A few years, or rather decades, ago – before cell phones and the internet – I got iced in at the Memphis, Tennessee airport. Read my story on how I ended up sharing two hotel rooms with six strangers I befriended on the airplane and in baggage claim. Although we had a blast, I did not get to experience the top things to do in Memphis. So was excited when Memphis Travel and several museums offered me tickets recently. While much of my perfect three-day itinerary was hosted, opinions are always my own. And discover for yourself why Time Magazine named Memphis to its World’s Greatest Places in 2021 list!
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Travel guide: Three days in Memphis, Tennessee
Day 1 itinerary: Top things to do in Memphis, TN
Here are the best places to visit and top things to do on Day 1 of your perfect itinerary in Memphis, Tenn.
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN
Make the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN your first stop on your perfect three-day itinerary. And set aside at least a half day. While some travel guides recommend at least 90 minutes, I toured the National Civil Rights Museum for three hours. And I still feel like I need to return and learn more.
See my related post: Guide to the National Civil Rights Museum
Many of your assumptions about the National Civil Rights Museum will dissipate as you become enlightened about the entire civil rights movement over the past 400 years – slavery, separate but equal, boycotts, assassinations, Black power, and more. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel lives up to its claim as the greatest civil rights story ever told.
Where is the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel located?
The National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel is located at 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, TN 38103.
Blues Hall of Fame Museum in Memphis, TN
You will love the Blues Hall of Fame Museum – one of Memphis’ hidden gems whether you are a blues enthusiast or a more modest fan.
In the lower level, you’ll be treated to 10 different galleries with interactive touchscreen displays where you can listen to music samples, watch videos and read stories about the 400 inductees.
Additionally, you’ll find listening rooms along with a giant touchscreen connected to three master databases of blues music. I timed my visit perfectly in that I was the only guest at the time so received a personal guided tour from one of the Blues Hall of Fame’s volunteers.
Where is the Blues Hall of Fame Museum located?
You’ll find the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame Museum in Memphis, Tenn. just one block from the main National Civil Rights Museum building at 421 S. Main.
Best hotel in Memphis: The historic Central Station Hotel
Grateful Memphis Travel coordinated accommodations for me at the historic Central Station Hotel on the equally historic South Main Street. Again, opinions are always my own, and Central Station Hotel is the best place to stay in Memphis.
I absolutely loved Central Station Hotel for its friendly and helpful staff, comfy suite and its location (walkable distances to many of the top attractions in Memphis). And not only is Central Station Hotel one of the best hotels to stay at in Memphis, it’s also one of the best places to visit. You’ll love its history, unique lobby bar (Eight & Sand) with a DJ that spins vinyl records, and the hotel’s own sounding music room.
My husband and son are audiophiles and own a vast collection of vinyl records. They would love Central Station Hotel. I’ll definitely stay here again.
Where is Central Station Hotel in Memphis, Tenn. located?
Memphis Central Station (aka Grand Central Station), located at 545 South Main Street, was built on a former rail station called Calhoun Street Station.
Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum
I didn’t get an opportunity to visit the Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum as it’s currently only open Friday through Sunday. However, this museum sounds like a great Memphis attraction for families with children.
A few of the Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum exhibits include a train simulator you can drive, a model train layout and even a Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends room.
Where is Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum located?
The Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum is connected to the Central Station Hotel at 545 Main Street, Suite 121.
Memphis Main Street Trolley
While all the best things to do on Day 1 of your Memphis itinerary are walkable, you can also grab a ride on the Memphis Main Street Trolley. You’ll find several convenient stops. The Main Street Rail Line only costs $1 each way. Check their website for locations, operating hours and routes (including their Madison Avenue Line and Riverfront Line).
Street art on Historic Main Street
Historic South Main Street in Memphis, Tenn. is also known for its arts community so take a stroll to appreciate the street art.
Day 2: Best things to do in Memphis, TN
Here are the best places to visit on Day 2 of your perfect itinerary in Memphis, Tenn.
Graceland: The Home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, TN
I was a huge fan of Elvis Presley growing up – loved his music and even his movies. A very special thank you to Graceland for providing me tickets to tour Graceland – The Home of Elvis Presley. As always, opinions are my own.
