Elvis fans in front of the Graceland Mansion
Alex Shansky

Your Memphis Bucket List

If you’re planning a visit to Memphis, we hear you: There’s a lot to see and do. So we curated this bucket list of iconic, immersive to-dos to help you discover why Memphis is famous (plus a few hidden gems that might surprise you).  Of course, we're going to Graceland and eating barbecue. But we're also going to recommend
a treasure of musical shrines, live music venues on Beale Street and beyond, Memphis' best attractions (from the National Civil Rights Museum to Memphis Zoo), tips for experiencing the Mississippi River and more. Flip through our photo tour, find the theme that speaks to you and go!

Your Memphis Bucket List Starts Here

Light up the night on Beale Street.

You've heard of Beale Street, now experience it. One of America's most iconic streets, Beale's historic buildings hold music legends and the neon glow of unforgettable nights out. Stroll the pedestrian-only thoroughfare and pop in any of the dozens of bars and clubs that line the street, spilling with the sounds of live electric and acoustic blues, rock 'n' roll, soul and club music. Listen in at cozy venues like Blues Hall or grab drinks and a piano set at Silky O’Sullivan’s. And don't miss the Beale Street Flippers, who perform acrobatics down the cobblestones in the evenings.

Eat all the things, but start with barbecue.

You know you want to try Memphis barbecue. It's one of the things that makes Memphis famous. Ask any local and you’ll get an earful of recommendations, from the gloriously messy bologna sandwich at Payne’s to The Bar-B-Q Shop’s “muddy” ribs (that’s Memphis-speak for dry-rubbed and sauced). Leave room for other cravings, because you’re going to find irresistible soul food and other signature must-eats in Memphis, too. 

Discover more of the world's best barbecue on the Memphis Barbecue Trail.

Pay homage to Elvis.

Tour Sun Studio, the impossibly small space from which Elvis emerged larger-than-life. (Hold his microphone to imagine his presence.) Visit Graceland for an intimate look at the man, especially in the Music Room, where he shared songs with friends and family. The onsite Presley Motors Automobile Museum and Elvis' private jets amp up the fun. If your burnin' love for The King still isn't satisfied, book an Elvis-themed tour of Memphis guided by a local musician.

For more Elvis-themed attractions, check out our Ultimate Elvis Presley Bucket List.

Trace Memphis' civil rights story.

Find the Smithsonian-affiliated National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where a wreath marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s room and place of assassination. King was in the city advocating for Memphis sanitation workers, and the museum explores this chapter within America’s greater civil rights story through interactive exhibits. On-site, you can trace the Atlantic slave trade with your feet, listen to speeches from 1963’s March on Washington and board a burned-out bus in remembrance of Freedom Riders, among other activities. 

Learn more about Memphis' civil rights story through landmarks, public art, tours and events. You can also follow the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in Memphis and support black-owned businesses when you're in town.

Get down with Memphis Soul.

Memphis isn't only the home of rock 'n' roll; the city is equally known for soul and blues. Hear how the three genres of music influenced each other and the soundtrack of Memphis, a soundtrack heard around the world, at the Smithsonian-curated Rock 'n' Soul Museum on Beale Street. Then head to Soulsville, U.S.A., the epicenter of the soul music explosion that rocked Memphis and, ultimately, the world, in the 1960s. Soulsville is home to the​ Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where instruments, archival footage and flashy exhibits (Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac!) conjure Stax's revolutionary sound.

Want a sonic deep-dive? All of Memphis' music attractions and tours are here.

Listen to more live music. Because: Memphis

Memphis’ modern musicians riff on the past, creating new, original music (give this playlist a listen). Catch these and other local acts at historic Lafayette’s Music Room, intimate/quirky Bar DKDC, restaurant/bars with buzzy outdoor spaces including Railgarten and the Overton Park Shell, where Elvis played his first paid gig and you can catch months' worth of free concerts every year. 

