10 Things Not to Miss in Memphis, Tennessee

‘With Love From Memphis’ mural – Location: On the side of Wet Willy’s at 219 Beale Street – Artist: Allie Mounce – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

While it has proven to be a launchpad for some of the world’s biggest musical careers, Memphis’s legacy doesn’t stop there. Founded in 1819, the city has been at the forefront of history’s most notable events and movements. Here are ten places to visit for a better look at Memphis and its roots.

1. Graceland and the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum and Meditation Garden

Graceland – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

Elvis Presley purchased Graceland in 1957 for $100,000 and called it home until he died in 1977. Today, visitors can tour the sprawling estate and pristine grounds, including the Meditation Garden, where Presley and his family are buried. The property was expanded in 2017 to include the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, where guests can view some of the King’s most treasured hot-rods.

2. Beale Street and the Elvis Statue

Beale Street
Beale Street – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

Just a few miles away, iconic Beale Street pays homage to Presley with a bronze likeness of the artist as he would have appeared when he played the famed Beale Street venues in the 1950s. It’s actually the second statue to grace the street. The first was stripped piece-by-piece by visitors who wanted to take home a piece of memorabilia.

3. The Lorraine Motel (Part of the National Civil Rights Museum)

The Lorraine Motel – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

The former Lorraine Motel has played host to some of history’s most impactful civil rights activists and events. Today, it serves as part of the National Civil Rights Museum, with hundreds of interactive exhibits that tell the story of the American Civil Rights Movement. Visitors can even see Room 306, where Dr. Martin Luther King spent the final hours of his life.

4. Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Just a mile north of downtown Memphis, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum sits as a sobering reminder of the atrocities of the Civil War era. The museum, which is also known as the Burkle Estate, contains artifacts and original passages and trap doors used by runaway slaves headed north to seek their freedom.

5. The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange – Photo: The Cotton Museum / Facebook

The Cotton Museum was founded in 2006 to preserve the history of “The Crop that Changed the World” and its impact on the people of Memphis. Visitors can also glimpse the original Trading Floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange, preserved inside a 3,200 square-foot, fully-restored building on the Mississippi riverfront.

6. C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

Native American Replica House – Photo: C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa / Facebook

The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956 to preserve an ancient Mississippian mound complex. Believed to have been constructed in 1000-1500 AD, the mounds were used to conduct ceremonies and house high-ranking leaders within the community. Today, the site is a place for students and visitors to learn about archaeology and the prehistoric Indians that first inhabited Memphis. 

7. Sun Studio

The Birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll – Photo: Sun Studio

At the corner of Union and Marshall Streets, the Sun Studio sits proudly as the “Birthplace of Rock and Roll.” Artists from B.B. King to Johnny Cash to Elvis got their start at the famed studio that forged Memphis’s reputation for nurturing musical greatness.

8. Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and W. C. Handy House Museum

Stax Museum of American Soul Music – Photo: Ronnie Booze

Besides Graceland and Sun Studio, Memphis boasts museums that honor its many other artists. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music honor the gritty birth of Soul, while the Memphis Music Hall of Fame pays homage to Memphis artists and music of all genres. The W.C. Handy House Museum on Beale Street is the icing on the cake, where visitors can tour the home of the “Father of the Blues.”

9. The Peabody Ducks

The Peabody Ducks – Photo: The Peabody Memphis / Facebook

Every day from 11 am to 5 pm, the fountain in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis is infiltrated with feathered, two-legged visitors. In a tradition that dates back to the 1930s, the famous Peabody Ducks march their way through the hotel to play in the fountain.

10. Malco Summer Drive-in

Malco Summer Drive-in – Photo: ilovememphisblog.com

The Malco Summer Drive-in was a Memphis favorite long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced families to find outdoor, socially-distanced entertainment. For decades, Tennesseans have come by the carload to see classic and new-release films under the stars.