If you need a change of pace and city, Memphis is the place to go for a weekend full of great music, barbeque, and unique experiences that you can’t have anywhere else in the world. Memphis is one of the weird, historical, and cultural centers in the United States- so much so that Time just named Memphis one of the “World’s Greatest Places 2021.”
Memphis is perfect for all age groups- there’s a fabulous zoo and some crazy hotel ducks. If you’re a music lover, it’s the capital of the blues and rock n roll. And if you just like a great time, there’s Beale Street and an amazing culinary scene. In fact, you can go on separate weekends and not even touch all Memphis has to offer. So, get your blue suede shoes and see what Marc Cohn was singing about. See if you can go “Walking In Memphis with your feet ten feet off of Beale.”
15. Get Hip in Cooper-Young in Midtown Memphis
(image via Cooper Young Memphis)
A funky little community within the larger confines of Memphis, Cooper-Young (C-Y) is the old/new cool area to visit. Founded in 1899, it was created as an eclectic community with a focus on young, creative minds and families. The C-Y District is home to a variety of businesses, activities and family culture that is rooted in tradition and continually evolving to stay relevant. Whether you’re interested in shopping (they have over 30 retail one-of-a-kind boutiques) or enjoying a delicious meal at one of 26 restaurants/cafes- C-Y is the place to explore on a long weekend in an Airbnb. Stroll the streets and visit the C-Y Farmers Market on Saturday mornings where over 35 vendors await your arrival with fresh produce. Plan a September visit for the extraordinary Cooper-Young Festival, a gathering of over 435 artisans and musicians that celebrates the true spirit of Memphis.
14. Catch a Festival
(image via Memphis in May and River Arts Memphis)
Because of its location at the intersection of I55 and I40, Memphis hosts a number of exciting festivals and events, including the FedEx St. Jude Golf Tournament and the Liberty Bowl and is usually one of the host cities for the Elite Eight during March Madness. Memphis is also home to the Beale street Music Festival, Memphis in May International Festival, International Blues Challenge, GonerFest, Memphis International Jazz Fest, World Barbeque Cookoff, Juneteenth Music Festival, World Champion Hot Wing Contest and the home of the Southern Heritage Classic. In fact, there are so many festivals, events, and concerts in Memphis, it’s a great idea to look ahead for your weekend.
Admission: Dependent upon venue/activity
13. Eat Memphis BBQ & Soul Food
(image via Rendezvous Memphis)
If you’ve been reading trying to find the best part of the culinary scene in Memphis, here are all things Barbeque and Soul Food you’ll need to know. You can visit IttaBena for upscale, reimagined southern food that will celebrate the foodie in you or head on down to Memphis Best Soul Food, Four Way Soul Food or Memphis Soul for amazing homecooked food that will have ya slappin’ your momma. Or head out on a BBQ Treasure Hunt to these iconic places: Rendezvous for charcoal-fired ribs since 1948, Central BBQ where the smoke is in the sauce and these entrepreneurs have won some of the largest competitions ever.
If you’re looking for a closed-pit BBQ, head on over to Interstate Barbeque that’s hosted the Neely’s for over 43 years. Corky’s, which has been serving mouthwatering plates since 1984 has become a national franchise but started locally. One small standout in the crowd that doesn’t get a lot of press is The Germantown Commissary, which bills itself as epicurean BBQ. Expect to wait but the wait is so worth that plate of tamales or pulled pork sandwich. Their Hot Links are not to be passed up.
12. The Children’s Museum of Memphis
(image via Children's Museum of Memphis)
If you have children who love hands-on play and learning experiences, The Children’s Museum of Memphis is your one-stop-shop for all things kid-interactive, with 32 extraordinary exhibits and spaces from Dinosaur Dig and H2O! Splash Park to Rock Climbing and Times Square. Your kiddo- whether toddler or teen, will enjoy the large variety of things to do and ways to engage with each other and science, energy, the Mississippi River, free play, health and art. CMOM also is available for rentals for birthday parties and pavilion should you find yourself needing a fun space in Memphis. The museum is open daily except high holidays (Easter, Mothers Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Day).
Admission: $15 for ages 1-100 for museum. A few activities are subject to fees.
11. Mississippi River Cruise
(image via Riverboat Twilight)
The Mississippi River plays a huge part in Memphis history and you have a chance to experience that same mode of travel. There are several river cruise companies that can accommodate you in which way you choose- whether it’s a day cruise or a multi-day cruise. Most riverboats are helmed by very distinguished river masters and river captains. These riverboats dock at night and cruise during the day, so you can experience the wonderous cities that port on the big river and enjoy a leisurely ride during the day full of riverboat sightseeing. Local cruises can be sightseeing or dinner and music- you choose your option.
Admission: Dependent upon experience chosen
10. The Peabody & Its World-Famous Ducks
(images via The Peabody Memphis)
If you’re feeling bougie, book a night or two at The Peabody Memphis in downtown Memphis. The original hotel opened in 1869 and was immediately the social and business hub of Memphis. Fast forward 152 years and that’s still true today, although the luxuries and legendary experience is what sets The Peabody apart from other brands in the area. In 1933, ducks were introduced to the lobby fountain, setting in motion the famous March of the Peabody Ducks which has happened twice daily for 88 years, under the careful guidance of the resident Duckmaster. The ducks are five North American Mallards and four hens. They enjoy swimming about in the fountain and watching the world go by. Notable fact- duck is not on the menu. The Peabody also features a Top 100 Spa of America (Feathers Spa) as well as 2 restaurants, 2 bars, one deli and dessert shop and hosts a traditional English Tea.
Admission: Free to see the inside and see the duck parade daily. Activities are subject to fees.
