This page contains affiliate links. If you click on one and/or make a purchase, I get a small percentage of the sale.
Memphis, the largest city on the Mississippi River, is Home of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and if soul wasn’t born there it certainly spent some of its formative years there, with notable legends such as B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, of course, Elvis, getting their start there.
Lovers of music, food, and history will find few places compare to this southern city. The Lovely Ladies and I spent a few days in Memphis, and a good time was had by all. Here’s a look at some of the things we did while in Memphis. Feel free to save and share on Pinterest to use as a guide if you ever visit.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Hotel Napoleon, an Ascend Hotel Collection member. The 58-room boutique hotel is located inside the iconic Press Scimitar Building, which is listed on the Register of National Historic Places. Our spacious room was equipped with 2 comfortable queen-sized beds, 50-inch flat-screen TV, refrigerator, a Keurig coffee machine, and free WiFi. Other hotel amenities include a restaurant/tapas bar, gym, business center, and free coffee and cappuccinos, which are offered daily in the lobby. Valet parking is also available at an additional cost.
Hotel Napoleon is centrally located in downtown Memphis, just blocks from the Mississippi River and within walking distance of most major sites. Places that are too far to walk are easily accessible via the trolley, a stop for which was 2 blocks from the hotel.
Our first stop in Memphis…Beale St.! The beating heart of Memphis is lined with blues clubs, bars, and restaurants. I found myself literally bopping down the street (much to the chagrin of my teens) thanks to the music blasting from virtually every establishment.
Beale Street’s historical significance goes beyond music. Church Park, a recreational and cultural center, attracted speakers and activists such as Booker T. Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as musicians, and Beale Street Baptist Church played an important role in the early civil rights movement in Memphis.
RECOMMENDED POST: Weekend in Miami
Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Located just off of Beale St., the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum offers a self- guided audio tour through Memphis’ rich music heritage. The Smithsonian developed exhibition offers more than 300 minutes of information and features nearly 100 songs. The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum also administers the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
As I said, Memphis is a music town. Backbeat Mojo Tour with a live musician giving an insider’s view of the city’s musical the Mojo tour includes Elvis’ and B.B. King’s childhood homes, the Sun and Stax studios, Overton Shell (now Levitt Shell) at Overton Park where Elvis made his first live, professional appearance and the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine Motel is important in music history because during segregation black artists and musicians would stay there because of its proximity to Beale Street and Stax Records.
I should note that although we did stop and get off of the bus at a couple of locations, this is not a hop on – hop off tour.
Other Backbeat Tour options include a Graceland Tour, Memphis Discovery Tour, and the Historic Memphis Walking Tour.
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
The National Civil Rights Museum is made up of a complex of historic buildings, the main one of which is Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Beyond the connection with MLK, the Lorraine Motel is historically significant because it was where prominent African Americans in the areas of business, politics, and entertainment stayed while they were in Memphis during the time Jim Crow restrictions resulted in limited lodging options.
Be prepared to spend a few hours in this compelling museum. A self-guided chronological narrative takes you through 400 years of civil rights history starting with slavery through Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement and ending in the room where Dr. King spent his last hours.
Some of the exhibits include a bus with a Rosa Parks statue, a drugstore lunch counter, and a burned-out Freedom Riders bus.
RECOMMENDED POST: 6 Things To Do In Oslo With Kids
Memphis-style BBQ is one of four major regional styles of BBQ in the US (Carolina, Texas and Kansas City are the others) and we couldn’t wait to try it. Memphis BBQ is mostly made with pork ribs or shoulder and is slow-cooked in a pit, and are either “dry” (covered with a dry rub made with a variety of spices before cooking and served without sauce) or “wet” (brushed with sauce before, during or after cooking). Central and Rendezvous, two of the city’s most popular BBQ joints each specialize in one of the two styles and are often pitted against each other.
Central – Get ready for casual, down-home BBQ where you order at the counter, find a seat and have your food brought to your table on paper plates and you eat with plastic utensils. There’s also a roll of paper towels at each table, and since Central specializes in the wet BBQ, they certainly come in handy. The Lovely Ladies and I ordered ribs and wings with fries and pork rinds on the side.
Rendezvous –Rendezvous, with its tables with actual tablecloths and flatware, has a slightly less casual atmosphere than Central and NOTED for its dry style BBQ, though a variety of sauces are available. We ordered ribs and wings and a side of the coleslaw.
Graceland – Located just outside of downtown Memphis is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Presley purchased his beloved 14-acre estate in 1957 and lived there until his death in 1977. Take the Elvis Experience Tour at Graceland and see his mansion, costumes, and prized automobile collection, or the VIP Elvis Entourage Tour access to exclusive exhibits and merchandise.
Adjacent to the mansion is the massive museum and entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Billed as an expansion of Graceland the complex houses the “Elvis: The Entertainer” and an automobile museum and his airplanes. Elvis Presley’s Memphis also has two restaurants, Gladys’ and Vernon’s, named after Elvis’ parents.
Stax Museum – Located a couple of miles from Beale Street is Soulsville USA, the neighborhood where you’ll find Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Home of the original Stax Records, the museum celebrates the contributions of artists such as Isaac Hayes, Al Green and Otis Redding.
RECOMMENDED POST: 72 Hours in Stockholm
The Peabody Ducks – The Peabody Hotel duck parade is a tradition that dates back to the 1930s. Twice daily, at 11 am and 5 pm, the Peabody duckmaster rolls out the red carpet and leads the ducks through the crowd of spectators to the marble fountain in the hotel lobby. Get there early to nab a good spot and have your camera ready because it happens pretty fast.
While I thought the ceremony was pretty cute Miss P and Miss V were completely underwhelmed. To be fair the duck parade probably isn’t high on a teenager’s bucket list, but we were going to the Peabody Hotel for brunch so I figured why not see the duck parade while we’re there.
Another thing we did while at the Peabody was stop by the Lansky Brothers. Lansky’s is the iconic clothier famous for outfitting Memphis’ flashy musicians, including Isaac Hayes, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and B.B. King.
Memphis River Sightseeing Tour – When in Memphis taking a trip down the Mighty Mississippi is a must, and the Memphis River Sightseeing Tour is a great way to do it. The 90-minute cruise takes you down the river while providing historical commentary.
Another way to take in the Mississippi is to bike or walk (or run) across the Big River Crossing, the longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge in the US and the largest public pedestrian bridge across the river.
Mural Spotting – There are dozens of murals all around Memphis and spotting and appreciating them while we were out exploring the city was fun. Memphis is also Gibson’s “Guitartown” so along with murals you’ll find several giant guitars.
The 8-foot painted guitars were commissioned by Gibson Guitars and auctioned off for charity.
Have you been to Memphis with teens?
What were some of your favorite things to do?
Please PIN and SAVE on Pinterest