When people say music heals the soul, what they’re really saying is – spend a weekend in Memphis, Tennessee!
Synonymous with blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley, this charming town doesn’t just burst at its musical seams. Eat your way across town for a delicious dose of Cajun and Creole food, and some of that Southern hospitality.
Although it’s a relatively young place, having been founded in 1819, it has witnessed significant historical upchucks like the Civil Rights Movement. Do visit museums and historical sites over your Memphis weekend; there’s plenty to see and do!
Saturday in Memphis
Saturday morning in Memphis
As you drive into Memphis, stop by the home of a local legend: Elvis Presley. Located slightly away from the downtown cluster, Graceland opens at 9AM in morning welcome. We can only dream of owning a house at the age of 22 (the age Elvis bought it) – but pay homage to ‘The King’ with a guided tour of the estate. The famous Jungle Room really is something!
There are several cafés and museums across the street too, including one for Elvis’ classic car collection.
If you have a weekend in Memphis you absolutely have to go to Graceland. Just walking in the steps of Elvis felt amazing. Make sure to check out his private plane!
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Don’t be fooled by the exterior of Stax Museum. Styled after old record shops and built on the site of Stax Records; the museum looks straight out of time. It’s a great introduction to the origins of Memphis soul music, which produced big names like Carla Thomas and Otis Redding.
Over 2,000 artefacts, interactive displays and films will have you dancing through the rooms, literally. Apart from the impressive album display wall, you’ll be blown away by the excessive 24-carat gold trim on Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac Eldorado – I certainly was!
The skinny, brown façade of Sun Studio has seen so many musical legends roll in! Having signed artists like Elvis Presley, Jackie Brenston, Johnny Cash and more, this 1950 studio is a must-visit for any weekend in Memphis. Sign up for a tour to hear behind-the-scenes stories and see the equipment that recorded epic songs.
Main Street of Memphis
Stroll down the Main Street for your pick of lunch. The vintage trolley is a great sightseeing tool, but what you really want is to pop into the locally-owned restaurants. Photo ops are scattered around too; murals and sculptures are all over the place! If you have time, give the Blues Hall of Fame a quick whirl.
Saturday afternoon in Memphis
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Continue into the afternoon with yet another musical stop: the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. It’s more of a traditional museum compared to Stax Museum, delving into the grittier bits of music history; explaining how pioneer musicians broke through racial and economic barriers back in the day.
I recommend grabbing the audio tour guide on the way in; over 100 songs are peppered between interesting tidbits. You can easily spend an hour or two wandering through the 7 galleries, especially if you’re a fan of instruments and costumes.
The FedExForum is a sharp turn away from the music theme but well-worth a quick glimpse if nothing else. Right next door, I suggest popping in to admire this arena if you’re a basketball fan. While it mostly hosts basketball tournaments, you can also catch ice hockey games, concerts and family-friendly entertainment here.
National Civil Rights Museum
Somber, uplifting, educational – the National Civil Rights Museum is the highlight of any weekend in Memphis. Films, interviews, artifacts and listening posts provide insight on the struggle for civil rights; spanning from times of slavery to the Civil War, to the rise of Jim Crow. The riveting tale is easy to follow and one that everyone should listen to.
When you’re done inside, stop for a moment of silence outside Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. had his final moments.
Mississippi River Riverboats
As the sun sets, slow down your pace a little with a Paddlewheeler ride. The sightseeing cruise lasts 90 minutes, just long enough to give you some Memphis history. You’ll catch sight of certain Memphis landmarks along the way; see how many you can name!
Saturday evening in Memphis
You’ve probably caught a glimpse of Beale Street earlier in the day on your weekend in Memphis, but it’s a whole new world at night. Return after sunset to see the neon signage light up – it morphs into a lively spot for dinner and entertainment! The last juke joint, Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall, and BB King’s Blues Club offer live music over food.
You can’t miss the blaring sign of this historic venue! It’s a beautiful post-dinner destination where creativity reigns. Catch a Broadway show, a concert, comedy skit or other exciting events lined up through the year.
