Memphis is an overlooked tourist destination. My sister used to live in Memphis, so I visited at least once a year for many years. While Memphis doesn’t have the draw of say, New York or Chicago, there are plenty of fun things to do in the city famous for bar-b-que, Beale Street, and blues. Here’s 6 Things Not to miss in Memphis, Tennessee:
6 Things Not to Miss in Memphis
Is Graceland kitschy? Yes. It is touristy? Yes. Is it a must-see? Absolutely. I visited Graceland just before Christmas, a really cool time to go. During the holiday season, Graceland displays its original Christmas decorations, complete with beautiful Christmas trees in many rooms and a lighted sign on the front lawn that reads “Merry Christmas! Elvis.”
The tour starts in the foyer, where you can see Elvis’s beautiful peacock stained glass windows. Graceland is lost in time and the 70s-era décor remains largely unchanged. As expected, the Jungle Room is one of the coolest parts of the home, with its thick shag carpet and Polynesian theme. And, of course, no visit in complete without a stop in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis is buried. According to our tour guide, Graceland still receives flowers for Elvis’s grave every day.
Graceland is substantially smaller than it looks in pictures, but the tour includes a look inside the house, the trophy building, with Elvis’s gold records, the racquetball building, which houses some of his jumpsuits and awards, and the auto museum, with his pink Cadillac. The tour also used to include a look inside Elvis’s jets, but that ticket is now separate.
No visit to Memphis is complete without a stop at Graceland!
Memphis is famous for its ribs, and no visit to Memphis is complete without a trip to at least one (but preferably more) of the city’s famous BBQ joints. Memphis’s most well-known BBQ establishments aren’t actually my favorites. To be fair, though, you generally can’t go wrong at any BBQ restaurant in Memphis—get a combo plate to try a little of everything.
But if you like ribs, head to Interstate. Interstate ribs are, in my opinion, the best in Memphis, but Interstate’s also famous for its barbeque spaghetti (I cannot vouch for the yumminess of this dish—I’ve never tried it). If neither of those options piques your interest, get the amazing beef link sausage. Germantown Commissary is the place to go for pork—if you’re not starved get the pulled pork sandwich; if you’re hungry go for the plate. And Central BBQ is another solid Memphis spot—its BBQ nachos, with beef, pork, chicken, or turkey, are awesome as is the brisket
For dessert, most restaurants have their specialty—if banana pudding, pecan pie, or cobbler is on the menu, get it (or get them all and share)!
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
As a southerner from birth, I’m a sucker for fried chicken. I don’t eat it often, but I never miss a visit to Gus’s when I’m in Memphis. Gus’s fried chicken, unlike most others’, is spicy. Gus’s fried goodness is amazing, but if you’re afraid it will be too hot, you can always get a side of ranch dressing to cool off your tastebuds. Gus’s serves chicken tenders, but get chicken on the bone—it’s 10 times better. Gus’s doesn’t take reservations and almost always has a line. But, it’s is worth the wait.
I love zoos and the Memphis Zoo is one of the best in the country. It’s been open for more than a hundred years and is known as the “hippo capital of the world” because its particularly virulent hippo, Adonis, produced more than 25 offspring in his lifetime. In addition to featuring traditional zoo animals—lions, tigers, and bears—the Memphis Zoo is one of the few in the country with giant pandas. The zoo’s two pandas, Le Le and Ya Ya, are part of a new exhibit, China, that features Chinese gardens and architecture.
The Memphis Zoo frequently hosts fun events just for adults, such as the Wild World of Wine and Beer and Zoo Brew. At the very reasonable price of $15 per adult ticket for general admission, the zoo’s definitely worth a visit.
No visit to Memphis is complete without a walk down Beale Street, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Bars, restaurants, and funky shops with bright neon lights line beautiful Beale Street, which hosts parades, concerts, and various special events, like the Beale Street Music Festival in May each year. On weekends almost every bar and restaurant features live music from blues to country to southern rock.
And A. Schwab, a general store that’s been operating since 1876, is a Memphis institution and the only original Beale Street business still in operation. You should also drop by the nearby Peabody to check out the famous duck walk!
Plan at least a few hours to stroll down Beale, but I bet once you get there, you’ll want to linger a little longer.
Mud Island Amphitheater is a great place to catch a concert. The monorail to and from the island offers cool views of the city and takes you right to the island. The amphitheater has hosted some amazing artists, including James Taylor, Mumford & Sons, and Journey. The amphitheater is small, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house!
Have you visited Memphis? What else would you add to this list?
This post was written by FWTG contributor, Megan Boyd. You can learn more about Megan here.
CC image credits from Flickr: Graceland by Kees Wielemaker, barbecue ribs, pork by David McSpadden, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken by Thomas Hawk, Hippo by David Ellis, Hanging out on Beale Street, Thomas Hawk, Mud Island – Memphis, Jimmy Smith.