You know you’re in for a good time when you touch down in Memphis! This Tennessee city is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, the home of the blues, and Elvis Presley’s Graceland. It’s a city with a rich musical history that you can feel on every street corner.
But there’s more to Memphis than just its rich musical heritage. This city is also steeped in history, and you can learn all about it at the National Civil Rights Museum or by taking a walk through Overton Park and seeing the beautiful Victorian homes. You can even learn about more history on a cruise along the mighty Mississippi River!
And, of course, no visit to Memphis would be complete without indulging in some of the city’s world-famous barbecue. Watch the masters at work in the smoker-lined alley of Rendezvous, or chow down on a heaping plate of pulled pork at Central BBQ.
When it’s time to burn all those calories (and make space for more delicious food!), Memphis has plenty of options for staying active. Take a stroll or bike ride through the scenic Shelby Farms Park or hit the links at one of the city’s many golf courses.
Memphis comes to life at night, so be sure to check out the vibrant nightlife scene on Beale Street. And no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always a festival or event to enjoy.
With so many things to see and do in this Tennessee charmer, it’s hard to know where to begin. To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Memphis for you. We’ve included a bit of everything here, from top Memphis attractions to outdoor adventures and off-the-beaten-path experiences.
Stick to our fun and unique Memphis bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this vibrant city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Memphis
1. Hit Up All the Rock ‘N’ Roll Landmarks in Memphis
Music lovers, this one’s for you! Memphis is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, and there are plenty of landmarks around town to prove it. Start your musical journey at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the iconic home of the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Take a tour of the mansion and grounds, and explore Elvis’ private jets, his car museum, and even his gravesite.
Then, pay your respects to another music legend at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. This museum is dedicated to the history of soul music and the influential record label, Stax Records. Learn about the artists who recorded at Stax, see iconic artifacts, and listen to soulful tunes.
Next, stop by Sun Studio, the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” This is where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis got their start. Take a tour of the studio to learn about its history and see where music legends recorded some of their most famous songs.
End your musical journey at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which tells the story of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll through interactive exhibits and artifacts. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures at the mural outside the museum! It’s an Instagram-worthy spot for sure.
2. Party Like a Rock Star at the Iconic Beale Street
Every inch of Beale Street is drenched in musical history, and it’s one of the coolest things to do in Memphis! The likes of B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, and Sammy Davis Jr. all played on this iconic street, so you know it’s something special.
Half the fun of Beale Street is just strolling down the strip, soaking up the lively atmosphere, and listening to the live music spilling out of the bars and clubs. Check out the pop-up shops at WC Handy Park and banter with the street performers dotting the sidewalks. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch the Beale Street Flippers, a group of talented acrobats who flip and tumble their way down the street.
Pick any of the bars on Beale Street, and you’re sure to have a good time. Order the city’s signature cocktail, the Walk Me Down, which is a delicious and frozen blue medley of seven different alcohols.
Of course, you can’t miss grooving at the Blues Hall Juke Joint, one of the best places to catch live music on Beale Street. This no-frills dive bar is always packed with locals and tourists alike. They’re all there to enjoy some of the best blues in Memphis!
3. Tour Some of the Best Memphis Museums
Memphis boasts several museums, each one more fascinating than the last. If you’re a music lover, you’ve probably already hit up some of the best ones we mentioned earlier on our list. But there are plenty of other excellent museums in Memphis worth checking out!
There’s the colossal Memphis Museum of Science & History, aka the Pink Palace Museum. This sprawling complex has so many things to see, such as dinosaurs, pre-Columbian artifacts, and even shrunken heads.
The Children’s Museum of Memphis is perfect for a family outing. This interactive wonderland lets you fly, fish, and climb all over the place! One of the most popular displays is a flight simulator starring an actual FedEx cockpit.
We also loved our time at the Metal Museum. It boasts gorgeous artwork and takes an insightful look at the tools and machines that make our world go round. Other awesome Memphis museums you should visit are the Fire Museum of Memphis, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and the Railroad and Trolley Museum!
4. Take a Break in the Memphis Botanic Garden
Spanning 96 acres with 30 specialty gardens, the Memphis Botanic Garden is definitely one of the top things to do in Memphis.
