More than Graceland: Great things to do in Memphis

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2019)

Think Memphis, Tennessee, is just Graceland? Then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of great things to do in Memphis!

colorful neon signs on Beale Street during the day

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I visited the Blues Hall of Fame Museum as a guest of Memphis Tourism. I appreciate the opportunity to visit some of the many attractions in Memphis, however, all information and opinions here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my hosts.

You won’t run out of things to do in Memphis

Given its history, it’s not surprising Memphis is best-known for music. But the city offers plenty more.

Here are the things I did – or wish I had done – while in Memphis. (Four days was not enough time to do everything!)

Listen to music

Music is a big part of Memphis past and present, so there are lots of opportunities to hear live music. To find out who’s playing where, check the listings on the Memphis Flyer website or try the Memphis Music, DoMemphis, or Beale Street apps.

Beale Street

It seems as there is always music somewhere on Beale Street, but the end of the week offer the best variety. There is an equally wide variety of venues. Just wander until you hear something you like and then head inside to enjoy the show.

night view of neon along Beale Street

 

Beyond Beale

For an even wider range of musical offerings, look beyond Beale Street.

Many downtown bars and restaurants off of Beale also offer music a few nights a week, usually at the end of the week.

In addition, the Overton Square and Cooper Young neighborhoods had a number of interesting listings when we were in town. (I found them too late to actually get there.)

The Roadtrippers website has a nice piece on specific venues (with a map) in these neighborhoods and downtown to get you started.

Visit a museum

My four days in Memphis was not nearly enough time to visit all of the city’s museums.

While it’s possible to make a relatively quick visit to most Memphis museums, many offer opportunities to take a deep dive into history. And some almost demand a lot more time. It’s not hard to spend a half day or more at the National Civil Rights Museum, the Rock and Soul Museum, or Graceland.

Music Museums

The Memphis music museums are an ideal way to learn more about the music of the Mississippi Delta and how rock and roll grew from those roots. They also offer fans a chance to connect with the people and places associated with the music.

exhibit of a 1950s radio station office

And all of them include a lot of great music!

 

History Museums

As a city, Memphis has survived more than its share of economic ups and downs. From it’s founding in 1819, through the Civil War, yellow fever and economic collapse, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement, Memphis has a lot of history to explore.

statues of African American men holding signs that say "I am a Man"

 

Art Museums

Memphis, like every major city, has a selection of art museums. I live in a city with amazing art museums and have visited art museums all over the world, so I wasn’t in Memphis for the art. That means we only got to one art museum. However, all of these appear well-worth taking the time to visit and I really regret not having time for all of them.

ivory carved with elephants on a carved wood base

 

Enjoy the great outdoors

Had enough time indoors at concerts and museums? Memphis offers a wide range of outdoor activities for everyone from garden enthusiasts to serious athletes. Of course, my personal choices tend to be on the lazy side!

city buildings tower over green space along the river

 

Discover local oddities

While Memphis has plenty of unique things to do, see, and hear, there are a couple “say what?” experiences you may want to check out.

(I didn’t get to either of these this time, but there’s always next time.)

The Peabody Ducks

carved fountain with huge flower bouquet in a large open lobby

The elegant Peabody Hotel has seen a lot of Memphis history since 1925, but today the (beautifully restored) hotel is probably most famous for the Peabody ducks.

Yes, ducks. A small flock of five mallard ducks lives in the hotel. They split their time between a rooftop penthouse (at night) and the elaborately carved marble fountain in the hotel lobby/bar (during the day). Twice a day the ducks march between their abodes – a march which has become quite a tourist attraction.

The ducks march at 11 am and 5 pm each day. Unfortunately, that never really fit into our sightseeing schedule, so we opted for a late-night drink at the hotel instead. After all, the first ducks marched through the Peabody’s lobby in 1940, so I’m guessing this tradition will continue a bit longer.

(The Peabody ducks only spend three months at the hotel. After that they move on to life as a wild duck on the farm where they were raised.)

Bass Pro Pyramid

large glass pyramid towering above freeway entrance

I hate hunting and could care less about fishing, but a 32-story pyramid with multiple aquariums, a cypress swamp (complete with live alligators), a glass-floored observation deck with views over the Mississippi and downtown Memphis, and an “underwater” bowling alley just might be worth seeing. There may or may not be a duck aviary. There are definitely stuffed ducks. And lots and lots of fishing and hunting gear.

If if hunting and fishing is your thing, you can book a hotel room in the pyramid and wallow in the exhibits, shooting ranges, and retail space for a day (or more).

Scenes from Memphis with text

 

A special thanks to Milton Howery at Memphis Tourism for providing the incentive I needed to finally make the trip to Memphis I’d been thinking about for so many years. I loved my time in the city and my husband and I are both looking forward to returning someday. I expected to like Memphis, but I didn’t expect to like it nearly as much as I did!

Exploring the USA

Scenes from Memphis with text

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10 thoughts on “More than Graceland: Great things to do in Memphis”

  1. We will not forget our enjoyable time in Memphis with Graceland, the Sun Studios’ unbelievable tour, the Peabody Ducks, the Pyramid, and then Beale Street at night!

  2. Thanks for enlightening us that there’s more to Memphis than Graceland and the blues. I suspected as much, but it’s not a widely covered destination in the travel press. I’m pinning this to my southern US travel board on Pinterest so I’ll be sure to be able to find it again.

    1. Suzanne, that was what I had seen as well – Graceland BBQ and the blues. (Although Sun has been on my personal list since I was a kid.) Memphis seems to attract a lot of weekend Beale Street visitors, but they aren’t getting nearly the attention they should get as an all-around destination. I was afraid that four full days would be too much time, but we easily could have spent an entire week. Keep it on your list for when you get down that way!

    1. Patti – Road tripping along the Mississippi or through the deep south was always part of my plan. Someday! I think it would be fascinating. And Beale Street is a great place to hang out — great music and people watching! Put it on your list.

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