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The Six Best Things to Do in Memphis

memphis beale street bars

Is Memphis on your travel wish list? Most people travel to Memphis to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home – but there’s more to the city than the massive mansion of the “King of Rock’n’Roll”. If you are curious about the best attractions and activities in Memphis, Tennessee, keep reading!

The six best things to do in Memphis:

Take a stroll down Beale Street

Beale Street is one of the most famous streets in the US, and the one place that you can’t miss on a trip to Memphis. The 1.8-mile long street is the official home of Blues music and the birthplace of Rock’n’Roll, making it a must-visit attraction for any music fan. A walk down Beale Street will introduce you to talented musicians in iconic venues that are rich in history and have hosted some of the greatest Blues musicians in our history. Officially called the “Beale Street Entertainment District”, the three blocks located in Downtown Memphis are the pulse of nightlife in the city, and you will also find great food, live music venues, distilleries, and more here.memphis beale street

Experience the Nightlife

Memphis’ nightlife is something you don’t want to miss! Especially the live music scene is incredible, and you don’t even need to go inside an overpriced club to listen to a live band – you’ll find them playing right on the streets. The nightlife scene in Memphis spans from Midtown to Downtown along Beale Street (see above) – and that’s where most of Memphis’ hotels are located. So you won’t have to walk far to find live music and great food.

If you are visiting Memphis for a bachelorette weekend, you may want to add some beauty treatments to your day before a big night out on the town. Luckily, there are plenty of places where you can get a blowout or a specific hairdo for the occasion, such as jumbo box braids or extensions. Just don’t forget to make an appointment prior to your trip to Memphis. memphis musicians

Visit Graceland

Graceland is the famed mansion that was once owned by Rock’n’Roll star Elvis Presley. It stayed in the family after his passing and is now open to the public. Not only can you see how the King Of Rock’n’Roll lived, but you can also learn about his life and career. Half a million people from all over the world flock to Graceland every year- it is the second most famous home in the U.S. after the White House! It’s a Must-See destination for Elvis fans, but also interesting for people who aren’t very familiar with him and his music, for things such as the sometimes tacky decor, his two private airplanes and one of the first microwaves ever available – all on display at Graceland.graceland rewards room

Tour the Museums

Memphis has a number of excellent museums, so if you consider yourself a culture vulture, you’ll want to add at least one of them to your itinerary. In addition to the obligatory pilgrimage to Elvis Presley’s Graceland (mentioned above), music lovers will love the Rock ‘N Soul Museum (one of the few Smithsonian Museums outside of Washington D.C.), the Memphis Music Hall of Fame as well as the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. History buffs can’t miss the Lorraine Motel, part of the National Civil Rights museum complex, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968 and the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, a small museum dedicated to telling the story of the Underground Railroad and how it helped slaves escape to freedom.

Art aficionados will love the Brooks Museum, the largest art museum in Tennessee. Dixon Gallery & Gardens is another fabulous art museum, merging a fine art museum with a 17-acre garden. In addition to art, you’ll be able to enjoy sculpture gardens, English Gardens and horticulture exhibits. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the Mississippi River Museum and Mud Island Nature Park, where you can learn more about the history of the Mississippi River and how it helped shape the history of Memphis. (Note that this museum is only open from April till October).  Then there’s the Pink Palace Museum, the largest science and technology museum in the mid-South. Even if you’re not a huge museum fan, if there’s a rainy day during your trip to Memphis, I guarantee you that there’s at least one museum you will enjoy. If you’re traveling with children, the Children’s Museum is a great activity with kids.memphis orheus theater

Get Outside

If you’re not a city dweller, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Memphis. There are hundreds of miles of walking and biking trails along the Mississippi River, and if you don’t want to travel with your own bicycle, you can take advantage of Memphis’ “Explore Bike Share” which has around 80 bike pick-up an drop-off locations and costs only $12 per week.

Memphis was also named one of the best paddling towns in the United States, and you can kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle on the Mississippi River right from Downtown Memphis. Mud Island in the Mississippi River is home to the Greenbelt Park, which has a lovely 1.5-mile trail and is a popular spot for picnics. The Memphis Botanic Garden is also a beautiful destination for anyone who loves the outdoors.

