November! Check out the Memphis India Fest at the Agricenter full of Indian cuisine, henna painting, and Bollywood dancing yayayay!
171. Get local at Gonerfest
Gonerfest is a 3-day festival hosted by Goner Records, a local record label and home to punk, garage, and indie rock bands.
172. Chill out at Cooper-Young Festival
Y’all. Everyone attends the Cooper-Young Festival. So if you’re in town during that weekend in September, you should too. It’s a mix of arts and crafts, music, food, and probably a buncha tie-dyed shirts, and is just a really good time.
173. Get artsy at River Arts Fest
River Arts Fest takes place at the end of October and has become so big it’s moving to Riverside Drive. (Could it be we just love finding reasons to shut down Riverside Dr.?) It’s a glorified street celebration of fine arts and local music and promotes more than 180 artists from around the country.
174. Stuff yourself at the Mid-South Food Truck Festival
We. Love. To eat. In Memphis. I can’t express that enough. One of the city’s newest festivals is the Mid-South Food Truck Festival which showcases more than 70 food trucks from cities along the Mississippi River. Oh, and there’s a competition as per usual.
175. Check out the Memphis Chicken and Beer Festival
They did it! They finally listened to all the suggestions I’ve been making all these years! Finally–a festival of chicken and beer–aka, my house on Saturdays. The inaugural Memphis Chicken and Beer Festival just took place on the field of the Liberty Bowl and looked like a clucking good time so it’s totes gon’ happen again.
176. Buy things at the Pink Palace Crafts Fair
The 3-day Pink Palace Crafts Fair has been going strong for 46 years and is now considered one of the best (and oldest) crafts fairs in the country.
177. Go full-on country at the Delta Fair and Music Festival
It’s a county fair… in the South. The Delta Fair is basically everything you’ve both imagined and hoped it would be. There’s live music, a tractor pull, rides and games, a baton twirling competition (I actually want to see this), livestock shows, crafts, and much more. Much more fried food, I mean.
Things to do in Memphis that are kind of creepy
178. Visit Historic Elmwood Cemetery
Elmwood Cemetery is one of the oldest and most historic parts of Memphis. More than 75k people have been buried here and among them: 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans, a couple of Union generals, author Shelby Foote, and 2,500 victims of that yellow fever outbreak I mentioned like a year ago in the first paragraph of this post.
(It was also a setting in the movie The Firm, so if you haven’t figured it out yet, you should totally watch that movie.) They offer guided tours but you’re welcome to visit on your own as well. They still have 15,000 plots available… maybe shop around…
179. And check out Cemetery Cinema
Because is there a better place to watch scary double features? Cemetery Cinema at Elmwood Cemetery offers you two movies for the price of just one pants wetting. Bring your blankets and chairs, pack up a cooler, and grab snacks from a food truck that hopefully doesn’t serve brains.
180. Walk through the Crystal Shrine Grotto
Located inside the Memorial Park Cemetery is the Crystal Shrine Grotto–a manmade cave carved and encrusted with crystals that tells the story of Jesus. Obviously. But what’s even weirder: people get their wedding photos taken here.
181. Partake in the Memphis Zombie Walk
Dress up like a zombie (okay, rise from the dead, whatever), then head to Beale Street for the start of the annual Memphis Zombie Walk. It happens each spring (apparently the best time for brain-harvesting) and benefits the Memphis Food Bank because what are zombies gonna do with canned goods anyway?
182. Take the Memphis Ghosts Walking Tour
Without me, thank you very much. The Memphis Ghosts Walking Tour is a 2-hour tour covering the most haunted spots in Memphis like the Orpheum and Earnestine & Hazel’s and more that I’ve never been to (and for good reason). I
ain’t am absolutely afraid of no even the mention of ghosts.
183. Solve the mystery of Voodoo Village
The “proper” name for what Memphians call Voodoo Village is actually “St. Paul’s Holiness Temple” because apparently it all started with a temple some guy built. In a compound. That’s now full of seemingly strange sculptures, artwork, and the heebie jeebies.
Things to do in Memphis during the holidays
184. Get lost in the Mid-South Maze
The Mid-South Maze is a massive corn maze at the Agricenter and is open every fall. Only on some of the nights is the maze haunted (thank you Jesus!) and, fear not, there are “corn cops” to help you should you get really and truly lost. Guiltyyyyy 👋🏼
185. Drive through Starry Nights
Head out east to Starry Nights at Shelby Farms where you can drive through the massive park to see pretty light displays and hardcore rock out to Trans-Siberian Orchestra in your car where no one can see. There’s also a magical mistletoe village where you can meet Santa (I know him!), shop for gifts, and listen to live music.
186. Check out Zoo Lights at the Memphis Zoo
It’s kinda like Starry Nights, but you will need to use your legs this time. Zoo Lights at the Memphis Zoo is an annual event where the zoo is filled with holiday light displays, Santa is there, there’s an ice skating rink, oh and live reindeer!
