When you hear “Memphis, Tennessee,” you may immediately think of mouthwatering barbecued meats. Perhaps you envision slow-cooked brisket drizzled with a sweet and tangy sauce accompanied by crunchy coleslaw and crispy fries smothered in gravy.
Memphis is most famous for its BBQ but that’s not all the city has to offer. As the home of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, this community is jam-packed with history, traditions and culture. From Elvis to Martin Luther King, marching ducks to cocktail bars, there is no shortage of fascinating things to see and do in Memphis.
Here are 10 unique and captivating attractions visitors to this Southern city should add to their itinerary.
1. Stroll along Beale Street
If you’re visiting Memphis for a taste of its music scene, you must take a stroll along Beale Street where performers work their magic for onlookers outside of the many bars where local bands sing their hearts out. The live music scene is alive and well in the home of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
2. Cruise down the Mississippi River
Enjoy a different vantage point of the city by hopping on a boat and cruising the Mississippi River. Many tours offer dinner or sunset cruises, providing a fantastic way to spend an evening. Leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind for a night while you relax on the Mississippi.
3. Tour the Lorraine Motel
Forever known as the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Lorraine Motel gives visitors a look into the hotel room where he slept the night before he was shot. Two vintage cars remain parked outside the hotel, just below the balcony where a red and white flower wreath hangs to commemorate the tragedy that took place on April 4, 1968.
4. Get a history lesson at the National Civil Rights Museum
Located in the Lorraine Motel, the National Civil Rights Museum guides visitors through the emotional story of the struggle for civil rights in America. The exhibits are powerful and moving. From Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott to the march on Washington and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, this museum brings history to life through its interactive displays and multimedia presentations.
5. Watch the marching ducks at The Peabody Hotel
If you’ve never seen the adorable Peabody ducks, you’re in for a treat. These famous fowl march to and from the hotel’s lobby fountain twice a day, guided by their Duck Master. This tradition is almost 90 years old and still going strong. Go early if you want a good seat because the lobby is always packed with guests hoping to catch a glimpse of the ducks as they march the red carpet. It’s definitely worth checking out this one-of-a-kind event.
6. Visit Graceland
No list of must-see Memphis places would be complete without Graceland, the former home of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis Presley. The self-guided audio tour of the Presley mansion is both educational and entertaining. Allow several hours to visit the family home and adjoining 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex featuring museums, restaurants and a multitude of gift shops. Gawk at Elvis’ extravagant costumes before purchasing a replica pair of his famous sunglasses.
7. Stand where Elvis sang at Sun Studio
Sun Studio is known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Many of the greats recorded here, including B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, Elvis Presley. Elvis left his microphone at Sun Studio on one condition: that visitors would be able to take photographs with it. He didn’t want it hidden away or behind a glass case so it’s right out in the open, waiting for you to take your selfie.
8. Explore Memphis’ diverse culinary scene (yes, beyond the BBQ!)
You might be surprised to learn that Memphis has an impressive and diverse culinary scene. While yes, their barbecue is amazing and a must-try, you’d be remiss not to sample some of the city’s higher-end restaurants during your visit. From a fine-dining tasting menu at Chez Phillippe to the innovative Italian cooking rooted in Southern tradition at Catherine & Mary’s, there’s something for everyone in Memphis.
9. Go cocktail barhopping
Memphis is brimming with stunning cocktail bars; some are worth visiting for the ambiance alone. One such place is Tiger and Peacock, where the decor is as eclectic as its zodiac cocktail list. For those seeking a speakeasy-style, low-key setting, Cameo is just the spot. It’s so dimly lit you’ll need a flashlight to read the menu. If you’d like to sip your nightcap under the stars, be sure to visit Inkwell. Their backyard patio is made for you.
10. Sample Tennessee whiskey at a distillery
You can’t visit Tennessee without indulging in its famous whiskey, and the best place for that is a distillery. Old Dominick Distillery has a 150-year track record so you know it’s good. Embark on an entertaining 45-minute tour and learn about the history and makings of a good Tennessee whiskey before sitting down to enjoy a tasting.