Best Things to Do in Memphis: 24 Attractions You Don't Want to Miss
There is plenty to do in the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. Discover the best attractions in Memphis now.
What do Elvis Presley, barbecue cuisine, and FedEx all have in common? For those who aren't already patting themselves on the back, the answer is Memphis, Tennessee. The city is where the music giant established his beloved Graceland estate. It's also home to over 100 specialty barbecue restaurants, and yes, it's where "America's Distribution Center" was founded. Of course, the list of things to do in Memphis extends far beyond pork, packages, and Presley. The city is most famously regarded as the home of blues music and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. It also boasts the historic Beale Street, which has been voted the most iconic street in America. Below, we'll discuss even more Memphis attractions worth visiting when in town. Keep reading to get started.
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24 Best Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee
Check out our list of the best things to do in Memphis before booking your trip. We'll cover where to go with kids, as a couple, or all on your own!
Walk Around Downtown Memphis
Downtown Memphis contains some of the city's most celebrated attractions, which makes it a great place to kick off your trip. The area is also incredibly walkable, so you don't need to worry about navigating around by car. The city also contains over 60 miles of bike lanes for those looking for another alternative.
In addition to retail and hospitality hotspots, downtown Memphis offers some of the best landscapes and natural attractions in the city. The Mississippi River runs right through the area, providing scenic views and different types of on-water adventures. There are also plenty of urban parks and hiking opportunities nearby.
And of course, there's the music. Also located downtown is the iconic Beale Street, known for its live music scene. Places like the Rum Boogie Café, B.B. King's Blues Club, Silky O'Sullivan's, and the Hard Rock Café help make up the neon row, a chain of restaurants, clubs, and venues that contributed to the city's musical legacy and continue operating today.
Visit the National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is considered one of the nation's top heritage and cultural museums. The location has been featured on the History Channel and CNN, in USA Today, and even served as the focus for the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.
The museum was first established in 1991 at the former Lorraine Motel, the same place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated back in 1968. Through a combination of interactive exhibits, historic collections, specialized lecturers, and special events, the National Civil Rights Museum documents the hardships experienced during this time. Just as importantly, the museum also underscores the progress the civil rights movement helped achieve.
Stroll Around Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park isn't only the largest urban park in Memphis—at 4,500 acres, it also accounts for one of the largest in the entire country. Located in the heart of the city, the park contains over 40 miles of trails (both paved and unpaved), for walking, biking, jogging, and hiking. It also contains the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 10.65-mile paved trail that connects to the neighboring community of Cordova. Additionally, there are over 20 bodies of water scattered around the park.
Now, here's something that probably sets Shelby Farms apart from other parks. The place is also home to a herd of buffalo. Park supervisor Tommy Hill brought a few over back in 1998 as part of a conservation effort. Today, the group has grown to about 15 members and has claimed about 50 acres of the park for themselves.
As far as more traditional attractions go, the park also contains a playground, sprayground, dog park, and a few different eateries. If that's not enough to occupy your time, you can always test out some other adventures, including laser tag and zipline tours.
Check Out the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music has declared itself the world's only museum dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of Stax Records and American soul music. Located on the original site of the Stax Records Studio, the museum pays homage to the musicians who recorded there along with other American soul legends.
The museum also provides a more thorough exploration of the genre through interactive exhibits, films, stage costumes, musical instruments, and vintage recording equipment. In total, it contains over 2,000 items of memorabilia and artifacts in its collection.
Inside, visitors will find a reassembled country church, which many insiders consider to be the "true birthplace" of soul music. There's also the infamous Wall of Sound, which is lined floor-to-ceiling with albums and singles released by Stax and its subsidiary labels. In addition to other rotating galleries, there's also a dance floor where visitors are encouraged to kick back and let the music move them.
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Walk Around Beale Street
We know, we've already talked about this attraction, but the location is so famous we thought it deserved its own slot on the list. Beale Street first made it onto the map during the roaring '20s, when things were a little wild. Visits to nightclubs, theaters and local shops often took place alongside gambling, drinking, voodoo, and even murder.
While things have certainly calmed down over the years, the iconic street still exudes that same "carnival atmosphere" it did all those years ago. Today, the three-block area contains some of the city's most popular restaurants, music venues, and nightclubs.
You'll probably also notice that the street is lined with brass notes. These monuments help immortalize the musicians, composers, disc jockeys, promoters, and music supporters that helped Beale Street build its reputation. Keep an eye out for famous names like B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and even Justin Timberlake.
The area also hosts city-wide festivals throughout the year, meaning you'll have plenty to see and do, even without a specific destination in mind.
See the Memphis Botanic Garden
The Memphis Botanic Garden contains over 96 acres of lush botanical displays. With over 30 specialty gardens and a Level 4 Arboretum, visitors are sure to walk away with new knowledge of plants, flowers, and trees, and a renewed appreciation of our environment.
