This year I spoke at Audacity Fest, the second annual travel festival put on by Nomadness Tribe. It was held in Memphis, TN and while I’d been to Nashville before (see that itinerary here) Memphis was a place I honestly had mixed feelings on. However, during my visit I learned Memphis is rich in history and culture, plus the food is phenomenal. If you’re looking to build the perfect weekend in Memphis itinerary, this post is for you!
Things to Do During a Weekend in Memphis
The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
Before covering anything else I wanted to mention the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. It is a must for any weekend in Memphis itinerary and by far was the favorite thing I did. The guide here is phenomenal as she describes how Jacob Burkle, a white man, used his home cellar as a haven for slaves escaping freedom on the underground railroad. On the tour you get a chance to step into that cellar and see the conditions the runaway slaves had to endure. It was a moment that brought tears to my eyes but one that is so necessary. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and pictures are not allowed to be taken inside.
The Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum
Now when most people think of Memphis and the Civil Rights Movement, they think of the National Civil Rights Museum. It was built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In addition to the room Dr. King occupied it’s a huge museum which takes about 3-4 hours to go through in its entirety. The museum covers everything from slavery to modern day Jim Crow Laws. As much as I’ve studied the civil rights movement outside of school there was still so much I learned here.
The Mason Temple is the Church of God in Christ where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech before being assassinated. The church is open to the public and you can go up to the pupil where his last public words were spoken. It’s open Monday-Friday but unfortunately we were only able to walk past on a Sunday so we admired from the outside.
The Stax Museum highlights American Soul Music and the record labels huge impact on it. It covers the history of soul music and how the church played a major role in its creation. The museum also highlights great artists like Isaac Hayes, Ike & Tina Turner and more. If you love soul music you will thoroughly enjoy all the snippets of your favorite classics playing as you walk through the museum learning about the artists contracts and more. The Stax Museum is open 10AM – 5PM Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $13 for adults and $10 for children.
Blues Hall of Fame
We didn’t have enough time during our weekend in Memphis to visit the Blues Hall of Fame but if you love the blues you should. It’s located a block over from the National Civil Rights Museum so it’s a great way to lighten the mood after a visit there. The Blues Hall of Fame highlights artists like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Aretha Franklin. It’s open Monday – Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm – 5:00pm. Admissions is $10 for adults and free for kids 12 and under.
Looking for cheap flights to Memphis? Check out this list of the Best Websites to Find Flight Deals!
I AM A MAN Plaza
“For at the heart of racism is the idea that a man is not a man, that a person is not a person. You are human beings. You are men. You deserve dignity.” Reverend James Lawson. These are the words transcribed at the foot of the I AM A MAN sculpture in the I AM A MAN plaza. The plaza is a great time to reflect on how we treat others.
Whether you’re a fan or not, I think everyone has heard of Elvis Presley. He lived in Memphis and his home, Graceland, is open to the public for tours. The tours start at $42 but the VIP Experience will cost you $180. Since I’m not that much of a fan I didn’t go inside his home. However, the gardens at his home, including his burial site are open to the public for free from 7:30-8:30AM, which I did visit.
Visit The Peabody Hotel
The Peabody is a historic hotel in Memphis infamously known for the ducks it houses. Each day they make their way down the elevator from the rooftop and then walk down the stairs into the lobby pond. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to witness them daily from 11AM-5PM.
Beale Street comes alive at night with its bright neon lights. At this time the street is blocked off to cars and becomes pedestrian only. There are bars and restaurants that line the street with music blaring from most of them. Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans (read our NOLA guide here), it’s open container so you can walk from one bar to the next without rushing to finish your drink. After 10pm they begin to charge a $5 cover to enter.
Hunt for Murals
If you’re really into art or just want the next picture for your Instagram account then Memphis has got you covered with their many gorgeous murals. Here are a few of my favorites, along with their location.
“I Love Soulsville” mural, by the Soulsville Neighborhood Association (SNA), located at E. McLemore Avenue & Mississippi Boulevard
Beale Street Wings located right next to Tin Roof (315 Beale Street).
