Ah, Memphis – the biggest city on the mighty Mississippi. This may not be the city you think of first when you think of a vacation in the United States, but you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you were to miss out on a chance to visit it. The place is indeed very fascinating, with very special significance for the African-American community. It is also a great example of Southern charm and hospitality, but it also has a rich history and loads of culture you can explore, so you really don’t have to worry about what to see when here. Because of all that and so much more, rest assured your one day in Memphis will be fantastic.
Plan your trip to Memphis
1. What’s the best time to visit Memphis?
2. A few facts about Memphis
3. One Day in Memphis Itinerary
3.1. Start your day with Elvis…
3.2. … and then just continue with Elvis
3.3. Stop for lunch
3.4. Learn about the Civil Rights Movement
3.5. Hang out with Peabody Ducks
3.6. Visit the Rock and Soul Museum
3.7. Spend the evening on Beale Street
4. Where to stay in Memphis?
5. Day trips from Memphis
6. Extra tips for visiting Memphis
The best time to visit Memphis in one day, at least as far as the weather is concerned, would be autumn. Summers are hot and quite humid, but if you don’t mind that, this season is also a good choice. Spring brings about powerful storms, and winters are relatively mild, but still not exactly what you would call ideal weather. October would be the closest to that, as September can still be quite hot, and November usually sees an increase in rain.
Festivals and events abound in Memphis, and there are plenty of things to do and see all through the year. Elvis Week is in August, for example, and Memphis Soul Music Festival is a must if you’re here in June. Apart from that, though, there are many festivals dedicated to music (jazz and street music) and all kinds of food, so you really shouldn’t be bored, no matter when you come.
As mentioned in the introduction, Memphis is the largest city on the Mississippi River, but it is not the biggest one in the state of Tennessee – that title belongs to Nashville. Nevertheless, it was one of the most important cities in the South before the Civil War.
Officially, Memphis was founded on May 22, 1819, although the area had been explored by the Spanish, the French and the English from the 16th century. The city is also the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968.
But most importantly, Memphis is a city of music. Apart from its own Memphis blues, the musical tradition here encompasses rock’n’roll, soul, country, jazz and many other styles. Iconic musicians like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Aretha Franklin, just to mention a few, are all in some way connected to the city. So read on and learn what to see in Memphis if you want to find out all about its musical heritage.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Memphis. And in case you aren’t keen on walking, the discovery bus tour will help you see the best of Memphis.
A trip to Graceland is almost obligatory when you come to visit Memphis, even if for just one day, and since the mansion is not exactly in the city centre, it may be best to come and visit in in the morning, while you’re still fresh. Also, you could beat the crowds that way. The home of Elvis Presley is now a fascinating museum, with absolutely everything from the King’s life. You can even tour his custom jets! No Elvis fan should miss this, but even if you’re not a music fan, this is very much worth a visit.
The relationship between Memphis and Elvis goes much deeper than just one museum, though. Once you’re done with Graceland, head to Sun Studio, the place where Elvis recorded his first song. However, this place is much more than the King’s recording studio – many consider it to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Greats like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B.B. King and many others also recorded here, so the cultural impact this place has had on the US and the world, in general, is huge.
After all that rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll probably be getting hungry. What to do for lunch? Fortunately, downtown Memphis has quite a few great places to eat, and it’s also a great place from which to continue this one day itinerary. Head to Gus’s World Famous Chicken for some spectacular fried bird and to see why people around here simply adore this kind of food.
If you’re looking for something more elegant, Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar is a great choice – lovely interior and exquisite food guarantee a memorable meal. The Majestic Grille is also a great choice, especially if you’re a meat lover.
If you went to one of the aforementioned places for lunch, you’ll be close to the next item on this one-day Memphis itinerary. The National Civil Rights Museum stands at the place where the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took place. It is an incredible and very moving museum which will tell you all about the civil rights movement and show you less known stories of the people who participated. Dr. King’s room can also be seen, and the famous Greyhound bus is also displayed. An enlightening experience, especially for kids if you have them along.
At 5 pm, you should be just in time to check out the famous Peabody Ducks on their way back to their home at the top of the magnificent Peabody Hotel.
This is a big tradition and the best choice if you’re wondering what to see in Memphis for free because you don’t have to pay anything to watch the duck elegantly march to the sound of music. It’s also another great thing to do with kids in the city, but keep in mind that it can get crowded here, so you may want to come a bit early.
