If you’re planning a visit to Memphis, we hear you: there’s a lot to see and do, from visiting shrines to musical icons and listening to live music to exploring the Mississippi River and eating all the barbecue. That’s why we’ve created this Memphis bucket list by theme — just flip through the photo tour to find what you’re interested in and go!
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. Better yet, hop in a classic car with Rockabilly Rides for an Elvis-themed tour of Memphis guided by local musicians.
Memphis is a city of soul and the music tells that story. Take a journey from the blues of the Delta through the very first rock 'n' roll song ever created and everything in between with Smithsonian curated exhibits found at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Then head to Soulsville, U.S.A. for a deeper dive of where the sound revolution sparked in 1960s Memphis at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Instruments, archive footage and flashy exhibits (Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac!) remember the Stax stars.
By day, visit the pocket-sized Blues Hall of Fame. Its archives are deep and digitized—dig in via A/V stations to access songs, videos and writing on Memphis’ essential music genre. By night, hit Beale Street, where live electric and acoustic blues float into the night. Listen in at cozy venues like Blues Hall or grab drinks and a set by Barbara Blue at the expansive Silky O’Sullivan’s.
Memphis’ modern musicians riff on the past, creating new, original music (see: Dead Soldiers, John Paul Keith and Southern Avenue, to start). Catch these and other local standouts at cozy Lafayette’s Music Room and even cozier Bar DKDC, restaurant/bars with buzzy outdoor spaces including Railgarten and Loflin Yard and the Levitt Shell, where Elvis first lit up a live audience.
Find the Smithsonian-affiliated National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where a wreath marks Martin Luther King Jr.’s room and place of assassination. King was here advocating for Memphis sanitation workers, and the museum explores this chapter within America’s greater civil rights story through highly interactive exhibits: 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.
Experience the Mighty Mississippi in Downtown Memphis. Watch it go by from the grassy roof or splashground at Beale Street Landing. Take a sightseeing cruise 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.
Explore historic Overton Park, where you’ll discover the Memphis Zoo, an urban forest with ample trails and access to the Greenline, a pedestrian path that runs for miles through the heart of the city. Follow it to Shelby Farms Park, where paddleboarding, horseback riding, ziplining and one heck of a playground await. Rather kick back and watch others sweat? Catch Minor League baseball at pretty AutoZone Park or go for NBA action at FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
You know you want to try Memphis barbecue. 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 for dry-rubbed and sauced). Leave room for other cravings, because you’re going to find irresistible soul food, “real food” and foodie-food here too.
For an ultra-authentic experience, venture into Memphis neighborhoods that mix residential space with fun stuff to do. 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 the newly renovated Crosstown Concourse. Eat, shop and photograph your way through the gritty/colorful South Main Historic Arts District.
Browse the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, where classical sculptures share space with contemporary installations, including a dynamic mural by Nigerian-born Victor Ekpuk (plus a hands-on kids’ gallery). Visit the Metal Museum and its sculpture garden overlooking the Mississippi. Or, hunt for public art in any of the neighborhoods mentioned in #9.