Discover Top Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee
Nestled on the mighty banks of the Mississippi River, Memphis, Tennessee, beckons as a city steeped in the rich tapestry of American history, culture, and music.
Renowned as the Birthplace of the Blues and the cradle of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Memphis offers an enthralling journey through the corridors of musical greatness, where the echoes of legends like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash resonate in every corner. Yet, Memphis’s allure extends beyond its musical heritage, offering myriad experiences that engage, educate, and inspire.
As you traverse the vibrant streets of Memphis, you are met with an array of historical landmarks, each telling a story of triumph, struggle, and resilience. From the solemnity of the National Civil Rights Museum to the lively hustle and bustle of Beale Street, the city stands as a living museum, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in its rich narrative.
Whether relishing the soul-stirring rhythms at Sun Studio, marveling at the architectural splendor of the Orpheum Theatre, or embarking on a culinary adventure with the city’s famed barbecue, Memphis promises many unforgettable experiences.
Beyond the rhythm and blues, Memphis is an ode to the great outdoors. Lush parks like Shelby Farms offer a serene escape from the urban tempo, where nature’s melody harmonizes with the city’s vibrant beats.
The city’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty is mirrored in the tranquil pathways of the Shelby Farms Greenline and the picturesque settings of the River Garden, making it a haven for those seeking solace in nature’s embrace.
Embark on a journey to Memphis, Tennessee, where history, culture, and nature converge in a symphony of experiences. This city doesn’t just tell its stories; it sings them, inviting you to be part of its ongoing narrative.
With each visit, discover a new verse, a different rhythm, and a unique harmony, making every moment in Memphis an encounter with the soul of the South.
The Heart of Memphis Music – Beale Street and Its Vibrant Legacy
Beale Street, the vibrant artery of Memphis, Tennessee, resonates with a rich musical legacy that has shaped the city’s cultural landscape and the entire nation.
Known as the home of the blues, Beale Street harbors a symphony of sounds from jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, creating a historic and electrifying ambiance.
The street’s lineage is deeply rooted in the African American experience, making it a significant landmark on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail as of 2020.
Its iconic clubs and venues are at the heart of Beale Street’s vibrant nightlife. B.B. King’s Blues Club is a crown jewel where the legendary musician strummed his guitar strings. Today, the club continues to be a focal point for live music enthusiasts, hosting performances that keep the spirit of B.B. King alive.
The street is not only a hub for nightly entertainment but also a witness to annual celebrations that attract music lovers from across the globe.
The Beale Street Music Festival, held every May, transforms the area into a musical haven. This festival marks the beginning of “Memphis in May,” a month-long celebration with events showcasing the city’s rich heritage.
Beale Street’s influence extends beyond music. In October 2012, the City of Memphis managed this historic street, marking a new chapter. This transition was part of a strategic move to preserve and enhance the street’s cultural significance and ensure its legacy continues to thrive.
Today, Beale Street is more than a tourist destination; it’s a living testament to the enduring power of music and culture. It’s a place where history is remembered and celebrated, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the true essence of things to do in Memphis, Tennessee.
A Glimpse into Memphis’ Past – National Ornamental Metal Museum
The National Ornamental Metal Museum, uniquely nestled on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, is the only institution in North America dedicated to the art and preservation of fine metalwork.
This distinctive museum showcases an array of historical metal artifacts and serves as a beacon of contemporary craftsmanship. Its grounds encompass historic buildings, a bustling blacksmith shop, and a foundry.
The museum’s commitment to preserving this intricate art form is evident in its extensive collection and the variety of exhibitions it hosts, ensuring that the tradition of metalwork remains vibrant and accessible.
A museum calendar highlight is the annual Repair Days Weekend held every October. This event turns the museum into a hive of activity, drawing in the public and metal fans alike. Visitors can bring their broken metal items and watch as skilled metalsmiths restore them to their former glory.
This interactive event allows personal artifacts to be mended and serves as an educational experience, offering a window into metalworking’s meticulous and intricate world.
Beyond its exhibitions and repair events, the National Ornamental Metal Museum is famed for its serene sculpture garden, offering a tranquil retreat where art and nature intertwine.
The museum’s commitment to education is paramount. Its programs and workshops are designed to inspire and nurture new generations of metalsmiths.
