Memphis, Tennessee

The focal points of Memphis are Beale Street, the hotel where Martin Luther King was killed and Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. Let this travel guide prepare you for a one or two-day excursion to this wonderful city along the Mississippi River.

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1 Memphis, Home of the Blues in Tennessee

Many popular recording artists from the 1950s and 1960s began their careers in Memphis. The seemingly endless list includes Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, Elvis Presley. Paving the way before them were such greats as W. C. Handy (Father of the Blues) and B. B. King (King of the Blues). No wonder the city’s nickname is Home of the Blues. This music heritage is just one reason to visit Memphis. Use this travel guide to identify the top attractions to visit.

Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Ave & S 4th St, Memphis, TN 38103

2 FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

FedExForum is located in the heart of downtown right off of Beale Street. The sports arena is home to the Memphis Grizzlies, the local NBA basketball team. The 18,000 seat, round venue also hosts college basketball, hockey, boxing and concerts. Since opening day in 2004, the naming rights have belonged to Memphis-based FedEx.

191 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103

3 Famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee

There are three types of Memphis tourists. 1) Those who visit Beale Street during the day. 2) Those who visit Beale Street at night. 3) Those who do both and often. As the sign declares, this is the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. If you did not walk along this famous 1.8 mile stretch, then you really did not visit Memphis.

154 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103

4 Rum Boogie Cafe Mural on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee

Since 1985, the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street has served rum with delicious catfish, ribs, gumbo and red beans while their toe-tapping patrons listen to live blues bands. Their motto is, “Eat, drink, boogie and repeat.” When you go, check out this Rum Boogie Cafe mural in the alley. Then, go inside to see their collection of 150 guitars.

182 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103

5 Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee

The Grand Opera House stood here from 1890 until destroyed by a fire in 1923. The once opulent venue for vaudeville was replaced by the Orpheum Theatre in 1928. This was the year after The Jazz Singer was released, the first full-length movie with synchronized sound. Subsequent talkies sparked the feverish construction of movie palaces and the Golden Age of Hollywood. This historic venue along Beale Street was designed by Cornelius and George Rapp. The Chicago architect firm designed over 400 movie palaces across the United States. After three major renovations (1982, 1996 and 2014), the Orpheum Theatre has become a popular stage for Broadway productions. In 2015, the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education opened adjacent to the Orpheum.

203 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103

6 AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee

AutoZone Park in the heart of downtown is home of the Memphis Redbirds. The name of this Minor League Baseball team hints at their affiliation. They are the Triple-A club for the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet they had a similar name – Memphis Reds – when the team was established in 1877. AutoZone Park was hailed as a stadium worthy of MLB when it opened in 2000 and was named Minor League Ballpark of the Year in 2009.

200 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

7 Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee

An unexpected surprise for fans of Neoclassical architecture is the Shelby County Courthouse. Complimenting the 17 Ionic columns in front are six marble sculptures. These seated figures are allegories for Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace and Prosperity. The courthouse anchors a cluster of civic buildings including the Central Police Station, Memphis City Hall, U.S. District Court and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Memphis Branch.

140 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

8 Lincoln American Tower in Memphis, Tennessee

The Woolworth Building in NYC was designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert and was the world’s tallest building at 792 feet when finished in 1913. This early skyscraper was the inspiration for the Lincoln American Tower, built in 1924. It shares the Beaux-Arts style yet is one third the height at 22 stories. The gleaming white high-rise is now Court Square Center. The mixed-use building features apartments, offices and retail space. The property stands on the site of a former Civil War prison.

62 N Main St, Memphis, TN 38103

9 Riverside Drive in Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis is the largest city along the Mississippi with a population of about 650,000 people. The river also defines the border between Tennessee and Arkansas. Motoring along the scenic Riverside Drive is a delight. Parallel to the roadway is the Big River Trail. The 4.5 mile easy walkway hugs the riverbank while stringing together a series of family-friendly parks. Near the northern terminus is the Tennessee Welcome Center.

24 Riverside Dr, Memphis, TN 38103

10 Mississippi Riverboats in Memphis, Tennessee

A fun and scenic attraction in Memphis is riding aboard a steamboat. Memphis Riverboats offers a 90 minute sightseeing tour and a two hour dinner cruise. Both adventures launch from Cobblestone Landing on Riverside Drive near the center of downtown. On the other side of the Wolf River Harbor is the Mud Island Amphitheater (right corner). The 5,000 seat outdoor amphitheater sponsors regular summer concerts. Next door is the Mississippi River Museum. The exhibits tell the ten millennium history of the Lower Mississippi River Valley in 18 interesting galleries. In the background is the Hernando de Soto Bridge. The double arch of the half-mile cable-stayed span earned it the nickname The M Bridge.

45 Riverside Dr, Memphis, TN 38103

11 The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee

Tennessee’s second largest city is named after Memphis, Egypt, home of the Pyramid of Djoser. The Step Pyramid was built in the 27 century BC! So, perhaps it is not surprising to see a colossal glass pyramid along the Mississippi River just north of downtown. The original plans envisioned three pyramids at two-thirds scale of the Giza Pyramid Complex near Cairo. Only one was built in 1991 as a sports arena. The Memphis Pyramid hosted basketball games and concerts until the FedExForum opened in 2004. The abandoned landmark was revitalized in 2015 as a Bass Pro Shops megastore.