Aside from the diverse gardens, there are so many fun activities here as well. Take the kids to the family garden, where you can dig, splash, jump, and play all day long! Sculptures and artwork are also on display throughout the grounds.
If you’re in town during spring, don’t miss the Japanese Garden and its gorgeous cherry blossoms. The blooms are only around for a few weeks, so make sure to catch them while you can!
In the summer, take a break from the heat and catch a movie at the Garden’s outdoor theater. And in fall, stroll through the stunning chrysanthemum display at the Chinese Garden. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something going on at the Memphis Botanic Garden.
5. See the Giant Pandas at the Memphis Zoo
If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do in Memphis, spend a day monkeying around at the Memphis Zoo! This world-class zoo is home to thousands of animals from across the globe, making it one of the best Memphis attractions to visit with kids or even by yourself.
It’s amazing to see all the animals up close, especially the adorable giant pandas. You’ll also see giraffes, elephants, lions, tigers, fish, birds, reptiles, and so much more.
Don’t miss the Teton Trek, which is a replica of the Rocky Mountains complete with bison, elk, and grizzly bears. You can even take a scenic gondola ride over the exhibit! The zoo also has several restaurants and cafes, so you can refuel after a long day of animal watching.
6. Indulge in the Best Things to Eat in Memphis
You can easily spend an entire day eating your way through Memphis and not even scratch the surface of all the great places to eat here. For some of the best Memphis barbecue, head to Central BBQ. The ribs and pulled pork are mouth-wateringly delicious, and the line is always out the door!
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is another local favorite. The chicken here is extra crispy and flavorful, and it’s served with a secret hot sauce that’ll leave your taste buds tingling. If you’ve got room for more, get some greens in with a cheese and bacon-topped Beacon Salad from Memphis staple Pete & Sam’s, then follow that with a smoky and fresh-grilled cheeseburger from Tops Bar-B-Q or a Reuben from the Belmont Grill.
As for dessert, take your pick! Grab a glazed donut from Gibson’s Donuts, a Plain Jane cupcake from Muddy’s Bake Shop, and a snow cone from Jerry’s Sno Cones. Wash it all down with a sweet tea, and you’re all good to carry on with your Memphis sightseeing!
7. Get Outdoors at Shelby Farms Park
Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country and is full of Memphis activities for all ages. With over 4,500 acres of forest, lakes, and trails, there’s plenty of space to explore or simply relax in nature.
There’s something for everyone here, whether you want to go on a hike, ride your bike, paddle down the river, or even catch a concert. There are also several playgrounds, a dog park, a disc golf course, and an awesome zip line course!
You’ll have a blast exploring the park by bike. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some deer along the way! If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one from the park’s bike share.
Shelby Farms Park is open every day from dawn to dusk and admission is free. However, the park holds special events from time to time that may have an entrance fee, so be sure to check the calendar before you go.
8. Follow the Memphis Heritage Trail
For a deep dive into Memphis history, we can’t recommend the Memphis Heritage Trail enough. It’s a celebration of the city’s African American cultural, business, and artistic heritage. The trail spans 20 blocks across South City and also touches on the historically important communities of Soulsville and Orange Mound.
This self-guided walking museum tour will take you to nearly a hundred landmarks, such as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Orpheum Theatre. You’ll also see churches, shops, and homes that were once home to famous residents like B.B. King and Rosa Parks.
The Memphis Heritage Trail has a corresponding mobile app that you can use to navigate the route. We particularly enjoyed the in-app audio narration that brought the history of each site to life!
9. Ride a Vintage Trolley Down Main Street
One of the most unique things to do in Memphis is to hop on a vintage trolley and cruise down Main Street!
This is the perfect activity for a sunny day, and it’s a great way to see some of Memphis’ most popular attractions, including Beale Street, the Orpheum Theatre, The Peabody Hotel (say hello to the ducks!), and the Renasant Convention Center.
The trolleys themselves are authentic and feature hand-carved corbels, intricate woodwork, and old lighting fixtures that took four years of restoration to bring back to their former glory.
Aside from the Main Street Rail Line, you can also ride the Riverfront Loop to check out other parts of downtown, including the Mud Island River Park and the Madison Avenue Trolley, for a tour of the Midtown area.