From hands-on classes to demonstrations, the museum provides a comprehensive educational platform, ensuring the continuity and evolution of metalworking as both an art and a craft.
As a custodian of this timeless art form, the museum plays a pivotal role in Memphis’s cultural fabric, making it an essential stop for anyone interested in the intersection of history, art, and craftsmanship.
Echoes of Soul – Stax Museum and Sun Studio
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is an iconic symbol of Memphis’s rich musical heritage dedicated to celebrating American soul music.
As a replica of the original Stax Records, which played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement through its music, the museum houses an extensive collection of over 2,000 exhibits, including artifacts, photographs, and original recordings from the label’s heyday.
It honors the legacy of the artists from Stax Records and covers influential music from other legendary labels like Muscle Shoals, Motown, Hi, and Atlantic. The museum offers an immersive experience reflecting soul music’s profound impact on American culture and history.
Sun Studio, another crown jewel in Memphis’s musical legacy, is revered as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Established in 1950, this recording studio gained fame as the site where Elvis Presley recorded his first song.
It also served as a launchpad for numerous other music legends, including Johnny Cash, Rufus Thomas, Charlie Rich, Howlin’ Wolf, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Today, Sun Studio stands as a testament to the beginnings of rock music, offering tours that take visitors back in time to the early days of these music icons’ careers.
Nature and Wildlife – The Memphis Zoo and Shelby Farms
The Memphis Zoo at 2000 Prentiss Place celebrates wildlife and conservation efforts. Home to over 3,500 animals representing more than 500 species, the zoo offers a range of habitats, such as Cat Country for big cats and an “Animals of the Night” exhibit for nocturnal creatures.
Notable events at the zoo include “Zoo Boo” in October, a Halloween-themed event, and “Zoo Lights” during December, which transforms the zoo into a festive, illuminated wonderland. The Memphis Zoo provides entertainment and education about the importance of wildlife preservation.
Shelby Farms Park, spanning over 4,500 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in America, more than five times the size of New York’s Central Park.
It offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as paddle boating, horseback riding, and zip-lining. The park also features more than 60 miles of walking, biking, and running trails.
Shelby Farms is a park and a community space that encourages outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship. It is an essential visit for those seeking a natural retreat within the city.
A Theater of Spirits – The Orpheum Theatre
The Orpheum Theatre, a venerable institution at 203 S Main St, Memphis, has long been a cultural cornerstone in Tennessee. It is renowned for its opulent interior and rich programming.
Established in the early 1900s and undergoing a significant renovation in the 1980s, the theatre has hosted various performances, from high-profile Broadway shows to intimate jazz concerts.
The Orpheum’s commitment to the arts is evident in its diverse lineup, offering something for every patron, be it music, comedy, or theater. Its grandeur and historic significance have solidified its status as a must-visit landmark in the city.
But the Orpheum offers more than just entertainment. The theater is wrapped in a shroud of mystery, reputedly haunted by the ghost of a little girl named Mary, who has been a benign presence since the 1920s.
Her story adds an intriguing layer to the theater’s history, attracting theater-goers and those intrigued by the supernatural.
Whether it’s the allure of top-tier performances or the curiosity surrounding its resident ghost, the Orpheum Theatre continues to be a place where the past and present, arts and mystery, elegantly converge.
Exploring the Great Outdoors – Mud Island and Meeman-Shelby Forest
Mud Island, a unique urban park within the Mississippi River, offers educational facilities and recreational activities.
It’s not just an island; it’s a gateway to understanding the geographical and cultural significance of the Mississippi River, showcased through the Riverwalk, a scale model of the river offering an interactive learning experience.
For the adventurous, the island offers various water-based activities like kayaking and pedal boating, allowing visitors to experience the river’s natural beauty up close.
Further afield, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park offers an immersive experience of Tennessee’s natural landscapes. Spanning over 12,000 acres just north of Memphis, this state park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.
With miles of hiking and biking trails meandering through dense forests and along the mighty Mississippi River, the park is a sanctuary for those seeking solace from urban life.
Its well-equipped campsites invite visitors to stay and experience the serene beauty of the forest after dusk.
Whether you’re taking a day trip for a hike or spending the weekend camping under the stars, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is a testament to the natural splendor that surrounds Memphis.
