Known for Elvis, BBQ, the Blues, and Rock’n’roll, Memphis is a destination for foodies and music fans from all over the world. But whether you’ve just arrived in town or have lived here your entire life, everyone agrees there’s a ton of things to do in Memphis.
From exploring nature in the state parks and along the Mississippi River to digging into the city’s musical history of jazz, soul, blues, rock, and more, here are some of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee.
Why We Love to Travel
So why do we love to travel in the first place? Getting to experience cultures that are different from our own or eating cuisine that’s different than what we’re used to are amazing ways to grow as individuals and learn about others. Seeing how other people live helps us keep an open mind and even gather inspiration to bring back into our daily lives.
Travel is also a great way to get away from the day-to-day. Breaking up our routines with a fun trip definitely recharges the batteries and helps prevent us from getting burnt out.
But again – you don’t have to go far from home to get this perspective! Sometimes the best adventures are just around the corner.
Benefits of Traveling Locally
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
- More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and local parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
- Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
- Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
- Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
- More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being close by definitely has its benefits.
Explore Local: Memphis, Tennessee
Whether you’re looking for things to do in Memphis during the day, or ready to stay out all night, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do and places to explore in Memphis.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
State Parks in Memphis
If you’re looking for an adventure out in nature, there are several state parks in and around Memphis that are ready to be explored. And while there aren’t any national parks in Memphis, these state parks don’t disappoint.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is 13 miles north of Memphis along the Mississippi River. This state park is perfect for hiking and biking with over 20 miles of trails. If you like fishing and boating, there’s a launch ramp both on the Mississippi River as well as the 125-acre Poplar Tree Lake. There’s also RV and tent camping available if you want to stay the night.
Fort Pillow Sate Park is located on the Chickasaw Bluffs and overlooks the Mississippi River. Fort Pillow itself has a reconstructed inner fort and well-preserved breastworks. The fort was originally built by Confederate troops but abandoned during the Civil War as the Union Navy advanced down the Mississippi River. There are 20 miles of hiking trails through the State Park, as well as boating and fishing on Fort Pillow Lake and Sullivan’s Pond. There’s also RV and tent camping available.
T.O. Fuller State Park is the only state park within Memphis’s city limits, and it’s brimming with history. It was the second state park in the USA that was open to African Americans and is named in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller who devoted his life to educating and empowering African Americans. In 1940, a prehistoric village was discovered in the park and was developed into the Chucalissa Indian Village, which includes preserved excavations and a modern museum. There’s plenty of room here to hike, bird watch, and swim in the Olympic sized pool. There’s also RV and tent camping.
Best Hiking Trails
While all of the state parks have excellent hiking trails, they’re not the only places to hike or bike. Here are some of the best hiking trails in Memphis.
Tour De Wolf Trail: The Tour De Wolf Trail is part of the Wolf River Nature Area and a fun beginner and intermediate hiking and biking trail. It’s a 5.6 mile loop that has half shade and half-open areas. The dirt trail can get muddy, but people love running and biking it.
Stanky Creek Trail: Located in Nesbit Park, the Stanky Creek Trail is a 9 mile loop that is great for trail running and mountain biking. It’s a moderate trail through the woods and it’s super convenient to get to.
Big River Trail: The Big River Trail starts at the trailhead at Big River Crossing and consists of 70 miles of trails along the Mississippi River’s levee system. It’s a cross country trail that goes from Memphis, Tennessee to Marianna, Arkansas and the trail can be accessed at several different points.
Shelby Farms Greenline: The Shelby Farms Greenline is a paved 10.65 mile urban trail that connects Midtown Memphis through Shelby Farms to Cordova. What once was an unused railroad trail is now a favorite biking and hiking trail through town.
Best Restaurants in Memphis
Lucky for you, Memphis knows its food! We’ve found some of the best Southern cooking, BBQ joints, and more to satisfy your hunger.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
For that true southern flavor, there’s not much better than Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. This local, family-owned restaurant may have locations all over the United States, but their hot and spicy fried chicken is a Memphis staple. Still served with white bread like it originally was over 60 years ago, Gus’s is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
Those looking for an amazing bowl of Ramen should check out Lucky Cat. The menu is a nice mix of ramen and small plates, and they have a curated craft beer and cocktail list, including a selection of both sake and Japanese whiskey.