Upstanders Mural by Nelson Gutierrez, located at 115 Huling Avenue (near the National Civil Rights Musuem)
Heart Bridge Crosstown mural by Kong Wee Pang and Jay Crum, located at 419 N. Watkins Street
“The Sound of Memphis” mural by Damon Lamarreed and Pugs Atomz located at 100 S.Main St.
I AM FREE by, Streets Ministries, Erin Miller Williams, located at the corner of Second Street and Mill.
History of Civil Rights mural by Birdcap, located on the corner of MLK and South Main streets
Whether you’re traveling with kids to Memphis or not the zoo here is quite interesting. The Egyptian style entrance of the Memphis Zoo along with huge animal statues makes just the entrance unique. The zoo is open daily from 9AM-6PM with admission costing $18 for adults (ages 12-59), and $13 for kids 2-11. Parking is $5 and you can get up to date pricing here.
Where to Eat on Your Weekend in Memphis
If most of your weekend in Memphis isn’t spent eating you’re doing something wrong. It’s known for its BBQ but there is so much more to the food scene than that. These are the restaurants we enjoyed most on our visit along with some recommendations from locals that we unfortunately didn’t get to try.
Gus’s Fried Chicken
Everyone we met said we couldn’t leave Memphis without going to Gus’s Fried Chicken so we didn’t. The fried chicken here is amazing and was fried to perfection! It’s spicy like all chicken in Tennessee, I don’t know why they love hot chicken so much but it works for them. I wasn’t that much a fan of the sides but I also don’t eat pork and a lot of their sides have it in them so my options were quite limited.
If you want to change it up a bit and step away from the BBQ and fried foods head to Osaka. It’s a Japanese and Hibachi restaurant outside of the downtown area. The chef’s show was entertaining and the portion sizes were so big. We had a wonderful evening here away from the crowds of downtown and it was nice to eat something a little different.
99 Cent Soul Food Express
Now everyone said we couldn’t leave without eating at Gus’s Fried Chicken but I’m telling you you can’t leave without eating at the 99 Cent Soul Food Express. It was hands down the best meal I had in Memphis. The salmon was seasoned and cooked to perfection and the sweet potato cornbread?!? I don’t even like sweet potatoes but I’ve never had anything more delicious in my life. The mac and cheese here was also baked like I prefer, unlike the other restaurants. The only thing I didn’t care for was my corn but if it were up to me I’d have eaten here for every meal for the rest of our trip.
Puck Food Hall
If you’re traveling with a group and you all want something different to eat or maybe you just like having lots of options make a trip to Puck Food Hall. There are bakeries, ice cream shops, breakfast/brunch stalls, Asian cuisine and more. The festival I spoke at had the closing ceremony here catered by the establishments in the hall and the food was great but we weren’t told specifically which ones provided the meals so I’m sorry I can’t give specific recommendations.
Blue Plate Cafe
For breakfast in the downtown area we dined at Blue Plate Cafe. They have huge pancakes and endless options for different fruit toppings on them. Come very hungry or oder light because the portions are no joke. Oh and don’t leave without having a biscuit, they are homemade and delicious. Be prepared to wait for a table if you come mid-morning on a weekend as it’s a very popular spot.
After getting numerous recommendations for Four Way we really wanted to eat here. Unfortunately the day we went they were already closed. For a restaurant they do have weird hours, closing by 6pm but I guess when you’re a town favorite you can do what you want. The next time I’m in Memphis I will be sure to make it here during their open hours.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Central BBQ which was also recommended quite a bit. However, I personally did not like my meal and my friend didn’t like hers either. Maybe it was what we got or they were having an off day.
Where to Stay on Your Weekend in Memphis
During my weekend in Memphis I stayed in two different hotels, the Guesthouse at Graceland for one night and the Downtown Sheraton for two. I personally preferred the Guesthouse at Graceland and would not return to the Sheraton.