Memphis Rock and Soul Museum is another place where you can see exactly how much music means to this city. Not only that, but the place was set up by the Smithsonian, which can tell you a whole lot about the quality you get inside. One of the best features of the museum is that you can listen to old jukeboxes and sing and dance along. Loads of fun! You can stroll through the museum at your own pace, just be aware that they close at 7 pm.
After a whole day of museums and sightseeing, it’s time to relax. Beale Street is the perfect place for that because not only is it close to downtown Memphis but it also has loads of bars, clubs and restaurants you can visit.
The street is also known as the home of the blues, and you will be able to enjoy a lot of great live music here.
What to do here? Well, as far as the places you can go to are concerned, B.B. King’s Blues Club is pretty much a must when you’re around. Absinthe Room is a very nice and cozy place to stop for a drink, with great atmosphere and a great view of the street below, and Club 152 is the best place if you’re planning to dance the night away. But if you look around Beale Street a bit, you are sure to find plenty of other interesting places.
River Inn of the Harbour Town
50 Harbor Town Square, Memphis, TN 38103
For the ultimate luxury in the city of Memphis, book a room in River Inn of the Harbour Town. This five-star boutique beauty has three restaurants and will welcome you with champagne when you come. The rooms are amazing, with warm colors and loads of classy wooden elements giving them that elegant vibe, and the hotel overlooks the Mississippi. Ideal!
The Guest House at Graceland
3600 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN 38116
Not only will you be just five minutes away from Presley’s mansion if you book a room at The Guest House at Graceland, but you will also have access to two great restaurants and a fantastic outdoor pool. The area around the hotel is absolutely beautiful, full of greenery and ideal for a walk, and the rooms boast modern design and can offer you loads of space. You can’t go wrong with this hotel.
La Quinta by Wyndham Memphis Downtown
310 Union Avenue, Memphis, 38103
With La Quinta by Wyndham, you will get your money’s worth, that’s for sure. Indoor pool, free coffee, free airport shuttle… those are just some of the services they offer. The hotel looks awesome from the outside, is fairly close to the city centre and has extremely nice and capable staff. The interior is great, the rooms are nice and comfortable, so you can rest assured you will enjoy your stay here.
Comfort Inn Memphis Downtown
100 North Front Street, Memphis, TN 38103
They will take good care of you at Comfort Inn Memphis Downtown, no doubt about that. Free newspapers, free shuttle, free breakfast, free local calls… But there’s also a great rooftop pool, plus the hotel is located right on the trolley line and is very well connected to all the main attractions in the city. The rooms are very comfortable and fairly big, with high-speed internet, and the staff is always at your service. Absolutely no complaints!
But maybe you’re not spending just one day in Memphis, maybe you’re spending more. In that case, you will definitely want to explore the great state of Tennessee on one of the great day trips from the city. But where to go? Consider these destinations!
Elvis Presley’s childhood home
For the King’s fans, this is an absolute must. You will head out to the town of Tupelo to see Elvis’ home, but you will learn so much more about him. Apart from the Elvis Museum, you will see his schools, museums dedicated to him and even the place where his mother purchased his first guitar and the church he went to! If you’re at all interested in this remarkable man, this tour will be a fantastic day out.
Another day trip from Memphis for music fans. This one will take you to several fascinating museums, and you will learn all there is to know about the development of the blues genre. Apart from the B.B. King Museum, you can also visit the Grammy Museum and the Delta Blues Museum, as well as some other places important for music around here. Not to mention that the landscape will be beautiful too, since this is an incredibly rich and fertile land.
It takes about three hours to get from Memphis to Nashville by car (just take the I40 all the way), so you may want to get an earlier start if you want to explore the state capital properly. But spending one day in Nashville is very much worth it because the city is brimming with things to see and places to visit, suffice to say that this is Athens of the South. However, music plays a huge role in this city’s life too, so you can be sure you’ll never be bored here.
No, not the British university city, although this place was named after it. The US town of Oxford is located about one hour south of Memphis and a day trip to this place will take you across the state border into the state of Mississippi. This Oxford is also a university town, and William Faulkner, the famous writer, used to live and create here. It is a lovely and fairly peaceful place where you can relax and spend a lovely day out.
– Trolleys are a lovely way to explore the downtown area. They are quite beautiful and not very expensive, so you really should get on at least once.
– Hotel prices surge during summer. You can get a much better deal (not to mention that the weather is much more bearable) if you come and visit Memphis in autumn.
– If you’re a music fan, go for the Backstage Pass. It’s a ticket that allows you to visit Graceland, Sun Studio, Stax Museum and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for 20% lower price.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).