The Barb-B-Q Shop
With Memphis being the BBQ capital of the world, we expect everyone to have their personal favorite BBQ restaurant. In fact, you could easily have your own best BBQ restaurant competition and not even scratch the surface of all the amazing places around town. Just be sure to include The Barb-B-Q Shop in your lineup. Not only do they serve award-winning ribs, but you can also buy their Dancing Pigs product line of sauces and dry rub so you can enjoy the sauce at home.
Imagine Vegan Café
If you’re looking for a vegan option in the middle of a BBQ city, you’ll love Imagine Vegan Café. Their menu may say things like chicken tenders and hot dogs, but it’s all made with vegan substitutes without any animal products or by-products in anything. It’s a purely vegan restaurant from their appetizers to their incredible desserts!
When you’re craving soul food, be sure to stop by Alcenia’s. From her famous “Cha Cha” cabbage and other preserves to the menu items handmade from scratch, this is some of the best cooking in town, all served in a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Inspire Community Café
Not only does Inspire Community Café serve delicious smoothies and entrees all day, but they also are committed to providing for their local community and donate part of their profits to nonprofit organizations that give back. They also offer many vegetarian options for lunch and dinner such as their veggie chili or southwest back bean and veggie bowl.
Maciel’s Tortas & Tacos
For some of the best Mexican food in Memphis try Maciel’s Tortas & Tacos. Located in downtown Memphis, as the name suggests they specialize in fresh and delicious tacos and tortas. They’re both affordable and authentic, and the perfect place to grab a Mexican meal.
Catherine & Mary’s
If you’re craving Italian, swing by Catherine & Mary’s for Tuscan and Sicilian cuisine. Started by James Beard Nominated Chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, this Italian restaurant is inspired by their grandmothers’ cooking and the local southern ingredients. It also has a fun wine menu and cocktail list.
Fun Things to Do in Memphis
You don’t need to look far for fun things to do in Memphis. This city has activities and adventures around every corner.
For Kids and Families
While it might be known for music and food, there are plenty of things to do in Memphis with kids as well.
Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park
Designed specifically for kids, the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park has been called one of the coolest playgrounds in the world and has earned awards for innovation. It features 6 play “nests” that are each focused on a different type of play where kids can climb, slide, swing, climb, and build sandcastles to their hearts’ content. It’s one of the best places for kids to explore in Memphis.
Children’s Museum of Memphis
The perfect place for kids to explore and play, the Children’s Museum of Memphis has all sorts of hands-on exhibits, programs, and camps to entertain children. From the Lego area to the rock climbing wall to learning about how air moves, kids can spend all day having fun.
My Big Backyard at Memphis Botanic Garden
This is the backyard we all wish we had as kids. My Big Backyard at the Memphis Botanic Garden is one of the best things to do with kids in Memphis. It’s full of playhouses, musical instruments, a treehouse, and all sorts of plants and flowers for kids to explore. As part of the Memphis Botanic Garden, admission to My Big Backyard is included in the ticket price.
Cheap Things to Do in Memphis
If you’re looking for cheap things to do in Memphis, we’ve got you covered. The city is bursting with plenty of activities that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum shares and explores the culture and experiences of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, visitors can learn about the historic milestones and present day challenges of social justice and human rights through interactive and immersive exhibits and historic collections. Tennessee residents can visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until close, and the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Know as the birthplace of Rock’n’roll, Sun Studio is where the legends B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and many others were discovered. Today this museum shares the stories of Memphis and music. Full of memorabilia from music legends across blues, country, and rock and roll, the studio offers 45 minute guided tours for only $15 per adult and $13 for students.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Located in the former Stax Records, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is one of the few museums dedicated to soul music. Here you can see vintage footage from not only previous Stax Records artists, but also soul artists from other labels such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, and many others. You’ll also find original instruments, stage costumes, photographs and videos of previous Stax Records artists and interactive exhibits that teach about the artists who helped shape American music.
Don’t wear yourself out exploring during the day, because Memphis comes alive at night! Below are some of the top things to do in Memphis at night.
