13 Things To See and Do in Memphis

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  • Get out on the Mississippi River with the Memphis Riverboats Sightseeing Tours or Dinner and Music Cruises.
  • History buffs shouldn’t miss the National Civil Rights Museum or the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum.
  • Music lovers will want to see the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, Graceland and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.
  • Families will enjoy the Memphis Zoo and Shelby Farms Park.
  • Other key attractions include the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Memphis Botanic Garden.

Memphis is a city in southwestern Tennessee famous for the influential blues, soul and rock music that originated there. Today, the city of 628,000 people is still a bustling hub for the music scene. Located on the Mississippi River, Memphis has something for everyone — even if you aren’t a music lover. Numerous historic landmarks dot the cityscape, and nearby outdoor activities provide the opportunity to get in touch with nature. Follow along for everything to see and do on your upcoming trip to Memphis.

National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum provides 260 artifacts, more than 40 films, oral histories and interactive media detailing five centuries of civil rights history. All of this is housed in the Lorraine Motel, where prominent Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The moving experience will take most people about an hour and a half, but feel free to take as much time as you need. The museum regularly hosts informative events, so check the calendar before planning your trip.

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Stax Museum of American Soul Music

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music sits on the original site of Stax Records Studio, which played a leading role in creating and popularizing southern soul music. Your journey starts in a careful recreation of a modest country church, which is where many say the true roots of soul music began. Other exhibits include a dance floor, historical recording equipment, old records and Isaac Hayes’s custom Cadillac El Dorado.  The museum is open until 5 pm every day except Mondays.

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Sun Studio

Often called the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Sun Studio launched the careers of legends such as Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. You can take guided tours of this legendary music studio to hear stories about the musicians who recorded here. Stories are supplemented with unique memorabilia and the ability to listen to unreleased tracks. Since tour tickets are limited and are first come, first serve, it’s recommended you book them in advance.

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Graceland

No visit to Memphis would be complete without a stop at Graceland, the famous 120-acre home of Elvis. Guided audio tours are narrated by John Stamos, best known for his role as the Elvis-loving Uncle Jesse on ‘Full House’ Tours take you through the renowned jungle room to see the infamous pink Cadillac and the King’s astounding record collection. Elvis himself is buried on the property, and the venue has a rotating calendar of events.

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Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art

The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art is 24,000 square feet, housing five permanent art galleries. Three of these galleries are dedicated to Asian art dating back as far as the Qing Dynasty of China, which lasted from 1644 until 1912. One gallery features contemporary Judaic art installations, while the final gallery serves as a Holocaust memorial. Audio and written tours are available free to those with sight or hearing impairment so they still get the full experience of this art museum.

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Memphis Zoo

If you’re looking for something family-friendly and aimed more at children during your visit, the Memphis Zoo is a must-see. The Memphis Zoo houses more than 4,500 animals on about 70 acres, with their most popular attraction being the giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le. You can also see elephants, tigers, Komodo dragons, polar bears, penguins and hippos during your visit. If you’re up for splurging a bit, they have VIP Animal Encounters where you’re able to get up close and personal with creatures like the wallabies. There are also several dining options available on-site, so your family can feel free to make a day of it.

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Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Music lovers and history buffs alike shouldn’t miss the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This Smithsonian Institute is dedicated to offering visitors a comprehensive Memphis music experience, from humble beginnings to a thriving industry hub. You’ll be taken on a one-of-a-kind journey from the rural field hollers and sharecroppers of the 1930s through the emergence of local influential record companies. Learn how the area’s rock and soul music influenced music around the globe.

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Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

Take a step back to a very different time in history by visiting the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. The museum is located in a 19th-century house originally owned by Jacob Burkle, who was a part of the antislavery movement in the Memphis area. Visitors can explore the secret passages once used by people fleeing north. Although the museum is small and can be a bit crowded at times, it’s packed with historic artifacts and information.

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Shelby Farms Park

Get outside and explore nature with the whole family at Shelby Farms Park. The park features over 4,500 acres of green space with 10.65 miles of urban trails and 20 bodies of water. You can hike, bike, run or enjoy experiencing Tennessee’s flora and fauna. There’s also plenty to offer the youngest family members with two distinct play areas. The Woodland Discovery Playground was designed by kids for kids. The Water Play Sprayground features geysers, interactive spray jets and a water tunnel for cooling off while having fun.

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Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is Mississippi’s largest museum, with exhibits showcasing more than 9,000 pieces. The oldest work dates back to the 14th century, and the newest pieces are modern. Outdoor attractions include sculptures and fountains, while the museum maintains a rotating collection of temporary exhibits. Be sure to check the calendar before planning your trip to see what temporary exhibits or events are going on.. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday but is open every other day.

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Memphis Botanic Garden

At the Memphis Botanic Garden, you’ll find 30 specialty gardens spread across 96 acres of outdoor bliss. Popular gardens include the Asian Garden, Iris Garden and Daffodil Hill. A few of the spectacular plants you might see here (depending on the season) include witch hazel, quince, Japanese camellias, redbuds, tulips, hyacinth, dogwood and Yoshino cherry trees. There are often concerts, events, programs and classes available on-site, so check the calendar before your visit. Children under two are admitted free. You should book your tickets in advance to ensure availability.

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Memphis Riverboats Sightseeing Tours

The 90-minute sightseeing tours by Memphis Riverboats shouldn’t be missed by history buffs or nature lovers. The narrated tour meanders up and down the historic Mississippi River, slowly going past key attractions and areas of interest. While floating down the river, you’ll learn about the history of the river and the local area, including the impressive story of the river itself. Although walk-ins are allowed, reservations are highly recommended as these tours sell out fast.

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Memphis Riverboats Dinner and Music Cruises

Another popular offering by Memphis Riverboats is the 2-hour Dinner and Music Cruise. You shouldn’t miss this if you’re looking for a relaxing evening on the water. Your ticket includes the ride, food, drinks and entertainment from the house band, which plays a medley of blues, jazz and R&B. The only thing not included in your ticket is alcohol, but you can purchase it from the bar at an extra cost. You should reserve in advance to secure your place.

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Chelsea Hammond

Chelsea Hammond

Chelsea Hammond is a content creator and marketer with over a decade of experience. She studied towards a bachelor's in English with a minor in media analysis at Arizona State University and received multiple marketing certifications from HubSpot Academy.

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