Memphis

Best Things to Do in Memphis

BY Amber Ambrose | December 10, 2021

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series.. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Memphis? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Memphis?”

There’s something here that other cities don’t have, and though it’s not perceptible with the naked eye, it is a feeling that connects with the heart. There’s an energy that pervades the very streets on which Marc Cohn famously walked, and it’s tinged with blues, sadness, history, culture, excitement and grit. Memphis has a soul. You have to walk it yourself to believe it. Whether it’s following the banks of the mighty Mississippi, roaring along the edge of downtown or on the hallowed ground of Room 306 in the Lorraine Motel, here are a few options to consider when you do make the trip.

You’re here for barbecue...

…and with good reason; there’s literally a regional style named after the city characterized by slow, pit-smoked pork ribs and shoulder served (sometimes) with a sweet sauce. Bonus: Sausage and cheese plates are the unsung heroes of this town.

Rendezvous in Memphis
#1
Rendezvous in Memphis

Rendezvous

52 South 2nd Street, Memphis, TN, USA

Humbly tucked away in a downtown alley, Rendezvous is as much for the nostalgia and atmosphere as it is for the rack of dry-rub ribs. It’s a must-visit institution for any barbecue enthusiast. There’ll likely be a wait, but like most barbecue, it’s worth the time and anticipation.

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Central BBQ in Memphis
#2
Central BBQ in Memphis

Central BBQ

2249 Central Ave, Memphis, TN, USA

Come for the pulled pork and dry-rub ribs, but don’t leave without trying the barbecue nachos, barbecue bologna or the smoked chicken wings. 

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Commissary BBQ in Memphis
#3
Commissary BBQ in Memphis

Commissary BBQ

2290 South Germantown Road, Germantown, TN, USA

Pulled pork is the main draw at this not-quite-in-Memphis-but-close-enough restaurant. The drive to the original Germantown location is quick from most parts of Memphis, with a black-and-white checkered tablecloth awaiting your arrival. Save room for the banana pudding.

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The Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis
#4
The Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis

The Bar-B-Q Shop

1782 Madison Avenue, Memphis, TN, USA

In a town where barbecue is everywhere, the Vernon family’s innovative riffs on classics keep them front and center both locally and nationally. While you can most definitely find pulled pork, sausage and ribs on the menu, you’ll also find “bar-b-q spaghetti” and Texas toast barbecue sandwiches, plus the creative “half and half” rack of ribs, pleasing the indecisive with both dry-rub and wet-sauced ribs on the same plate. Take home some of their Dancing Pig sauce for a tasty souvenir.

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...and to enjoy food from...

Hog & Hominy
#5
Hog & Hominy

Hog & Hominy

707 West Brookhaven Circle, Memphis, TN, USA

Closed for two years after a fire destroyed the original, the new, improved and almost-doubled-capacity Hog is officially back as of November 2021. Known for pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven, the menu features chef Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s Italian cooking inspired by their Southern roots. Cocktails are a must.

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Brother Juniper’s in Memphis
#6
Brother Juniper’s in Memphis

Brother Juniper’s

3519 Walker Ave, Memphis, TN, USA

In the world of hearty breakfast joints, this one takes the (cinnamon roll pan) cakes. Not only is it the most important meal of the day, it may be your most important meal of the year. Open-faced omelettes, breakfast gyros and Benedicts are available for everyone’s appetite, plus a whole lot more. Don’t sleep in, though, it closes by 1 p.m. most days.

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Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis
#7
Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis

Gus’s Fried Chicken

310 South Front Street, Memphis, TN, USA

Sweet tea, great sides, spicy fried chicken, what more do you need in life? Oh yeah, maybe some coconut pie. It’s famous for a reason. Visit the mothership in nearby Mason, Tenn., or save the trip and try the downtown Memphis location, which has been open for two decades as of 2021.

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Gibson’s Donuts in Memphis
#8
Gibson’s Donuts in Memphis

Gibson’s Donuts

760 Mt Moriah Rd, Memphis, TN, USA

Fancy a donut, but not a fancy donut? Gibson’s is a Memphis tradition and also the largest single-owner/single-location donut shop in America. It’s also open until midnight just in case you need a late-night snack.

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Abner's at Crosstown Concourse in Memphis
#9
Abner's at Crosstown Concourse in Memphis

Crosstown Concourse

1350 Concourse Ave, Memphis, TN, USA

A comprehensive mixed-use campus inside a former Sears retail and distribution center now referenced as a “vertical village” is truly that at a whopping 1.2 million square feet. Suffice it to say, it’s evolved nicely. Food, drinks, a namesake brewery, events, retail and more are yours for the experiencing. 

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Explore these parts of the city

Beale Street in Memphis. Photo by Shutterstock.
#10
MEMPHIS, USA - Neon signs of famous blues clubs on Beale street on November 12, 2016. Beale street is a place for blues festivals and concerts

Beale Street

Beale Street, Memphis, TN, USA

Beale Street (Downtown) is home of the blues, where Marc Cohn famously went walking 10 feet off of and where you can get a true sense for the soul of the city. A mix of nightclubs, restaurants and music venues (some with all three combined), the namesakes on some of the neon signs include B.B. King, Jerry Lawler, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. Weekend nights are great for adults, but families might be best exploring when the sun is still shining.

