As the birthplace of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, and the home of legends like Elvis Presley and Otis Redding, Memphis, Tennessee, is the heart and soul of contemporary music in America. Music runs through the veins of the city, from the iconic Beale Street and Graceland Mansion to the immersive museums and Sunday morning gospel church pews. But there’s also so much more to experience in this incredible city. From the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel to the mouthwatering Southern cuisine and the spooky haunted spots, here is the best way to spend 48 hours in Memphis.
GET INSPIRED BY: Tastes and Sounds of the South
Walk down Beale Street
Perhaps the most famous street in Memphis, Beale Street is the birthplace of blues, soul and rock n’ roll. When you travel with Trafalgar, we’ll introduce you to a local musician to learn about the toe-tapping history of the city. Admire the facade of the old Daisy Theatre, and learn about the greatest musicians at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. See the resident goats at Silky O’Sullivan’s, and cool off at the retro soda fountain at A. Schwab.
RELATED CONTENT: 11 African-American historical landmarks to visit in the USA
Visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
You can’t spend 48 hours in Memphis without taking a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. The museum is one of the most significant heritage sites in the country and provides the important historical background of Memphis. You can walk through the interactive exhibits to get an understanding of the story and impact of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement and it’s a very moving experience.
Explore the mighty Mississippi
The Mississippi is one of the most famous rivers in the world. It’s inspired countless writers, poets and artists over the years, so you’ve got to check it out on your Memphis trip. You can go kayaking, or head over to Mud Island. You could even cycle over the Big River Crossing, the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi that connects Memphis to Arkansas.
RELATED CONTENT: The world’s greatest river journeys
See the duck parade at the Peabody Hotel
The Peabody Memphis has got to be the most iconic hotel in the city. It’s right next to Beale Street, it’s got a famous menswear store that’s dressed the best musicians in Memphis over the years… And there’s a daily March of the Peabody Ducks. This 80-year-old tradition happens every day at 11am and 5pm and it’s a charming experience to see the hotel’s ducks marching from the lobby to the Duck Palace on the roof, led by the regal Duckmaster. While the kids can get front-row seats, the adults can make the most of happy hour in the Lobby Bar. Win-win.
GET INSPIRED BY: Journey Along the Civil Rights Trail
Feast on Southern classics for dinner
You’re sure to get hungry during your 48 hours in Memphis… And you’ve got to get your fill of Southern cuisine here. There are dozens of amazing restaurants all over the city serving classics like Memphis-style ribs, fried chicken, pulled pork, slow-smoked beef brisket, fried catfish, mac n cheese, and biscuits – so dig in!
RELATED CONTENT: What to pack for a trip to the USA whatever the season
Listen to live music on Beale Street
Beale Street is a whole different experience at night and you’ve got to come back here in the evening when the music venues light up. It’s been the hottest place to listen to live music since the roaring ‘20s and you can still party until dawn here. From blues to jazz, rock to reggae, you’re sure to find something to get you jiving on Beale Street.
RELATED CONTENT: How to spend 48 hours in Nashville
Eat breakfast at Arcade Diner
Start your day right with breakfast at Arcade Diner, the oldest restaurant in Memphis, founded in 1919. It’s also famed as one of Elvis’ favourite spots and you can even get his beloved peanut butter and banana sandwich at his booth in the back. Or get soulful with some country-fried steak and sweet-potato pancakes.
RELATED CONTENT: The 8 most decadent places to celebrate Halloween in the USA
You can’t spend 48 hours in Memphis without visiting the Graceland Mansion. Once owned by Elvis Presley, Graceland was where his family grew up and spent time together. Graceland is now dedicated to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and you can come here to pay tribute and learn about his extraordinary life. It’s one of the most incredible Memphis attractions, where you can get immersed in the life and legacy of the King with interactive exhibits.
The mansion has been restored to how it looked in 1977 and the tour takes you through the living room, kitchen, pool room, Trophy Building, Racquetball Building, and the famous Jungle Room. You can see his bejewelled jumpsuits, classic cars, and gold records, plus movie memorabilia and more.
RELATED CONTENT: 21 bucket list experiences you can only have in the USA
Explore the Sun Studio
Keep your musical education going with a visit to the Sun Studio, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. The first rock ‘n’ roll single, Rocket 88, was made here in 1951. The studio also kickstarted the careers of legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Carl Perkins. You can see the original recording space and even take a photo with the original microphones that touched the lips of these musical giants.
Discover the Stax Museum of American Soul
This little movie theatre had a huge impact on music in America. Now a museum, it tells the story of the legends of American soul. There are listening stations, dance floors, and memorabilia from the days of Otis Redding, Albert King, Isaac Hayes, Tina Turner, and Carla Thomas. You can see Isaac Hayes’ gold-plated Cadillac and learn how Otis Redding became a star after he arrived at Stax as a chauffeur. Otis was invited to sing in the studio, of course, impressed everyone. You could spend a couple of hours here and it’s an amazing insight into the history and legacy of soul music.
Head to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
Top off your day of musical history with a visit to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This fascinating museum tells the story of blues, country, and gospel in the rural South. You’ll get an insight into how Memphis’ musicians overcame racial and social-economic barriers to create the music we still cherish today.
Discover the city’s spooky side
Once the sun sets, it’s time to discover the ghosts and ghouls of Memphis! Join a ghost tour of the city to learn more about the haunted and supernatural history of Memphis. You’ll be captivated by spooky tales as you visit the most notorious haunted spots in the city like the Orpheum Theater, Alexander Austin House, and Earnestine & Hazels.
Experience Memphis’ world-class live music
Round off your 48 hours in Memphis with one last dose of the renowned live music of Memphis. You might like to head back to Beale Street or go further afield to other iconic venues. Lafayette’s has a vintage vibe and live music every night with a mix of jazz, blues, and rock. If you prefer jazz, head to Earnestine & Hazel’s on Sunday evening for live music. Or if rock music is more your speed, stop by Hi Tone where you’ll find local rock, indie, and hip hop acts. There’s also the Green Room at the Crosstown Arts Complex which draws artists from all over the world. Take your pick!
What are your favourite things to do in 48 hours in Memphis? Let us know in the comments below!