Though the Memphis Botanic Garden wasn't officially established until 1966, the land was first cultivated back in 1819. Today, it contains a wide range of trails, water features, and plants. Visitors are invited to explore its butterfly garden, prehistoric plant trail, Japanese maple grove, and much more. There's also a children's garden onsite for families visiting with young kids.
In 2014, the garden unveiled its new performing arts venue, now called the Radians Amphitheater, which hosts a series of live music events and festivals throughout the year.
Feed the Animals at the Memphis Zoo
With over 4,500 animals, the Memphis Zoo provides plenty to see. Exhibits range from aquatic species to tropical birds, large mammals from the African Veldt, big cats, farm animals, and much more. The organization is also a major participant in national conservation efforts.
Educational programs also regularly take place. Options include guided tours, dissection labs, and evening escapades to observe the zoo's nocturnal species. Animal encounters are available as well, depending on the season. There's also a splash park and a few different places to eat on the property in case you need to cool down and fuel up.
Tour Sun Studio
Memphis may be known as the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, but Sun Studio is really where that legacy was born. It's considered the discovery location of musical legends and genres like blues, gospel, country, rock, and soul music.
A trip to Sun Studio also unlocks some one-of-a-kind experiences you won't want to miss. Visitors can stand in the same spot that Elvis first recorded, for instance. Guided tours also provide inside details on other famous faces that frequented the studio. A trip to the studio will even grant you access to outtakes from recording sessions and access to never-before-heard clips from some of the world's most celebrated musicians.
The best part? It is still operating as a traditional recording studio. If you want, you can head over after they wrap daytime operations for a five-hour block and a chance to record using their signature equipment.
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Spend a Night at the Historic Peabody Hotel
Known as the "South's Grand Hotel," The Peabody Memphis is widely celebrated for its charm, elegance, hospitality, and rich history. Originally opened in 1869, the hotel has secured a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
It's also world-famous for its five resident ducks, who you can spot taking daily strolls through the lobby. This detail is often emphasized over at the bar, where cocktails are sometimes adorned with pint-sized rubber duckies.
If you don't want to spend the night, you can always stop by the Peabody Hotel for dinner and drinks. You can choose from classical french cuisine to casual dining, or simply enjoy a nightcap at the lobby bar.
Take a Riverboat Cruise on the Mississippi River
Enjoy the Mississippi River by boat! Cruises are offered daily and provide a detailed history of the area along with spectacular views of the city. Different options are available, ranging from traditional sightseeing tours to riverboat cruises complete with dinner and drinks. You can even sign up for themed excursions like midnight booze cruises or jazz brunches (this option is only available on Sundays).
Of course, if you're hoping to explore the river on land, you can always hang around some of the city's riverfront attractions like Greenbelt or Fourth Bluff Park. Visitors should also keep tabs on Tom Lee Park. Though currently under construction, the new attraction will soon accommodate spaces for children's play, sports and fitness, private events, concerts, dinners, and outdoor education.
Explore the Memphis Music Hall of Fame
The Memphis Music Hall of Fame celebrates some of the greatest musicians of all time. The tribute also contains a museum, where visitors can learn more about the inductees and how they are selected. Producers, engineers, recording industry professionals, writers, promoters, and radio professionals are also considered throughout the induction process.
The organization also features new artists to help spread the word about new and upcoming talent. Visitors can also enjoy never-before-seen memorabilia, video performances, and interviews.
Bring the Kids to the Children's Museum of Memphis
The Children's Museum of Memphis has been in operation since 1987. The hands-on-environment provides new and exciting ways for kids to practice language, literacy, fine motor skills, and social competency.
In addition to top attractions like its restored Grand Carousel, splash park, and rock climbing wall, the museum has also established designated spaces for role-playing activities. Whether they're filling in as a dentist, shop attendant, farmer, or chef, these types of exercises will help facilitate creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills.
And that's not all. In addition to the 30+ activities and play stations, the museum also hosts different types of programs, from creative dance classes to weekly story time, science experiments, and more.
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Get a Feel for the Past at Victorian Village
Memphis' Victorian Village was once a popular residential destination among the wealthy elite. Cotton magnates and riverboat tycoons alike bought the property in this area to build their homes. Between 1845 and 1890, over a dozen three- and four-story Victorian-style estates were built along the so-called "Millionaire's Row."
Though many of these families abandoned their homes as the neighborhood became less exclusive, several mansions remain standing today. Visitors can kick off a visit to the area by touring the Woodruff Fontaine House Museum or the Mallory Neely House, which contains original furnishings, parquet flooring, and stained-glass windows.
