Memphis in One Day
This visit to Memphis won’t be filled with rocking chairs and cold lemonade. You’re on a busy schedule and with only one day in the Bluff city, you need to get rockin’ and rollin’. Here’s how to maximize your time and dollar and give you the perfect introduction to Memphis.
Memphis is easy to navigate and there are things to do scattered throughout the city and into Shelby County, but for the best day trip, it may be wise to keep your adventure focused on Midtown and Downtown Memphis. Both areas are densely packed with sightseeing opportunities that will help you get the most out of your visit.
Start at the corner of Main and Union. You’ll want to catch the trolley for the Riverfront Loop route and a 2.5 mile ride giving you the perfect view of Downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River. These authentic vintage trolley cars remind you of yesteryear with colorful cabins, smooth wooden seats and brass accents. Along the first leg of your journey you’ll pass the Fire Museum of Memphis, Mud Island River Park, and the mighty Mississippi River.
When the trolley turns back to S. Main Street, you’ll see the Arcade Restaurant. The Arcade is a diner which was a favorite of Elvis and many of the train passengers and soldiers who occupied that area back in the day. If you’re hungry, try the sweet potato pancakes - they’re a local favorite.
Just up the street and past a handful of art galleries is the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel. Here you can pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the others who have fought for civil rights throughout history. Out front is room 306, the room where Dr. King stayed in April of 1968.
If you’re back by 11 a.m., go see the Peabody Ducks make their daily visit to the lobby fountain. For more than 70 years, the ducks have been escorted down the red carpet and into the fountain where they spend their day. At 5 p.m., they return to their penthouse on the roof of the hotel.
You’ve got two good options at this point: You could venture up a couple blocks to Sun Studio where Sam Phillips launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ray Orbison and Carl Perkins or take in the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a more complete overview of Memphis’ musical history.
Sun Studio tours start at the bottom half of every hour until 5:30 p.m. Learn how the rock ‘n’ roll sound came to be, the rise in popularity of Elvis and even take your picture in the very same recording studio that legends recorded in (it’s still in operation today). Tours are given by local musicians and are $12 for adults (click here for a $2 off coupon).
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum was created by the Smithsonian Institution. It’s a self-guided audio tour that gives a comprehensive musical history from the rural sharecroppers to the heyday of music in Memphis at Stax, Sun and Hi Records. Tours at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum are $11 for adults.
If you skipped breakfast, now would be a good time to recharge. The Trolley Stop Market on Madison offers locally sourced foods including sandwiches, plate lunches and delicious handmade pizza. Don’t forget to take a piece of the mid-south home with you. The shop doubles as a market for local artisans.
Across the street from the Peabody Hotel, tucked in a small alley is one of the best (and most famous) barbecue restaurants in the entire world – Rendezvous. Not since Adam has a rib been this famous. Rendezvous features true Memphis-style barbecue: dry rub ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and more. Rendezvous has fed Presidents, rock stars, athletes and everyone in between.
The Orpheum Theatre presents the finest Broadway productions and entertainers in town. The “South’s Finest Theatre” has hosted Jersey Boys, Cats, Jerry Seinfeld, Tony Bennet, Phantom of the Opera, Wilco and many more. Pick up tickets in their box office located at 203 S. Main Street or purchase them online.
After the show, enjoy a nightcap on nearby Beale Street. The blues were born on Beale St., and to this day, it’s lined with soul. Kick up your heels and have a drink from B.B. King’s Blues Club or Silky O’Sullivan’s while live music blows onto the street from every direction. Throw a dollar bill into the bucket for the Beale Street Flippers who tumble and entertain down the cobble stone street.
Now that you’ve had a taste of what Memphis has to offer, it won’t be long before you’re back. Before you return, check out our other itineraries including Memphis History on a Budget and Music on the Flip Side.