Dive deep into Southern culture with Memphis's cultural festivals, colorful public art, and diverse dining experiences.
The Mississippi River is the world’s fourth longest, and Memphis boasts five miles of riverfront. Walk across this natural wonder at Big River Crossing, the river’s longest pedestrian and biking bridge. The bridge links downtown Memphis to Arkansas and serves as trailhead to the Big River Trail, which boasts 70 miles of levee-top trails through the Mississippi Delta.
At the Chucalissa archaeological site in southwest Memphis, visitors can observe an earthen mound complex built by prehistoric Mississippian peoples between 1000 and 1500 AD. The C.H. Nash Museum is an archeological training site, hands-on museum, and nature area open to the public.
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, rebuilt on the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination, is a moving, entirely immersive experience. This Smithsonian Affiliate museum in downtown Memphis chronicles the Civil Rights Movement of the United States from slavery through today’s ongoing struggles.
Best Day Trip
Paddle the nine-mile Ghost River section of the Wolf River, starting an hour from Memphis near Moscow, Tennessee. The upper Wolf River remains an untouched, high-quality swamp river system with towering bald cypress and wetlands full of wildlife, accessible by canoe or kayak. The Wolf River Conservancy offers monthly guided trips and there are also several private tour companies.
Off the Beaten Path
A pair of otherworldly nightclubs offers alternatives to Beale Street. Downtown, Paula & Raiford's Disco’s exuberant proprietress, Paula Raiford, keeps the hazy, pink-lit club’s energy sky-high. In midtown, Wild Bill's is a slightly seedy and much beloved old-school blues joint where the band plays until three a.m. on weekends and the friendly staff serves domestics in forty ounce bottles.
Most Iconic Experience
All travelers can find a Memphis music experience that speaks to their tastes and inclinations. Elvis fans will tour the crowded but endearing Graceland Mansion, and rock lovers may wish to visit Sun Studio, where Cash and Presley recorded. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music offers an extensive look into the complicated history of the record label’s influential artists.
Beale Street’s popularity and visitor-friendly atmosphere means late nights, loud music, and strong drinks, plus excellent people watching. Those longing for a more local, laid-back experience should visit Cooper Young and Overton Square, two neighboring midtown districts with dozens of cocktail bars, restaurants, pubs, and several spots for live music.
Once called “Millionaire’s Row,” Victorian Village boasted rows of mansions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, several of the historic homes are currently open as businesses or museums, including the Woodruff Fontaine House, Mallory Neely House, James Lee House (bed and breakfast) and Mollie Fontaine Lounge (cocktail bar).
Memphians have an uncanny knack for breathing new life into buildings and concepts that other cities may ignore or tear down. Examples range from architectural adaptive reuse projects, like Chisca Hotel, Tennessee Brewery, Crosstown Concourse, and Old Dominick Distillery, to the resilience, and success, of institutions like the city’s drive-in theater, vinyl record shops, a record pressing plant, and video rental store.
Neighborhood to Explore
Venture to the South Main Arts District downtown to explore the public art, galleries, and boutiques. Visit the Blues Hall of Fame, stop by a coffee shop, enjoy craft cocktails, and finish out your night with a Soul Burger at the haunted brothel-turned-bar Earnestine & Hazel’s. On weekends, find brunch, music, dancing, and a seasonal farmer’s market.
Delta chronicler and author David Cohn once called the Peabody Lobby the beginning of the Mississippi Delta, and it is here visitors should stop in to order a cocktail and observe the mingling of locals with international visitors in a grandiose, historic setting.
Best Use of Space
Memphis’s long abandoned Sears distribution center reopened in 2017 as a 1.5 million square foot complex called Crosstown Concourse. The “vertical urban village” is home to business, shops, restaurants, gallery space, healthcare and educational facilities, and apartments. This monumental adaptive reuse project is worth a visit for the stunning art deco architecture.
Best Urban Park
Shelby Farms Park in East Memphis is one of the largest urban parks in the country, with 4,500 acres of trails, green space, playgrounds, lakes, forests, and recreational spaces.