Of course, house tours aren't everyone's idea of a good time, but if spooky stuff is, you're still in luck. According to local legend, the Woodruff-Fontaine House is home to the ghost of Mollie Fontaine. The building is thought to be one of the most haunted places in the city. You can sign up for a tour of the property if you want to get closer to the spirits. The place is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday and can even be rented out for private parties.
Enjoy Some Performing Arts at the Orpheum Theatre
Speaking of spooky places, The Orpheum Theatre is located in downtown Memphis, with operations dating as far back as 1890. We're not kidding about the haunted stuff, either. According to the locals, the place is often visited by a 12-year-old ghost named Mary, who was killed by a streetcar in front of the building when attending a show with her family.
Of course, that's not the only thing that the attraction is known for. The building was a hot spot for vaudeville performers until it burnt down in 1923. After reopening in 1928 as the Orpheum Theatre, the building became known for its organ performances. Over the next ten years, some of the best entertainers in the country—Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Cantor—were invited onstage.
Today, the building has made it onto the National Register of Historic Places and remains a major destination for theater aficionados located near and far. Regular performances include a Broadway Series, productions by Ballet Memphis, various concerts, and local cultural and community events.
Stop by BB King's Blues Club
BB King's Blues Club has two locations, one in Memphis and one in Montgomery. You can also find some club performances at sea while aboard various cruise ships, but that won't impact your trip down south. Not only does the venue offer one of the best live music experiences in the country, but it also comes with delicious southern specialties including Po' boys, shrimp and grits, and barbecue chicken.
Of course, there's also a full bar so you can jam out with a signature cocktail in hand, like a "Memphis Margarita" or "Love on the Delta." Be sure to check the schedule before you stop by. That way, you can secure an opportunity to see the house band play and learn about other musicians in town during your visit.
Visit the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum
The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum was created by the Smithsonian Institute to pay homage to individuals who had to overcome racial bias and socio-economic barriers to pursue their love of music.
A digital audio tour is available so that visitors can tour the museum's seven galleries at their own pace. Things begin with the rural field hollers and sharecroppers of the '30s, transitioning into the rise of Sun, Stax, and Hi Records and eventually, Memphis's musical heyday in the '70s.
In total, the tour provides over 300 minutes of information, including over 100 songs. The museum also includes over 30 musical instruments, 40 costumes, and other "musical treasures."
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Take a Photo of the Memphis Pyramid
Welcome to one of the biggest pyramids in the world. And yes, it's in Memphis. The 321-foot structure first opened its doors back in 1991 and accounts for the sixth largest pyramid on Earth.
And that's not the only thing worth noting about the building's initial unveiling. As confirmed by Kevin Kane, Memphis Tourism CEO and President, there was a crystal skull initially welded to its apex, though it was later removed. It was placed there by Isaac Tigrett, the founder of the Hard Rock Cafe, who believed its "mystic powers" would deliver prosperity and success.
Originally, the Memphis Pyramid was initially used to host University of Memphis basketball games throughout the '90s, though the focus shifted when the NBA's Grizzlies arrived in Memphis. Even still, basketball isn't responsible for the most famous sporting moment in the arena. That hat goes to the infamous fight between Lennon Lewis and Mike Tyson.
Unfortunately, a few years later, the Grizzlies relocated and the arena was left empty, though not for long. Soon after the move, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris decided to take over. In addition to—yep, you guessed it—a super-sized Bass Pro Shop, the Pyramid now contains a hotel, bowling alley, two restaurants, an archery range, and an indoor swamp complete with over 1,800 fish, alligator pools, and duck aviaries.
Enjoy a Country Fried Steak at Bryan's Breakfast
Head over to Bryan's Breakfast for a truly authentic Memphis breakfast. The establishment was opened up by Jimmy and Jayne Bryant as a way to honor Jimmy's late mother, who was known for her mouth-watering biscuits and southern breakfast.
Though time-consuming and labor-intensive, every biscuit served in the building is made by hand. Other popular items on the menu include country ham, omelets, gravy, and grits. The restaurant has even been named "best biscuit in Memphis" by Commercial Appeal, the Memphis' daily newspaper, and has even been featured in Esquire Magazine and USA Today.
Today, the establishment is maintained by their children, who can be found working the counter.
Visit the Memphis Museum of Science & History
The Memphis Museum of Science & History (MoSH) is a great destination for individuals of all ages. In addition to its extensive collection of permanent and rotating exhibits, the museum contains other attractions including a giant screen theater, nature center, and planetarium.
While some rooms detail more modern history, from the Stonewall riots to the rise of artificial intelligence, others also contain more traditional displays, including skeletons and skulls of massive apex predators. Other points of interest include a mummy casket, Native American pottery, and an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Check Out the Pink Palace Museum
Though technically part of the MoSH, the Pink Palace Museum provides such an extensive display that we thought it warranted its own spot on our list. The 36,500-square-foot building was originally built as a residence for Clarence Saunders, the father of self-service grocery shopping and founder of the Piggly Wiggly.
