Visiting Memphis, Tennessee

Latest Visit: November 2018

Tips for visiting Memphis:

  • Getting to Memphis: We drove from Nashville to Memphis and it was very enjoyable. We made a quick stop in Jackson but it was pretty quiet since it was a Sunday. There’s also an international airport which was relatively easy to navigate through and about 15 minutes by car to Beale street.
  • Staying in Memphis: We stayed at the SpringHill Suites Downtown because I had a free night and I would not recommend it. It was outdated, musky but at least the rooms were quite spacious. Marriott had other nicer properties in Memphis. I also noticed Airbnb seemed to have a few charming options. If I’d had the budget, I think I would have stayed at the Peabody hotel, just to experience the magic and charm of Memphis.
  • Safety: I noticed a lot of police cars along Beale street at night but felt pretty guarded. I remember reading on SafeAround that Beale street is kept safe but that there is a high crime rate in the city and that they don’t recommend that women walk around alone at night.
  •  Restaurants:
  • Bars:
    • We really enjoyed walking down Beale street and hearing all the live music coming from the bars. It was a quiet Sunday evening but we still found 2 places with a great atmosphere and some great Blues:
      • Blues City Café venue (connected to the restaurant)
      • Beale Street Tap Room
      • Absinthe Room: soulful dive bar with pool tables, old walls, and fireplaces and where smoking in bars is still accepted.
  • Smoking in bars in Memphis: In the two last bars mentioned above, I was surprised by the odor of cigarette smoke within the first few seconds of entering the bar. My eyes and throat began to itch in a way they haven’t in years! I did a little bit of research online and found out that Tennessee law forbids smoking in any building that allows anyone under 21 years old in it but most clubs don’t allow anyone under 21, so they can allow smoking! Be warned!
  • The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is a mandatory stop and you will want to set aside at least half a day to fully enjoy all the different sections. It is very well structured and covers a wide array of events that happened all over the USA. I also really enjoy how interactive it was and the last part, ending on Martin Luther King’s last hotel room before he was fatally shot.
  • Here’s a list of other museum’s I would have liked to visit during my stay in Memphis:
  • Many come to the Peabody Hotel to admire the walk of the ducks. Nearly 90 years after the inaugural march, ducks still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. Read the whole story here.
  • Sun Studio, known worldwide as “The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll” can be worth the visit if you’re a big fan of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbiso, or if you just want to catch a glimpse of what recording a song/album was like in their era. It was closed due to a national holiday when I went, but for $14, I think it would have been worth the 45-minute tour. My friend also enjoyed her tour a few years back.
  • Graceland: this was, of course, the main reason my friend wanted to drive down to Memphis. It’s a very packed, commercialized, organized audio tour but it was very interesting to be able to walk through his house and learn about his life, within walking through it.  I didn’t do the full VIP tour (the pink Cadillac, jets, and his jumpsuits are included in the VIP tour) but if you are a fan I’d recommend paying the extra!

Impressions of Memphis:

After visiting Nashville, I will say Memphis was like stepping in a whole other world. It felt older, rougher, but also like a city with more soul and history. Within the first few hours of arriving in Memphis and walking down Beale Street, I heard great live blues bands and enjoyed every second of it. There is part of the street that is blocked off for pedestrians which makes it very enjoyable to wander in and out of the shops, restaurants, and bars. It was very quiet the night I was there but I have a feeling it must get pretty busy during high season. I was also impressed by the friendliness of the bar staff: they made us feel very welcomed.
I wasn’t really exposed to Elvis Presley’s music growing up, so going to Graceland was very educational for me. It was a very cool experience to be able to walk through his house with an audio guide and listen to all the stories and the different design concepts in the various rooms in his house. They conveniently left out a few darker passages of his life, which I find a bit disappointing because it doesn’t fully reflect who he was and his struggles. Although it was raining, I think this was a good time of year to visit Graceland because it can get quite packed in the tiny rooms and I can’t imagine being there in the heat and humidity of the Tennessee summers!
It was a general consensus within my group of friends that our 24h stay here was way too short. We would have all liked to have had more time at the National Civil War Museum, as well as more time to enjoy the live music scene and maybe explore more of the suburbs.

Related post: Visiting Nashville