Music is the pulse of Memphis and the reason why most visitors come to the city. Still, blues, funk, soul, country, and rock are deeply entwined with the history of civil rights and social change in the United States. White farmers brought country music, black workers brought the blues, and their synthesis resulted in a mixture of contemporary musical styles. Today, most visitors make the Memphis pilgrimage to see Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley and one of the most deliciously tacky spots in the US. There’s plenty to do after you’ve paid your respects to the King; unusual museums, fantastic ribs, and live music are just some of the reasons you might want to stay a few days.
Downtown, named avenues run east-west, and numbered streets run north-south. Madison Avenue divides north and south addresses. Two main thoroughfares, Poplar and Union Avenues, run east to west; Second and Third Street are the major north-south routes downtown. I-240 and I-55 encircle the city. Riverside Drive takes you to US 61, which becomes Elvis Presley Boulevard and leads south straight to Graceland. Midtown, east of downtown, is home to a funky music scene and gay venues and is a break from the tourist attractions (and tourist traps) of Beale Street.
For rock and roll fans, no visit to Memphis is complete without a visit to Sun Studio, where rock and roll was conceived. For Elvis fans, the best strategy for visiting Elvis Presley’s home is to know what you want to see before you go—it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the crowds once you’re there. And for art fans, the Brooks Museum of Art, in the southwest corner of Overton Park, east of downtown, showcases a diverse collection of paintings and decorative art and features visiting exhibits throughout the year.
Memphis has so much to see – we’ve narrowed it all down for you so you can make sure to hit the best it has to offer. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
In Memphis, barbecue is as common as rhinestone-studded jumpsuits; the city even hosts the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in May. Don’t fret if gnawing on ribs isn’t your thing—Memphis has plenty of other Southern restaurants with down-home favorites like fried chicken, catfish, chitlins, and grits.
By week, Beale St. is a great place to enjoy a quiet beer, but come the weekend, you’ll find people cartwheeling down the street. While some bars are frequented by a spring-break-style crowd and feature music that is more L.A. than Memphis, older (and pricier) standbys feature the local music that made Beale St. famous.
For a collegiate climate, try the Highland Street strop near Memphis State University. The city’s gay bars are in Midtown; take the Main St. trolley down Madison to the end of the line by J-Wag’s and progress from there. This area can be unsafe after dark. Ask any bar to call you a cab to your next place.
Just as things are starting to heat up in the South, the legendary Memphis in May celebration hits the city, continuing throught the month with concerts, art exhibits, food contests, and sporting events. One such event is the Beale Street Music Festival featuring some of the biggest names from a range of musical genres. There’s also the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony, a concert by the river by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.