Construction began in 1922, but by 1923 Saunders was forced to declare bankruptcy and was never able to move in. Eventually, the home was sold to the city of Memphis and fell into the hands of the MoSH, who claim it as their "largest artifact."
Inside, visitors can explore additional artifacts and specimens collected from the early 20th century. The mansion also contains a full replica of the Piggly Wiggly Store and the Clyde Park Miniature Circus. The idea is to allow visitors to better experience Memphis culture as it existed back in the '30s.
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Kick Back at AutoZone Park
Baseball fans will likely want to squeeze in a trip to AutoZone Park. Located in downtown Memphis, the Minor League Baseball stadium serves as home to the Memphis Redbirds. The team has been playing the 10,000-seat stadium for over 20 years.
And if baseball isn't your thing, don't worry. The stadium also doubles as a concert venue. Festivals and other sporting events also take place throughout the year as well, so be sure to check the schedule before your visit.
Have a Bite at Jerry's Snow Cones
What started as a Sinclair gas station has evolved into one of the most delicious destinations in all of Memphis. Jerry's Snow Cones has been in operation since the '60s, though the word didn't get out until it was featured in the film Great Balls of Fire. After that, some famous folks started showing up, and that got the townspeople interested.
While they can't take credit for inventing the Snow Cone, they did introduce the "Snow Cone Supreme," which includes an added scoop of ice cream on top. If you're in the mood for something more savory, the place also offers a full hot food menu—we're talking burgers, corn dogs, queso dip, corn nuggets, and more.
Explore the Belz Museum
Jack and Marlyn Belz began investing in Asian art back in 1968. By 1995, the couple's collection had grown significantly, so they decided that it couldn't hurt to donate some pieces. What began with a few items going to a temporary exhibition turned into an entire collection housed in what we now know as the Belz Museum.
While the couple is often celebrated for their Asian and Judaic collection, the museum is also recognized for its Holocaust Memorial Gallery. Educational programs are also offered throughout the year, specifically for kids aged K-12. Guided tours are also available. If you want, you can even rent the place out for a private event. Just be sure to inquire about their events schedule before you start making arrangements.
Walk Around Mud Island Park
It's not an island and it's hardly made of mud (actually, most of it is made up of silt, gravel, and sand) but it's still most certainly worth visiting. Mud Island Park is right on the Mississippi River and close to the downtown area. In addition to its amazing views, the area provides plenty of green space for sunbathing, picnics, and lawn games.
It also features the new 50-ft "Memphis" sign, which has quickly become one of the most photographed attractions in town. There's also the Mississippi River Museum on the "island," which contains thousands of artifacts related to the river's history. Though the biggest attraction in the park is its amphitheater. Keep an eye out for the events scheduled before your trip, like the Big River Fit Festival that takes place here annually.
That's a wrap on the best things to do in Memphis, but be sure to check back in with us soon! Travelicious, supported by Best Life, is committed to helping you find your next adventure. Sign up for our newsletter to enjoy expert-backed tips for navigating our favorite U.S. destinations!
What is Memphis known for?
Memphis is known as the home of blues music and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. Plenty of musical pioneers have flocked to the city over the years to record. Some of the most famous names include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry.
What are the best things to do in Memphis for couples?
Memphis is a great place to explore with your significant other. Not only is the city full of interesting attractions, but there are plenty of opportunities to sneak in a little romance as well. Some of our favorite activities for couples include:
- Booking a night at the Peabody Hotel
- Taking a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River
- Exploring downtown Memphis by foot
- Enjoying some live music on Beale Street
- Taking a Sun Studio tour
- Having a picnic in Shelby Farms Park
- Seeing a show at the Orpheum Theatre
What are some things to do in Memphis with kids?
Memphis receives about 10 million visitors each year, many of them families. If you happen to be part of that growing demographic, then you're in luck. There are plenty of things to do in Memphis with kids. We've listed a few of our favorites below.
- Feed the animals at the Memphis Zoo
- Explore Mud River Park
- Check out the swamp in the Memphis Pyramid
- Visit the Children's Museum of Memphis
- Go to the Memphis Museum of Science and History
- Enjoy a treat at Jerry's Snow Cones
- Tour the Fire Museum of Memphis
What are the best attractions in Memphis for adults?
Though there is plenty to do for kids and couples, Memphis is a great city for adults to explore. Between international jazz festivals, blues clubs, and other forms of entertainment down on Beale Street, you're sure to stay entertained. Listed below are a few of our favorite stops.
- The National Civil Rights Museum
- BB King's Blues Club
- The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum
- The Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- Graceland Estate
- Alex's Tavern
- Memphis Music Hall of Fame