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South Main Arts District in Memphis
#11
South Main Arts District in Memphis

South Main Arts District

South Main Arts District, Memphis, TN, USA

South Main Arts District (Downtown) is one square mile packed with history, authenticity and is only one block south of Beale Street. Check out the art galleries, restaurants and local retail options including gems like South Main Book Juggler and The Broom Closet. Take the art walk and visit the eight installations or print out a sheet from the website and go on a self-guided architecture tour. The historic Orpheum Theater and Civil Rights Museum also reside here (more on the latter later).

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Overton Square in Memphis. Photo by Shutterstock.
#12
Overton Square in Memphis. Photo by Shutterstock.

Overton Square

Overton Square, Madison Avenue, Memphis, TN, USA

Overton Square (Midtown) is fun, funky and full of shops, restaurants and public art. You’ll also find theaters, a boutique hotel (The Memphian), music venues and events. 

 

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For an immersive look at civil rights history and slavery in the American South…

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Photo via Shutterstock.
#13
MEMPHIS, USA - NOV 13: National Civil Rights Museum on November 13, 2016. It is built around the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Photo via Shutterstock.

National Civil Rights Museum

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN, USA

One of the most pivotal moments in American history — the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — took place at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Built around it is the museum, featuring permanent exhibits on slavery in America, student sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, the Freedom Rides of 1961, the Black Power movement and more. Especially moving is Room 306 in the motel itself, the room Dr. King was staying in on that tragic day, left exactly as it was, complete with overflowing ashtrays and one pillow left uncovered.

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Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
#14
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum in Memphis

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

826 N 2nd St, Memphis, TN, USA

Get a firsthand look at the Burkle Estate, once a stop on the Underground Railroad dating back before the Civil War. Tours give context to the actual spaces, trapdoors and secret passages where enslaved people were provided refuge in their attempt to flee north to freedom. 

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Pay homage to the city’s rich musical heritage…

Graceland in Memphis. Photo via Shutterstock.
#15
Memphis, TN, USA - September 24, 2019: Entrance to the Graceland complex featuring sign of Elvis

Graceland

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN, USA

Elvis has left the building, but his spirit, and plenty of kitsch, remains, and it’s all on display in his mansion and adjacent properties. The self-guided tours are aided by an iPad with audio; all you have to do is make the trek through. The Jungle Room is glorious as it sounds. Tour add-ons include a look inside his personal jets as well as VIP and seasonal options. 

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Sun Studio in Memphis. Photo via Shutterstock.
#16
Memphis, USA - September 24, 2019: The legendary Sun Studio has been called the birthplace of Rock and Roll. Sam Phillips recorded a long list of legends in the studio, including Elvis Presley.

Sun Studio

706 Union Ave, Memphis, TN, USA

The history of American music has much to do with this humble studio on Union Avenue, where Elvis first recorded at the tender age of 18, among many other legends of the time like B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and more. Tour the studio and connect to a piece of the musical past.

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The Stax Museum in Museum in Memphis.
#17
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, May 12, 2015 : The Stax Museum is a replica of Stax recording studio. It celebrates the legacy of Stax Records and its artists as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and many others.

Stax Museum

926 E McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN, USA

More legendary music history is on display here, documenting the evolution of Memphis and Southern soul through exhibits and recordings from the famous record label. Walk in the footsteps of greats like Booker T and the MGs, Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, William Bell and the inimitable Otis Redding, who became one of the most recognizable voices and most successful recording artists to emerge from this studio.

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Other cool attractions

Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis
#18
Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis

Elmwood Cemetery

Elmwood Cemetery, South Dudley Street, Memphis, TN, USA

Elmwood Cemetery was founded in 1852, expanded after the Civil War and spans 80 acres of old-growth trees, gardens and historic structures. Take a stroll through the final resting place of over 75,000 souls, all the while enjoying the well-kept grounds and contemplating the fleeting, yet beautiful nature of what it means to be alive.

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Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
#19
Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

Peabody Hotel

149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN, USA

The Peabody Hotel is everything. It’s historic. It’s beautiful. It’s also famous for a group of ducks that parade into and out of the lobby fountain around 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, complete with a rolled-out red carpet and velvet ropes to keep the riff-raff from tripping them up. Not staying here? No problem. They have guided history tours for $10 a person, and the duck marches are open to the public on weekdays. Enjoying a cocktail in the lobby bar is also an option that feels luxurious without having to pay the price for a room. 

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Memphis Zoo
#20
Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo

2000 Prentiss Place, Memphis, TN, USA

The Memphis Zoo is impossible to miss, with a grand entrance that looks like an ancient Egyptian temple. Once inside, explore exhibits featuring elephants, tigers, polar bears and — squeeee! — pandas.

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