The Guesthouse at Graceland
The Guesthouse at Graceland is located just 8 minutes from Memphis International Airport and cost me $8 on Lyft. I arrived at 9AM in the morning and was allowed to check into my room early with no additional fee. The room was large, nicely decorated and the small issue I encountered with my room was fixed immediately upon request. You can read TripAdvisor reviews here. I booked my room via the Dosh App and ended up getting $52 cash back (ended up with $645 cash back at the end of the year) which I used towards my solo trip to Puerto Rico!
I had work to get done but opened my lap top to a 4% battery life, accidentally left my charger at home and thought I was doomed. However, the hotel has a business center with two computers you can use free of charge with unlimited internet and a printer.
When I finished my work I had lunch on site at the EP’s Bar and Grill. My meal was average and nothing spectacular but it wasn’t astronomically priced like many hotel restaurants. Instead I paid a standard $15 for a burger and fries. After lunch I relaxed at the pool, catching up with my friend who was enjoying this weekend in Memphis with me.
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, which offers a buffet or a la carte menu at Delta’s Kitchen. She decided on the buffet which was $24.99 and includes coffee, tea and juice. The buffet consisted of waffles, eggs, biscuits, home fries, fruit, bacon, sausage, yogurt, and boxed cereal. I ordered the eggs with home fries, fruit and toast for $14.
We were able to walk right over to Graceland from the hotel allowing us to save money on a Lyft ride. Parking at the hotel is a steep $29/night so this was extremely beneficial. When we were ready to relocate to downtown Memphis our Lyft to the Sheraton was $14.87
The Sheraton in Downtown Memphis
For our last two nights of our weekend in Memphis we stayed at the Sheraton Downtown. Checking into the room was easy and they also allowed us to check-in early. The location was also perfect for taking the trolly or walking to many of the downtown sites. Sadly that is where the pros of this hotel ended. The room was dark and dingy with mold on the shower grout. The dresser, night stands, and lamps were all extremely dusty, as if they hadn’t been cleaned in months.
I was honestly ready to check out like we had to do at our first hotel in Ocho Rios but with the festival going on along with PRIDE and a few other events there was nowhere to go. That night at 5:30AM the fire alarm went off jolting us out of our sleep. We quickly took the stairs down and waited outside with the other guests. There was not one form of communication from the staff on what was going on. A friend came down and was puzzled on why we were all outside in our pajamas. She had just come from her room in a different tower, there was no alarm there and the elevators were working. Still there was no communication from the staff and there were hundreds of guests outside.
The next night was no better as we came back from the festival to find the biggest cockroach climbing our wall. Mind you we were on the 11th floor of the building so it’s not like we were on the ground level where this would be more understanding. The staff did nothing about either incident and I was so happy when we checked out.
Should You Rent a Car for Your Weekend in Memphis?
While planning our trip to Memphis we considered renting a car but ultimately decided against it. I think this was a good call for our itinerary and the fact that we weren’t traveling with our children. It was easy, convenient, and affordable for us to take Lyft’s, walk or use the trolly to get around.
We spent a total of $144 on Lyft’s and the trolly and later learned we could have purchased a 3 day trolly pass saving us a few dollars. With these modes of transportation we avoided the costs to park at our hotels (total of $89 for 3 nights) as well as around town plus a car rental fee.
If you’re traveling with children that require car seats it may be harder to get around without a rental. You won’t need the car seats for the trolly but if you opt for a Lyft you’ll need them but won’t want to carry your car seat around when you get out of car. Depending on your child’s age there are a few solutions for this. For kids four and up you can purchase a mifold travel booster seat that fits in your purse or a Safe Rider that makes using the seat belt safe for smaller children. For babies still in an infant car seat you can use a car seat caddy which will turn their car seat into a stroller.
If you’re still on the fence about spending a weekend in Memphis the only reason I can think of is that you’ve decided you need more time. Now after this visit and my trip to Nashville with kids earlier this year I’m excited to explore more of Tennessee. Did you find this post helpful? Please share it.