Obviously you’ll want to check out the ice rink since it’s gonna be full of people who have never set foot on ice before. *pulls up chair* Dis gon’ be good.
187. Partake in the Stumbling Santa pub crawl
So it’s exactly like the Stumbling Elvis, except everyone is dressed as Santa. Actually, that’s not true. There’s a sackload of slutty elves in there too and whatever other ways people can sex-up Christmas.
Things to do in Memphis out East
188. Go see the buffalo at Shelby Farms
Shelby Farms, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., is home to a herd of American Bison and their babies that are so cute I just wanna squeeze ’em! Note: maintain a “look, don’t touch” mantra here.
189. And ride some horses while you’re there
And since you can’t ride the buffalo (dang it), they have horses available. Check out some of the Shelby Farms trails on horseback on thirty-minute, one-hour, and two-hour trips.
190. Play a round of disc golf
The one and only time I’ve ever played disc golf, I did it at Shelby Farms. They have an 18-hole (18-weird basket thing?) disc golf course that’s open to the public. You can pick up a map of the course and score sheets in both the Boathouse and the Visitor Center.
191. Kayak Hyde Lake
If I completely scared you out of kayaking the Mississippi, maybe you should just stick to Hyde Lake. Hyde Lake is one of the 20+ bodies of water at Shelby Farms and they offer canoe and kayak rentals fo’ cheap! Knowing you’re not going to be swiftly swept away into the Gulf of Mexico? Priceless.
192. Bike the Greenline
The Shelby Farms Greenline is a 10-mile trail that runs from Shelby Farms out east all the way west through Midtown on a former railroad line.
Didn’t pack your Huffy in your carry-on? You can rent bikes at two locations along the trail fo’ cheap! Taking advantage of the free bike repair stations along the trail because you suck at life? Priceless.
193. Frolic in the sunflower fields
The Agricenter plants 78,000 sunflower seeds every year exclusively for the enjoyment of the public. (i.e. to be used as backdrops for instagrammers) No admission is required–just simply drive up and frolic (between July 25 and like September-ish).
194. Check out the Collierville Town Square
This recommendation comes from my dad who wants to make sure everyone sees the Collierville Town Square. I mean, it is adorable.
It’s small-town Southern charm exactly like you’ve always imagined it. There’s a train stop with some antique trains, there’s a malt shop, a church, a gazebo, some antique shops, and an old-timey pumping station that people actually still use.
It was voted “America’s Best Main Street” by Parade Magazine. But my dad probably already told you.
195. Don’t miss the log cabin stagecoach
Located in the Collierville Town Square just southwest of the gazebo is an old log cabin. This cabin served as a rest stop for stagecoaches and dates back to 1851.
During special events on the square it’s open to the public where you can see, what I like to call, “ancient artifacts”. However, when it’s closed, you can still peek through the windows.
196. Visit the oldest house in Shelby County
Though the previously mentioned Magevney House is pretty damn old, it’s not the oldest. That would be Davies Manor out in a lil suburb called Bartlett. ‘Twas built in the mid-1800s and now offers 21st-century docent-led tours from April to mid-December.
197. Have lunch at the Germantown Commissary
The Germantown Commissary is one of Memphis’s favorite BBQ joints but it often gets overlooked by visitors due to its location farther out east. Go there.
Update: There’s now a Commissary in Collierville too!
Things to do in Memphis before you leave
198. Take a picture with a mural
Memphis, TN has joined the rest of the world as being a hot spot for street art just begging to be the background of your selfie. Colorful murals can be found all over the city with minimal sleuthing. To help with your search, check out the Memphis Art Project. Instagram thanks you.
199. Rock a retro photoshoot
I told you, Memphis is virtually trapped in the 1950s and 60s and this characteristic helps make for the perfect retro photoshoot. Think: outside (and inside) Sun Studio or the Arcade, outside the shops on Beale, on the trolley, in front of, say, a drive-in movie theater or sno cone shop, and basically up and down any street in town.
200. Ship your souvenirs home via FedEx just because
Look, you’re going to purchase so many Elvis bobbleheads and bottles of BBQ sauce that they just won’t fit in your suitcase. Lucky for you, Memphis is the birthplace and proud home of the world leader in overnight shipping.
Since most of your FedEx shipments pass through Memphis anyway, why not cut-out the middleman since you’re in the middleman?
More info on things to do in Memphis
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What else have I written about Tennessee? Check out these posts.
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Special thanks to Memphis Travel for providing admission into some of the sites I hadn’t yet visited.
Some of us sweet tea drinkers have a hard time with the word Elvis-tivities. My search-a-word brain center gizmo keeps finding alternatives there.
Haha! Umm, I make up a lot of words…