Experience the energy and excitement of Memphis without breaking the bank. Tour museums, enjoy live music and celebrate the city's soulful history with these free (or almost free) things to do at some of our most popular attractions.
Grab your picnic basket, lawn chair and blanket. Then, enjoy a free concert under the stars. The Levitt Shell is best known as the site of Elvis Presley's first professional rock 'n' roll concert. Today, the Shell offers over 50 free concerts annually with musical acts that cover all genres. The park is pet and kid friendly.
Optional: Short on time? Food trucks and beer are available at every concert for your convenience.
Levitt Shell. Photo Credit: Craig Thompson
A visit to Graceland's Meditation Garden is a perfect way to start your day. Walk up to the beautiful garden where Elvis and his family members are buried between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. each day. Just enter the gates by 8:30 a.m. and exit the mansion grounds before Graceland tours begin at 9 a.m.
Highly recommended: Take a tour of the Graceland Mansion and visit the brand new Elvis Presley's Memphis, an entertainment complex located directly across the street from Graceland.
Graceland. Photo Credit: David Meany
Memphis is home to the one of the largest urban parks in the United States, Shelby Farms, which is more than five times the size of NYC's Central Park. Shelby Farms features a children's park, water play area, dog park, scenic trails to view animals in their habitats and a 6.5 mile walking/biking trail that ventures throughout Memphis.
Bonus: In addition to all of the no-cost fun, there are tons of affordable excursions available. Try horseback riding, rent bikes or boats, or go ziplining on the Go Ape! Treetop Adventure.
Shelby Farms. Photo Credit: Allen Gillespie
Celebrate the arts, music and heritage at this informal center dedicated to showcasing Southern culture. The Center For Southern Folklore houses a cyber café, exhibits and performance space for frequent public shows. Each Labor Day weekend, the Center hosts the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival which features over 100 performers, Southern art and culture.
Center For Southern Folklore. Photo Credit: Craig Thompson
Take a 1,000-mile journey down the Mighty Mississippi on this perfectly scaled replica of the lower-half of the river. Twenty cities line the replica with markers that describe significant events in the River’s history. Tours are always free for all ages.
Mud Island River Park. Photo Credit: Jack Kenner
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is the largest outdoors store in the world. The immersive retail experience offers something for outdoors fans of all ages. See a cypress swamp with an alligator habitat, the Ducks Unlimited Warterfowling Heritage Center and more.
Bonus: Shop, dine, bowl or ride the nation's tallest freestanding glass elevator to The Lookout – an observation deck that offers an unforgettable view of Memphis for just $10 per person.
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Photo Credit: Allen Gillespie
Learn about the life-saving medical research that is taking place in Downtown Memphis. Visitors to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital receive a guided tour of the St. Jude campus and learn the history and impact of this internationally-respected hospital. Tour guests must be over 16 years old. The St. Jude ALSAC Pavilion and memorial garden are open to all ages. Click here to schedule a free tour.
St. Jude/ALSAC Pavillion. Photo Credit: Baxter Buck
Enjoy seventeen acres of pristine gardens, rotating exhibits and a museum with over 2,000 artifacts at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. On Tuesdays, guests are encouraged to Pay What You Can throughout the day.
Dixon Gallery & Gardens. Photo Credit: Baxter Buck
Ride through dedicated bike lanes all over the city, including the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 7-mile paved trail that runs through the heart of Memphis to Shelby Farms. And now you can even cross the Mississippi River on the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge. The Big River Crossing serves as the connection point between Memphis, TN and West Memphis, AR.
Biker on Big River Crossing. Phone Credit: Big River Crossing
Many museums and attractions offer pay-what-you can admissions.
Special admission is always subject to change, so check with each attraction prior to visiting:
National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis Pink Palace Museum
Lichterman Nature Center
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Dixon Gallery & Garden
Zambezi Hippo Camp at the Memphis Zoo. Phone Credit: Andrea Zucker
Every day at 11 a.m., the Peabody Ducks are led by the Duckmaster down the elevator to the Italian travertine marble fountain in the hotel's Grand Lobby. The ceremony is reversed at 5 p.m., when the ducks retire for the evening to their palace on the roof of the hotel.
The Peabody Marching Ducks are completely free and open to everyone. A spot along the red carpet or close to the railing in the balcony provides the best photo opportunity.
Peabody Duck March. Phone Credit: Justin Fox Burkes
Traveling to Memphis may seem like a budget busting idea, but it doesn’t have to be. With our handy resources, we’re here to Help you plan a trip to Memphis, where you can take in all the sights and sounds, without breaking the bank.
