If you love Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll, there is no doubt that you will love Memphis, the home of Graceland and the Sun Recording Studio, where he was discovered and made famous. Wherever you go in town, Elvis memorabilia and his music are not far away. No wonder Graceland and its Elvis-oriented attractions cover 120 acres and attract as many as 750,000 visitors a year. It is the second-most-visited home in the United States, second only to the White House.

But even if you are not an Elvis fan, Memphis is worth exploring because of its world-famous Beale Street, its boundless blues music, barbecue galore, a great craft beer scene, the Mississippi River and its boats, the famous Peabody Hotel daily duck parade and the not-to-be-missed National Civil Rights Museum on the spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. 

This cosmopolitan city of more than 650,000 people and several distinct neighborhoods boasts a cornucopia of live music on Beale Street and elsewhere. It has earned its moniker as the “Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” with a musical tradition almost two centuries old that continues today. While blues, rock ‘n’ roll, soul and jazz music dominate on Beale Street, the city’s rich musical history is evident almost everywhere, and Memphis has a flourishing classical and gospel music performance scene ready to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

The city’s large black population also made it an important locus of the 20th century civil rights movement and this is reflected in its history and museum. 

Before you go

Getting there

  • By car, Memphis is crossed by Interstates 40, 55 and 69
  • The nearest commercial airport is Memphis International, 3.6 miles from Graceland and 8.5 miles from Beale Street
  •  The nearest river cruise port is in downtown Memphis  
  • The Memphis Amtrak station is downtown. It is 9 miles from Graceland and is served by the city of New Orleans running from Chicago to New Orleans

For a short trip

  • Visit Graceland, home of Elvis Presley with acres of displays
  • Head to Beale Street’s bars and blues joints

For a longer trip

  • Tour the National Civil Rights Museum
  • Visit Sun Recording studio where Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Johnny Cash recorded
  • See the daily duck parade at the Peabody Hotel
  • Listen to blues on Beale Street
  • Take a 90-minute narrated sightseeing cruise on the Mississippi River

At a glance

Mobility level:Moderate. There are hills on the riverfront to climb.

When to go: Anytime is good, but May through September is the best time to visit. Summers is humid but also is the best time for festivals and outdoor activities. There are four distinct seasons in Memphis, with precipitation distributed evenly throughout the year. Late thunderstorms are frequent in summer, as is typical of sub-tropical locations, but usually don’t last long.  

Where to stay: If visiting Graceland is part of your itinerary, the Guest House at Graceland is new, comfortable and convenient to Graceland and the airport. Shuttles to Beale Street are available. If you want to be downtown, the Peabody Hotel is famous for its daily duck walks and the city has a comprehensive collection of hotels at every price level.

Jeffrey Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein are publishers of Living on the Suncoast Magazine. They can be reached at jorenstein@simplysmarttravel.com.

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