A Shopping Experience with Character – A. Schwab on Beale Street
Nestled among the historic brick storefronts of Beale Street, A. Schwab is a testament to Memphis’s unique cultural fabric.
Established in 1876, this family-owned store is the oldest remaining business on Beale Street. A. Schwab is not just a store; it’s an institution offering an eclectic array of merchandise ranging from regional memorabilia to quirky souvenirs.
The store’s interior, with its vintage charm and wooden shelves stocked with a dizzying array of products, transports visitors back in time.
However, A. Schwab is best known for its unusual collection of items. From the world’s largest pair of overalls suspended from the ceiling to an assortment of black magic hoodoo charms, the store is a treasure trove of the curious and the unique.
It also features a traditional soda fountain, serving nostalgic treats and providing a sweet respite for shoppers. A. Schwab’s commitment to preserving its historical legacy and diverse offerings ensures that it remains a beloved and essential stop for anyone visiting Memphis.
Memphis’ Green Spaces – Bike the Greenline and Outdoor Picnics
Memphis offers abundant green spaces, and among them, the Shelby Farms Greenline stands out as a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Spanning 10.65 miles, this urban trail connects Midtown Memphis with Shelby Farms Park, providing a scenic route for cyclists, runners, and walkers alike. The Greenline is not just a trail; it’s a linear park offering a green oasis amidst the urban landscape.
Its accessibility and connectivity with other trails make it integral to the city’s commitment to promoting a healthy, active lifestyle.
For those seeking a more leisurely outdoor experience, Memphis’s River Garden next to Tom Lee Park offers the perfect setting. Here, visitors can enjoy a picturesque picnic while taking in the sweeping views of the Mississippi River.
As the sun sets, the area becomes a prime spot to witness the stunning display of the Mighty Lights on the Hernando De Soto Bridge.
This combination of natural beauty and urban sophistication encapsulates the essence of outdoor leisure in Memphis, making the city’s green spaces a must-visit for residents and tourists alike.
Celebrating Black History and Culture
Memphis holds a profound place in the narrative of American Black history and culture, offering a spectrum of sites and experiences that delve into the multifaceted stories of the African American community.
The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, serves as a poignant reminder of the struggle for civil rights.
This museum documents the history of the civil rights movement and stimulates ongoing dialogue about the current state of human rights worldwide.
In addition to the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis’s contribution to Black history is evident in the multiple stops along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. These sites, including the WDIA radio station, added to the trail in 2020, highlight the city’s pivotal role in the movement.
Notably, WDIA was the first radio station entirely programmed by African Americans, playing a crucial role in disseminating blues, gospel, and R&B music, thus shaping the nation’s cultural landscape.
Moreover, the city’s celebration of Black history is not confined to museums and historical sites. Many tours and events throughout the year provide immersive experiences, offering insights into the city’s rich African American heritage.
These experiences, encompassing music, cuisine, and storytelling, are integral to understanding the social fabric of Memphis and acknowledging the profound contributions of the Black community to the city’s identity and legacy.
In conclusion, Memphis, Tennessee, has vibrant contrasts and compelling narratives. From the rhythmic pulses of Beale Street, where the blues and rock ‘n’ roll find their echoes, to the serene expanses of Shelby Farms, a haven for nature lovers, the city offers a mosaic of experiences.
It’s a place where history is palpable, from the solemn halls of the National Civil Rights Museum to the vintage charm of A. Schwab on Beale Street.
The city’s rich musical heritage, epitomized by landmarks such as the Stax Museum and Sun Studio, continues to resonate through the streets, inviting visitors to partake in its rhythmic legacy.
Moreover, Memphis’s dedication to preserving and celebrating its natural and cultural heritage is evident in its thriving green spaces, like the Shelby Farms Greenline and the picturesque River Garden.
The city’s commitment to honoring its African American heritage enriches its cultural tapestry, offering profound insights and experiences through various historical sites and cultural initiatives.
Memphis is more than a destination; it’s an experience, a journey through the heart of American music, history, and culture. It’s a city that invites exploration, contemplation, and celebration, making every visit a unique encounter with the soul of the South.
Whether you’re drawn to the allure of its music, the depth of its history, or the beauty of its landscapes, Memphis promises a rich, multifaceted adventure.