Where to Eat:
Memphis food is quite reasonable and many restaurants offer large portions and moderately priced menus to visitors on a budget. Our general advice here would be to stick with the Memphis classics. Memphis restaurants have perfected the art of Southern cuisine – we’re talking barbecue and soul food here. Their efficiency works in your favor when you’re watching every dime.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken will douse your taste buds in flavor. Their recipe is so perfected that GQ Magazine has rated it as one of the top five restaurants in the United States worth flying to for a meal. Hands down, there is nothing better than Gus’s and a cold beer on a hot summer’s day.
Gus's Fried Chicken | David Meany
Open your mind to Payne’s Bar-B-Que on Lamar Ave. Payne’s isn’t flashy or fancy, but they do understand their barbecue. Locals will argue that Payne’s chopped pork sandwich topped with tangy coleslaw is the best in the city.
If you’re looking for something different or eclectic, try the food and drink specials at South of Beale (especially during basketball games or large events downtown), handmade guacamole and margaritas at Las Delicias or vegetarian and Vietnamese dishes at Pho Binh.
Where to Stay:
Assuming you’re not shacking up with a friend or family member, you’re going to need a place to lay your head. Hotels can eat a big portion of your budget, so as an alternative, may we suggest trying the Hostel Memphis, an affordable lodging option near the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood.
If the hostel isn’t an option, we’ve posted some special hotel rates and coupons on our site. Rates change frequently based on availability, so check back often and during off-peak seasons for your best deal. You’ll typically find lower rates outside of downtown Memphis, but those savings are sometimes offset by transportation fees.
Memphis Area Attractions:
There are numerous free things to do in Memphis. Because you’re in the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, let’s first start with some music related ideas.
The gates of Graceland and the Meditation Garden where Elvis and his family members are laid to rest are complimentary every day from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. As you walk up the drive, you’ll get a good look at the mansion. Stop here and snap a picture to brag to friends at home.
The garden itself is a peaceful setting with flowers and a beautiful central fountain. Even in the early morning hours, you’ll find yourself surrounded with Elvis fans from around the world. Before leaving, put a remembrance on the stone wall located near the gates of the mansion.
Hop the free shuttle bus to Sun Studio which runs every hour on the hour. 45 minute tours at Sun Studio are $15 and worth every penny. You’ll get one of the best tours in the city and a look inside the tiny recording studio that pumped out legends like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King and of course, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Sun Studio | David Meany
Now don’t forget the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum located right off Beale Street. Created by the Smithsonian Institute, this museum shares the story of Memphis music pioneers – from sharecroppers of the 1930’s to the heyday of Stax, Sun and Hi-Records.
When finished there, look to the right and you’re less than a half block from one of the most famous streets in all of America – Beale Street. Beale Street is where the blues were born and where the clubs and juke joints of today keep the legacy alive. There is no fee to stroll the brick-lined street and sounds bellowing out of the clubs are on the house. Of course, we’d encourage you to have a large cold beverage and throw a dollar into a performers tip jar.
If you’re into art and culture, make your way east to Midtown. In the middle of Overton Park situated between the Memphis Zoo and the 70 acres of playgrounds and picnic areas is the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. This national landmark houses works in all forms of media, created by artists from all over the world. The Brooks is the oldest and one of the largest fine arts museums in the state of Tennessee.
Just 5 minutes by car and you’ll find the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The Dixon specializes in impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and decorative arts. The Dixon’s rich and unique exhibitions will have something for every member of the family.
Traveling With Kids?
Let them run, jump, splash, dig and scream outside at My Big Backyard in the Memphis Botanic Gardens. They even have a Farmer’s Market that runs from spring to fall on Wednesday afternoons.
Other attractions to try that are free or budget friendly are the quacky ducks at the Peabody Hotel, the history on display at the Cotton Museum, the mighty river at Mud Island River Park, the elegant environment of Elmwood Cemetery and the soulful celebrations at the Center for Southern Folklore. We could go on for days, but I’m sure you want to pound the Memphis pavement and get going on your journey.
Downtown Memphis and many parts of Midtown are situated great for walkers and cyclists. Bring a comfy pair of shoes, a camera and you’re set for the day. Of course you can always hop aboard a vintage Memphis trolley for $1 to get around or relax.
Don’t let me forget to mention the Greenline and Shelby Farms Park. Shelby Farms is the largest urban park in the United States and is filled with horseback riding, bike trails, playgrounds and plenty of places to fly a kite. Pick up the Greenline at Tillman Ave. and follow it for 7 miles to the gates of the park.
The Greenline at Shelby Farms Park | Andrea Zucker
Well, there you have it. It’s totally possible to have a great vacation or getaway in Memphis without taking out a loan. All it takes a little creativity, knowing where the best deals are and being resourceful. Enjoy your time in our great city.