10. Find Random Knickknacks at A. Schwab
A. Schwab is a Memphis institution and has been in business since the 1800s! This historic general store started out as a dry goods store but is now full of kooky knickknacks, vintage items, and random oddities.
From voodoo dolls and jam to taxidermy animals and old-timey candy, you never know what you’ll find at A. Schwab. It’s not just a store, though – it’s also a museum of sorts, and the knowledgeable staff is always happy to share the stories behind the items on display.
Once you’re done browsing the store, stop by A. Schwab’s old-fashioned Soda Fountain. Get ready to step back in time as you enjoy a delicious ice cream sundae, phosphate, or float with homemade syrups and freshly-made waffle cones!
11. Watch the Duck Parade at The Peabody Hotel
The Peabody Ducks are perhaps the most famous residents of Memphis. These ducks live in The Peabody Hotel and march through the lobby twice a day to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton” march.
It’s quite a sight to see, and it’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s when hotel owner Frank Schutt brought live ducks to the hotel to serve as a hunting decoy.
Now, the ducks have their own penthouse suite and are taken care of by the hotel’s Duckmaster. If you want to learn more about these feathered friends, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of their home or attend one of the daily duck feedings.
12. Walk in MLK’s Footsteps at the National Civil Rights Museum
Located in the Lorraine Motel, the National Civil Rights Museum is a sobering but important stop on any Memphis itinerary.
The museum chronicles the history of the Civil Rights movement in America through interactive exhibits, films, and personal accounts from people who lived through it. It’s also where Martin Luther King Jr. breathed his last breath after being assassinated on the balcony of the motel.
You’ll learn about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, and the March on Washington, among other momentous events. The museum also covers more recent history, such as the Rodney King trial and the election of Barack Obama.
After exploring the museum, take a walk outside to the Lorraine Motel balcony, which is the exact spot where Dr. King was assassinated. There’s also a memorial dedicated to him on the site. This is a moving experience that shouldn’t be missed.
13. Take a Riverboat Cruise on the Mighty Mississippi
For a different perspective of Memphis, hop aboard one of the city’s riverboats for a cruise down the Mississippi River. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Memphis!
You’ll get great views of the Memphis skyline, Beale Street, and Mud Island as you float down this mighty body of water. The cruises are narrated, so you’ll also learn about the river’s history and its importance to Memphis.
If you have time, try to visit Mud Island while you’re in Memphis. This manmade island has a scale model of the Mississippi River, walking and biking trails, and a riverfront park.
If you’re not a fan of cruises or prefer something a bit more active, you can also kayak or paddleboard on the Mississippi River. Just be sure to wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water – it can get hot out there!
14. Explore the Indoor Jungle of the Memphis Pyramid
The Memphis Pyramid, once home to the city’s NBA team, is now a multi-purpose facility with Bass Pro Shops, an aquarium, a hotel, and more.
It’s hard to describe the Memphis Pyramid in one word because how it looks from the outside doesn’t really prepare you for what’s inside. We never thought we’d see an indoor swamp inside this massive steep pyramid, but that’s exactly what you’ll find here! Look closely at the cypress swamp, and you might even see alligators swimming among more than 1,800 fish.
If you’re feeling brave, ride 28 stories up in a glass elevator for 360-degree views of the Mississippi River and the city skyline. You can also practice your sharpshooting at the Memphis Pyramid’s archery and pistol range or enjoy a cocktail at one of the bars inside.
If you’re feeling peckish, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, such as the Lookout, a Southern-style restaurant located at the very top of the Memphis Pyramid.
15. Soak Up the Sun in Overton Park
The Overton Park Shell is an open-air amphitheater in Midtown Memphis that has been hosting concerts since the 1930s. It’s where Elvis Presley made his professional debut in 1954 and has since hosted everyone from B.B. King to The Beach Boys.
The Shell is located in Overton Park, a 342-acre park that’s also home to the Memphis Zoo, the Brooks Museum of Art, and the Levitt Shell, so there’s plenty to do here. The park is especially popular with runners, walkers, and cyclists, who enjoy the many trails that wind through the park.
In the summer, the Overton Park Shell hosts a free concert series on Thursday nights. Bring a picnic dinner and some friends, and enjoy live music under the stars!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Memphis. What’s your favorite thing to do in Memphis?
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