Any of these places and activities are fantastic during the warmer months of the year. At night, there are plenty of outdoors events, for example at Levitt Shell, an outdoor amphitheater where you can enjoy free live music concerts in the fall and spring.Cherry Blossoms

Go to the Zoo

The Memphis Zoo was vote one of the top ten zoos in the entire US, making it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It is home to more than 4,500 animals, including rare species such as the Giant Panda and hippos and grizzly bears. In total, around 500 species from all over the world can be seen. The zoo is open year-round, so you can add it to your list regardless of what time of year you’re planning to visit Tennessee. If you’re traveling with kids, check out the various programs that the zoo offers especially for children. The zoo is open daily from 9am to 6pm between mid-March and mid-October and from 9am to 5pm between mid-October and mid-March.

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Great American Road Trip: NYC2NOLA **Extended** (Is there ever really a final destination for nomads?)

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Loving the road trip feeling so much, we decided to extend our NYC2NOLA trip all the way back up north to Chicago via Memphis, TN.

Our last morning in New Orleans we wandered through Lafayette Cemetery, famous for being featured in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire – both the book and the film. Lafayette Cemetery is fascinating with its white above-ground tombs dating back to 1789 and although the popular tourist attraction is a part of pop culture, we had the soothing, shaded cemetery to ourselves on that last morning in NOLA.

lafayette cemetery new orleans

With a heavy hearts, we finally said goodbye to New Orleans  (made possible only because we know we will be back, one day) and headed north through the swamps of Louisiana and across the entire state of Mississippi to Memphis.  It was late afternoon as we pulled in to Memphis, and we headed straight to Beale Street – the official Home of the Blues.

memphis beale street bars

While countless blues singers officially cut their teeth here, we both felt the street had unofficially become an over-packaged, over-priced memory of what it used to be. While the same could be said for much of Memphis (we were less than impressed), one aspect of our 24 hours here didn’t disappoint – Graceland!

dani at graceland memphisDespite not knowing much about Elvis Presley at all, it would have felt silly to pass through town without visiting this iconic attraction, and it was worth it! Graceland is basically like a walking tour of as-yet unproduced episode of ‘Cribs: 70s style’ . Shag carpet on the floors and ceiling, 8 tracks and 45s stockpiled next to the stereo in the living room, long white leather couches in the family room, and mirrored ceilings in the bedroom really set the tone for the rock star lifestyle of the King. It was just as interesting, however, to see just how ‘normal’ the kitchen appeared, which was, as Lisa Marie explains on the low-tech headphone walking tour, the heart of the house.

graceland kitchen

We saw the $200,000 racquetball house, the stables, the auto museum and of course, the entire Presley family’s gravestones, adorned with the flower arrangements which still arrive  from around the world on a daily basis. If there is one thing we took away from this experience, is that the passion for the King is still very much alive and well around the globe.

elvis presley grave memphis graceland

After a quick peek into Elvis’ two private jets, we jetted off up Interstate 55 on our way to Chicago, where, 3,000 miles and 15 U.S. states later, we sure are happy to say we are ‘home’, even if just for a few weeks. We arrived just in time for my birthday, and it felt great to celebrate with life-long friends!

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We plan to do more catching up with friends and family and working our tails off before heading to Bangkok next month where we will begin the South East Asia leg of our trip.

Now that we have a stable place for the next few weeks, we will be putting out in-depth coverage on the experiences and destinations of our Great American Road Trip, so stay tuned for that, plus food highlights, post road trip observations on America and more.

Thanks for following along on our Great American Road Trip 2011 from New York City to New Orleans and Chicago, as well as providing such amazing travel tips and suggestions along the way! We couldn’t have had this great experience without all the help!

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Polaroid of the week: Elvis Presley Statue in Memphis, Tennessee

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polaroid of the week usa memphis elvis presley statue

Memphis had an enormous influence on American music, with groundbreaking artists in blues, rock n’ roll and gospel. Musicians such as B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis all started their careers in Memphis in the 50s and 60s, but the city’s most famous son is, of course,  Elvis Presley! The King is honored all over the city, like this bronze sculpture on Beale Street, but the music mecca in Memphis, Graceland, is the second most visited home in America after the White House!

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