1 Bass Pro Dr, Memphis, TN 38105

12 Lorraine Hotel Sign in Memphis, Tennessee

From 1945 until the late 1960s, the Lorraine Hotel was popular among visiting black entertainers when performing on nearby Beale Street. Among the famous guests were Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Count Basie and Aretha Franklin. Two record hits, Wilson Pickett’s “The Midnight Hour” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” were both written here. The Lorraine reached infamy status – along with the Ford’s Theatre and Dealey Plaza – when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

13 Assassination Scene at Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee

The western exterior of the Lorraine Hotel has changed little since 1968. Parked in the courtyard are two cars similar to those used to transport Martin Luther King (a 1968 white Cadillac) and his entourage (a 1959 Dodge Royal) to Memphis on that fateful trip. The wreath in front of room 306 marks where Martin Luther King was shot by James Earl Ray from a rooming house across the street. The single bullet came from a Remington Model 760 .30-6 caliber rifle.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

14 Student Sit-in Exhibit at Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee

The Lorraine Hotel began deteriorating after Martin Luther King was killed, went into bankruptcy in 1982 and closed in 1988. In 1991, the hotel and adjacent buildings reopened as the National Civil Rights Museum. The complex displays major milestones of the civil rights movement from the late 1940s through the late 1960s. This exhibit portrays when four college students refused to leave a Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter in North Carolina on February 1, 1960. The actions of the Greensboro Four led to similar sit-ins involving as many as 70,000 people across the south. The media attention caused Woolworth to implement a desegregation policy five months later.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

15 Freedom Riders Exhibit at Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee

Another exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the Freedom Riders. About 400 white and black activists rode buses throughout the Jim Crow South in 1961. They were protesting against separate transportation seating plus segregated restrooms and lunch counters at bus terminals. They were often challenged by angry white groups. The crescendo occurred in Anniston, Alabama. On May 14, 1961, a mob of whites cornered a Greyhound bus and threw a bomb inside causing the fuel tank to rupture. At first, they tried to trap the passengers inside. They then beat the protestors with pipes as they escaped. This burned-out hull is a replica of that horrific event. Interestingly, John Lewis, who served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives until his death in 2020, was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

16 1963 March on Washington Exhibit at Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee

Perhaps the best-known event of the civil rights movement in the 1960s is the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. An estimated 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The central themes were fair treatment, equal opportunity and better jobs for black Americans. The culmination of that significant day was Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The largely unscripted oratory lasted 16 minutes. Yet his words have been forever etched into United States history.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

17 MLK Killed on Balcony at Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee

Your visit to the Lorraine Hotel and the National Civil Rights Museum ends where Martin Luther King was shot. A morbid ache will fill your chest. You will first peer into room 306 where MLK was staying. It is frozen in time. You will see the ruffled bed, the soiled coffee cups and the filled ashtrays. Then, you will stand on the balcony where King was talking with Reverend Jesse Jackson at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968. Imagine hearing the shot ring out as King was struck by a single bullet. Picture him bleeding profusely on the spot marked by the concrete square. Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced dead an hour later. Interestingly, the hotel owner’s wife, Loree, was so distraught that she suffered a stroke. She died on the same day as King’s funeral.

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103

18 Welcome to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

Welcome to the most-visited private residence in the United States: Graceland. The former home of Elvis Presley is located about ten miles from downtown. The top attractions are touring Graceland Mansion and paying your respects at Elvis’ grave in the Meditation Garden. But you will also be bedazzled by the 1.5 million item collection of Presley memorabilia including awards, gold records, costumes, car collection, two planes and the 200,000 square foot museum Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

19 Graceland Mansion History in Memphis, Tennessee

Your anticipation will rise as you stand at the doorstep of Graceland Mansion. How exciting! But why was the Presley residence called Graceland? Did the name have a religious connotation? No. The land was originally owned by Stephen Toof, a successful commercial printer. He willed the 13.8 acre farm to his unmarried daughter, Grace Toof. Eleven years after she died in 1928, her niece Ruth Moore and husband Thomas built this 10,266 square foot Colonial Revival home. Ruth named the mansion Graceland in honor of her aunt. Elvis bought the property in 1957 (at the age of 22) for just over $100,000 and lived here for twenty years. Graceland is now owned by Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. It became a museum in 1982 and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark plus listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

20 Living Room and Music Room in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

Your tour of Graceland Mansion is enhanced with an interactive iPad programed to explain the rooms on the first floor and basement. The second floor – containing Elvis’ bedroom, office, dressing room and bathroom where he died – is closed to visitors. You begin by admiring the nearly all white living room. Behind the pair of stained-glass windows featuring peacocks is the music room. Notice the black baby grand piano. This is one of the few non-original items in the home. That was rectified in 2017 when the first piano Elvis purchased six decades earlier was returned. The 1912 instrument had been played by a long list of music greats at Ellis Auditorium before Elvis bought it in 1957. You can almost imagine him entertaining his guests on the Knabe piano.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

21 First Floor Bedroom in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

The décor of Graceland Mansion is like a time capsule from the late 1960s and early 1970’s. Other rooms you will encounter on the first floor of Graceland Mansion are the dining room, kitchen, the infamous Jungle Room and this bedroom with a purple velvet bedspread and drapes. This was the bedroom of Elvis’ parents, Vernon and Gladys, for about a year until she died in 1958. The room also accommodated Minnie Mae Presley, Elvis’ grandmother. She died at Graceland in 1980 at the age of 90. On the left is a photo of Elvis taken in 1940 when he was five years old.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

22 TV Room in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

In the basement is the enormous 28’ x 17’ TV room featuring three televisions. Elvis enjoyed watching all the major networks from the wraparound couch. The cabinet below the TVs stored his extensive record collection. Perhaps most curious is the statue of the white porcelain monkey holding an orb on the coffee table. Elvis had two similar yet smaller versions of the monkey displayed in the dining room. Other porcelain monkeys are on the floor of the Jungle Room.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

23 Pool Room in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

The pool room further displays the eccentric decorating taste of Elvis Presley. The walls and ceiling are covered in 400 yards of fabric with a matching couch. Apparently, three workmen labored ten days to create this tentlike ambiance in 1973. If you look closely at the pool table, you will see a rip in the green felt. A friend of The King’s created this tear while attempting a trick shot.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

24 Hall of Gold in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

After touring Presley’s mansion, you will enter the Trophy Building. Be prepared to be amazed, especially as you stroll down the 80 foot Hall of Gold. Lining the walls are Elvis’ gold and platinum records. He earned 71 gold, 94 platinum, 34 multi-platinum and two diamond awards for his albums and singles as of 2018, resulting from over one billion records sold (although this number has been disputed). Presley has also been inducted into all five music halls of fame.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

25 Trophy Room in Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

The Trophy Room was originally built for Elvis in the 1960s as a two-story, 2,400 square feet recreation center. The facilities included a racquetball court, gym, lockers, Jacuzzi, and a personal shower for Elvis featuring gold-plated shower heads. Among the displays are more record awards, glittering jumpsuits worn in Las Vegas and family memorabilia such as Priscilla’s wedding dress and childhood toys of Lisa Marie Presley.

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

26 Elvis Presley’s Grave at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

In 1964, Elvis Presley commissioned the Meditation Garden adjacent to Graceland Mansion and a kidney-shaped swimming pool. The garden is accented with a white-columned pergola and a fountain in the center. This tranquil setting provided Elvis with peaceful solace for years. It is now his gravesite. He was initially buried at Forest Hill Cemetery after he died on August 16, 1977. Less than two months later, his body was returned to Graceland. Also interred here are his parents, Vernon and Gladys, and his grandmother, Minnie Mae. In addition, there is a memorial to his identical twin brother Jesse who died at birth. Mourning fans still pass by the grave of Elvis Aaron Presley in tears.

3737 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

27 Elvis’ Pink Cadillac at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

The King of Rock and Roll fancied fancy cars. You can admire over 20 of his former rides – including cars, motorcycles, a dune-buggy and go-cart – at the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum at Graceland. The most famous is this 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood. Elvis purchased his first pink Cadillac in 1955 at the age of 20. The car was destroyed by fire a few months later. The replacement Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60 was blue. He soon commissioned a custom paint color called Elvis Rose. He then gave the now iconic Caddy to his mother Gladys. She appreciated the gesture but never drove the luxury, four-door sedan because she did not have a driver’s license. Before Elvis died, he bought around 200 Cadillacs and gifted most of them to family and friends.

3797 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116

28 Eclectic Shops and Bars on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee

How do you describe the Beale Street ambiance? A one-of-a-kind experience! The shops are a unique blend of fascinating boutiques. For example, Memphis Music is the world’s largest Blues specialty store. Tater Red’s Lucky Mojo and Voodoo Healing! is as odd as the name. There is also a dizzying-array of 24 bars to choose from. Most serve live music with abundant libations for a rowdy good time at night.

149 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103

29 B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee

In the mid-1940s, Riley B. King arrived in Memphis. He acquired the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy. It was later shortened to B. B. King. His illustrious, seven-decade career earned him the undisputed title of The King of the Blues. After his death in 2015, his body was paraded down Beale Street while a band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Regardless if you want to pay your respect to this musical great, or also want great music and food, plan on visiting B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street. The menu is fabulous. Their specialty is pork ribs. My recommendation is to order a full slab of dry-rub ribs. They are bone-picking delicious! Before or afterwards, visit the Memphis Music Hall of Fame across the street.

143 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103

30 The Pig on Beale in Memphis, Tennessee

This neon sign says it all: The Pig on Beale is Pork with an Attitude. Nothing fancy. Simply reasonably-priced, Memphis-style food smothered in BBQ sauce with a side of onion rings and a dollop of coleslaw. Good choice for a quick meal and a beer when you need an interlude from Memphis sightseeing.

167 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103