Sunday in Memphis
Sunday morning in Memphis
Your weekend in Memphis doesn’t have to be contained to downtown. Spend Sunday morning at Overton Park, a spacious 342-acre estate in Midtown Memphis. There are comfortable trails that link up Rainbow Lake to Veterans Plaza; it also houses Memphis Zoo, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and a 9-hole golf course.
Take your pick of the lot but I recommend the following two attractions.
Start your day bright and early with a walk through Memphis Zoo. Opened in 1906, it now houses over 500 species! What make it such a popular attraction are the resident pandas; Memphis Zoo is one of four American zoos that feature them. It’s not one of the biggest zoos in the world, but it’s home to some incredible animals.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Since you can easily spend hours at the zoo, there’s only one other place to visit in the morning. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The building itself is a Tennessee relic; founded in 1916, the Brooks Museum is the oldest and largest in state. Featuring over 10,000 art works, its variety is very impressive!
You can enjoy Renaissance pieces, works from Ancient Greece and Rome, Native American paintings and contemporary approaches.
Sunday afternoon in Memphis
Dixon Gallery & Gardens
Visiting in the spring? Dixon Gallery & Gardens bloom especially pretty during this season, although it’s a great botanic garden year round. You’ll be blown away by how nature, architecture and art blend together on your weekend in Memphis.
The grounds are well-maintained, feature tended paths that wind between trees and flower patches alike. Sculptures and fountains pepper the walkways for variety. Make sure to spend some time in the museum as well; the paintings are a carefully curated collection of Monet, Rodin and Degas pieces.
Shelby Farms Park
If you haven’t had enough of the outdoors, Shelby Farms Park will spoil you with acres of hiking trails, kayaking, adventure rope courses and even horseback riding. One of the largest urban parks in the country, it’s a weekend Memphis special. Spend the rest of your afternoon exploring the outdoors before grabbing dinner at one of its two restaurants.
Sunday Evening in Memphis
Malco Summer Drive-In
Not too far away is a rare find – an outdoor drive-in theatre that’s still operational.
Round off your Memphis weekend with some cult classics like Jaws or an Alfred Hitchcock film. Check out their website to find the best movie for you.
Restaurants in Memphis to visit
Visitors in Memphis this weekend (or any weekend really) have plenty of great Memphis restaurants to choose from. You can expect the regular Southern fare – ribs, smoked sausage, pork shoulders and everything BBQ. But don’t limit yourself!
Traditional ethnic cuisines have made a home in this town, so make sure your weekend in Memphis is flavoured with variety.
- Arcade Restaurant – The oldest diner in Memphis, it’s all about 1950s neon signs and milkshakes. Breakfast food is guaranteed to be good; their sandwiches are pretty sweet too!
- Alcenia’s Soul Food – If you’re seeking homey comfort, Alcenia’s is the perfect choice. Friendly hugs and homemade food are served together; the owner personally cooks Southern comfort eats like catfish and meatloaf.
- Elwood’s Shack – This Memphis restaurant is the epitome of humble, servicing at picnic tables in parking lots. The menu, however, is extremely generous! Some recommendations include its grilled beef franks, blue cheese jalapeno slaw, fish tacos and a stuffed biscuit sandwich.
- Blues City Café – Food is good for the soul and so is blues music. This café combines juke joint and eatery to deliver both simultaneously. Definitely a Beale Street classic.
- Dyer’s on Beale – This popular diner brings the greasiest, best burgers in state. In fact, they deep-fry their burgers and fries with the same grease used over a century.
- The Beauty Shop – Beauty shop turned restaurant, this swanky eatery still features the 1950s washing sinks, hair dryers and mod-style décor! Enjoy Southern cuisine with an international twist, like their cosmopolitan brunch and daily crepe specials.
- Gu’s World Famous Fried Chicken – Crispy is the name of Gu’s famous chicken. It’s a classic hole-in-the-wall shop that locals love.
- Maciel’s Taco Shop – Spicy, shrimp tacos, chicken chipotle soup, made-to-order tortas and more Mexican street food tempt you at Maciel’s Taco Shop! Choose between its casual café location and the colourful bar-patio branch on Highland Strip.
Your weekend in Memphis
So, hope this has given you a few ideas on what to do in Memphis this weekend! Or, a Memphis weekend in the future when we can finally get over to the USA!
Graceland was incredible by the way.