Explore Beale Street
We couldn’t talk about Memphis without mentioning Beale Street. The endless bars, restaurants, and live music venues means there’s always something going on in this entertaining part of town. And if you’re in the mood for shopping, Beale Street has a fantastic variety of independent and eclectic shops for you to explore.
Speaking of shows and music on Beale Street, be sure to grab a ticket to one of the shows at the historic Orpheum Theatre. This 1920s building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and in addition to the gorgeous architecture and design, it hosts all sorts of live performances from Broadway and ballet to musical acts and operas.
Overton Square Entertainment District
If you’re looking for another great nightlife spot, try Midtown’s Overton Square Entertainment District. Filled with great restaurants and shopping, you’ll find plenty to do. And if you’re looking for a live theater performance on this side of town, check out Playhouse on the Square.
Free Things to Do in Memphis
Whether you’re looking for things to do in Memphis this weekend or any day, it doesn’t need to cost a ton. In fact, there are plenty of free things to do around town.
The Art Museum of The University of Memphis
The Art Museum of The University of Memphis is a great little museum that’s free to the public and is a perfect escape on a hot day. They have 2 permanent collections, the Ancient Egyptian collection and the African collection which displays a variety of art pieces and artifacts. There’s also rotating exhibits of contemporary art.
South Main Historic District
Spend the day (or night!) exploring South Main Historic District in downtown. There’s always something going on, from the Memphis Farmers Market in spring, to Trolley Night which happens the last Friday of every month. Trolley Night turns the street into a block party with the shops, galleries, and restaurants staying open late and lots of live music. This is also where the National Civil Rights Museum is located, as well as the Orpheum Theatre and many excellent restaurants.
Watch the Peabody Ducks
Fun for both kids and adults, at some point you have to watch the ducks march through The Peabody hotel. Every day at 11 am the ducks march through the lobby of The Peabody to the fountain, and then at 5 pm they march back out to their home on the rooftop. This almost 90 year old tradition is free to watch, but come a bit early to grab a spot. It’s one of the iconic things to do in Memphis, and it’ll bring a smile to your face.
Spas in Memphis
Whether you’re craving some me-time or are looking for things for couples to do, a Memphis spa day might be just the ticket.
Living Health Day Spa
This boutique day spa offers massages, facials, body wraps, and waxing services in a serene environment for you to be pampered. Living Healthy Day Spa is conveniently located and the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
The Spa Midtown
The Spa Midtown is a day spa that provides massages, body treatments, facials, and medi spa treatments to those looking for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Best Gyms & Yoga Studios
Memphis has some fantastic gyms and yoga studios where you can work out in comfort.
Bikram Yoga East Memphis
Bikram Yoga East Memphis is a yoga studio that focuses on hot and Bikram yoga. They offer classes suited for both beginners and advanced students in a welcoming environment.
Envision Memphis offers indoor, outdoor, and virtual classes to help you stay in shape. They provide individual and group training and private classes with experienced trainers, so you can get the support you need to meet your fitness goals.
Keep your fitness on track with InsideOut Gym. They offer a variety of classes such as cardio, spinning, Tabata, and rowing to help you stay in shape.
Day Trips in Memphis
While there’s plenty to explore in Memphis, Tennessee, sometimes you just need to get out of town for a bit. Luckily, there are some great places nearby that are perfect for a day trip.
Only 3 hours from Memphis sits Nashville, the Country Music Capital of the World. You can see a show at the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Auditorium and catch live music at many of the bars and restaurants. Country fans should also be sure to stop by the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a bit of a drive, but a great weekend adventure.
Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park
Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park is only a short drive away and is worth visiting. The site contains Native American ceremonial and burial mounds that are believed to date to the 1500s. You can walk to the mounds on walking paths, and there’s a museum where you can see excavated artifacts and learn about the Woodland Period Native Americans who built them.
If Graceland isn’t enough for local Elvis fans, head over to Tupelo, Mississippi to view Elvis Presley’s Birthplace. Here you can see the place where he was born, a museum dedicated to his childhood, the chapel where he fell in love with music, and enjoy the Elvis Presley Park. But to really see everything, follow the 13 stop Elvis Presley Driving Trail through town, and you’ll pass by all the important places from his younger years.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Memphis that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Memphis? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.