And I can honestly say that Graceland lives up to its reputation as the number one attraction in Memphis, Tenn. Definitely a 70s vibes as you walk through the mansion.
You’ll enjoy an audio tour (at your own pace) of the 14-acre Graceland estate as well as the self-guided tours of all the special Elvis Presley exhibits. I recommend allowing at least a half-day to visit the Graceland mansion as well as the 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex. See my related post: Guide to Graceland: Home of Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley’s Memphis takes you on a self-guided tour of his life. The exhibits showcase his career, gold records, movies, wardrobe, cars, planes, motorcycles and more. I especially loved the exhibit that features his influence on other great musical artists. A visit to Graceland is the best pilgrimage and thing to do in Memphis for all music lovers.
So my first stop after walking through the Elvis Presley ticket gates was lunch at Gladys’ Diner – grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich (cooked-to-order in butter or bacon grease). I was skeptical, but pleasantly surprised how much I loved Elvis’ favorite sandwich! Delicious!
How to get to Graceland – The Home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn.
The address for Graceland – The Home of Elvis Presley is 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN 38116. Note that parking and the ticket office are located across from the actual mansion at the entertainment complex. And that is where you’ll also find the shuttle to Graceland.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, TN
I must admit that before my visit to Memphis, I had never heard of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. But I walked away with so much knowledge of some of our most beloved soulful legends.
You’ll start your tour in a former country church, which is the birthplace of soul music. From there, you’ll travel through time with all the mesmerizing exhibits, elaborate performance wardrobes, a recording studio from back in the day, a hall featuring floor-to-ceiling cases of all records and albums released by Stax, and much more.
Anyone else dance in their living room while watching Soul Train growing up? Well, you can relive those moments on their Express Yourself dance floor. So fun!
Fun fact: Otis Redding showed up at Stax Museum of American Soul Music as a chauffeur for another recording artist. When that session didn’t go so well, they allowed Redding to sing. He went on to become the label’s biggest star.
While Memphis Travel and Stax Museum provided me a complimentary ticket, opinions are my own. And I can say wholeheartedly that one of the best music history museums in Memphis or even the world is Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
See my related post: Guide to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Where is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music located?
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located at 926 E. McLemore Ave., Memphis, TN 38106.
Bass Pro Shop at Memphis Pyramid
You’ll find one of the best views of Memphis at the top of the Memphis Pyramid (aka Bass Pro Shop). The Big Cypress Sky High Ride features the tallest free-standing elevator in the U.S. You’ll travel 28 stories / 300 feet up to the observation deck where you can take in stunning views of Memphis, the Mississippi River and the surrounding area.
Where is the Big Cypress Sky High Ride at Memphis Pyramid located? What’s the address of the Bass Pro Shop at Memphis Pyramid?
The address for the Bass Pro Shop at Memphis Pyramid is 1 Bass Pro Drive, Memphis, TN 38105. You’ll find the entrance to the Big Cypress Sky High Ride in the middle of the Pyramid (you can’t miss it).
Free things to do in Memphis: Beale Street Landing and Memphis Riverside Parks Neighborhood
And if you’re looking for free things to do in Memphis, check out Beale Street Landing and Big River parks in Memphis to round out Day 2 of your perfect itinerary. You can also find the Mississippi riverboat tours here.
- Ashburn-Coppock Park
- Butler Park
- Big River Crossing: You can actually, walk, run or bike across the one-mile Mississippi River Bridge that connects Memphis, Tenn. with West Memphis, Ark. The Big River Crossing is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Chickasaw Heritage Park
- E.H. Crump Park
- Martyrs Park
- Tom Lee Park
- Vance Park
Other popular Memphis parks include:
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Riverside Park
- Greenbelt Park
- Mud Island Park (also the location for the Memphis sign)
- Fourth Bluff Park
Check the Riverside Parks website for locations, hours, rules and more.
Day 3: Top Things to do in Memphis, TN
Here are the best places to visit on Day 3 of your perfect itinerary in Memphis, Tenn.