You'll find live music all over town. Check out our events calendar to see who's playing.

Experience Bass Pro Shops...in a Pyramid.

Outside, it's a gleaming, silvery pyramid on the banks of the Mississippi River. Inside, it's a cypress swamp bobbing with boats for sale, thousands of gallons of watery habitats where fish and alligators swim, an underwater-themed bowling alley, the rustic-luxe Big Cypress Lodge hotel and the world's only Wahlburgers Wild...all in the world's largest Bass Pro Shops retail store. It's topped by a glass-floored observation deck that overlooks downtown Memphis, the river and a great place to enjoy a drink with a view.

Check out our guide to experiencing Memphis' Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

Visit a top-ranked zoo.

See why Memphis Zoo was rated a "Top 5 Best Zoo" by USA TODAY 10 Best. With naturalistic habitats housing 3,500 animals from grizzly and polar bears to hippos and crocodiles, the zoo is known for giving guests a globe-trotting vibe with internationally inspired architecture, and its arboretum accreditation ensures the vibe is equally relaxing. 

Bonus: Memphis Zoo is nestled inside Overton Park, an urban forest with paved and unpaved trails that connect to the Greenline, a pedestrian path that runs for miles through the heart of Memphis. Follow the Greenline to Shelby Farms Park, where paddleboarding, horseback riding, ziplining and one heck of a playground await.

Catch a duck march.

Daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., gather in the lobby of The Peabody Memphis to observe a decades-long tradition: Resident ducks march from their rooftop "penthouse" to the hotel's centerpiece fountain. They are guided by a staff Duckmaster down a red carpet. Line up like the paparazzi and snap a pic. Arrive early (the ducks have fans) and enjoy a beverage from The Peabody's storied bar. Smile knowing you've experienced a Memphis rite of passage that's caught the attention of Oprah and the casts of The Tonight Show and Sesame Street, among other celebs.

Check out our guide to the Duck March and other unique experiences at The Peabody Memphis.

See what's so mighty about the Mississippi River.

From Downtown Memphis, take a narrated sightseeing cruise on the Mississippi River with Memphis Riverboats. Join a paddling excursion with Kayak Memphis. Walk/bike/run Big River Crossing, the Mississippi’s longest pedestrian bridge. Downtown rooftops create unforgettable views too, especially the glass-floored observation deck of Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

For the ultimate river hang, relax in the boldly transformed Tom Lee Park, featuring swings, pick-up basketball, coffee/snacks and colorful playgrounds amid a native landscape.

Hang with the locals.

For an ultra-authentic experience, venture into Memphis neighborhoods that mix residential space with restaurants, shops and live music venues. Shop for artful accessories and modernist pottery on Broad Avenue. Pick up Memphis-made tomes and vinyl at Cooper-Young’s indie book and record stores. Sample restaurants in Overton Square and Crosstown Concourse. Eat, shop and photograph your way through the colorful South Main Historic Arts District, where you can hop on one of Memphis' iconic trolleys. 

Want to eat like a local in Memphis, too?

Beale Street Flippers
Payne's BBQ Pork chopped sandwich
two people jump in the air in front of sun studio
A family explores an interactive exhibit at Memphis' National Civil Rights Museum
Isaac Hayes' Cadillac at Stax / Raphael Tenschert
Overton Park Shell during concert lit up with crowd
Exterior of Bass Pro Pyramid and Big Cypress Lodge
A young girl feeds a giraffe at Memphis Zoo
Duckmaster Kenon Walker with The Peabody Ducks during The Peabody Memphis hotel's daily duck march | The Peabody
Tom Lee Park aerial
Trolley on South Main Street, Memphis | Alex Shansky

About the Author

Samantha Crespo has written about Memphis for more than 13 years, including four editions of 100 Things To Do in Memphis Before You Die, a love letter/insider's guide to the city. Find her running along the river, especially in the new Tom Lee Park, listening to her favorite Memphis band: Lucero.