Every family planning a vacation understands the importance of finding a good deal. The more you save, the more you can do, see and experience. This is particularly true of Memphis, a city that has more visitor attractions than most people have money. The good news is that in Memphis many of our best attractions offer free day admissions.
Here’s our quick list of some of the best free things to do at Memphis museums and attractions. For a look at all of the free things to do in Memphis, read this list.
Every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., pomp and circumstance takes on new meaning in the grand lobby of the Peabody Hotel. This is when the great Peabody Ducks, five North American Mallards, arrive and leave the hotel fountain, a grand procession complete with red carpet, official introduction and visiting paparazzi. Free to the public, this is a must-see for anyone visiting Memphis.
Lichterman Nature Center
It’s difficult to put a price on nature, which is why on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. until closing admission to The Lichterman Nature Center is free to the public. A truly unique green space in the middle of metropolitan Memphis, the Lichterman Center’s designed exhibits, incredible gardens and a surprising 65 acres of lake, meadow and forest, give visitors (and locals) easy access to nature. More than your traditional arboretum, Lichterman is also home to a number of different birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
National Civil Rights Museum
If you’re a proud Tennessean, you’ve got another reason to take a trip to Memphis and visit the National Civil Rights Museum, especially on Mondays when admission is free to Tennessee residents. Housed in the historic Lorraine Motel, the National Civil Rights Museum is an intense, immersive walking tour through the civil rights struggle from the early days of slavery to the museum’s moving conclusion.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
For some it’s Isaac Hayes’ gold-plated Cadillac. For others it’s the Express Yourself dance floor, the soul and the hall of records. For locals, it’s the opportunity to walk through the sweet sounds of one of the most creative periods in Memphis history – for free, on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Memphis Zoo is one of only four zoos in the country to house the endangered panda. Visitors flock to the zoo’s panda exhibit to watch Le Le and Ya Ya eat bamboo very, very slowly. These pandas are also big reason why so many Tennessee residents take advantage of the free admission on Tuesdays (from 2 p.m. to closing) and visit the zoo’s 3500 animals in the heart of Memphis.
Dixon Gallery and Gardens
With one of the region’s biggest collections of impressionist paintings and decorative arts, visiting the Dixon is an incredibly value for art lovers. Located in East Memphis, visitors can take in the collection, new exhibits and the well-manicured gardens free of charge on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Of course, if you live in the area, membership status means it’s free every day of the week.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Not to be outdone by the Dixon, the Brooks Museum also offers free admission. Well, technically it’s not free. It’s a pay-what-you-wish fee. Anything from a penny to a twenty will get you free reign of the place. This is a good thing as the museum has over 9,000 objects in its permanent collection, including work from Cecilia Beaux, Edward Redfield and William Merritt Chase, as well as excellent special exhibits.
Center for Southern Folklore
First, it’s important to know that the Center for Southern Folklore is always open for free. That’s because it’s not a museum or admission-based attraction, per se. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to “celebrating the arts, music, and heritage of the South from the cultural crossroads of Memphis.” Full of great music, arts and crafts by local artists, the Center often hosts live music events, storytelling sessions, and an affordable soul food menu.
Graceland, home of Elvis Presley
As the official promoter and supporter of our city’s world-famous attractions, we must implore you to visit Graceland. It’s a magical window into the mind and soul of one of our country’s greatest artists. But, if you don’t have the time to spend a day at Graceland, you can always go down to the Graceland Gates, snap a photo, and imagine the King rolling down his driveway in a vintage pink Cadillac. Graceland also offers free-admission walk-up visits to the Meditation Garden daily from 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.
Mud Island Riverwalk
With our rich heritage in music, food and history, it’s easy to overlook the central reason Memphis even exists: The Mississippi. Without the big river, Memphis would never have been settled at the scale it was, nor become the economic center of the world during the heyday of cotton. To get a better understanding of the river’s role and influence over Memphis, visitors should take advantage of the always-free Mud Island Riverwalk experience, an exact scale model of the lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. An epic scale model, the Riverwalk spans five city blocks, is dotted with the cities, bridges and drainage basins, and displays various historic markers that give visitors more information about the history of the river and its people.
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Memphis has more music museums than most cities have art museums. We’re proud of that fact. But only one of them tells the whole musical story, from rural field hollers and sharecropper songs through the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records. Created by the Smithsonian Institute, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum offers music lovers a comprehensive digital audio tour with over 300 minutes of information, 100 songs and 3 audio visual programs. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for regular admission, the museum is free for Shelby County, Tennessee residents on Tuesday afternoons from 2 to 7 p.m.