Sun Studio: The birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Memphis, TN
One of my favorite things to do in Memphis was taking the Sun Studio tour – the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. And that’s not just a gimmicky marketing line. This is where it all began. And Sun Studio is still making its marks in music history. I was surprised to learn that Sun Studio is not just a museum. It still serves as a recording studio for artists at night. How cool is that?
While small, the intimate Sun Studio museum packs in a lot of great music history. A tour guide provides behind-the-scenes stories and transports you back to the 1950s where music legends like Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Ray Orbison, and more made history. In fact, you can stand in the very same spot where Elvis Presley recorded.
Please note that tickets are only sold in person the day of the tour, which are once an hour at the bottom of the hour (e.g., 10:30 a.m.). And because of its size, tours are limited to 25 guests. So I highly recommend arriving at Sun Studio early to get your tickets. And while my ticket was complimentary courtesy of Memphis Travel and Sun Studio, my opinion is always my own. And my opinion is that you must visit Sun Studio.
See my related post: Guide to Sun Studio
Where is Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee located?
Sun Studio is located at 706 Union Avenue at the corner of Union and Marshall in Memphis, Tenn.
Peabody Hotel Duck March
The Peabody Hotel Duck March tradition goes back to the 1930s. Every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. five North American mallards march through the lobby in front of the fountain.
Note that the Peabody Hotel Duck March is currently only offered to hotel guests at this time.
Where is Peabody Hotel Duck March in Memphis, Tennessee located?
The Peabody Hotel Duck March takes place in the hotel lobby. The Peabody Memphis is located at 149 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
A Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program developed by the National Museum of American History, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is one of the best music history museums. I loved the self-paced audio tour to learn all about the origins and evolution of American rock and roll and soul music.
You can access more than 300 minutes of music history as well as a library of more than 100 songs. You’ll begin your rock and soul journey watching a documentary film before making your way around the seven galleries of rock and soul exhibits and stories.
Again, while the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Memphis Travel provided me tickets, opinions are always my own. See my related post: Guide to Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum
Where is the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum located?
You’ll find the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum on the historic Beale Street tucked away next to the FedExForum where the Memphis Grizzlies play. The address for Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is 191 Beale Street, Memphis, Tenn.
Beale Street Entertainment District
Of course, you may find yourself on Beale Street well before Day 3. And maybe every day and every night. This itinerary of the top things to do in Memphis, Tenn. is agile and scalable. This means you have the flexibility to change, add or delete any of these recommended things to do to best fit your interests, schedule and energy. Pace yourself!
Here’s a photo tour of my stroll through the Beale Street Entertainment District showcasing some of the best things to do in Memphis, Tenn.
Best places to eat in Memphis, Tenn.
Here is a list of some of the best places to eat in Memphis, Tenn.
- Arcade Restaurant – the oldest restaurant in Memphis was founded in 1919
- Corky’s – my friend recommends this place for their ribs
- Earnestine and Hazel’s – best dive bar that also claims to be haunted
- Rendezvous – must try the ribs (according to my friend – I didn’t get a chance to stop by)
- Rizzo’s – award-winning chicken pot pie and featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
- South of Beale (SOB) – their smoked Gouda mac and cheese made my best of list!
List of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee
Here is an alphabetic list of the top things to do Memphis, Tenn. so you can create your own perfect itinerary for one day, 48 hours, a long weekend or a week.
- Beale Street Entertainment District
- Blues Hall of Fame
- Central Station Hotel
- Graceland: The Home of Elvis Presley
- Memphis Main Street Trolley
- Memphis Railroad & Trolley Museum
- Memphis Riverside Parks
- Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
- National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
- Peabody Hotel Duck March
- Sky High Ride at Bass Pro Shop / Memphis Pyramid
- Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- Sun Studio: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll
There’s still so much more I’d like to experience next time as a shared experience with my husband. Memphis, Tenn. makes my list of the best emptynester and couples getaways!
Have you been to Memphis? Any hidden gems for me to experience the next time I visit? Please let me know in the comments! And please sign up for my newsletter as I’ll start publishing even more detailed posts and reviews of all my favorite things to do in Memphis, Tennessee.