Memphis’s history dates back to 1819, when future president Andrew Jackson was one of its founders. While the city celebrates its bicentennial this year, the interesting part of Memphis’s history for most visitors begins in the 1910s and 20s, when Beale Street
emerged as the home of the blues. Memphis’s impressive musical legacy was then continued by Sun and Stax studios and music greats like Elvis Presley, whose Graceland estate is a music pilgrimage for many people who visit the city.
First, however, drop off your bags at your hotel. The Hu. Hotel
and Hotel Napoleon
are two stylish options downtown, close to Beale Street as well as South Main, and just a few blocks inland from the Mississippi River. To the north of them, the Big Cypress Lodge
is unique—a hunting and fishing lodge located inside an enormous glass pyramid that’s home to Bass Pro Shops. You could also opt to stay at the Guest House at Graceland
which is, like Graceland
itself, to the south of most of the other sights in Memphis. But if Elvis inspired your trip, it’s a must-stay; the property celebrates the man and his music through the hotel’s decor, entertainment, and menu items.
After you’re settled, head out for a stroll along South Main, an area where a number of new galleries, boutiques, and restaurants have opened in recent years. The Blues Hall of Fame
, on South Main, celebrates blues greats like Charlie Musselwhite, Eddy Clearwater, Otis Spann, and Mavis Staples. The National Civil Rights Museum
is a block away on Mulberry Street. The preserved Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated now houses Smithsonian Institution artifacts chronicling the achievements of the civil rights movement, from the early years of slavery to today’s continued civil rights work.
When you’re ready for some food, Loflin Yard
is a surprising oasis, serving Southern comfort favorites in a restaurant with an enormous outdoor space in the middle of the city. The Gray Canary
is an upscale option in this part of town. Thanks to its handcrafted cocktails and Italian-inspired small plates, it has quickly become a favorite of the city’s locals.
Not far from the Gray Canary, the historic Orpheum Theatre dates from 1928 and has been restored and expanded. Today, its events calendar includes live performances like concerts, touring Broadway shows, dances, and film screenings.
There’s even more culture—and especially music—to be found nearby on legendary Beale Street
, which has been a lively strip of clubs, bars, and restaurants for more than a century. Many musical giants have performed here—Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, B.B. King—and the music continues to this day.