9. Crosstown Concourse
(image via Crosstown Concourse)
Located on the outskirts of Memphis on a 12-acre parcel of land, you’ll find the Crosstown Concourse; a magnificent collaboration of innovators, builders and dreamers that offers lodging, community space, shopping and restaurants. What appears to be some sort of fantastical mall is so much more. The area is full of different beats: foodie, work, late night, family, commerce, education, art, and healthcare. Its also a great destination for live music and they offer a full calendar of events to ensure you always know what the 411 is at CXC.
8. Memphis Pyramid / Bass Pro Shops
(image via Memphis Pyramid)
Originally home to the NBA Memphis Grizzlies and performance venue, the iconic glass Memphis Pyramid is now home to Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and Big Cypress Lodge. The Pyramid offers unparallel views of the river, the adjoining cypress swamp and downtown Memphis. You can also experience The Lookout at the Pyramid- through the world’s tallest freestanding elevator (a whopping 28 stories) and step out onto the Glass Observation Deck at the top of the Pyramid. Enjoy food and specialty drinks in the steampunk/aquarium setting. You’ll also find the Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center here as well as a full gun center, archery range, pistol range and aquarium.
Admission: Free. Activities/lodging are subject to fees.
7. Mud Island
(image via Mud Island River Park)
One of the coolest things in Memphis is downtown and adjacent to the Mississippi River. Mud Island is a small peninsula located within the city limits that is home to a variety of fun options. There is the Mississippi River Museum- which includes 18 galleries and exhibits about the history of the lower Mississippi River Valley. There are trails, paddleboats, and kayaks as well as a hydraulic scale model of the river itself. The main attractions on Mud Island are the Amphitheater, a favorite for touring artists and festivals as well as a few restaurants.
Admission: Free. Activities are subject to fees.
6. Shelby Farms Park
(image via Shelby Farms Park)
Shelby Farms Park is located on 4,500 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in the country. It features more than 40 miles of trails for hiking, biking, walking or running and includes the Shelby Farms Greenline- a 10-mile cycling trail that connects downtown to the Park. There’s a fabulous herd of buffalo roaming freely on a 50-acre range. But there’s plenty to do for the family- like paintball, laser tag, horseback riding, and ziplining. Even your four-legged friend is welcome provided they stay on a leash. Open year around, Shelby Park is an oasis in the city.
Admission: Free. Activities are subject to fees.
5. Memphis Music History
(image via Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum)
We’ve touched a time or two on the music scene in Memphis. Memphis is the home of rock n roll and the home of blues- but there are some amazing studios and tours you can take. So many famous musicians hail from Memphis and there’s no shortage of talent today. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music charts the rise of soul from 1957 through the present day. Sun Studios is a famous recording studio where many acts have recorded- from Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. And finally, the Rock n Soul Museum (a Smithsonian Affiliate) gives you a comprehensive music experience from the sharecroppers of the 1930s to the Memphis heyday in the 70s and beyond.
4. Memphis Zoo
(image via Memphis Zoo)
Located in midtown Memphis, first glance would tell you that it’s a lovely park. But behind the gates lies an award-winning zoo filled with amazing animals like pandas, polar bears and penguins. You can get your fill of monkeys, birds, otters, and even creepy crawly things. One of the VERY BEST attractions at the zoo is a little foot massager- it costs a quarter, and your feet will thank you. The zoo hosts over 100 special events annually- so chances are, there will be one when you go. Just remember your umbrella in case it rains- the animals love to come out and frolic. Go Wild!
Admission: $16-$23 unless you’re a member of a reciprocal zoo
3. Beale Street
(image via Beale Street Memphis)
Beale Street is more than just a pedestrian walkway, its one of America’s most iconic streets lined with blues, restaurants and hosts concerts all year long. Standing on Beale, you are literally in the most iconic street with clubs such as BB King’s, the Rum Boogie Café’s Blue’s Hall Juke Joint and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Honky Tonk. If that’s not enough, the food scene is amazing- from an absinthe lounge to some cozy café’s serving up Memphis comfort food, including the world-renown BBQ.
2. National Civil Rights Museum / Lorraine Motel
(image via National Civil Rights Museum)
Another can’t miss attraction is the National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel which is celebrating its 30 years of championing Civil Rights. There are over 260 artifacts and more than 40 films, histories and interactive media that guide visitors through five centuries of history, from the beginning of slavery through today. You can visit room 306, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his final hours. Spend time in the Montgomery Bus Boycott exhibit to see what it must have been like for icon Rosa Parks. The museum now hosts an impressive collection of artifacts that are featured on their blog.
(image via Visit Graceland)
You’d be hard-pressed not to drive to Memphis and visit the home of Elvis Presley. You don’t have to be a Boomer to enjoy the home of the King and see how lavish his lifestyle was considered in 1957, when Elvis purchased Graceland for a mere $100,000. This sprawling estate that also includes the King’s final resting place covers over 200,000 feet and includes history, automobiles, 2 restaurants, immersive experiences, the airplanes and even a guesthouse. Travel back in time in Graceland, where time stands still, and The King still reigns supreme!
Memphis appears to have something for everyone. Take advantage of another weekend trip from nearby Memphis, Tennessee if you want to see more of the surrounding area.
These locations are great for a quick trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore some of our favorite activities or rea through some pre-planned itineraries.
Fifteen Things to do in Memphis, Tennessee:
Get Hip in Cooper-Young Midtown Memphis
Catch a Festival
Eat Memphis BBQ & Soul Food
The Children’s Museum of Memphis
Mississippi River Cruise
Stay at the Peabody Memphis & See the World-Famous Peabody Ducks
Memphis Pyramid/Bass Pro Shops & Terrace
Shelby Farms Park
Memphis Music History
National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel