Blues, Soul, & Rock ‘N Roll. Fall-off-the-bone BBQ. Big city views with small town charm. Memphis is an unforgettable mixing pot of vibrant culture, delicious food, and rich history. Located alongside the stunning Mississippi River, the city boasts legendary landmarks and is home to many of music’s biggest names. No Tennessee road trip is complete without time spent in Bluff City. Here is your ultimate 3-day itinerary and travel guide for your next trip to Memphis.
Where to Stay
Downtown Memphis is essentially the heart of the city. It’s home to Beale Street, Sun Studio, the National Civil Rights Museum, and more can’t-miss attractions. You’ll be right in the middle of all the action! I recommend staying at one of the newest hotels in Memphis, and the first and only hotel on Beale, the Hyatt Centric Beale Street. Enjoy a resort style pool with cabanas, and on-site rooftop bar and restaurant, scenic views of the Mississippi River and city skyline – and be centrally located to the places that make up the essence of Memphis. The hotel is absolutely stunning and was a perfect home base for us!
How to Get Around
Memphis is a very convenient city to get around while you’re out and about. From our experience, traffic is light and there are plenty of options for getting from one place to the next. We decided against renting a car, which worked out well since most of our plans were close to downtown. However, if you do choose to rent a car, there’s plenty of parking around the city both on the street and in garages at a reasonable price. Aside from using a car, the city has tons of Bird scooters if you’d like to be more adventurous! That was our primary method of visiting new spots, which was a thrill every time! You can also glide throughout downtown on their vintage trolley cars – the daily passes are only $2! Overall, you won’t have a shortage of ways to get to your next attraction.
Things to Do
Day 1: Thursday
Lunch at the Memphis Chess Club
Queen’s Gambit fans, this one’s for you! Embrace your inner Harmon fan and make a stop by Memphis Chess Club for a one-of-a-kind café experience. The club, founded in 1877, was reinvented to include a full service cafè, making it a unique destination within the historic walls of 195 Madison Avenue. Enjoy house-roasted coffee and a menu full of options – pizza, breakfast, sandwiches, pastries and more. For some chess action, stalk their schedule to sit in on a class or tournament.
Tour the Rock ‘n Soul Museum
Put on your dancin’ shoes and start your journey into Memphis’ music story at the Smithsonian-curated Rock ‘N Soul Museum. The exhibit is a deeply detailed and entertaining walk through history, telling the story of talented musicians who overcame racial and socio-economic barriers that changed the face of American music. Start with the rural field hollers and porch music of sharecroppers in the ’30, through urban influences of Beale Street in the 40s, through the heyday of the Stax and Sun record labels in the 60s and 70s. Continue with the impact of the civil rights movement and how it continues to shape music even today. When you embark on the tour, you’ll receive a pair of headphones and audio device that allows you to move through the museum at your own pace. Plus, enjoy over 100 soul, blues, and rock songs from jukeboxes peppered throughout the exhibits.
Visit the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid
When you arrive in Memphis, you may wonder “what is that giant, blinding, chrome pyramid doing in the middle of nowhere?” It just so happens to be the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop and home of the world’s tallest freestanding elevator. Ride the color-changing life 28-stories up to see the entire city from 300-feet in the air! Also at the top is a fine dining restaurant called The Lookout. Aside from the observation point and Bass Pro Shop, you’ll find a lodge, aquarium, and bowling to enjoy as well.
Dinner at Bishop + Bonus: Central Station Hotel
A French Brasserie with southern influence. A century-old train station turned hotel. A secret listening room tucked behind a bar. Start dinnertime off with delicious fine dining at Bishop, from escargot to caviar, and duck a l’orange to fried chicken. Nestled in the Central Station Hotel, the French restaurant showcases a bar and a lounge area with a cocktail list rooted in the classics. Don’t miss the perfectly-seared scallops and beef bourguignon. Afterward, walk to the connected hotel lobby to find a gorgeous craft cocktail bar. Tucked behind it is The Listening Room, an intimate lounge that offers a refined music system and various curated playlists highlighting Memphis artists. Among all of the modern amenities, The Central Station Hotel remains an active Amtrak train station, served daily by the City of New Orleans and the local Main Street trolley line.
Get LOUD! Music Series at Handy Park
The live music scene is BACK in Memphis, and it’s beyond amazing. Everywhere you look, you’ll find a story to be told and a song to be sang. Indulge in Bluff City’s musical spirit every Thursday this summer, with the Memphis Travel’s free GET LOUD concert series at Handy Park. Rock out to big time headliners and local openers on Beale Street’s biggest outdoor stage. Here’s the lineup:
- June 10th: St. Paul & The Broken Bones w/ The MD’s
- June 17th: David Ryan Harris w/ Marcus Scott & KemUStry
- June 24th: Rebirth Brass Band w/ Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
- TJuly 1st: Victor Wooten, Joseph Wooten, Roy “Futureman’ Wooten, Regi Wooten, The Wooten Brothers w/ Dottie
- July 8th: Paul Thorn w/ Amy LaVere & Will Sexton
- July 15th: Dave Barnes w/ The Nick Black Band
- TJuly 22nd: Son Little w/ The Sensational Barnes Brothers
- July 29th: Celisse + Talibah Safiya
- August 5th: Maggie Rose + Your Academy
- August 12th: Marc Broussard + Turnstyles
Hit Up the Bars on Beale Street
Beale Street is the height of nightlife in Memphis, with live music blaring from every bar you pass by. The thoroughfare is hailed as one of America’s most iconic streets – and with three blocks of nightclubs, restaurants and shops, it’s a must-see. Neon signs, electric energy, street performances, frozen cocktails – what more can you ask for? From bachelorette parties to birthdays, you’ll see people from all walks of life celebrating the vibrant history and musical scene every night. Be sure to also stop by during the day to support the cute shops and small businesses that call Beale Street home.
Day 2: Friday
Breakfast at Bedrock Market & Cafe
If you eat literally everything like me, then usually “gluten-free, paleo, organic, grain-free,” watcha-ma-call-it would make your head spin. However, at Bedrock Market & Café, the menu deserves a round of applause for its ability to make real food magically delicious – nothing processed, refined or modified. The local restaurant is a two-for-one special: it offers both amazing dine-in meals made to order and grab ‘n go premade food from their refrigerators. If you have a sweet tooth, your taste buds will swoon at options such as S’mores Waffle Sliders and Cinnamon Sugar Donut Waffles.
Tour the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
Slavery, boycotts, assassinations, separate but equal. Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968. While many of us know the major turning points of the Civil Rights Movement, this is a comprehensive deep dive into both major and lesser-known events. The museum details the history of uprisings that pushed national civil rights forward and its impact on our culture, and the foundation of America, today.
Explore & Grab a Bite at Crosstown Concourse
Perched proudly in the hear of the Crosstown neighborhood is Crosstown Concourse – a mixed use development that was formely a Sears distribution center. After sitting empty for 20 years, the space was revamped and hosts multiple restaurants, art galleries, shops, and more. Be sure to stop by to explore all of the things to see and do. If you’re feeling hungry, I highly recommend Global Café – an international food hall dedicated to supporting immigrants and refugees. They serve an eclectic mix of delicious Syrian, Venezuelan, and Sudanese cuisine.
Tour the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
A story about talent, soul, and hustle. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of Stax Records and American soul music. Perhaps one of the things that was most compelling about Stax was it’s transcendence of racial differences at a time where Memphis was most divided. As Steve Cropper reminisces in the opening film, “Color never came through the door.” In fact, it came to be known as Soulsville – an anchor of the community. Even in the arson attacks during race riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Stax nor the Satellite Record Shop were touched out of respect. Learn about the story of Stax and marvel at its jaw-dropping collection – Isaac Hayes’ Gold Cadillac, an impressive Hall of Records, and more.
Grab a Rooftop Drink at Beck & Call
Came for the cocktails, stayed for the views. Beck and Call is a whiskey bar and lounge on top of the Hyatt Centric Beale Street, with incredible views of the Mississippi River and Downtown Memphis. A dreamy sunset, light-adorned bridge, and tasty drinks made for a perfectly romantic end to our day exploring Bluff City! Settle down with a handcrafted cocktail and food – definitely recommend the shrimp cocktail and crispy chicken nuggets for a snack!
Enjoy Live Music at Railgarten
Part Tiki bar, part beer garden, part ping-pong bar, part rail yard, part diner… part ice cream parlor. Multipurpose is an understatement! Railgarten is one of Memphis’ coolest places to lay back and relax in a unique space that once served as Midtown’s railroad substation. Regardless of your music tastes, you’ll find a band that gets you moving – from jazz to hip hop collectives. When we visited, we were thrilled by the performance of Lucky 7 Brass Band. Their rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In, complete with an enthusiastic conga line, was a personal favorite. Also, where else can you hear a brass version of Juvenile’s Back that A** Up?!
Day 3: Saturday
Breakfast at Hustle & Dough
For anyone who’s an Instagrammable-brunch junkie like myself, Hustle & Dough is going to be your favorite breakfast stop in Memphis. Sitting on the ground floor of the ARRIVE hotel, the all-day bakery and café boasts favorites such as French Toast with Tahitian vanilla bean custard and chili-lemon-topped Avocado Toast. Enjoy tasty pastries and flavorful handcrafted drinks among antique furniture, gold metal accents, plants galore, and plush sofas.
Stroll to Arkansas at Big River Crossing
At almost a mile in length, Big River Crossing is the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River. The scenic walk connects Downtown Memphis to Arkansas, with the state line even being marked on the bridge. If standing in two states at one time is on your list, this is your chance! Hot Tip: For those who would rather cross the bridge by bike, there are Explore Bike Share hubs nearby on either side to rent a bicycle on demand.
Tour the Legendary Sun Studio
Known as “The Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll,” Sun Studio is a record label created by music industry pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950. Just 4 short years later, an unknown Elvis Presley sang his heart out, becoming an international celebrity and launching Sun into a global spotlight. From there, the studio continued to create hit after hit with musical legends such as B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more. View artifacts, hear stories, rock out to recording studio outtakes, and even touch Elvis Presley’s microphone on a 45-minute guided tour by a local musician. After dark, the studio is still a functional recording space – so expect to see lots of instruments and intricate equipment. Talk about a photo op!
Edge Motor Museum
Buckle up for a thrill ride through American sports car history! Just a quick stroll down the road from Sun Studio, you’ll find Memphis’ Home to American Speed at the Edge Motor Museum. The exhibit explores the evolution of U.S. sports cars – a symbol of strength, speed, and style. It isn’t until you visit the museum that you’d truly realize how the development of these vehicles are interwoven with American history. The sports car isn’t just an automobile – it’s a reflection of certain moments in time that define the foundation of our country. Learn how warfare, politics, culture, economics, and technology influence America’s everlasting love affair with the need for speed.
Lunch at The Bar-B-Q Shop
It would be a crime to visit Memphis without indulging in their nationally-acclaimed barbecue deliciousness. The Bar-B-Q Shop, voted #1 ribs in America by the Food Network’s “Top Five Restaurants,” prides themselves on their unique sauces and dry rubs that have been around for over 50 years. While the atmosphere is an unassuming pub-like setting, the food packs quite a punch. Don’t skip out on their Famous Texas Toast!
Explore Overton Square and Cooper Young
I’m a sucker for cute shopping districts, so Overton Square made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Literally – be sure to stop by Sweet Noshings for some vintage candy and ice cream. Located in the heart of the Memphis Theater District, there are a variety of bars, restaurants, and shops to enjoy. Just five minutes down the road is Cooper Young, another hip and artsy entertainment district with shops and restaurants.
Honorable Mentions: Other Great Spots for Food and Drinks
- Breakfast Aficionados: It’s worth the trip to visit the eclectic diner at Sunrise Memphis (pictured above).
- For Snazzy Speakeasy Vibes: The Pocket is a very cool, almost secretive, bar masquerading as a tailor shop.
- Craft Beer Lovers: You’ll be in heaven at the newly opened building for Wiseacre Brewing!
- Adventurous Drinkers: Try the spicy jalapeño margarita at Sweet Grass for something you’ve never tasted before.
- Photo-Worthy Food Stop: The Beauty Shop is an old salon repurposed into a totally Instagrammable restaurant
As you can see, Memphis has tons of history, delicious restaurants, vibrant culture, and amazing views all around. I hope you have an amazing time on your trip! Be sure to tag me in your adventures!
P.S. If you’re looking for more East Coast destinations in the U.S., be sure to check out these other destination guides:
10 Things to Do in Las Vegas besides Gamble
Weekend Itinerary for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A Romantic Weekend Getaway in Asheville, North Carolina
Thank you so very much to the incredible team at Memphis Travel for hosting my trip! Though this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.