If you’ve never traveled to the mid-South, then you’re overdue for a visit to Memphis to discover the charm and culture that put this Mississippi River town at No. 6 on the Fodor’s Go List 2018. That’s pretty heady stuff, since it’s alongside Morocco, the Cook Islands and Croatia in the Top 10 of 52 destinations, and was the only American city at the top – but don’t take their word for it, go see the city for yourself.
It’s a city that feeds the soul, with wonderful cuisine to feed the body too. While most visitors won’t miss Beale Street nightlife and a trip to Graceland Mansion, the home of the late Elvis Presley, there are plenty of attractions in and near the city. It’s easy to get to, and compares favorably with other cities when it comes to cost. If you want a break from flying and can travel from either Chicago or the Big Easy, the Amtrak “City of New Orleans” route allows for taking in the scenery while going right into Memphis.
When it comes to accommodations, there’s probably no hotel that’s as well known as The Peabody. This historic four-star hotel is right downtown in the heart of the action, with an elegance that’s right-sized for the city. Well-appointed but not stuffy, it’s famous for the lobby ducks that march to the fountain. Yet there’s no shortage of high-end options including the Guest House at Graceland, and plenty of rooms across Memphis to fit any budget so that you’ll have a great home base while taking it all in.
Elvis bought Graceland in 1957, but the magic hasn’t faded and some 20 million visitors arrive each year to tour a home kept precisely as it was when he lived there. Last year, a new 200,000 square foot Elvis Presley’s Memphis opened across the street from Graceland, with a museum, live entertainment hall, a restaurant and shopping. Music fans will also want to visit Sun Studio, where Elvis launched his career. If you’re going to see that ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue, there’s a shuttle from the Graceland complex.
Memphis is a Mecca of music, from the more humble surroundings of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church pastored by the Rev. Al Green, to the monument that is the Museum of Rock and Soul on Beale Street. The museum offers a guided walking tour of notable spots that give a nod to blues and soul, but also celebrate Ida B. Wells, the American Negro Baseball League and other icons of the civil rights heritage.
Yet nowhere in Memphis is that heritage more treasured than on Mulberry Street, where the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is located. It was there in Room 305 that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed in 1968, and on the balcony that he was fatally shot on the evening of April 4. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the King assassination, and all eyes will be on Memphis as the nation remembers the legacy of the African American civil rights icon – so it’s also an exceptional and historic moment for visiting the museum, with an impressive array of exhibits and special events planned. They include a bell ringing ceremony observed at 6:01 p.m., shared by other U.S. cities from coast to coast.
If you can’t make it in April, consider a Memphis visit in May. Not only is the city in bloom, but it’s prime time festival season. The Beale Street Music Festival is from May 4 through 6 and perfect for a weekend getaway, but a “Memphis in May” international festival continues with offerings throughout the month. If it’s the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest you’re after, book your trip for May 16 through 19.
Of course, downtown nightlife and exceptional restaurants are available year-round, so anytime can be the perfect time to visit. Nor does your trip need to center on the STAX Museum, B.B. King’s blues club and the (always arguably) best Central BBQ barbecue restaurant, depending on who’s claiming bragging rights. Memphis is home to botanical gardens, a zoo, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and more.
There’s also much of the city committed to greenspace, and Memphis makes the most of its prime real estate along the riverfront. From outdoor events at Beale Street Landing – including riverboat dockings and cruises – to Tom Lee Park, there’s much to do and see. The NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies call the city home, and RiverFit, the Memphis Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail, provides six fitness and exercise stations, stretching supports, two sand volleyball courts, two bluff-length staircases and a soccer field.
Chances are that when you book a trip to Memphis, you’ll have more to experience than you’ll actually have time for. That’s OK, because Memphis is above all a warm and friendly city and they’ll welcome you to come back for more.